By Christine Gross-Loh
Issue 113, July/August 2002
My son Benjamin, almost eight months old, has ridden in a stroller perhaps only five times in his life. Instead, he has spent his days snuggled up to me in a variety of baby carriers. When he was just 12 hours old, we put him in a New Native Baby Carrier. As Benjamin grew bigger, we tried a number of things-adjustable slings, a Japanese hip carrier, the ubiquitous Baby Bjorn, a Baby Trekker soft backpack, a fleece sling, the Sara’s Ride hip carrier, a Tough Traveler frame backpack, and a Korean blanket carrier designed to carry an infant or small child on the back. It’s been hard to restrain myself from buying even more items I wanted to try–a Didymos sling, a Maya Wrap, a Baby Bundler, a Baby Wrap, a Rebozo sling. These are all variations on the same thing, though: a soft cloth wrap that holds the baby close.
Visitors laugh at the number of baby carriers I have piled in a basket by our door. We live in an urban area where most mothers take their babies out in a stroller. It was easy to justify wanting to carry Benjamin at first; after all, he was light and small. Still, I know that some found it strange that my husband and I preferred to carry him close to our bodies, rather than use a stroller. I just knew that I didn’t want my son spending hours in an inanimate object, out of the way. I wanted him in the thick of things, with us. We quickly became used to carrying him in a sling or close to our bodies while we ate out at restaurants. When he was about a week old, I even nursed him in a sling while walking down the street and later while I ate a Thai dinner. I found it much easier to do the shopping, walk the dog, or eat a meal with Benjamin on my body, where he could feel my warmth and my heartbeat, things he had become accustomed to in utero.
I could tell that Benjamin felt secure being carried on our bodies. It gave him a perch from which to observe the world at his own pace. It helped protect him from all the people who want to touch babies regardless of how the baby feels (people are much more reluctant to invade a baby’s private space if it’s also your private space). He spent his days alternately dozing and observing, and of course nursing was just a little squirm away. People have remarked that they have hardly ever heard him cry, and I feel sure that babywearing has had something to do with his calm contentment.
As Benjamin grew, our babywearing needs changed. Although I know many people are sling devotees, I never got the hang of slinging while doing chores and was more comfortable carrying him on my back. Koreans traditionally carried their babies on their backs, and I had requested a Korean-style blanket from my relatives during my pregnancy. The baby is wrapped securely on your back in a blanket with straps behind his back and underneath his bottom, allowing your hips to carry most of the baby’s weight. We first tried it when Benjamin was about three months old, and he loved it! To see his little face peeking out while he was snugly wrapped in a blanket was adorable. As he got older, he would cling to my back like a baby monkey underneath the blanket, and occasionally I could feel him moving his legs up and down in excitement. Wrapping him up in his blanket was always a sure-fire way to get him to take a nap, as he would doze off quickly from the rhythm of riding on my back.
Before Benjamin was big enough for a frame backpack, I searched for a soft backpack and found that the Baby Trekker suited our needs well. When he was carried facing out, he enjoyed being able to observe things, and the flexible sides allowed him to take a nap easily. We completed an entire move, including all the packing, with him on my back in the Baby Trekker.
We went in and out of phases with the sling and tried different positions. When Benjamin was newborn, our favorites were a tube sling (the New Native) and an adjustable sling (the Rosado), with Benjamin in the horizontal newborn position. After he could hold his head up, he preferred a more vertical position. These days he likes the hip carry position, but up high enough so that he can rest his head on my chest and take a nap when he is tired. Sometimes he awakens without my noticing, and I glance down to see a little face beaming up at me! When we’re outside I tuck the sling up around his ears to protect him from the wind. In winter it helps to have a big coat, so that you can wear the sling and the baby inside of the coat and stay cozy.
Carrying your baby is very compatible with nursing on cue. If you are wearing your baby all the time, you learn to pick up on the need to nurse long before the baby cries out from hunger. And your quick response will enhance your child’s trust in you. Babywearing is also a great way to bring your baby to social events. Benjamin attended a noisy wedding reception when he was three months old and more recently attended a family party; both evenings he went to sleep in the sling while my husband and I chatted. With carriers like slings, it is easy to put your sleeping baby down for a nap, because he doesn’t notice the transition while snugly wrapped up.
Now that Benjamin is almost crawling and enjoys a lot of floor time, I don’t wear him every waking minute the way I used to, but I still make sure that we get a lot of carrying time each day. If I don’t, we are both a little grumpier. He enjoys being carried and allowed to quietly observe whatever I am doing, whether it is cooking, shopping, or taking a walk. Sometimes he prefers being in a carrier rather than just held in my arms, especially when he is overstimulated and tired. The sling gives him the closeness he needs while also allowing him to gently swing. It provides a different sort of physical intimacy than nursing or cosleeping–a unique combination of stimulation and tranquility.
I’m often asked how I can carry Benjamin, who now weighs 20 pounds. I became accustomed to his weight gain so slowly that I barely noticed it. I am not a big person, nor did I consider myself particularly strong, but I have never found Benjamin to be so heavy that I needed a stroller. (We did buy one, by the way, but both my husband and I found it to be more cumbersome, and less fun, than carrying our baby.) Other mothers have told me that their active toddlers like to have a lot of downtime in the sling, and that it continues to be a great aid in carrying a young child on the hip. Many mothers also find carriers invaluable when taking care of a baby and an older child at the same time. Wearing baby allows mom to focus on her toddler while keeping her baby close to her.
Of course an older child may benefit from a stroller when he is tired of walking. But a small infant who is not yet mobile will benefit hugely from every moment he spends in your arms or on your body, and you will reap the benefits, too, in his contentment and your increased responsiveness to each other. There’s no reason to put a stroller at the top of your list when preparing for a new baby, unless you have physical impairments that would make carrying a baby difficult. If you do find a stroller useful, consider using it only for an occasional outing.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
For more information, see Mothering’s Special Report on Babywearing
For babywearing safety tips, see “Babywearing 101”
Christine Gross-Loh completed a doctorate in East Asian history at Harvard University last year. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with her husband, David, their now 20-month-old son, Benjamin Noah, and their dog, Sydney.