As residents or natives of Asia, we certainly don’t need to be told that babywearing – wearing or carrying your baby in a sling or other form of carrier – is a very traditional practice. But, traditional doesn’t necessarily equate to good. When pushchairs and prams promise an easier life for mum and dad – not only saving parents’ backs from the strain of carrying a baby, but also providing a useful trolley for carrying shopping and baby paraphernalia – you might think twice about babywearing. And yet it is becoming an increasingly popular practice.
“Keeping baby close is one of the fundamentals of attachment parenting, a style of parenting where close parental bonding with the child as it grows is thought to lead to confident, happy and empathetic adults,” explains Hulda Thorey, head midwife and founder of Annerley. “There is much research that supports the theory. For example, at the most basic level, we know that baby wearing makes it easier to breastfeed, and there is a great deal of research about the benefits of breastfeeding in child development and health,” she says.
“The immediate benefits of babywearing include an easier bonding between a mother or father and baby, which helps prevent postnatal depression and develops the paternal bond; and increased mobility for a mum, so that she can get tasks done and/or take care of older children,” Hulda continues. “And babies who are carried tend to be calmer and sleep better. Research also suggests that these babies are socialised sooner because they hear language and see more human interaction from their special vantage point.”
In Hong Kong’s stroller-unfriendly streets, babywearing also offers an easier way to get around. Therese Tee, a passionate babywearer, says: “We rarely use a stroller, as I find it too cumbersome in Hong Kong… Even when we travel on vacation, we always carry the little one and leave the stroller behind.”
Another babywearing fan, Liz Chow, also vouches for the convenience: “I didn’t intend to practise attachment parenting; it just sort of came naturally and babywearing was a big part of it. We didn’t have a helper, so I brought my baby with me wherever I went, nap time, all the time. It was convenient and really nice to just always have her so close.” carried away This month, the world will celebrate International Babywearing Week. Katie McGregor describes the burdens and bonuses of travelling with a baby on board.
A fine art
If you have tried baby wearing using a sling, you will already know it’s not easy at first. The Babywearing International organisation suggests that babywearing is best viewed as a skill to be learned, rather than the result of the product you buy. Useful tips on their website (www.babywearinginternational.org) include practising with a doll, practising “loading” the baby while seated on the floor, and if you are back-loading for an older baby, practising with someone to “spot” you and catch the baby if necessary. The site also provides lots of common-sense tips on safety.
Another concern is the possibility of musculoskeletal damage that babywearing may cause both baby and parents. Dr Michelle Zhou, an Australian-trained chiropractor who practises in Hong Kong, advises that there are three key stages of development for a baby’s spine, and the ideal manner of carrying and carrier type depends on the baby’s stage of development.
“As a newborn, the whole of baby’s spine is in kyphosis (con caved towards the abdomen) with very little neck control. A sling made of breathable fabric that holds baby in a horizontal or diagonal position with head and bottom curved inwards provides the best support. And with baby held across Mum’s tummy, she is in a perfect position for breastfeeding and keeps nice and warm, and Mum can keep an eye on her,” she says.
Around three months of age, when a baby has better neck control and is able to hold her head up, her first adult spinal lordosis (convex towards the abdomen) in the neck region starts to develop. Michelle advises that a vertical carrying position becomes more beneficial, strengthening baby’s neck muscles and also developing and training her inner ear balance mechanism. However, care should be taken to ensure that the baby’s lower back, which is still in kyphosis, is supported in its inward curving position.
“As the baby is gaining weight quickly, the pelvic support of the carrier needs to be broad so that the baby’s weight is spread over a wider area, rather concentrated onto a small point – often the crotch. A carrier with a broad-based ‘seat’, ideally extending all the way to his knees, is ideal. At this stage, the baby should be carried facing Mum or Dad,” says Michelle.
“I have always advised against wearing baby facing outwards, as this places a tremendous amount of strain on baby’s pubis, the smallest and weakest part of the pelvis. Many parents are concerned about hip dysplasia from the wide spread hip position when baby faces inwards, but, in fact, when well-supported by a broad-based ‘seat’ carrier, the open hip position is a very normal movement for the hip, especially in babies,” she says.
The second and final lordosis in the lower back starts to develop once the baby starts crawling and sitting. As she approaches her first birthday, a baby may have outgrown her broad-based carrier and at this stage, Michelle recommends a strap-on hip-seat that allows Mum or Dad to maintain a neutral upright posture while carrying baby.
If done right, parents can choose to continue carrying their baby well into baby’s second year, but there is some concern that so much carrying can result in an overly clingy baby. Hulda responds: “Of course, all babies are different, but if a baby is clingy then it probably is insecure and the best cure is more closeness, not less. In my experience, when your toddler is ready to leave the nest, she will, as fast as her legs will carry her. You’ll be yearning for the time when she was safely strapped in and you were in control. But that’s another story.” The immediate benefits of baby wearing include an easier bonding between a mother or father and baby.
“The immediate benefits of baby wearing include an easier bonding
between a mother or father and baby.”