When I tell people that I am a Babywearing Educator, more often than not I get a very puzzled response.
“Baby – what?” they ask.
I am sure that the first image that comes to mind for most is a baby hanging in a front pack on their dad’s chest, a la The Hangover.
Simply put, babywearing is the act of using any kind of fabric carrier to wear your baby (or toddler) close to you. But babywearing is sooo much more than that. It is an ancient childrearing tradition, a practical modern day parenting tools, a fashion statement, a bonding moment, a reclamation of natural parenting practices, a necessity, a means by which to survive. It is light-years beyond than just strapping a kid in a carrier – even if you don’t think about what it is when you are doing it.
The tradition that is babywearing has been utilized by many different cultures all over the world. From the Welsh Shawls to the Rebozo, from the Kanga to the Mei Tai, woven baskets to cradle boards… you are in good company when you realize that wearing your baby is the most practical and natural way to care for a young child. Though the western world is really starting to embrace babywearing as a fashionable accoutrement to parenthood, its usefulness was definitely where its popularity began. Historically, currently, and in other parts of the world…Babywearing is way less about fashion than it is utility. Having your infant strapped to you would allow you to continue to work to support your family after the birth of your infant. You could more easily travel long distances or navigate difficult public transportation systems without available baby transport like a stroller. It allows women to feed and mother their child at the breast while attending to the demands of everyday life – often as essential as collecting water or harvesting and planting crops.
Though I am privileged with a car and a stroller, there are still tons of things that are made way easier with babywearing. Here’s a list of some day to day tasks that would be awful without a baby carrier.
You can’t push a stroller and a shopping cart at the same time! That’s ridiculous. “Just put your kid in the shopping cart!” suggests some idiot who has never raised a toddler or a well-meaning old person who has long forgotten what a toddler actually is. Toddlers don’t stay in shopping carts. If they manage to stay in, they do so only to gleefully fill your cart with unwanted items every time you turn your head. So much less fuss when my kid is camped out on my back. When she was too small to fit in the cart anyways, babywearing was a welcome alternative to lugging that million pound bucket car seat into the store with me.
Bonus! I can prevent my child from getting horrifically injured in an accident by not placing the car seat on top of the grocery cart! Win – Win!
Laundry. My washer and dryer are not in my house. I have to trek with a basket full of laundry out to the garage. Not a far trek… but I can’t leave my kid unattended while I do it. I imagine this situation would become even more complex if I had to go to a laundromat around the corner or down 4 flights of stairs to the basement to use the shared apartment laundry room. Try bringing your stroller on that excursion. Not happening. So… up she goes on my back. She stays back there while I’m folding too sometimes. That way I don’t have to refold everything about a million times to toddler specifications.
Walking a Dog. Ok, actually I don’t have a dog. But I have tried to walk with my stroller and my friends with strollers and a leashed dog. It is up there on my list of most obnoxious things I have ever done. So much easier with a kid strapped to you, dog walking merrily along assuming they have most of the attention on them so they don’t keep trying to kill you with their leashes.
Subways. (Or trains or buses) Want to be public enemy number one on the commuter train? Bring a frigging jogging stroller on with you. Even if it isn’t that crowded… trying to contend with the bikes and all the passengers coming in and out of the tiny aisles… avoiding those poles in the center of the train… The few spots that are big enough to actually fit a stroller are all designated for disabled patrons, so if in fact someone gets on who needs that spot – where are you going to go? Off that car to another car? Ha, have fun with that. Not like I have any experience with getting left on train platforms or anything like that. -_- Don’t forget about the stairs! Every train station is riddled with them. The elevators are few and far between, and they always smell like piss. Somehow they manage to be the most excruciatingly slow moving elevators ever made too. I’ll take the stairs any day with my toddler securely attached to me.
Hiking I have been known to take the B.O.B. on some pretty mellow hikes. But once I took it on this strenuous hike with rocks and hills and narrow trails on the edge of hills. What a mistake. I thought I was going to have to call to be air lifted out of there. We made it eventually, but from that point on I always make it a point to ask “Is this a stroller accessible hike, or should I wear my baby?” If you are an avid hiker, most of the hikes worth going on are not going to be stroller accessible.
Airports So so many reasons to wear your little one through the airport. Hands free to deal with luggage and removing *all the things* during the security check. You don’t have to go through that awful body scanner. You can use escalators. You can sprint through the terminal to catch your flight that you are about to miss because your toddler threw a fit when trying to get them into the car. You can lift your bag into the overhead bins. You can avoid chasing a crawling child around on the filthy airport floors altogether! Baby + Carrier = Done.
Naptime Many times a week I hear “My baby won’t sleep unless I am holding them”. Great! Smart Baby! Why spend all day fighting it? Just wrap that baby up and go about your business. Eat your lunch, have a cocktail, ice a cake… do what you do. They won’t want to sleep on you forever. The time is actually fleeting. Before long you will crave those little naps your child used to take on your chest or your back – you won’t even remember the resentment you felt when they woke up every single time as soon as you put them down on the bed. Babies seem to nap so much longer when being worn than when in their beds too. You actually end up having way more time to yourself this way.
Festivals, Fairs & Farmer’s Markets These crowded and often cramped social situations are much better navigated with a worn baby. Many kids find events like these overwhelming, and meltdowns are a common occurrence. Not to mention the possibility of a toddler running off into a crowd and getting separated. Not my cup of tea. When I wear my little one, she can bury her head in my back if some stranger is trying to talk to her. I can hand her samples and ask her professional opinion on the seasonal produce, and she can ask me questions about everything she sees around her. It is such a dynamic experience, and it is free of the daunting task of maneuvering a stroller with an angry toddler in and out of busy stalls where all she can see at her height is table legs and knee caps. We end up being able to stay way longer with a much happier toddler when I allow her a birds-eye view of all the fun.
These are just a handful of the myriad of things I find way less complicated with a baby in a carrier. All joking aside though, one of the best parts about wearing a child is the bond that you form with them. By having your child worn at your level, your interactions are constant. You find yourself talking with them, describing things going on, sharing your view of the outside world with them. They hear and see things that a baby in a stroller would totally miss out on. My friend and fellow babywearing enthusiast Slingdad Dom was sharing with me some of his favorite things about babywearing the other day.
“Above anything for me, and something often forgotten about – is how much fun it is! My children and I laugh, tell jokes and play games while they are on my back. They get to discover the world with the same view I get as a 6ft plus dad… but with the safety, security and comfort of being carried as if in my arms.”
He’s totally right! I don’t often mention how fun babywearing is when I am talking about its practicality with caregivers. Though it is seriously the most useful parenting tool anyone can have… it is the fun of it that got me head over heels into the rabbit hole that is babywearing Enthusiasm. I love wearing my little Dragon Baby! So much so that I continue to wear her even when she’s pushing 3 years and 27 lbs. Those little giggles in my ear when she is dropping things down the back of my shirt, the brilliant little questions and observations she daily surprises me with, hearing her interpretations of the world surrounding us, feeling her warm breath (and sometimes drool) on the back of my neck and she peacefully sleeps on my back. These are the fleeting and beautiful moments that those of us obsessed with the practice of babywearing cannot begin to describe to you. It isn’t a matter of the most expensive carrier, you don’t need all the fancy bells and whistles on your buckle carrier or the newest vogue handwoven. What all babywearing has in common is some fabric, a caregiver, a baby – and with those commonalities across cultures, across time and space… we all share in the boundless joys of carrying our babies.