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"The single most important child rearing practice to be adopted for the development of emotional and social healthy infants and children is to carry the infant on the body of the caretaker all day long” James Prescott, 1996
The term ‘Babywearing’ was coined by American paediatrician Dr Sears. It means the act of keeping your baby close in a sling in order to be responsive and reactive to their needs and is one of the key elements of ‘Attachment Parenting’. The age of the baby being carried doesn’t really matter, with slings suitable from premature infant to pre-schooler and beyond, the practice could be referred to ‘child wearing’ or simply carrying. This article has sought to bring together the available (and accessible) academic research and a number of case studies to provide a summary of the benefits adoptive parents and children can gain by being worn in a sling or carrier.
Bick and Dozier found in 2009 that when mothers engaged with biological and non-biological children that oxytocin production was higher after the interactions with the non-biological children. Oxytocin or ‘the love hormone’ “has been associated with aspects of maternal care, including attachment related thoughts” and there is a “general consensus that oxytocin has positive effects on human social behaviours” and crucially that a “secure attachment in infancy is important for normal psychological development…from which the infant explores the world beyond”, therefore the ability for close contact has for boosting oxytocin production, and as a result attachment, can be seen as an important reason for adoptive parents to carry their children. This was supported by research by Gribble (2007) which concluded that close physical contact via the use of a sling and being responsive to child’s needs the caregiver would help the emotional development of child and promote attachment. The researchers in this study began with the hypothesis that those physiological practices which help post-partum attachments should and could be applied to adopted children.
In addition to the benefits of oxytocin, other common reasons for using a sling are that it helps with communication between parent and child, it is more practical in certain situations, can help with weight gain, stabilize baby’s breathing, and even provide longer periods of restful sleep, to name just a few. Not having to wait for accessible buses, use lifts or be restricted to paths that are buggy friendly means that there are occasions when slings have the upper-hand. Many parents who babywear do not do so exclusively and may use a buggy as well.
There are lots and lots of different slings out there and with help of a sling library or babywearing consultant you will be able to find one that works for you. I have carriers that can comfortably carry up to 20kg and beyond thus allowing even older children to be carried close to their adopted parent as possible. An appropriately chosen sling or carrier for age and development of child should mean that the weight is distributed evenly and make it comfortable for the wearer. Babywearing is like any form of exercise, so the only limit on how long you carry your child is how you both feel about it. It will take your body a little time to adjust to the extra weight, but this gets easier the more you do it, so little and often is the key when starting to carry older children.
While writing this, I have found that most of the discussion of the benefits of carrying an adoptive child can be found in personal blogs. I have included 4 case studies, to show a variety of experiences and there are links to others in the references. These case studies all demonstrate the way in which carrying their adopted children in a sling helped make life easier, either practically or by helping manage or form attachments. I have also provided some personal experiences from running my sling library.
The first two case studies from my internet research are fully referenced below, and case studies 3 and 4 area anonymous to protect the identity of the families involved however they are happy for me to share their stories.
A couple adopted a girl of 3 from a Chinese orphanage. On return to the family home the little girl showed a preference for her adoptive father, especially at night. Her adoptive mother opted to use a sling. Within weeks the little girl was beginning to show a preference for her adoptive mother and had formed a strong bond with her.
Case Study 2
A couple adopted a 4 month old baby from Korea. The baby has special needs, including sensory processing disorder. They found by using a sling the baby quickly developed attachments with both his adoptive mother and father.
Case Study 3
As a sling librarian I meet lots of people who want a sling or carrier for their little one. One such family are Mum J and Baby L who came to the library looking for a sling for the practical purpose of being able to go for walks. Baby L was placed with the family from birth, and her start to life was rocky, spending time in SCBU. She was tiny when she came to sling library, and Mum J told me that she want to try a sling “after a few people told me it was the next best thing to being pregnant”. Later on she was able to say that it has “most definitely helped with the attachment we have with Baby L”.
“there does not exist the same closeness with our oldest child, who most people would have said at 3 and a half was too old to be carried”.
“After a few people told me it was the next best thing to being pregnant.......most definitely helped with the attachment we have with Baby L”.
Case Study 4
I was lucky enough to have a visit from a Mum and Dad to the sling library. It was only after their 2nd visit that I discovered they were an adoptive family and child 3 had only just been placed. When I asked Mummy A about why she chose to use the sling library she that using slings had helped promote attachment with her baby and that “there does not exist the same closeness with our oldest child, who most people would have said at 3 and a half was too old to be carried”. Amazed that she could carry her older children Mummy A is now allowing her older children the opportunity to be carried to give them “the experience they never had as a youngster”. Mummy A now admits she has become a “bit evangelistic about the benefits” of using a sling and recommends it to all adoptive parents.
Prescott, J. ‘The Origins of Human Love and Violence’, Pre and perinatal psychology Journal, Spring 1996, Vol 10;3 p. 155
Baronel L and Lionetti F, ‘Attachement and emotional understanding: a study of late adopted pre-schoolers and their parents’, Child Care Health Development, 2012 Sept 38 (5)
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 61:1617-1627.
Babywearing’s Health Benefits: Beyond Hands Free, accessed at http://www.boba.com/research/babywearings-health-benefits-beyond-hands-free/ on 4/5/2014
Bick J and Dozier M, ‘Mothers and children’s concentrations of oxytocin following close, physical interactions with biological and non-biological children’, Psychobiology 52: 100-1007, 2009
Campbell A, ‘Oxytocin and Human Social Behaviours’, Personality and Social Psychology Review, April 2010, p. 281-296
Campbel A, April 2010
Gribble, K.D, ‘A model for caregiving of adopted children after institutionalization’, Journal of Child and Adolesent Psychiatric Nursing, Feb 2007, Vol 20:1, p.14-26
LiJun case study www.internationalbreastfeedingjournal.com/content/1/1/5 Accessed 4/5/2014
‘Falling in love: an adoption story’, http://beltwaybabywearers.blogspot.co.uk/2011/11/falling-in-love-adoption-story.html Accessed 6/5/2014
Phillips, L. ‘To have and to hold’, Adoptive Families, www.adoptivefamilies.com/articles/php?aid=1268 accessed 4/5/2014
Attached Mama, ‘Importance of babywearing an adopted child’, http://www.ecobabysteps.com/2010/05/03/importance-of-babywearing-an-adopted-child/ Accessed 20/4/2014
Onya Baby ‘ Adoption: Bonding through babywearing’ http://onyababy.com/adoption-bonding-babywearing/ (Nov 2013) Accessed 20/4/2014