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Babywearing gave me mothering wings

Holding Julian Cute and snuggly, but I can't get anything done.

When my son Julian was born, I held him. I held him close to me with my own two arms. I enjoyed him. I took him in. I snuggled and bonded. But the time would come, as it did every day, when I wanted to get something to eat, go to the bathroom, or read a book. The time came, after the helpers who were around the first few days left, when I had to do laundry, prepare food, pack our bag to go out, put things away, fill out government forms, or answer an e-mail. When that time came, I had to take my darling, floppy, precious, fragile newborn baby and put him down. I could put him down in a crib. I could put him down in a bassinet. I could put him down on the floor or in a swing or in a carseat (not the safest option). Sometimes it worked. But often he would scream and I was left with a choice of neglecting my own needs or neglecting his needs.  Neglecting my needs had the potential to turn me into a martyr (at best) or make me spiral into depression. Neglecting his needs would have been unfair, as he was wholly dependent on me to be there to meet them. All this, a horrible paradox created by having only two arms.

It wasn't until months later that I discovered the secret that would make everything so much better. The secret that made everything so much different in the newborn phase when his sister came along.

Holding Emma in a ring sling All snuggled up, but I have my arms free.

When my daughter Emma was born, I held her. I held her close to me, frequently with my own two arms, but more often than not with a sling or a wrap. This time, my darling, floppy, precious, fragile newborn could be happily snuggled up against me all day long and I could do all of the things that I had to do. All those same things that I had to do when Julian was a newborn and chasing after a toddler too.  I didn't feel tied down by the baby. I didn't feel like I had to choose between living my life and being a mother. Magically, by freeing up my two arms, I could be the mother I needed to be and the person I wanted to be too. I didn't have to worry about neglecting my needs, about neglecting her needs, or about neglecting her brother's needs.

We needed to be together, my babies and I. With Julian, I felt a tug between that need and the rest of the needs in my life. With Emma, between babywearing and co-sleeping, I could easily meet our need to be together and all of the other needs too. During the first few months of her life, we were probably physically touching 22 out of 24 hours of the day. The times we weren't touching each other, she was either being held by my partner or my mother, or we were in the car. Magically, through the use of my slings and wraps, I was able to meet all of her needs, my needs, and Julian's needs too.

I am concerned about infant safety. I think it is something we all need to consider when choosing products or making sleeping or travel arrangements. But I am also concerned with government advisories and regulatory practices that go so far that they discourage and marginalize safe and healthy parenting practices and bankrupt companies that make products that support those practices. I've written about this before as it relates to co-sleeping and I'm saddened and angry to have to write about it as it relates to baby carriers too.

It is from that perspective that I fully support the Baby Carrier Industry Alliance (BCIA) in its efforts to:

  • correct misinformation about the safety of sling style carriers;

  • finalize the development of standards for the industry; and,

  • educate parents about the safe use of slings.

The following is an excerpt from their position paper on Babywearing/Kangaroo Care (used with permission):
Over the last year, much misinformation and unwarranted fear has been cast on sling style carriers through announcements by Consumer Reports and the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), as well as the recall of the Infantino Slingrider. The Baby Carrier Industry Alliance (BCIA) is aware of research supporting the overwhelming benefit of baby carriers and knows that the view that sling carriers are unsafe is wholly inaccurate. In fact, the chance of an individual being struck by lightening is twice that of the mortality rate of children while being worn in baby slings.

Using a soft baby carrier (“babywearing”) supports baby and mother’s biological need to be together. For mothers, it facilitates initiation and ease of breastfeeding as well as helps mothers form attachments to their babies, care for themselves and their babies during the newborn stage and avoid postpartum depression. In addition, babywearing is practical, comfortable and convenient for caregivers. For babies, it decreases infant crying, colic and infant acid reflux disease. It promotes healthy physical development of the spine, vestibular system, vision and other systems in babies. It optimizes the mental development of babies because worn babies have an enriched environment which, in turn, helps their brains to develop better. Babies in slings spend more time in the quiet alert state known to be optimal for learning and development. Further, it helps babies develop socially and keeps babies safe from the multitude of surrounding hazards of every day life.

For a parent to realize these benefits, it is essential that the carrier(s) used mimic in-arms carrying and allow the baby and mother to be in maximum contact with each other. The baby should be cuddled directly against the caregiver’s body, with the baby’s head ABOVE the caregiver’s chest, near the caregiver’s collarbone. Ideally, physical obstacles between parent and child should be eliminated, allowing for proper skin to skin contact, also known as kangaroo care, and breastfeeding. While there are alternate baby holding devices available to parents, nearly all of them fail to meet all of these requirements the way that traditional babywearing and sling-type carriers do.

Over the last 20 years, there have been an estimated seven million sling-type carriers sold in the United States and additional untold numbers imported by immigrants or improvised by parents of various cultures. As an industry in its infancy, the baby carrier industry needs leadership to grow past the grass roots, “do-it-yourself” stage. With over 100 years combined experience in the baby carrier industry, the BCIA is uniquely positioned to lead the way.

As parents and leaders in their field, members of the BCIA are conscious of safety with regard to their carriers and are constantly working to improve safety and comfort for both baby and caregiver. In April of 2007, several of the leading US manufacturers approached the American Society for Testing and Materials, now called ASTM International, with a request to participate in developing standards for sling-style carriers. They have worked with the ASTM since April of 2008 and are very close to achieving their goal of a sling standard.

This standard will join the standards for cribs, strollers, hand-held infant carriers, bouncer seats, play yards and other nursery products as a way to protect the public from unsafe products. As with many of these standards, the BCIA hopes that any mandatory standard will conform to this ASTM industry standard. The BCIA will also join with the CPSC and other representative manufacturers on educational campaigns promoting the safest environments for babies and toddlers.

Babies under the age of four months, with their immature respiratory systems and lack of muscle strength and control, are especially vulnerable to death and injury. This susceptibility is magnified when they are left unattended. Keeping babies close and under direct supervision, such as when they are carried in a sling-style carrier, is the best way to ensure their well being.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) recently issued a warning about the dangers of using baby slings, due to the occurrence of three infant deaths that the agency attributed to baby slings. As parents, we are deeply saddened by these tragedies and extend our heartfelt condolences to the families affected. As educators, we are dismayed that the CPSC has mistakenly lumped all carriers together and inadvertently tainted our industry as a whole. The carrier in question is structurally distinct from baby slings in general and the BCIA is working to clarify this difference. Sling-style carriers have an exceptional safety record. While the death of any baby is tragic, the small number of deaths in sling-style carriers only serve to emphasize the safety of these products.

Baby slings are the optimal place for babies to spend time safely developing and bonding to parents in a nurturing environment. Research shows that this caregiver attachment and stimulating, safe environment are critical to early childhood development. Parents, educators, advocates, manufacturers, and our civil servants need to stand together to maintain the rights of babies and allow parents to buy, make and use baby slings.

With this post, I am standing with the BCIA as a parent and advocate, and saying that we need to save the babywearing industry and the practice of babywearing from unwarranted warnings and criticism. Parents cannot hold their babies with their own two arms 24-hours per day. Babies should not and cannot simply be put down every time their parents need their arms. Putting babies in car seats, swings, or bouncers for much of the day is unsafe and deprives them of the much needed warmth and bonding with their parents. Leaving them to scream in a crib or bassinet while their parents get things done or have a much needed break is neglectful.  Parents, especially parents of high need babies, should not be forced by overzealous regulators to choose between meeting their own needs and meeting their babies' needs. They should be free, as they have for centuries, to safely use a baby carrier to hold their baby close to them and to free up their arms.
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Reader Comments (33)

I have Carpal Tunnel, and I thank a 'friend' ever so much for introducing me to the Moby. Without that I could not hold DD for as long as she needed. I have almost dropped her a few times because my hands gave way without my control. Had I not had the Moby, DD could have been seriously hurt and she would be in extreme pain from reflux, see needed to be held a certain way.

October 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterOur Sentiments

The Continuum Concept supports the skin on skin contact and in- arms parenting, whether awake or asleep. I resent the fearmongering of the mainstream medical establishment, whereby instinct and commonsense has been replaced by a need to obey the authority of mainstream medico posturing and flimsy, manufactured statistics and manipulated and targeted research data. I have birthed two out of my three children at home, in water; co-slept and breastfed all of them, and continue to whilst awaiting the arrival of my fourth healthy child. I have used a sling with all of them, and wouldn't bd without one. Any banning of baby slings is as preposturous of and as riculois as the SIDS recommendations, that requie you force your child to sleep strapped on their back, when any chiropractor will tell you, sleeping on your side is the healthiest position to sleep in, for your spine and overall health. Big ups to anyone who chooses to use their babysling, and instinctual parenting!

October 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMarcia Mitchell

It stings my eyes to see what has been going on lately with the vilifying of babywearing or baby carriers in general. It changed me as a parent, that's for sure. And it seems silly to say that a piece of fabric did that, but it was part of a liberation that took place in my heart and mind and changed my entire perspective of motherhood completely. I don't want any mother or father or grandparent or caregiver to be denied that.


October 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAdventures In Babywearing

I wore my baby in a mei tai for a walk when she was just a couple of months old (although I have and make ring slings also) and was told by a total stranger (with no teeth and scraggly hair) that "those things are dangerous- I heard it on the radio". ugh. I said something vaguely reassuring, but really, why should we have to defend ourselves for keeping our babies close to us?! Claire is 9 months now, and has been in a stroller once. The whole time she was in it I was craning my neck around trying to see her! It's just like our modern society to vilify something that's good for you (butter anyone?!) and take away everything healthy because it's "risky".

October 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSara

I am forever grateful that my OB told me all about the Moby. He was going on about how much his daughter-in-law loved it. My mom and I got one at a baby expo before my son was born. Our pedi also loves it. She uses one for her twins.

However a lot of my friends think I'm crazy. None of them have one, and I've been told numerous times I'm spoiling him. I can't imagine life without my Moby, but I do agree parents need to use them properly for them to be safe. User error seems to be the big issue.

October 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterStephanie

just as with co-sleeping, baby-wearing needs to be supported and the general public educated by the people who are doing the actual baby-wearing and the co-sleeping, rather then knee-jerk reactions from media. and just as with co sleeping, there should be good parent education about baby-wearing too from those who are competent and experienced in its art

October 21, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterpomomama aka ebbandflo

I wish babywearing was more popular where I live (NJ). I have a ring sling I adore but have had the darnedest time trying to figure out how to put it on and how to get my son to stay in there. Since I got it (before he was two months old), all he's wanted to do is stand in it. He wants nothing to do with sitting/snuggling up in it and I wish I had absolutely any local friends or relatives who had used a sling before and could help. I don't think I've ever seen more than one or two people out in public in this area with a sling; it seems really slow to catch on here.

October 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCandice


If you are having difficulties with your sling and can't find support locally, I highly recommend checking out www.thebabywearer.com. There is a lot of information on their site regarding safe positioning in a ring sling, and their forums are full of good information and help too. They also have local boards where you may be able to find a few like-minded mamas in your area.

October 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterErin

Candice, I'm in New Jersey too, and have experienced the same - at least in my area (near Philadelphia) - parenting is very mainstream & hands-off. It can be discouraging, for sure!

Are there any La Leche Leage meetings around you? I've been able to connect with more like-minded moms through LLL. There are also several Holistic Moms Network meetups in NJ: http://www.holisticmoms.org/category/connect/local-chapters/

As for the ring sling, its my favorite type of carrier; so versitile, but I found it was imperative to have hands-on "training" to learn to use it well in all the positions - particularly for a newborn. I'm sorry you haven't been able to link up with anyone to help you! Are you near Philly?

October 21, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterkelly @kellynaturally

I absolutely love wearing my baby. I don't think I could have eaten my breakfast during the first few months without her in my pouch.

For the longest time though, we just had the balboa pouch sling, and if I wasn't careful, I could hear DD "snoring" if her head was too forward. But I WAS careful, adjusted, supported and did everything needed to make sure she didn't have a restricted air passage. Critisism on the baby wearing industry also harms parents when we're assumed to be careless.

Now she's in her mei tai for hours everyday and I'm loving the freedom (hating the suggestions that she'll get bowed legs, or me carrying her has delayed walking). It's hard not to freak people out when I flip her on my back, but once people see how happy and comfortable she is, I usually receive positive comments.

October 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterWoodturtle

Yes, I LOVED wearing my son. He had colic, reflux and was not content NOT being held. Once I tried the Baby Bjorn and he looked way uncomfortable. Then I found the Sleepy Wrap (like a Moby). He and I both loved it. He would fall asleep instantly and I had my arms free. I ironed, ate, cleaned, read, etc with BOTH arms. Like you, we also cosleep. When I was home, we were together a lot. Now that I work outside the home, cosleeping is our reconnection.
I never see people with a wrap here in NJ. I was even criticized by my in-laws for it (my mother-in-law told me to just put him down and let him cry). To me, that was not an option. I highly recommend a wrap carrier it to all my friends and family.
Now with number 2 on the way, I can't wait to use it again. With an active 2 year old, I doubt holding my baby all day will be an option. The wrap will definitely come in handy!

October 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterChristina

It occurs to me that declaring all babywearing dangerous due to a possible problem with one type of carrier is comparable to throwing out all the car seats every time there is a recall...

October 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSeonaid

...or all of the cribs.

October 21, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Thank you - that site looks helpful!

October 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCandice

No, alas, up by NYC (although I lived in south Jersey outside Philly for a couple of years during grad school). My son isn't a newborn anymore, so I'm not as worried as I was then, but he's so squirmy and wiggly; I really want to use the sling but feel secure that he won't wiggle out. I'll definitely check out that link - thanks!

October 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCandice

Check out a video online of sling instructions and practice over a soft surface. Practice with a doll first, then give it a try when he's happy and/or sleepy (or even asleep). Once he's in and the sling is snug and secure, walk around a bit and then recheck snugness.
I like carrying small babies tummy-to-tummy in the sling, with their feet out the bottom if they tend to stand, head up on my chest.

October 21, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterradmama

Thanks for this. It's hard to read sometimes, the uproar that wearing your baby will kill your baby, especially as a baby loss mom. Also, as a recent first time mom, I was terrified to baby wear, cosleep and even let Cora fall asleep in my arms because of all the hype. It's like moms aren't trusted to be educated. I've had health care professionals tell me not to educate women about pulse ox because it's too complicated for them. Put the real information out there, and trust moms to educate themselves. Thanks for this. Sharing!

October 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKristine

Here in Chicago, I see parents wearing their kids everywhere. I never left home without my ergo for the past three years, but funny, the other day some cashier snorted, "Isn't your son a lil old for that?"

I ripped him a new one.

:) Imagine, how happy the majority of babies would be if parents would forgo the plastic baby containers and pop them in a sling. When my Monkey was an infant, I don't know how I would have contained his brother Moose, my nearly 40lb two year old!

October 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMomnivore's Dilemma

Maybe we should just put helmets on babies and them put them in plastic bubbles and roll them around for safety.

We've been baby wearers since our twins were born five years ago. We wouldn't have it any other way. The twins were happier; they could see their surroundings better, communicate better, and we were all warmer in winter. We don't wear the twins, but we wear our youngest. Oh, and it's a great way to dance with a kid. (Please done tell the CPCS we dance with kids in carriers. I don't want SWAT knocking on our door.)

October 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJacob

Baby wearing and co-sleeping has been going on for hundreds of thousands of years and no one can scare that out of existence. Parents just have to educate themselves about how to do those safely! (Just like how they need to learn to use a car seat and baby crib safely!)

October 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterB

I'm so happy I discovered babywearing before my first was born. I know it made the transition into motherhood much easier and my baby was very content and peaceful because of it.

October 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterOlivia

Oh how I wish I had figured out the whole baby-wearing thing sooner! I didn't even get it right until my son was almost 4 months old. If I had it to do over, it would've made everything so much better!!!

October 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMichelleH

I had a similar experience - it took me a while to figure out babywearing with my first, but I used it right from the beginning with my second. It was a safe way to keep my newborn close, while attending to my preschooler. It affected my mothering on many levels, and I would wear any other babies I had without hesitation.

Historically, many baby items have been found to be unsafe. We are always told not to use older cribs, for example, because the slats were placed too far apart, and babies' heads could get caught. We weren't told not to use cribs, but standards were improved and cribs were made safer. I see an analogy here with baby carriers. If there are unsafe carriers, or unsafe ways of using them, then by all means improve standards. But don't reject them altogether.

October 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAmber

My dauhgter didn't cry only when she was with me.. Surelly only "sling" gave me help, when I begun use it we did everything together with my baby, she was with me all time that she wanted and I head baby's cry very rarely- it's really happy thing for mama. - "sling" is great thing I think...

October 24, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterElena

I know, everyone told me I was spoiling my daughter by wearing her (my babywearing journey began with a Chicco "Baby Bjorn" type carrior, to a Hotsling, to a Moby Wrap) and yet, now that she's 14 months, she's just about the most independent toddler I've ever seen. I still wear her when shopping and when walking trails with my husband, and when she's cranky at home.

I'll let you know when she becomes spoiled.

October 28, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterErin

I wear my daughter, started when she was a few months old. (Granted, I started with a Baby Bjorn-style carrier, and really wish I'd had the Moby I have now from the start) I wish I had bought a Moby before she was born, because I cannot tell you how heartbroken I was before I had a carrier for her, and she would be literally screaming her head off in the swing as I shoveled food into my face. I gave myself so many upset tummies when she was a newborn trying to inhale meals in record time. :(

I once had someone tell me, to my face, while I was wearing my daughter in my Hotsling in a HIP CARRY that she was going to suffocate in that thing, because didn't I know they were unsafe? I looked at her completely exposed, upright head, her completely unobstructed nose and mouth, then looked back at them with the most perplexed look on my face. How can she suffocate when there's NOTHING BLOCKING HER BREATHING? People need to learn to think for themselves instead of letting the media do it for them.

October 28, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterErin

As much as I support babywearing and did so as long as I could, please be aware that not all parents can babywear. I have a signficant case of fibromyalgia, which causes muscle pain and fatigue, and I found that with my last baby, I could wear him the least of all of my kids because I could not stand carrying around the extra weight on my body. Past the newborn period, his weight was just too much for me, and now that he is a toddler, there is no way. I have tried various things, including a pouch and an Ergo, and it is all the same: too much weight pulling on my upper body. We do cosleep and I hold him a lot, but when he was smaller he spent some naps in the swing and he cried at times when I had to get things done, until I could get to him. As parents we do what we have to do.

October 31, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCathy Y.

Cathy Y.:

I do understand that and I think that parents should be given as many options and as much support as possible.

October 31, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

[...] in the drafts folder for a while) I read a blog post on Phd in Parenting about babywearing, called “Babywearing gave me mothering wings”. As I was reading it I was [...]

November 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterPick ‘em up or Put &#821

I love wearing my daughter! My first carrier was a SleepyWrap. When she got too big for that, I switched to a BabyHawk Mei Tai carrier. We both love it. We go for long walks, the supermarket, or just to do things around the house when she is in the mood to be close to mommy.
I am lucky to live in an area where babywearing is fairly common and I haven't gotten any negative comments. If anything people seem curious and stop to ask me about it. Actually, one of my favorite pictures is a candid shot taken by a photographer friend with my daughter in her Mei Tai. I have it on my desk at work :)

December 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKeila

Have you had any luck? I'm in N NJ as well!

January 18, 2011 | Unregistered Commenteregru

Where in NJ are you?

January 18, 2011 | Unregistered Commenteregru

I come from Kenya, Africa and mothers have carried babies on them decades. No mother would think of leaving the baby unattended to do other things. They do the chores with the baby comfortably snuggled on their back.

March 1, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMercy Isika

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