Thursday, October 21, 2010
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.
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.