In cities, is babywearing more practical than political?

The author and daughter navigating San Francisco’s Chinatown streets with a stroller.

I’ve visited the Bay Area before, but never with a child. Along with a yoga mat (I planned on attending yoga on the labyrinth in Grace Cathedral), I also packed onesies, sippy cups, and our stroller. As my daughter is nearing her first birthday, I’m finding it increasingly difficult to “wear” her for longer periods of time before needing to give my back a break. This saddens me, as I enjoyed the many days spent with her strapped to my chest while walking all around our home town, easily taking her along to any destination without needing to worry about stroller accommodations, alternate routes for stairways, or easy soothing (she was her most calm and peaceful when close to my chest).

While I was drawn to babywearing because it turned out to be the easiest way to incorporate my new baby into my existing lifestyle and because I found the physical closeness as enjoyable as she did, I soon realized that as a “parenting choice,” babywearing is about much more than choosing your favorite wrap. Before long, I became aware of the rhetoric surrounding babywearing in the mainstream media and on blogs focused on parenting practices. Babywearing – as a visible extension of Attachment Parenting – was laden with connotations often used to infer meaning (however accurately) about a parent’s take on child rearing.

And even within the babywearing community, there seemed to be an implied system of codes by which to operate and strong opinions in favor of some methods and wraps over others. An art professor friend of ours swore by the Nojo Wrap – the original ring sling designed by Dr. Sears – and teased us about our “yuppie” Baby Björn carrier that we had received from my parents. Another friend lauded the Moby wrap while yet another introduced us to the benefits of the tightly woven German-made Storchenwiege. The latter, at a whopping hundred dollars plus left me thinking that the not-so-economical Moby came as a real steal. In the end, I used two hand-made Moby knock-offs gifted to me by friends, a Maya ring sling found for twelve bucks at a consignment shop, and our pricey but much adored Baby Björn Comfort Carrier splurged on by my parents.

The author’s husband and daughter taking in artwork by Barry McGee at the SFMoMA.

Parenting philosophies aside, my husband and I became babywearing fans. It just made sense to us. And so, with her growing girth, we were a little sad to pack the carriers away and opt for the stroller more often than not. It would be the stroller that would come along with us for our trip to San Francisco.

As I struggled with walks on narrow and uneven sidewalks through the city, I remembered why I loved wearing my daughter so much; just try taking a stroller through Chinatown and you’ll see what I mean. And I soon came to notice that many more mothers (not so many fathers, sadly) were wearing their babies rather than pushing them around in awkward four-wheeled contraptions. I eyed them enviously as I pushed my stroller between hurrying pedestrians in the Financial Disctrict and wrestled it around sidewalk cafe tables in the bucolic North Beach neighborhood.

Which made me wonder, are all those parents devout Attachment parents or simply individuals who have come to recognize the benefits of babywearing? In a busy city and on densely packed urban streets, babywearing reads as more practical than political. And in the end, isn’t that what parenting is all about?

“Happy parenting” strikes me as borne of practicality and of finding suitable solutions to everyday tasks that makes life a more enjoyable for parents and children alike. Labels and monikers aside, aren’t parents just in search for practical solutions that make navigating this often difficult job a little easier and a little less stressful? If so, babywearing – whether as an ideological statement or otherwise – just makes sense.

Ruxandra Looft

About Ruxandra Looft

Ruxandra Looft is a writer and editor based in Des Moines, Iowa. Originally from Romania, she’s called Germany, Austria, and Canada her home before settling in the Midwest. She holds a PhD in German and Comparative Literature and writes about parenthood, academia, and life on two wheels on her blog Simply Bike. Find more of her writing on her website and on Twitter @Simply Bike.