A vision of babywearing

“by Isabelle SOUBEYRAND”

Isabelle Soubeyrand has been a babywearing educator for five years and a master instructor for three years.
She is teaching for the French national babywearing association “Porter son enfant, tout un art” and the French national babywearing training center (CNFPB).
Isabelle Soubeyrand is also babywearing and a skin-to-skin cares counselor in the neonatal medecine department of the Lyon Croix-Rousse hospital under direction of Pr. Picaud.
She is also instructing kindergarden teachers and healthcare professionals in France and other French-speaking European countries.

Hubertine: The question everyone is asking is “Why babywearing a child”?

Isabelle  Soubeyrand: The first thing I tell parents when they ask the question is “This is already what you are doing all day (carrying your child)”.

So why babywearing? Simply because it answers your baby’s need to be close to you and at the same time being hands free. It just support parents in what they are already doing all day: carrying their child and going on with their lives. No more, no less.

HBT: Beyond the advantages of being hands free and answering the baby’s need for contact, what are the other benefits of babywearing?

I. S.: Nowadays the benefits of babywearing have been widely proven and go without saying. When a baby is being carried in a wrap, it isn’t only a way to transport him/her, it also answers a global physical dynamics that is necessary to the child’s development.

Babies that have been carried will generaly walk earlier and will have better motor skills than babies that have not been carried*. Babywearing sets up a whole dynamic: the baby actively takes part to its carrying through the grasping reflex. Hence the importance of a correct positioning. If the position isn’t right, the baby will fight harder to grab onto its parent. Whereas if the position is right, with curved back and knees higher than bottom, the baby will be able to work on his/her posture, balance and muscles development, especially the abdominal muscles. The goal isn’t to get six pack abs, but to have good deep abdominal muscles, the one in charge of holding all organs.

When a child is carried, she/he follows the movement of the parent and therefore works his/her balance. In order to learn to walk, the baby will need both balance and tone. When the parent will lean, the baby will try to hold him/herself up. This is the early beginning of his/her motor development. Without babywearing this action would take place around 3 to 4 months. This is why babies that are carried have a far better development than the ones that aren’t.

HBT: Speaking of early development, what can you say about babywearing leading to early signs of language?

I. S.: First, it is important to say that language for babies isn’t a vocal one. When babies are crying, it is an alarm signal that requires a great deal of energy. So they are not crying on purpose. Before crying, the baby has already spent a certain time trying to express that something is wrong through body language (facial expressions and entire body movements). When the parents are holding their child so close, it is easier for them to interpret the baby’s language and they will understand the message faster than if the child is in a bouncer further away.

The best known form of body language is the one the baby uses to express hunger. A hungry baby will open his/her mouth, dig and rub his/her face against his/her mother. She/he will try to access his/her mother’s breast by him/herself. And indeed a baby is perfectly capable to do it. The babywearing mother will therefore be able to understand the message her baby is trying to express. She will be able to answer her baby’s need before s/he starts crying.

We just talked about breastfeeding, but all actions in a baby’s life are first expressed by body language before vocal language.

Several speech therapists have noted that babies reach vocal language easier if they have been carried a lot.

A study has been done with partially deaf babies that were often carried and that were babbling. Indeed a newborn only sees clearly around 15 to 30 cm, which is a really short sight. Further than that, the baby can only see contrasts and blurred lines. When babywearing the infant can observe the mouth articulation’s movements and can feel the vibrations coming from the throat. The baby can then be able to speak even though s/he is partially deaf. This principle also applies to those who can hear correctly, they can be able to do the same observations and feel the same vibrations. And thus, they can have access to speech faster.

HBT: All those benefits from babywearing are terrific!

I. S.: Indeed it is fascinating and this is what I’ve been dedicating myself to for more than 3 years now. When I started my medical training, I became aware of all the benefits resulting from babywearing. It goes far beyond transportation and the pleasure to feel your baby close to you. You are depriving yourself and your child from so many advantages if choosing not to babywear.

 

*Blandine Bril dans Materner du premier cri aux premiers pas aux Éditions Odile Jacob.

Either you are carrying your child one or ten hours a day, either everyday or once a month, you can still make the most out of these moments to offer your baby other possibilities than just a simple ride.

HBT: In which scenario, for which pathology do you especially recommand babywearing?

I. S.: There are indeed cases for which babywearing is essential. I even work with healthcare professional that prescribe it. It goes from children born with hip dysplasia or hypotonic babies, to premies or visually impaired kids.

In the case of hip displasia, positioning the babies in abduction allows them to fight against the displasia. There are even cases for which, after a lot of babywearing, babies do not even need prosthesis.

For hypnotic babies, we encourage short ups to improve the grasping reflex, a competence that is natural to all children.

I work a lot with babies in handicap situation. Babywearing not only stimulates their motor skills and allows them to catch up their backwardness induced by the handicap, but also prevents them to develop other pathologies later. For example, we can help babies with Down syndrom to hold their head. In the right position, with the back of the neck well supported, their head weighs less and they can start turning it and developping their motor skills.

A study has also been conducted with visually impaired children. These kids usually start walking around three years old. It is indeed hard to learn to walk without seeing. Babywearing a visually impaired children, will allow them to feel the body movement of their parent and will stimulate their balance. So even if the babies cannot see, they will still get the stimulation from a walking person and thus achieve walking earlier.

For babies with acid reflux, babywearing will keep them in a vertical position and avoid the pain of milk reflux due to their immature sphincter…

HBT: We also hear about “painkiller” effects. What are they?

I. S.: The baby secretes substances such as oxytocin, endorphin, dopamine, etc. which are natural pain killers.

I also work with mothers that used to be drug addicts while pregnant to help their child during the giving up period. The withdrawal process is very painful and through intensive babywearing we may avoid having to complement the newborn with harmful substances such as morphine.

Babywearing can ease all sorts of pain, either teathing or open heart surgery.

It also helps the parent feel competent since he can do something concrete for his child. He can become a “savior parent”.

If the baby is secreting endorphins, it is also the case for the parent. Wearing her baby close to her helps the mother fight against post-natal depression. Babywearing acts as a natural “antidepressant”.

HBT: Where does the suspicion of spoiling babies come from?

I. S.: If a baby wants to be held and carried it isn’t just a tantrum, but a physical need. Babies are neither miniature adults nor adults to be. They have much less neurons as adults, and their neocortex is less developed. They are therefore unable to intellectualise about their needs.

Holding babies will help them rationalise about their fears and anxieties until they manage to do it by themselves. Children are able to rationalise starting from 7 years old, the so-called “age of reason”. The human brain continues to grow and develop itself until 25 years old. Knowing that, how could we expect a baby to have the same reasoning capacities as a adult? Babies have needs, not desires.Babywearing aims to answer the baby’s needs by also answering the parent’s needs.

HBT: Talking about our needs, how can babywearing help the parents?

I. S.: In our society, we are understanding more and more the baby’s and children’s needs but not necessarily the mother’s. Answering a baby’s needs 24/7 alone is a huge challenge. With help from family members for household chores or taking care of the eldest child(s), makes it much easier for the mother to answer her baby’s needs. But a stand-alone mother, ends up doing the parenting work all by herself when it is actually something that should be shared by many persons. Babywearing allows the mother to achieve plenty, to take care of others and of herself too while carrying her baby and showing her child how to become a future adult.

HBT: To sum up, a carried baby is…?

I. S.: …a baby that is well taken care of.

These preliminary answers might make you want to learn more. Lots of works are available on this subject. Also feel free to contact a babywearing consultant or associations promoting babywearing.