As Black women, we have been wearing our babies for centuries. In fact, the first American version of a babywearing device was invented by a woman who had just returned from a trip to West Africa. She was traveling with the Peace Corps and had observed women in Togo carrying their babies on their bodies. She invented the “Snugli” when she got back to the United States and decades later, babywearing has boomed into an entire industry. There are so many reasons why this tradition has become a mainstream practice and we even have a week to celebrate its benefits; International Baby Wearing week is in the month of October.
Necessity and convenience are likely what led to this creative innovation. Wearing their babies allowed them to care for their children while working and multitasking. Keeping their babies on their bodies allowed them to continue to bond with their little one, making the 4th-trimester transition easier for both mother and child, while simultaneously protecting their babies from danger. The physical bond provided by wearing babies not only enhances our connection with our children but also positively impacts postpartum blues for those who suffer. Additionally, if a child is being breastfed, mothers are able to discreetly and conveniently nurse in some carriers. Worn babies tend to cry less and quite simply, mothers are just able to accomplish more while still tending to their children when they’re able to comfortably wear them.
There are also a number of health benefits for our children. Babywearing promotes positive digestion and diminishes reflux, it prevents flat heads, encourages our children’s core strength development and in a Covid-era, certainly helps discourage the prying eyes, hands (or breath) of strangers who may try to have a too-close-for-comfort encounter with your little bundle.
While we’ve come a long way from the original “Snugli” baby carrier, choosing the right way to wear your child can be incredibly overwhelming. With so many options and varying perspectives on front or back wearing; wrap, sling, pouch, harness, or backpack – the options can make your head spin.
Here are a few things to consider if you think babywearing is right for you but you’re just not sure where to start.
How big is your baby?
Age and weight will be factors in how you choose to wear your little one. The younger and smaller he is, the more likely you will want a front wearing, sling, wrap, or pouch. When newborn and in his 4th trimester, you’ll be looking for convenience, protection, and comfort. Devices that are soft, less structured but supportive of the head and neck will be best when a baby is newer, lighter and your goal is mainly to keep him close and protected as opposed to promoting strength, mobility, and engagement with the world.
Are you still nursing?
If you’re still in this phase, a front-worn wrap or sling allows you flexible, discrete mobile nursing options. You can position your baby in a number of ways and feed her on the go while protecting your privacy.
How active is your baby?
Does he want to see the world? Are her legs ready to kick, arms ready to grab, and head ready to turn? If so, a soft structured carrier or a backpack is likely the best option. These devices are better for slightly older, more active babies who seek stimulation from the outside world and want to be able to look, explore and engage. These types of harnesses allow him to face forward and explore what’s in front of both of you, stretch and exercise his limbs and work on his core and neck strength. If you’ve got an extra active little one who needs to be free but who you’d like to contain a bit more – wear her on your back. She will still face the world in front of you and have hand and leg mobility but you will be able to maintain more control of where those hands and legs go!
Of course, as with everything, there are potential risks to be aware of and it is important to pay careful attention to the proper use of whichever type of carrier you choose. If worn improperly, a harness can be harmful and cause you or your baby discomfort. Make sure you do your research, trust your instincts, use carriers in moderation, and most importantly, follow the device’s instructions.
The acronym TICKS is a helpful reminder of the keys to safe babywearing:
In view at all times.
Close enough to kiss.
Keep chin off the chest.
As Black women, we’ve pioneered many aspects of motherhood and babywearing is one of them. Women in the United Kingdom started a Black Baby Wearing week in June to provide an opportunity for women of color to celebrate this important contribution, share practices and learnings, and highlight one of the most important things that unify us all – motherhood. As you embark on this journey, there is no better time than now to think about whether or not babywearing may fit into your lifestyle and celebrate the important ways women in our community continue to innovate, lead, and bond with our babies in convenient style.