As a babywearing educator, I often present my typical “Babywearing 101” schpiel to groups of parents. I go over all of the reasons to consider using a baby carrier (especially, in lieu of lugging around a big car seat that was designed, truly, for use in the car, only), the biological instincts and reflexes that babies come into the world with that tell us they are meant to be carried in arms, the types of carriers out there, safety and comfort considerations, etc. But, what I try to always get out there to parents… the real “meat” of my passion… is that the baby carrier as a device is really just another tool to help you, because YOU are the baby carrier. The product can help support your arms, your body, your muscles, but you, the caretaker, or you and your network of caretakers, are caring for and carrying the baby, physically, mentally, and emotionally.
So, let’s start there. As mothers, we literally “carry” our children as they grow and develop inside of us (or, if not carried within our own bodies, carried within our hearts and minds, certainly). When they finally come out into the world, they show us that they come to us, fully prepared to be touched and carried outside of our wombs, as well. They are ready to be active participants in the relationship and to be close to their caretakers, with clinging reflexes in their fingers and toes, a spread-squat reflex with angles that form almost the exact shape of an adult human hip, rooting reflexes to be kept near to their food source, crying reflexes to call out for contact, and a startle or falling reflex that causes them to reach out and then grasp inwards, as if to grab onto a caregiver for support and comfort.
Mother’s body is also primed for having baby skin-to-skin, chest-to-chest post birth and into the post-partum period. Mother’s breasts can change temperature to help the newborn regulate his or her own temperature, bacteria that pass through the skin can help mother’s milk make antibodies for baby, babies tend to regulate their own heartbeat and breathing patterns with mother’s, the tummy-to-tummy massage in being in that position aids in digestion, all of this touch and skin-to-skin contact stimulates oxytocin release in both mother and infant, which then promotes bonding, milk production, sleep, relaxation, hormone regulation, uterine contractions to help with post-partum healing, and so much more! It’s THIS, not necessarily which baby carrier to use, or even using a baby carrier at all in those early days and moments, that forms the foundation for the benefits of baby carrying and bonding, for both mother and child. As Dr. Raylene Phillips just said, recently, at the BOND conference in New York City, “It’s not about babywearing. It’s about baby connections.”
These are the moments where you are the baby carrier, not the product you purchase, and that is so much more important. In those early days, you can certainly use a baby carrier, if you have one, to assist you in that reclined skin-to-skin time (which is physiologically beneficial for parents and babies through the first three months of life, and even into the first year, not just right after birth!) or even being up and about, maybe having hands to feed yourself a snack, help an older child, take a little stroll in the yard. But, if you can, I encourage new moms to really use those first few days, weeks, to take the time to rest, heal, to get to know yourself as mom and your baby as this new member of your family. Sometimes, in the babywearing world, there is an emphasis on using a carrier right away so you can carry on as you had before having baby… get right back on the horse and go, go, go! We forget, as a society, I think, how important that post-partum time is, especially for bonding, establishing a new family unit, and for mom’s physical and emotional healing. In fact, when we idealize cultures where babywearing is still a norm and common practice, we sometimes neglect to realize that, in many of those cultures, the mothers do not actually place baby into a carrier until after a period of post-partum healing, and often times with a celebration when baby is finally old enough, in a certain number of days, to be worn in a carrier. Mom is not necessarily always using a carrier tied onto her body right away. In the right circumstances, the new mother is usually nurtured by her community, and new baby spends a great deal of time on mother’s body, in her arms, and in the arms of other community members and mothers who are helping the new mother to heal.
More than ever, in our fast-paced, tech-heavy society demanding more and more of new mothers, let’s focus on that healing time and that mother-baby bonding time, as a chance to slow down, tune into yourself and your baby - to nurture yourself, as a mother, and allow others to help nurture you, so that you can, then, nurture your new little one. Holding baby, on your chest, especially in skin-to-skin time, whether using a baby carrier or not, is so good for the both of you, in so many ways. And, don’t be afraid to let those supporting you hold baby and even try out some skin-to-skin time, as well! There are still benefits for baby (though, if doing skin-to-skin on someone other than mother, the time should be limited to 90 minutes, unlike mom, where skin-to-skin time can be as long as you’d like, since mom is better at regulating baby’s temperature), and mom needs a break sometimes!
If you are able, use this sacred post-partum time to heal, rest your body, nurture your spirit, and connect with your new baby. And, as you get to know your new baby through these moments of pause and connecting, you’ll begin to form your own amazing system of communication. Remember that baby is an active participant in the relationship and will start to show you signs and sounds that mean something…and you’ll feel like a champion when you start to figure out the early “language” that you and baby share! As you learn his or her cues, you’ll figure out when he or she wants to eat, sleep, be carried, be comforted, be put down, or when he or she might fuss because of over over-stimulation, or fuss because of gas. You’ll be the expert in your own baby and your baby will learn about you, as well. And then, sometimes you’ll be confused as to what he or she is trying to communicate with you, and sometimes it will be frustrating and chaotic. Often, in those moments, skin-to-skin time or cuddling and walking with baby in a baby carrier can actually work as a “reset” tool, as a way to bring both you and your little one back to “center.” Or maybe that’s a time for baby to “reset” in another caregiver’s arms while you “reset” with some time to yourself. It’s a journey as you both begin this new relationship, so take the time to hold yourself and re-center when needed, just as you hold your baby to comfort and help to soothe him or her.
Once you’re finding that you’re up and around with baby quite a bit, you might find that a baby carrier is a really awesome tool for both you and baby and will help you continue this journey that you’ve already begun with baby. If you have resources in your community such as a local retailer, a local babywearing consultant, or a local babywearing group for helping you to find a carrier, in person, that will work well for your body and for baby’s body, in terms of safety and comfort, all the better! Reach out! Use those resources!
As you carry your baby in your arms or in a baby carrier in those early days, take care of yourself, don’t overdo it (remember that those abdominal muscles are still healing, and giving them time to heal as you slowly build up your strength means a healthier, stronger body and core strength for carrying those big babies later on!), and focus on slowing down and being present in those precious moments of “baby carrying” throughout those first few months.
You are the baby carrier. Remember that.