Izzy wasn’t a fussy baby, just one who couldn’t switch off and preferred to be in her mother’s arms. After three months of struggling to get Izzy relaxed enough to sleep, her mum Becki Wallace decided to try baby wearing. She settled on a soft wrap that kept Izzy close and snuggly, and gently rocked her as her mom moved about. It also meant that she would have her hands free for household tasks.
Wallace is one of a growing number of parents finding freedom and other benefits through babywearing. Yet despite its relatively recent growth in popularity, this is not a new practice.
Women around the world have been wearing their babies for centuries, particularly in Asia, South America and Africa. Western cultures are working their way back the practice, which lost popularity with the introduction of the pram.
There are several types of baby carriers, from soft wraps and slings, which are fairly basic and have to be tied, to structured carriers that have buckles and stitching. Each carrier is suitable for different ages and purposes, and some babies (and parents) may prefer one type over another.
To help parents choose the best carrier for their baby and their needs, women can turn to regular workshops in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, or social media support groups both here and abroad.
Baby wearing bonding, freedom and comfort
Yesika Suarez, a certified baby wearing consultant and mother of three, runs monthly workshops at Bodytree Studio in Abu Dhabi.
“Baby wearing is the practice of carrying your baby close to you with the help of a sling or carrier,” Suarez says. “It can be introduced from birth and with the correct set-up and appropriate carrier, can take you through the toddler years.”
The benefits of baby wearing, for parents and babies, goes beyond transportation and freedom of movement.
“It allows the caregiver to practise skin-to-skin contact in a safe, hands-free manner and can help overcome anxiety and ease postnatal depression,” Suarez explains. “Babywearing helps with bonding, especially for fathers. Research shows that developing a closer relationship with the baby helps it to feel secure and protected. In addition, carried babies tend to be more settled and sleep for longer.”
Mothers who carry their babies often find their milk production is stimulated, she says.
Once breastfeeding is well-established, many are able to feed on the go, while using the carrier as an aid.
“A baby in a carrier is in an active position, which helps with muscle development. It can also help babies who have colic and has been shown to reduce crying.”
Choosing a baby carrier
Carriers are not necessarily one-size-fits-all and some types are better than others for certain purposes.
Regardless, it is important to find one that is ergonomic. “Choose a carrier that will allow your baby to maintain the ‘M’ shape through their legs to protect their spine and hips,” advises Suarez. “One way to tell if it’s ergonomic is that the seat should go from knee to knee and the carrier should preserve the natural ‘C’ shape of the baby’s spine.
“Special considerations need to be made if the baby has low muscle tone, is premature or had a low birth weight.”
Suarez likens carriers to shoes, because “there is one carrier for each occasion”.
Depending on their budget, parents might prefer a versatile carrier that will see them through their babywearing journey, or they could start with a stretchy wrap or hybrid that allows them to keep their little one snuggled and cosy, usually until nine to 12 kilograms.
“After this period, it might be a good idea to upgrade to something with more support, such as a soft-structured carrier, which normally provides padding for the baby and caregiver and has a weight limit of around 20kg,” she said.
Sarah Lander is a mother of two and founder of Luxe Carriers and runs babywearing workshops in Dubai. She is also a babywearing consultant.
There are three things that need to be considered when choosing a baby carrier, she advises.
These are the age and developmental stage of the baby; who will be wearing the carrier; and what purpose you’ll be using the carrier for.
“Having a consultation with a trained babywearing consultant will help answer these needs,” Sarah explains. “They will have a good knowledge of what types of carriers suit these three situations. There is nothing worse than purchasing a carrier that comes highly regarded by a friend or website and finding it doesn’t work for you. Each body is different.”
The main types of carriers include:
Wrap: Made from soft stretchy material that needs to be wrapped around the wearer and baby, then tied securely. Excellent for newborns, but they can be used up to 12kg. Can be complicated at first.
Ring sling: Long rectangular piece of non-stretch woven fabric fastened with two rings over one shoulder. Suitable for newborns to toddlers, but not recommended for wearers with back complaints.
Mei dai (mei tai): Asian-style carrier with straps that are tied to create a custom fit. Better suited to older babies and toddlers, and can be worn on the front, back or hip.
Soft-structured carrier: Popular carrier with a waistband and straps that can be adjusted to suit the size of the wearer and baby. Suitable for older babies to toddlers, however some can be used for newborns with an insert.
Baby wearing from newborn to toddlerhood
Now almost two years old, Izzy still enjoys being ‘worn’ and Wallace’s assortment of carriers has expanded to accommodate their changing needs. As well as the soft Boba wrap, which she used until recently, Becki now has a structured carrier (Bjorn Air One), which she started using when Izzy was 12 months old, and a hip seat for use in the kitchen.
“The structured carrier is excellent when travelling, especially on uneven ground where the buggy would be a hassle, like when we went hiking in Portugal and roaming the streets of Lisbon, or just a few weeks ago when we visited Hatta,” she says.
“I started using the hip seat at home when she got heavier as I was getting tendonitis from carrying her in my arms,” says Wallace. “It’s brilliant when she wants to be up and involved in what’s going on, or if she’s tired or poorly, or first thing in the morning and in need of a snuggle. It still needs my left hand to steady her, but we now work as a team a lot of the time, so she’s my other set of hands.
“Fundamentally, babywearing works for me because I have always wanted to be responsive to her, especially her need to be ‘up’, close and involved, while also meeting my needs for freedom and getting stuff done. It saves my sanity.”
To find out more about baby wearing and choosing the right carrier for your baby and your needs, attend one of Yesika Suarez’s monthly workshops at Bodytree Studio in Abu Dhabi or Sarah’s workshops in Dubai. Both offer carriers for rent or purchase.
Feature photo Shutterstock
Amanda Tomlinson is an Australian journalist who has lived in the UAE for almost 11 years. She is still finding her feet in her new role as a mother to a 1-year-old boy, but believes that every misadventure is an opportunity for growth. When Amanda is not singing and dancing around the house with her son, she can be found working out with him, traveling the world with him and trying hard to get some work done.