This is something very near and dear to our hearts, literally – carrying our babies. It is such a seemingly simple choice, one that may seem trendy, or a choice made for convenience, but there is so much more to it. Unfortunately we hear many parents complain that they tried it and it did not work for them, that it hurt their back, their baby cried or it was too complicated. With the right support and information, babywearing can benefit any parent or caregiver’s life in so many ways, beyond having your hands free and keeping baby safe and calm.

A parent (usually a mother) may first turn to babywearing out of necessity. Most times, she has a baby that “demands” to be held at all times, by crying when they are out of arms, or she has an older child or children to chase after while also caring for her new baby. She may have found it easier to sit and simply hold baby the first time around, or take the stroller for walks, but now needs to keep baby in-arms, hands-free as she treks across parks and on field trips, or through stores with narrow aisles while keeping track of a pre-schooler or pushing a cart. Babywearing meets these needs perfectly. For parents with older children, wearing baby in a sling, especially one that sits on both shoulders and allows both hands to be free, such as a Babyhawk or Ergo, allows for walks on rough terrain, or for a fatigued toddler to ride in the stroller while baby rides in the sling, or for walking the dog while corralling the older child and keeping baby safe.

High needs babies also do especially well in carriers. Babies who suffer from reflux or who must be kept in a semi-upright position for any reason can be held tummy-to-tummy in almost any type of carrier, while babies who just want to be near a parent love being snuggled into their favourite sling. Studies show that the less a baby is allowed to cry before the age of three months, the less they will cry later in their first year, and slings facilitate tending to baby’s needs quickly so they cry less.

Other situations or phases may necessitate keeping baby close, such as premature births and growth spurts. Premature babies benefit enormously from Kangaroo Care, a practice that involves placing baby naked on mom’s bare chest. This regulates baby’s temperature (our breasts have the amazing ability to change temperature based on baby’s temperature when they are skin-to-skin, even changing to accommodate a twin on each breast if needed), and baby grows healthy and strong from the human touch and the comfort of mother’s heartbeat. Babywearing also facilitates breastfeeding beautifully, making it perfect for Kangaroo Care, growth spurts, nursing strikes and breast infections. Wearing baby close, preferably skin-to-skin, facilitates on-cue nursing, which in turn stimulates milk production.

The benefits to baby are many, and probably the most obvious benefits of babywearing. As mentioned, baby cries less, which may mean he is more calm as he grows older. He also has ready access to breastmilk. Being close to his parents and caregivers allows for solid bonding and attachment, which is important for long term security, self esteem and independence. Right from birth, riding in a carrier feels natural to baby, since it mimics the feeling of being closely held and contained in the womb. We often hear the comment “He looks squished in there!” While there are important proper positioning points to watch for, the “squished” appearance often means the pouch or ring sling is being worn correctly – if you can get your baby in, and it’s quite snug, it’s the right size! Parents often make the mistake of buying their pouch sling too large to avoid this “squishiness” and end up with their baby hanging down by their belt. A small baby who still experiences the startle reflex enjoys the security of having their limbs contained and of being positioned comfortably, similar to how they were before birth, something that is still a fresh memory to them.

One of my favourite parts of wearing my babies is the fact that they are always engaged by the “big people” around them. People will look them in the eye and talk to them, rather than just talking to me or my husband about the baby.

Another developmental advantage for which I was thankful was the replacement of prescribed tummy time with babywearing. Tummy time has become necessary with the institution of the Back to Sleep campaign. Babies now spend much of their days on their back on relatively hard surfaces – at night, in a crib or bassinet, or in a bed; during the day, in a pack and play, carseat and stroller. All of this time on their backs can lead to a flattening of the back of the head. It also leads to weaker neck muscles, as the baby never has a chance to exercise their neck lying on their back. Because of this, baby experts and health professionals now call for a prescribed amount of tummy time for baby each day, allowing baby to strengthen their neck and take the pressure off the back of their head for a while. Many babies (thought not all) dislike this. Luckily, babywearing doubles as tummy time, and if you’re wearing baby for an hour, or a number of hours, each day, she is receiving much more exercise for her neck and back than she would have during the prescribed amount of tummy time, and she is also kept off her back, warding off the flat head. When a baby is in a sling, especially once they are in an upright position, which is possible from birth and ideal from four or six months and up, their core muscles are constantly engaged as their parent moves and goes about their day. Though baby’s body is well-supported, safe and secure in the carrier, small shifts in their parent’s body position cause them to shift as well, in turn strengthening their muscles. They also lift their heads to see or to turn their head, which strengthens their neck in the same way tummy time would.

Babywearing is also great for parents adopting a baby or older child. In this situation, bonding is especially crucial since it may be delayed by circumstances and the parents and baby will not necessarily have the help of specific hormones at specific times to aid in bonding. Wearing the baby or child as much as possible will speed bonding and even help treat attachment disorder when needed. It allows the parent to continue in daily routines while getting to know their child, and it makes the child feel loved, nurtured and special as they adjust to their new home and family.

The benefits aren’t just for the baby, though. Moms benefit enormously as well. One story that has stuck with me is of a mother who came into my store and started to chat about how much she loves wearing her baby. She explained that she suffered from post-partum depression and struggled with this, but quickly found that she felt much better while wearing her new baby skin-to-skin. Her baby would calm down and be content, which helped her to feel more calm, but more importantly she found that the hormones released by having her baby close improved her depression greatly. It is said that the increased attachment facilitated by babywearing also increases a mother’s confidence in her abilities to mother, which also has a positive effect on her emotional state.

Moms benefit physically as well. Carrying a baby from birth makes sense in a biological sense. For tens of thousands of years we have carried our babies on our bodies from birth, helping to keep us physically fit post-partum, and allowing us to adjust to our baby’s weight as she grows so that carrying her continues to feel comfortable as she grows heavier. Although jogging or riding a bike definitely calls for a specially designed stroller, a sling is perfect for walking and hiking, and you don’t have to worry about special, expensive wheels that will allow you to go off the trail or over rocky terrain! Walking while wearing a baby is a wonderful, gentle post-partum workout as well as a great way to get baby to sleep at bedtime or for naps. Babywearing can, surprisingly, be easier on a parent’s back than pushing a stroller. Though a properly sized stroller is more comfortable than an improperly sized, worn or designed baby carrier, some parents do end up pushing strollers that are too short for them, which, I know from experience, is very hard on the back. Meanwhile, a properly sized and worn carrier distributes weight on the hips and evenly on the shoulders and across the back, spreading it out and not placing too much weight in any one area. The baby should be at or above the parent’s belly button level, placing him in the parent’s centre of gravity and allowing the parent to stand up straight, not being pulled forward or slouching their back. Using a carrier properly, a parent or caregiver can comfortably and safely wear their child well into toddlerhood and even the pre-school years.

And of course there are rather selfish reasons for babywearing, as well, which is good since it can be nearly impossible to be at all selfish as a mom. One benefit is that of convenience. Wearing your baby allows your hands to be free for shopping, typing, or any hobby you may want to engage in. You can do many of the things you used to and go many of the places you used to go with baby securely attached.

Another selfish benefit of babywearing is that of style. While there are some very stylish strollers out there, slings and carriers offer endless options of patterns, colours, fabrics and styles. A baby carrier can nearly take the place of shirts and therefore should be stylish and make the wearer feel good. As a new mom, it can be hard to get a shower once a week, or brush your teeth or hair, or get out of the house without spit-up on your shoulder. Wearing a sling that is beautiful and makes you feel great can go a long way toward boosting your self-esteem during this time of no sleep and minimal self-care. The little things make a big difference!

Last, babywearing has undeniable benefits for dads. Some parents feel that moms have an unfair advantage in bonding with baby because of their ability to breastfeed. This may lead the parents to choose to bottlefeed (breastmilk or formula) so that dad has a chance to bond with baby in the same way mom does, which may or may not be the best long-term choice for baby and for the nursing relationship. An alternative option for dads to bond with their baby is to wear her as much as possible. Dad can take care of bedtime duty or wear baby during everyday activities. This provides closeness for dad and baby, keeping baby face-to-face with her father, allowing them to chat and make eye contact, and also familiarizing baby with the feeling of daddy, his scent, the sound of his heart and of his voice.