Babywearing –noun– the practice of wearing or carrying a baby close to one’s body in a sling or similar carrier : Oxford Living Dictionary
2 to 8 July is South Africa’s first Babywearing Week. Babywearing remains the norm in many developing countries and we see many mom’s carrying their little ones on towels on their backs. Amazingly is becoming increasingly popular everywhere else as we move towards more attachment parenting. And because of that I wanted to put together a post for all you lovely mummies and daddies on this important subject. I wish I had worn Elijah more as a tiny infant. I wore him more as a way of transporting him in our carrier, than just around the house for comfort and to encourage naps. Darrell took great pride in strapping on our carrier with Elijah in it, a little bit to show off his cute baba and maybe a little bit more to feel like a cast member from The Hangover 2. When Elijah was bigger I purchased a more ergonomic carrier which was easier on my back, but that was also more for transferring him around. It came in handy while going to all the castings in the city bowl for his modeling as a pram is just not convenient and often you have to park quite a distance from the casting studio. So although I did do some baby wearing I did not feel that I was knowledgeable enough on this subject so I decided to get an someone with more experience on board. Dr Bongi Hill is a doctor that works in pediatrics, wife and mother, baby wearer, and one of the administrators for the Facebook page NINO Babywearing South Africa.
Bongi, can you tell us a bit about your babywearing journey?
I grew up in Mthatha in the Eastern Cape where carrying was all around me so it was something that was always a norm. I used to watch mothers in awe as they carried babies on their backs while getting on with everything else. I started carrying Lukhanyo with a towel and ityali (thin blanket) when he was about 5 weeks old for short periods of time. This was taught to me by mother. I preferred this method for carrying him around the house. I used a soft structured baby carrier when we were out and about. Lukhanyo was most content when he was being held so he spent a lot of his time as an infant being carried. I loved being able to cuddle him all day long and still have freedom to do other things which I enjoyed before I became a parent.
Being Xhosa can you talk to us a bit about the tradition of babywearing in the Xhosa culture?
In my culture babies are typically carried in a torso back carry with a towel or thin blanket. This is something that is passed on from generation to generation.I felt safe and comfortable carrying Lukhanyo this way because I was taught and supported by my mom. It is something that I’m very proud of and it has made me feel more connected with my culture. Even with all the carriers I have now, I still go back to the towel if Im struggling to put Lukhanyo to sleep.
What are some of the benefits to babywearing?
Science has proven that close contact promotes a secure attachment, a feeling of safety and being content.Studies have shown that premature babies that experienced skin-to-skin (Kangaroo Mother Care) had immediate(growth, thermoregulation, feeding) and long-term benefits (higher IQs, earn higher wages at their jobs and have less propensity toward hyperactivity and aggression) . Carriers are an amazing bonding tool for fathers, adoptive parents, grandparents, babysitters and other caregivers. Soft touch releases oxytocin which in turn reduces cortisol release and can help reduce stress and anxiety for the baby and carer. Carrying reduces crying by 45% which also helps to build the parent’s confidence. Being close to your baby helps you recognises your baby’s cues and respond faster. Most babies sleep better when held in a carrier- this is how my son had most of his day sleep and it helped him sleep so much better at night. Carrying gives you the freedom to to get out the house and be active. It gives you free hands for getting on with life…caring for other children, working, household chores, shopping etc. I also love how it enables you to connect with people from various backgrounds and cultures. I’ve made many friends and had lots of support from our NINO babywearing community.
Can you please tell us the rules for safe babywearing?
It is vital to make sure your child’s airway remains open at all times while being carried. The best way is to keep them in an upright position, high enough to be able to mointor their breathing and ensure that their chin is off the chest. It is also important your carrier provides adequate support for your infant’s developing neck and spine. Ideally baby should be carried with their knees higher than the bottom in a spread squat position from knee to knee. In older babies and toddlers full knee to knee support is not necessary once they can bear weight on their legs and not always possible. Always check your carrier for any wear and tear or damage before use. Practice all carries especially back carries with a spotter , over a bed or low to the ground until your are confident. Avoid babywearing in situations where it would not be safe to carry an infant in your arms. The safety rules are summarised in two acronyms: ABC and TICKS. Please see the diagrams below from Babywearing International and UK Sling Consortium.
What are some of your favorite methods to babywear?
I think that each carrier has a different role but my favourite is a woven wrap. It is a long piece of woven fabric which comes in different lengths and fabric. I love it because it’s the most versatile, very supportive and can be used from birth until toddlerhood. There is a learning curve that comes with using a woven wrap but I love challenges and learning new things so it really appealed to me. Oh and they are so gorgeous ! I like my soft structured carriers for longer walks and hikes.I use an onbuhimo or ring sling for short carries.
In closing tell us tell us why you would encourage someone to babywear?
It is a very simple thing to do that can help your child feel secure and content and build your confidence as a parent or carer. Please don’t be intimidated or put off by all the different types of carriers and some of their costs. You can use any method that is most accessible yo you, including your arms.All that matter is that you keep your child close in a way that is safe and comfortable for you. You can join us on Facebook on the NINO Babywearing South Africa Group for advice and support.
Thank you so much to Dr Bongi Hill to help us get more familiar with the practise of carrying our babies. Bongi and her family are dear friends of mine from Tulbagh. Bongi, Deanne and Lukhanyo have been so supportive and loving to Elijah and I through these last few years. I will always be appreciative of that.
So carry your babies, love them and kiss them always.