As a qualified babywearing consultant it is my job to teach people how to carry their baby safely and comfortably. For many, the ability to have their hands back is a must as many babies simply don’t want putting down. And if you look carefully at the position a newborn baby naturally adopts when you pick them up they curl into the position they had adopted in the womb. There is a suggestion that there is a 4th trimester or a period of exterogestation which results in a need for a baby to be held close to you. It is believed that all human babies are born early (even when born past 37 weeks) due possibly to the size of the human head and size of the mothers pelvis (Montagu, 1988). Therefore, as Montagu said in 1986:“Birth no more constitutes the beginning of the life of the individual than it does the end of gestation. Birth represents a complex and highly important series of functional changes which serve to prepare the newborn for the passage across the bridge between gestation within the womb and gestation continued out of the womb.” (Montagu, 1986, 57).
The proximity of carrying your baby in a sling has also been shown to have several benefits for mother and baby as carrying your baby upright on your chest can lead to:
Enhances immunological protection Prevents ear infections and eases the symptoms of reflux (Tasker, 2002)
Regulates body temperature
Enhances lactation, the prevalence, and the duration of breast-feeding (Furman, 2002) Enhances growth/weight gain
Supports arousal regulation
Reduces apnea and uneven breathing patterns (Ludington-Hoe, 1993)
Stabilizes heart rate (McCain, 2005)
Relieves Stress Reactions (Kostandy, 2008)
Improves neurobehavior — Score higher on mental and motor development tests in the first year of life. (Charpak et al., 2005)
Increases oxygenation of the baby’s body.(Feldman, 2003)
Provides longer periods of restful sleep — Babies remain more calm and transition from one sleep state to another (Ferber, 2004)4 and also sleep longer in general.(Messemer, 1997)
Mimics the environment of the womb —Baby continues to receive touch, rhythm and pressure and the soothing and comforting sounds of his mother’s heart beat, breathing and rhythmic rocking.
Baby is in an ideal holding place during the “exterogestation“- or the second nine months after her birth.
Saves lives — According to the latest studies, the practicing of Kangaroo Care, or the special way of holding your preterm infant skin to skin, shows a 51 percent reduction in newborn mortality when babies (stable and less than 2 kg) were kangarooed within the first week after birth and breastfed by their mothers. (Lawn, 2010)(www.bobafamily.com)
Forward facing in a pushchair or sling also has other disadvantages. It is difficult to pick up on your baby's cues if you can't see them. It has been found that when facing their parent or care giver babies are in a quiet alert state where they can get reassurance from mum and dad. Research by Dr Zeedyk of the University of Dundee into the impact of buggy orientation on parent- infant interaction and infant stress can also be applied to slings, as in both cases the parent cannot see baby's face. Research over the years has shown that when baby can see their parent they develop better. Also when baby is facing away from you it was found there were less interactions between parent and child and the child vocalised less. For example, in the study they found the average number of sentences (from parent) discussing what was happening, per minute, was 10 when facing the parent but only 4 when facing away. They also found those facing their parent slept better, suggesting that forward facing was over stimulating and possibly causing stress to the child/infant preventing them from relaxing. It was also noted when facing away babies had a higher heart rate than when facing their parent. In conclusion, enjoy your baby. They don't stay babies for long. Just because something is a societal norm does not mean it has to always be the case. Don't just accept that baby needs to face forward because that is what carrier and buggy manufacturers suggest. I hope this blog has provided some explanations and reason why to sling and why to keep baby facing you. If baby insists on facing out, please consider high back carries and hip carries. These allow for parent child interactions to continue, reassurance from mum and dad and maintain optimum positioning. And finally be proud of carrying your baby and enjoy the freedom that having both hands free allows.
Cassess, R. (1996), Infant Carriers and Spinal Stress;, www.continuum-concept.org/reading/spinalstress, accessed 4/10/12
Antunovic, E. (2009), ;The Second Nine Months www.bobafamily.com/research.
Montagu, A. (1986). Touching: The Human Significance of the Skin. Harper Paperbacks. Montagu, A. (1988). Growing Young: Second Edition. Bergin.
Kostandy et al., “Kangaroo Care (Skin Contact) Reduces Crying Response to Pain in Preterm Neonates: Pilot Results,” Pain Management Nursing 2008: 9:55-65
Lawn et al., “‘Kangaroo Mother Care’ to Prevent Neonatal Deaths Due to Preterm Birth Complications,” International Journal of Epidemiology” 2010: April.
Whiting, J.M.W., “Environmental Constraints on Infant Care Practices”. In Handbook of Cross-Cultural Human Development edited by R.H. Munroe, R.L. Munroe & B.B. Whiting, New York:Garland STPM Press, 2005.
Ferber et al., “The Effect of Skin-to-Skin Contact (Kangaroo Care) Shortly After Birth on the Neurobehavioral Responses of the Term Newborn: A Randomized, Controlled Trial. Pediatrics 113 2004:858-865.
Charpak, N., “Kangaroo Mother Care: 25 Years After,” Acta Paediatric 94 2005: 5, 514-522. Powell, A. “Harvard Researchers Say Children Need Touching and Attention,” Harvard Gazette.
Ludington-Hoe, S. Kangaroo Care: The Best You Can Do to Help Your Preterm Infant. New York: Bantam Books, 1993.
Feldman et al. “Testing a Family Intervention Hypothesis: The Contribution of Mother-Infant Skin-to-Skin contact (kangaroo care) to Family Interaction, Proximity, and Touch,” 2003 March Journal of Family Psychology. Vol. 17, 94-107
Furman, L. “Correlates of Lactation of Very Low Birth Weight Infants,” 2002 Pediatrics Vol. 109 (4) 57
Ludington-Hoe, S. “Breast Infant Temperature with Twins during shared Kangaroo Care,” 2006 Journal of Obstetric , Gynecologic and Neonatal Nursing, 35 (2) 223-231
McCain, G et al. “Heart Rate Variability Responses of a Preterm Infant to Kangaroo Care,” 2005 Journal of Obstetrics, Gynecologic, and Neonatal Nursing,” 34 (6), 689-694. Messmer P. et al., “Effect of Kangaroo Care on Sleep Time for Neonates,” 1997 Pediatr. Nurs. 23, no. 4 408-414.
Tasker, A., Dettmar, P. W., Panetti, M., Koufman, J. A., Birchall, J. P., and Pearson, J. P. (2002). Is gastric reflux a cause of Otitis media with effusion in children? The Laryngoscope, 112:1930–1934.
Zeedyk, M.S. (2008), "What's life in a baby buggy like?";, www.literacytrust.org.uk, accessed 4/10/12