Evidence Based Babywearing

In our current society, more products than ever are available to take our newborns out of our arms and into other containers.  From the first moments of birth, our babies are taken from our arms.  According to Nils Bergman, a doctor specializing in Kangaroo Mother Care, behavior of babies is determined by their environment.  As even the full term baby is born biologically immature, with only 25% of final brain size - evolution has removed our ability to release our baby from the mother.  The implications of the bucket society are wider than we could ever know, and likely draw direct links to decreased breastfeeding rates, dissociation, stress of the newborn, and a loss of mothering instincts.  

If we disseminate then that babywearing is appropriate for our biology and directly effects our survival and outcomes in development, then we must look to how we wear our babies further effects physiological development, beyond the buckles and beauty.  Evidence of how early humans carried their babies is difficult to find as fibres break down before bones, however we can walk to our museums and look to cultures all over the world - as well as places where strollers and car seats are not the norm - to see that infants are carried close to their mothers in many fashions.

Our physiological development is directly affected by how we are carried, worn, and allowed to sleep and feed.  Culturally significant to today is the terms of how we protect the curvature of the infants lower spine versus the fashionable and increasingly marketable way.  Container syndrome is a definite risk to newborns placed in their infant buckets for prolonged periods, and similarly babywearing products can and do put infants at risk for not only asphyxiation - but also impaired spinal development, improper loads on the groins, and decreased circulation to the lower extremities.  When you consider that the safest place for an infant to be is in it’s mothers arms, but the reality is that mothers need to be able to walk, bend, sit, stand, and tend to the needs of others - it is a reality that a device to wear her baby is important and the implications go beyond the fashion.

With the upheaval in the babywearing community relating to the product recall of the Infantino Sling, and widespread notoriety of “the bag of death”,  the safety implications of babywearing is obvious.  Many major retailers carry (and still have Infantino products) many varieties of devices designed to carry our babies.  As do boutiques, Etsy, second hand stores and baby sales, your neighbor - and many times other mothers.  To the parent who is beginning to discover a plethora of products.  How do parents select a product?  

With so many products on the market, babywearing aficionados have merged the science, the practice, and the product.  Babywearing education - specifically, a trained individual who has expertise on all of the important points on how to purchase, how to wear, and the “why”.  The educator works with the family, works in the community, and can work with health care professionals to promote the practice.

The practice of babywearing itself in North America and European countries today is hampered by an influx of carriers which are complex, may promote wearing baby in physiologically damaging positions, and with mass production and poor construction - may be putting our babies into compromised situations.  The term “forward-facing out” - if you consider the research of Nils Bergman - does not keep with allowing for cues to the mother for when infants need to breastfeed, or for the bio-social development of the infant brain.  Also to be considered is harness regulations in the workplace for adults - suspension trauma is a serious incident and could cause fainting, re-circulation syndromes, and orthostatic intolerance.  Despite this, many carriers exist on the market which look like a harness.

Poor positioning is known to affect our babies, but one can draw much conclusion to the effect it has on the mother or other parent carrying their baby.  For our own spinal health, we are instructed on how to properly carry heavy loads.  Also to be considered, women after childbirth have weakened core strength.  Combine poor positioning with the improper carrier, and the normal, physiological practice of babywearing - becomes one without safety and consideration.

These issues are the basis of any babywearing education training programs.  The normal, physiologically and evolutionary way is to hold our babies close, between our breasts - yet our culture, our roles as women, and our instinct all collide to complicate what should be natural and available to all.

Credits to the Canadian Babywearing School, Arie Brentnall-Compton and Kelly Drury-Laffin
Nils Bergman
CBC radio - Spark (podcast, May 2011)