Sunday, October 14, 2012

Happy Babywearing Week!

Actually, that was last week. But never mind. Happy babywearing anyway.

Babywearing is one of the more relaxing topics to research online, I think, because it doesn't seem surrounded by the same amount of controversy as a lot of parenting topics. The bottom line is, everyone carries their babies. And everyone sometimes needs their hands free.

I think the biggest hurdle for me to get over when researching babywearing and baby carriers is that Baby Wearer is some sort of identity, and that there is some magical rite of passage that initiates you into being one. It always confused me a bit, seeing people identify themselves online as "babywearing mamas" or the like. What does it take to actually be a real babywearer? Buying a carrier? Buying the right carrier? Using said carrier a certain number of times or hours per day? Not owning a stroller or bouncy seat? Using your stroller or bouncy seat as a bookshelf or toy storage unit so you're not even tempted to put your child into it? You get the picture.

I think parenting topics are often portrayed as all-or-nothing, either-or situations. Where you're in or you're out. That's a whole post in and of itself, and one which I will definitely write someday. But for now, I think babywearing is a perfect example of the reality that parenting is not  an all-or-nothing scenario. There is no point at which you magically become a Babywearer and can sit at the Babywearers' Table in the high school cafeteria. Babywearing is a tool. A good one, if it works for you. One to throw out, if it doesn't.

So from now on, when I use the term "babywearing," it will mean simply this: "carrying one's infant or toddler on one's body in a hands-free carrier." Sound good?

I will also refer to "babywearing as a lifestyle." This will refer to the practice of generally choosing an on-the-body carrier over other means of baby containment, such as bouncy seats, strollers, blankets on the floor, etc. When I talk about "lifestyle babywearing," I am assuming several hours per day spent with a baby in a carrier.

Gratuitous Daddy babywearing picture. Because I could look at those all day.
I own several carriers and use them several times a week. I used them daily when Peregrine was small. But honestly, I babywear less than I thought I would. I definitely imagined myself as a lifestyle babywearer, but Peregrine was a tricky baby when it came to carriers. Don't get me wrong, Peregrine loved being held. Just not necessarily in carriers. And he knew the difference. So I ended up doing a lot more holding, and a lot less wearing, than I had imagined. Often, when I was wearing him, he wasn't really quite content. But sometimes, I needed my hands. 

As far as babywearing information, Babywearing International is a good place to start. All of the basics--different types of carriers, safety and correct positioning, etc--are covered, and the website is really easy to navigate. Also, it's not overly political, nor does it make you feel like a bad parent for not babywearing. It's just information if you're interested.

But from my own babywearing journey, here are some lesser-known facts about babywearing.

1.) Babywearing is not an all-or-nothing scenario. I know I said it before. But it's important, so I'll say it again. Babywearing isn't something you either commit to doing, or swear off completely. It's a parenting option that can be very helpful. Use it as often, or as little, as makes for peace and convenience within your family.

2.) Babies don't always like it. This one came as a shock to me. A huge shock. Most of what I read on babywearing led me to believe that babies always like it, and are always happier and more content in a carrier. This simply wasn't true with Peregrine. Babies can be picky about carriers. Some have positions they love and positions they can't stand. It is worth making sure you are using your carrier correctly and that your baby's body isn't strained awkwardly. But if you know you're using the carrier as it's meant to be used, and your baby still isn't happy, maybe he just doesn't like it. That's okay. Babies are allowed to have preferences. It doesn't make you a bad parent.

3.) No matter how perfect the carrier, you will still feel the weight. Believe it or not, this one surprised me, too. I think maybe it's the term "wearing," which makes it sound as though it's just like an extra sweater. It's not. It's seven pounds, or ten, or twenty, that you're carrying. You'll feel it. 

4.) If it's not comfortable for both of you, it's not worth it. It just isn't. If either you or your baby (or both) hate your carrier, it will be a miserable experience that will not promote bonding or peaceful living. You will feel the weight, but you shouldn't have chronic pain or irritation. Likewise, your baby shouldn't be constantly squirming or acting uncomfortable. Pain means something is wrong. Make sure you're using your carrier correctly. Find another carrier. Or, just don't do it as often. Disliking babywearing doesn't make you a failure. It doesn't mean you don't want closeness with your child. It just means babywearing is uncomfortable for you. There's no shame in that. 

5.) Most baby carriers are quite expensive. Babywearing websites act like you can own a whole arsenal of cute little carriers and select one to match your outfit every day. Okay, so that's exaggerating a bit. But seriously, they are expensive. I highly recommend borrowing carriers, if you can, before you buy one. Or asking rich relatives for them as gifts. Or doing what I did, and obsessively stalking thrift stores. 

6.) Babywearing generates a lot of heat. A lot. In that way, it is just like a sweater. With a little body inside. As a cold-blooded person who spent her first year of parenthood in a very cold house, I will freely admit I often wore my child just to stay warm. But I've also encountered people who don't babywear at all for this very reason. Again, it's not worth forcing. If it's uncomfortable, find another solution.

7.) There are other ways to bond with your child. Babywearing is an excellent way to provide safety and security to infants and toddlers alike. Babies do tend to be happy, on the whole, in carriers, and it is one of the easiest ways to build a close relationship with a child because it allows you to continue the flow of the rest of your life at the same time. But it's not the only way. Choosing not to wear your baby all the time, or most of the time, or at all, will not doom you to detachment from your child. There are lots and lots of ways to love a baby well. There is absolutely no reason to feel guilt for choosing others.

8.) Even if you do a lot of babywearing, your baby will learn to crawl and walk. I think this is the most common criticism of babywearing, and one that people who practice lifestyle babywearing can get very tired of hearing. But unless you are forcing your child, against his will, to remain constantly attached to your body, he will go through normal development, which includes the desire to get away from mom and practice movement skills. Babies want to learn to crawl and walk, and they will let you know it. Wearing a baby will not somehow prevent this. I suppose it might postpone it. Peregrine spent the vast majority of his first nine months either in a carrier or in arms, and he did crawl later than most of his peers. Who knows what all went into that. But he did learn to crawl when he was ready, and became very good at very quickly. 

At some point in the not-too-distant future, I will write about my experience with different carriers and what options are out there. But for now, Peregrine just handed me the Ergo, smiled, and said "Boody!" Which is Peregrine-ese for "Please!" Highly appropriate, I suppose, in light of the fact that it's Babywearing Week (or was). I think I'll go celebrate.

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