BENEFITS OF BABYWEARING

Keeping your baby close after birth secures a safe, loving environment for the little one. Apart from mere instincts to do so, scientific research, as carefully highlighted below, emphasizes that babywearing benefits both parent and child, in more ways than one. While babywearing in many western civilizations has somewhat faded away, it is particularly well-suited for modern daily life as it helps you, as a parent, to keep your hands free to go about your desired day-to-day activities.

There are multiple ways to bond with your baby: through breastfeeding or skin-on-skin contact, for example. Interestingly, skin-on-skin contact offers a great alternative if you’re not breastfeeding, according to Dr. Zach Bush who spoke on the matter in one of our podcast interviews. In addition to these bonding methods, babywearing with a baby carrier, baby wrap or ring sling is also an excellent way to establish a deep connection with your child. With these useful parenting practices, you hold your baby near your heart, while being able to move freely and attuning yourself to your baby’s basic needs.

In many indigenous cultures carrying your child on your chest after giving birth is common practice. It encourages connection and true intimacy. A wide range of scientific evidence underlines the many benefits of keeping your baby physically close throughout the first years of his/her life, and nearly all researchers will agree that the continued presence of a caregiver enhances the child’s emotional, intellectual and physiological systems. It is only natural for a baby to be close to you, as their mother, father or caregiver.

Seven scientifically backed benefits of babywearing

Babywearing increases bonding

Babywearing is an easy, accessible way to deeply bond with your child. True bonding with your infant includes skin-on-skin contact, so the baby feels warm and nurtured. Feeling the soft skin of their caretaker, smelling their familiar scent and listening to their calming heartbeat.

A study from 2020¹ indicates that carrying a newborn baby throughout the day increases maternal and paternal sensitivity, meaning caregivers get more attuned to their baby’s rhythm while babywearing. In turn, the infant’s social and emotional development peaked.

Other scientific research² shows that parents who opt for babywearing are more vocally responsive to their infants. As a result, babies become more securely attached to their caregivers.

Babywearing helps you and your baby communicate

Being able to read your baby’s cues successfully builds confidence in your parenting skills as well as interconnectedness with your child, and babywearing helps you do so. Keep your baby close on your bare chest or in a baby carrier, wrap or sling and it’s easier to predict whether the little one needs anything, without the child having to shed a single tear.

Scientific research³ demonstrates that babywearing mothers, in comparison to those who experience less long-term physical contact, tend to respond more swiftly and appropriately to little signs that the baby may be hungry, distressed, or ready for a nap. Interestingly, scholars³ found that caregivers in proximal care cultures, where parenting practices such as body contact, body stimulation and babywearing are common, are better anticipated to reading infant cues. This example of mother-infant interaction benefits the infants’ development in different ways. Discover more on this in the outlined babywearing benefits below.

Babywearing lends parent and child comfort and support

Having a baby can be overwhelming for new parents, but research4 suggests that postpartum anxiety can be naturally reduced by being in physical contact with your child. As is the case with breastfeeding, babywearing can therefore be an instant ‘mood booster’. In addition, babywearing could even help mothers avoid the pitfalls of post-partum depression5.

A strong mother-infant connection, that could be stimulated through babywearing, also helps the baby feel more comfortable and secure in the early stages of new life as a baby slowly gets used to the outside world with unfamiliar sounds and other sensory experiences. Scholars6 found how an extensive parent-child relationship on a day-to-day basis doesn’t just decrease anxiety amongst mothers after giving birth, but also supports the baby. The child learns to control emotions, feeling understood and catered to, and is set up for a beneficial, secure attachment style, meaning he or she will connect well and securely to others.

Babies that are worn tend to cry less

Newborns cry to make themselves heard. A new environment can be distressing for a child, yet not so much so if the caregiver keeps the baby close, as studies have suggested. Research6 shows that babywearing could substantially reduce the baby crying and fussing, especially during the first three months. Another study7 directly linked carrying time to crying duration amongst infants. How long a baby was held and subsequently their response was compared between proximal care parents (babywearing for 15 hours a day), parents from Copenhagen (10 hours) and from London (8 hours). Results: at two and five weeks of age, the infants that were monitored in proximal care groups and Copenhagen cried 50% less than the London-based infants.

In other observational studies, indigenous mothers and their parenting behavior were put under the lens. In both the Zinacanteco Indian (from Southern Mexico) and the !Kung San (from the Kalahari Desert, Botswana) communities, newborn babies are continuously carried in a wrap or sling. Amongst the Zinacanteco community, scholars8 found that infant cries were relatively rare and brief. Another study9 compared !Kung San infants with American and Dutch infants. Amongst !Kung San infants, crying episodes did occur, but the duration and intensity of crying episodes were significantly less compared to the average crying behavior of American and Dutch infants.

Babywearing encourages physical development

When a baby is carried, they sense their caregiver’s breathing, heartbeat and body warmth. This is of great importance to their own wellbeing, recent scientific research10 suggests. Especially skin-on-skin contact, but also babywearing with a layer of clothing in between, enhances infants’ physiologic stability11. In both cases the child is held in a favorable upright position and can subtly move along with the caregiver’s bodily motions.

Research12 shows that correct, upright infant positioning in daily life may have a positive impact on spinal development, psychosocial progression, and motor milestone achievements such as sitting on their own and taking their first step. Another recent study from 202013 suggests that babies, while actively clinging to their mother, father or caregiver, may develop their lower‐extremity muscles at a faster pace than babies that are not worn. Babywearing can therefore promote healthy neck, back and hip development for your baby.

Babywearing enhances speech development

Babywearing allows the infant to be up at voice level with their caretaker. This helps them develop listening and consequently speaking skills. Research14 underlines the great influence of maternal and paternal responsiveness, which is easier to achieve when babywearing15, to aid speech development and learning. This way the child learns to map words, reference their meaning and more by casually listening to their caregivers’ conversations and tapping into them. In addition, in-lab experiments16 show that infants produce more sophisticated pre-linguistic sounds when parents are readily responsive to them.

Babywearing is well-suited for modern daily life

Babywearing has been common practice in different cultures for centuries. It’s a great way for occupied caregivers to keep their hands free, especially for those working or being out and about with for instance friends or in nature.

Being able to go anywhere you dream of with your child benefits caregiver and child in a myriad of ways, but in-arms carrying can be rather heavy. A recent study17 suggests that ergonomic babywearing tools such as a baby carrier, wrap or sling are more efficient and less strenuous than in-arms carrying. Furthermore, research shows18 that babywearing helps keep new caregivers quick on their feet and fit, with an estimated metabolic cost increase of 500 kilocalories per day. Babywearing allows caregivers to travel longer and faster, effortlessly going about their daily business while still caring for their child.

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Sources

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  2. Anisfeld, E., Casper, V., Nozyce, M., & Cunningham, N. (1990). Does infant carrying promote attachment? An experimental study of the effects of increased physical contact on the development of attachment. Child Development, 61(5), 1617–27.
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  4. Lonstein, J.S. (2007). Regulation of anxiety during the postpartum period. Frontiers in Neuroendocrinology, 28(2–3), 115–41.
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  17. Little, E.E., Legare, C.H., & Carver, L.J. (2019). Culture, carrying and communication: Beliefs and behavior associated with babywearing. Infant Behavior and Development, 57, 101320.
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