Holding Baby with your Heart: No Babywearing Required!

To begin, I would not describe myself as a babywearer, but I do wear my 9 month old from time to time. For instance, it is much more convenient than a stroller when going in and out of shops. It is also a necessity when I garden in the front of my house, as he would crawl away and get into the less baby friendly plants I have there. When he was a newborn I held and wore him quite a bit for my own comfort, but I always made sure that he had time on his back on his own to move his body. I recently read an article suggesting that babies NEED to be worn in a carrier for the first 9 months of their lives; I do not agree with. I do not agree that we are neglecting our babies basic needs if we give them time on their own, in fact, I believe that we ARE meeting their needs when we allow independence to freely move their new bodies and experience the new world on their own.

“Young babies need both to be held and to be able to move freely in their cribs. Often parents believe holding is good, being left alone in a crib is not. I believe babies need both. There are sound physiological reasons why a newborn should not be held all of the time. To begin with, he must adapt to his new capabilities outside of the womb, by kicking, stretching, curling and uncurling his body. IN a crib (or playpen) he can do this at will-and with ease.” ~Magda Gerber

The thing that got to me a bit in this article was how it criticizes the idea that infants CAN be happy alone in a crib or on a blanket. Some babies, such as mine, were OVER stimulated being held by us all the time. When we finally listened to him instead of listening to parenting methods and books, we found that he thrived from having time to himself. That being said, she does point out a lot of positive things about what babies need. She speaks of the simplicity and quiet that newborns need and the importance of touch in infancy and childhood. I think that it is good to have this information for balance; between giving them physical and emotional attention as well then letting them have some space to themselves. Wear your baby from time to time if that is what you like, but perhaps think of the benefit even tiny newborns might receive from even 5 minute intervals of time alone (in a safe place) on their backs to move on their own accord. Lisa Sunbury articulates nicely: “Ideally, young babies are placed on their back not just for sleep, but for play time as well, because this is the position that most supports their bodies, and in which they are most relaxed, and free to move.”

I believe that Elizabeth, the author of this article, does make a good point, babies DO need a more womb-like protection for the first year (or more) of their lives. But this does not necessarily have to mean a physical womb-like protection. There is a kind of ‘holding’ we can do as mothers and caretakers that takes place in our hearts and minds; we can create an atmosphere for the child that is filled with the warmth and protection they need. When my son is out on his own in the space around me, I am always ‘holding’ him with me; in the way I move and the songs I sing and even in my quiet meditative thoughts (when I can keep them calm and tame that is). In Anthroposphy, the image of the Madonna and child is a meditation for how we relate to young children. I interpret this as creating a peaceful and spiritual ambiance for the child as well as a protective, loving presence in our actions and our thoughts. Even in how we work with our environment and objects within by carefully handling everything with slow, patient movements to imbue the entire space with peace and calm.

Magda spoke of how when we sit and observe our children in their triumphs and challenges, sharing in their discovery of their unfolding world, this is how we give them the quality time they need. On one of Janet Lansbury’s blog posts, she writes about how “wants nothing” quality time “can encompass a wide range of experiences, but all we are asked to do is pay attention and have no agenda of our own. It can mean being quietly available as a baby explores patterns of light on a blanket beneath him, or standing nearby while he has a screaming meltdown because he cannot have another cookie. It may be trickier to see the benefit for parents and caregivers in this latter scenario, but it is clarity. When we pay full attention to our child for intervals each day, no matter what the tone of our exchange or the outcome is, we are giving him the quality time he needs. We are doing our job.”

It is in these quiet movements of reflective observation that we can connect with these new beings. We can create a “womb-like” and spiritual environment for our little ones and create connection through observation. It is with these two things in mind that I spent my time with young children as a teacher and now with my son as a mother.

If you do choose to wear you baby around a lot, spine safety for the infant must be taken into account, as well as proper posture for the wearer. There are certain carriers and positions that could be harmful for your child, such as forward facing positions and unsupportive/uncomfortable slings and wraps. I think baby-wearing is a matter of ones own choice, it works for some and that is fine but when physically holding your baby around the clock doesn’t work for you anymore, that is just fine as well and you will both benefit from some space.

Encouraging Baby’s Independance…And Mother’s Sanity

When my Son was 4 months old, he never, ever wanted to be set down on his own. When I needed to eat or use the restroom, he would get so mad that he was out of my arms and scream the entire time. Carrying around a 15 pound child all day long was not only physically exhausting, but emotionally exhausting as well, as I did not have my own space to take care of my basic needs. In addition to what I was feeling, my Son was not getting what he needed either. Sure he WANTED to be held, but he NEEDED to be able to move on his own and explore his individual place in the world. In her book Dear Parent: Caring for your Infant with Respect, Magda Gerber writes: “Parents who carry their babies most of the time are not giving their infants the opportunity to move according to their readiness. Most animals can show emotion only through touch, but we as humans have an extensive, varied and refined repertoire of ways to demonstrate love.”

So I was in a position where I was ready for something to change before I had a breakdown. Following Magda Gerbers advice, I would set him down for longer and longer periods of time. At first, he was so mad, he would cry and cry. After a little time, I would pick him up and instead of just mindlessly carrying him around as I had done before, I would really be present with him. I would talk to him about how great he was doing, getting used to being on his own, and how it IS hard to adjust to life here on earth and it’s perfectly alright to cry about it. Eventually, he was on his own longer and in my arms less and we were both finally free to be independent beings, co-existing with respect and love for the other.

Now I have my Son who couldn’t be happier crawling around my whole house while I sit in peace drinking tea and working on my own. He has finally gained the confidence he needed to play on his own. In her post Infant Play-Great Minds at Work, Janet Lansbury writes: “Babies are self-learners and what they truly need is the time, freedom and trust to just “be.” She shares a video of a boy who was left to play on his own for uninterrupted play from infancy:    

 “The first section is a four and a half month old boy playing outside. We then see the same boy at two years old focusing on a puzzle.  This boy spent his early years in free exploration between naps, feedings and diaper changes.  He was never directed, taught, or otherwise shown ‘how’ he should play. He was only interrupted when absolutely necessary.” I try to remind myself of the last part, and let my Son play uninterrupted. When he needs me, he always lets me know.

One thing I want to be clear of after sharing this story is that this what what my son and I needed. I know of so many mothers who choose to hold and wear their baby for large portions of the day, and I think that is great. It shows me that those mothers are responding to what THEIR children need. If it works for you and your family, then it must be the right fit. If it doesn’t work, which in my case was true, children are adaptable and intelligent beings that will fit into the lifestyle that works for you and your family as a whole.