And no, I don’t mean wearing your baby in uniform! We all know how the military feels about breastfeeding in uniform, and I really don’t think that babywearing in uniform would go over much better. What I am talking about is wearing your baby when you are off-duty as a way to help you stay close and connected to your baby. Babywearing is also very useful for getting chores and other household things done, but most importantly, baby wearing helps to keep your milk supply up.
Why am I bringing this up now? Because October 8-14 is International Babywearing Week and I wanted to bring some awareness to this form of baby care that is not as well known within the military community.
Babies (and toddlers too!) cry and fuss for all sorts of reasons, it is their only way to communicate with you and let you know that something is wrong. Crying is your baby’s way of telling you he has a need to be held, rocked, changed, fed, burped or soothed. It really doesn’t matter what the reason is, when a baby cries it is a very real need that needs to be responded too. By responding to his cries you are teaching him trust and that his needs will get met. But you may be wondering how you are supposed to manage to get anything done if you are holding your baby all the time.
One option for meeting your baby’s needs is to carry him in a sling or other type of carrier (such as a wrap or Ergo). Studies have shown that babies who are carried cry 43% less than babies who are not. Carrying your baby satisfies his need for being held, soothed, fed (you can breastfeed in a sling), and it allows you to manage household duties as well since your hands are free. Biologically speaking we are meant to carry our infants on our bodies, our milk is low in fat so we need to breastfeed our babies often; and our babies are born with a grasping reflex to hold onto the hair that no longer covers our bodies. For a newborn, carrying your baby replicates the time in the womb, where he was rocked and heard your heartbeat 24/7. For babies, being carried allows them to see the world from your perspective (rather than just the ceiling and sky). For toddlers whose little legs get tired easy (or for those that like to run and hide in crowded shopping malls) a sling or other type carrier can be a safety zone for both mom and child.
However the most important reason for you as a military mother to use a carrier, after your return to duty, is that wearing your baby when you are at home will greatly increase the daily contact between you and your baby. The frequent interaction and physical contact of wearing your baby has been shown to increase prolactin, one of the breastfeeding hormones, which is so important for maintaining your milk supply. Many working mothers have found that wearing their babies in a sling when they are at home or running errands is a great way to spend quality time together which helps to offset the effects of the daily separations AND it keeps their milk supply up.
So what type of carrier should you choose? There are many different types of front carriers, slings and backpacks available for carrying your baby. Front carriers, slings (either adjustable ring-type or pouch style) and wraps are best for younger babies, while backpack-type carriers are better for older babies/toddlers. Front carriers (such as a Snugli or Baby Bjorn) can be cumbersome to use as they have a number of buckles and straps, and they are good only to about 15-20 pounds. It is virtually impossible to breastfeed in them. Slings and wraps on the other hand, slip on easily and can be used in a variety of positions and are good from birth to about 3 years old (35-40 pounds). You can easily and discreetly breastfeed your baby in a sling or wrap, and if your baby falls asleep you can slip out of it leaving your baby sleeping peacefully. It is important that you practice using your sling or wrap often with your baby, and don’t give up if you or your baby doesn’t like it at first. Like anything new, wearing your baby takes some getting used to. Slings and wraps can be found at some maternity stores, LLL groups often sell them or you can order one online (see Resources). Check out this post from ABCKids on choosing and using baby carriers. Here are some very basic directions for using a sling; you can also look online for videos demonstrating how to wear a sling or a wrap:
- Lift sling over head, padded section on shoulder and rings where a corsage would go.
- Fluff fabric so it is not twisted
- Balance baby on shoulder (one without the sling) and guide feet into sling. For newborns you may fold a small receiving blanket or towel under him for added support.
- Pull up 3-5 inches of sling between you and baby.
- With one hand under baby, lift him and with other hand pull on tab of sling to cinch it tighter, sling and baby should be right under your breasts.
- Walk or rock or jiggle to help him settle in sling.
As with most things parenting related, you need to find what works for you and your baby. Wearing your baby isn’t for everyone, if you find it that you or your baby simply aren’t enjoying it, then don’t continue. A sling or wrap is just another tool to use to help you stay close to your baby. You don’t need to hold and carry your baby every second of the day that you are at home to form a strong bond with your baby. But don’t be scared to pick him up or carry him for fear of spoiling him, it just isn’t possible. Babies (and toddlers) have always needed to be picked up and carried when they fuss, and you are meeting his needs by doing so.
Do you wear your baby? Does your husband? Have you found that babywearing helps you get things done and stay close to your little one? Share your thoughts below!!