Thursday, July 26, 2012

Safety in Babywearing

The babywearing world has seen a lot of use of and controversy surrounding the word “safe” lately. The other word that gets thrown around is “ideal”. What do these words mean in the context of babywearing? And are we helping or hurting the babywearing industry with their use?

Let’s start by considering why we babywear. If you ask 10 families why they babywear, you may very well get 10 different answers. You may hear that the baby cries less, or that mom is able to get things done. Breastfeeding is easier or the parent just prefers the closeness. The bottom line though, is that human infants expect to be held. It is in our innate nature to seek the security of a parent, preferably the mother, because that is where we are safe.

Oh wait, there is that word again, safe.

Dr. Nils Bergman, the expert behind Kangaroo Mother Care, was quoted as saying "The very best environment for a baby to grow and thrive, is the mother's body. When placed skin-to-skin on the mother's chest, the baby receives warmth, protection and food, and its brain can develop optimally. Not feeding the baby often enough and leaving it to sleep alone after a feed can result in the baby getting colic," he adds. "The mother's skin is the baby's natural environment, and both physically and emotionally the healthiest place for the baby to be". “

So what does safe mean? According to one dictionary definition, it means the following: secure from liability to harm, injury, danger, or risk: a safe place.

In the very simplest terms, a baby kept close to its mothers heart, is provided food, oxygen, warmth, and protection from outside harm. He is safe. A baby in arms is safe. Learning to babywear is a tool that can allow the parent to multi task while meeting the infant’s need for closeness. As long as the carrier doesn’t interfere with those basic needs of food, oxygen, warmth, and protection from harm, it is still SAFE.

Moving on to the other catchword: ideal. What does this one mean? Consulting my dictionary again, I find this, “a conception of something in its perfection”. Interesting. Who decides what is perfection? I can only answer this from my point of view based on my education, study and experience. My formal education comes from the Babywearing Institute in Utah and is based on the work of Drs. Evelin Kirkilionis and Ewald Fettweis among others. As with most fields, I feel that I am continually learning, as the babywearing world shifts and develops, especially in the United States.

When we start discussing ideal, we are moving beyond just safe, to a place where babywearing can be used to aid in development, and aid in protecting the caregivers body from the normal stress that carrying additional weight brings. We also can throw comfort in there, which of course is going to be subjective based on body types, strength, tolerance, etc.

Given the definitions of “safe” and “ideal” we can conclude that nearly all babywearing is safe; however, some carriers and carries are closer to the ideal than others. Certainly ideal babywearing is…well…ideal. The benefits of safe babywearing, even if it is less than ideal, are numerous. It is therefore important to support all babywearers and types of safe babywearing, while gently encouraging and supporting the evolution of babywearing toward the ideal.

So let’s wrap this up with some actual suggestions!

First rules of safety:
  1. Don’t drop the baby! When you are learning a new carry, practice with a spotter if available, and /or a mirror, over a soft surface. Check all knots and buckles to make sure they are secure.
  2. Protect the baby’s airway. Make sure that baby’s face is always visible and that you can fit 2 fingers between his chin and chest. If baby makes any grunting or snoring sounds, remove her from the carrier and reposition.
To help support the growing baby’s spine and hips:
  1. Look for a carrier that supports the baby well, including head and lateral support.
  2. Avoid carries and carriers that put pressure in the middle of a young infants back, even support spread across the baby’s entire torso is preferred.
  3. Use a carrier that supports a baby from knee to knee, so baby is in a seated “spread squat” position, rather than with legs dangling.
To protect the caregivers back and pelvic floor:
  1. Wear the baby high and tight, ideally baby’s bottom will be above the adult’s navel. The exception to this is a structured carrier that provides lumbar support.
  2. Wear the baby facing in towards the parent, to keep the center of gravity close to the wearer’s body.
Whenever possible, try to get hands-on help when first learning to wear your baby. Babywearing International is a great source for finding a local, free babywearing group. For more in depth help, consider a private consultation with a Babywearing Educator. Find an educator near you at the Babywearing Institute.

Happy babywearing!
Heather Felker

Heather Felker is the owner of Sling With Me, and provides one on one consultations and group classes.  As the mother of eight children and grandmother of two more, she has many years of first hand babywearing experience. She is formally trained in babywearing through the Babywearing Institute, and now is licensed to run the east coast campus of the school.
Heather is passionate about babywearing as an essential parenting tool, and as an aid in establishing a healthy breastfeeding relationship. 
In addition to running Sling With Me, she leads babywearing support group meetings for the BWI of Delmarva and provides breastfeeding support as a La Leche League Leader. Heather is also a member of the Board of Directors for Babywearing International.

No comments: