Monday, January 16, 2012

On Babywearing

I have a confession to make: I hate babywearing. I don't hate it as a trend, or as a practice, or as an ideal. I just hate doing it.

Ever since NJ was a baby, I've owned a Babyhawk mei tai. I put the brand name here, even though I don't usually specifically endorse products, because I believe this is a well-made, quality product that deserves specific mention. After all, I've been using it for 5 years, with three babies, and it's still going strong. Mine has a cool dragon pattern on the outside.

Here's NJ in it:

And here's SB in it:

And, of course, GI in it, famously breastfeeding as we hiked (as seen in pictures last week as well):

The point of this is to show you that, yes, I've used it with three babies. Granted, it may not be obvious that this is three different babies, but you can see that I've aged a bit in five years, and certainly gained some weight (although that's a post for another time!).

See, in theory, I like the concept of babywearing. I should define that, first, I suppose. The idea of babywearing is that the baby still needs to be close to mom even after birth, so rather than putting him down all the time, you should be holding him. Holding the baby helps him adjust to your rhythms of life, your breathing, your heartbeat, and your daily activity. The motion soothes him, being exposed to daylight during the day helps him regulate his circadian rhythms, and it's comforting to him to be near mom. Of course, carrying a baby all day isn't practical, since we typically need our hands free for, well, everything else, so we have many cultures throughout the world who have invented various types of baby carriers, so that rather than hold the baby in arms, we can "wear" him. (Obviously, anyone can wear the baby - dad, grandma, aunt, big sibling, but I'm talking about me, so it's a generic "mom" right now.)

There are many types of carriers. There are upright, structured carriers like the Ergo or Beco. These are variations on the Asian-style carrier, the mei tai, like the one I use. There are slings, which are basically just a folded-over piece of fabric sewn into a loop you put over one shoulder and put the baby into the pouch that is created. There are several different kinds of slings. There's the ever-popular Moby Wrap, which is a very long strip of fabric that you can wrap and tie around yourself in various ways to hold the baby in different positions. And more well-known brands such as Baby Bjorn and Snugli are contributions to the plethora of baby carriers that allow you to keep baby close at all times, rather than put him down.

There are many conveniences to babywearing. My hiking example is a great one. You can't put a young baby in a structured backpack - they don't have the trunk strength to support their upper body and head in one of those until they're older. But you can wrap them securely around your front, where your body supports theirs. Plus, as mentioned, you can even nurse them in there. 

Another example is shopping. Before baby is able to sit upright in the seat of a shopping cart, shopping with baby can be a real challenge. I'm not comfortable propping the baby's carseat atop the cart, as many, many people do. It is not safe; the cart and carseat are not designed to fit together, and a little bump can send the carseat tumbling to the floor. But what to do? You can try shopping with baby in a stroller and putting your items in the stroller basket, but that's inconvenient, and it's hard to buy larger items or a lot at one time. Some supermarkets have infant seats attached to them, but they're often grimy, in disrepair, and don't have a great harness. But, if you wear your baby while shopping, you can push the shopping cart, fill it to the brim, and know baby is safe at all times.*

*I'm assuming here that you are using your baby carrier in its intended way and that you know all of the safety guidelines and instructions for using it properly.

You can baby-wear around the house, when doing laundry, vacuuming (the sound of a vacuum is usually soothing to a fussy newborn), caring for older children. You can wear the baby at the park or the zoo or at school so that your hands are free for your older children and baby is always with you.

So now that I've talked up babywearing so much, what about what I said up there, about hating it?

Well, the thing is, I do.

I hate grocery shopping while wearing the baby, because I can't lean over to get things from low shelves or to unload my cart onto the belt at the cash register. I can't lift anything heavy, like a case of water, because my center of balance is off and I have this big bulge of baby in front of me.

I don't feel comfortable cooking or washing dishes while wearing the baby. What if oil should splatter or hot water should splash?

I can't pick up my toddler while wearing the baby.

I can't sit down while wearing the baby - his feet get in the way.

I can't do my day job while wearing the baby. See feet problem.

I hate the extra weight on my feet and hips. My back and shoulders and legs always ache after a day of wearing him. I suppose if I wore him all the time, I'd get used to it?

I can't eat while wearing the baby. My arms feel like they're so far away from me, and I'm afraid I'll drop food on his head.

Most of all, I hate tying and untying, tying and untying, tying and untying the darn thing all the time!

I think my problem is that I want to babywear, but I'm not comfortable doing it. It's possible that some other carrier might work better for me - a Moby, perhaps - although I haven't tried one. An Ergo or Beco would eliminate the tying-untying thing, but still have all the other problems.

When the baby is a bit older, I'll be able to wear him on my back, and then I suppose I could cook and shop and such more easily. But you can't wear a newborn on your back in a mei tai.

I have to admit it, though. I really look forward to when GI is able to sit on his own and I can just plop him into the seat of the cart or in a high chair in a restaurant. Much easier. For me.

I'm not trying to disparage babywearing. In theory, I love the idea of it. I love that there are so many choices of carrier out there, and so many different ways to "wear" your baby as he grows. I agree wholeheartedly with all of the benefits of it. I do use my carrier. I do. But it's out of necessity and not love, and only when the convenience outweighs the irritation.

Whew. Glad to get that off my chest.

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