By Kerry Longia
One thing I wasn’t expecting before having a baby was how much I would be using my hands and arms. The arms were a shelf for nursing, a cradle for rocking. The hands were swiping newborn poop and fiddling with tiny snappers. At some point, maybe around six months postpartum, I noticed I was getting pretty buff in the arm area.
Babies are fond of being carried. This was one thing we discovered early on; pick the baby up, and he’s calm. He might even smile. Put him down, and he’ll soon make it clear that he’d like to be picked up again. And, having heard about keeping infants close in order to foster attachment[i], I decided that I would just not really put him down for six weeks. For a short while, I did okay with just my arms. I decided that to attempt anything other than to nurse baby, change diapers, read, feed myself one-handed and watch movies was just too optimistic. However, there did come a day when I felt like checking my email. Or maybe it was the day I felt the need to spread the butter on my toast rather than just slice it and leave it to melt in chunks. I needed two hands, not one, as well as two arms, and baby needed me.
In the early days we used a sling, a wrap and a soft structured front carrier. We practiced first with a teddy, and used each one according to the weather and baby’s stage of development[ii]; newborn was always on the front, and if he was facing in, either with feet tucked under or with the baby’s bottom below the knees, in a W shape. To ensure we were wearing him at the right height on our body while in a front carrier, we always made sure we could kiss the top of baby’s head. During the winter, the wrap was great for providing extra coverage and cosiness. In summer, the sling provided a cooler cocoon.
The carriers took some getting used to, but the payoff was worth every second of practice and/or frustration. I took my first tentative steps at food prep while babywearing (I still remember the sense of triumph over a very basic but longed-for freshly made lunch). Over winter, I’d often zip up a large rain coat or hoodie over the baby and go walking while he slept or nursed. It was easy to get around town on the bus and skytrain, and we weren’t disturbing baby by having to go in and out of a carseat or stroller. When he woke, the baby could see the world from a safe and comfortable position, getting a good look at what happened in our world. Sometimes he would make eyes at people on the bus, and they would coo back. Whatever he was watching or doing whilst awake, he was connected to me and I could tell instantly when he was troubled, scared, hungry or tired.
I could feel myself getting stronger again, too. As biomechanist Katy Bowman points out[iii], our body essentially begins its training for carrying babies while we’re pregnant. Since I began babywearing in 2006, I have received comments about my perceived strength; usually while carrying a baby plus backpack, or a toddler plus groceries. People often seem surprised that I can manage, but as Bowman points out: if suddenly decide one day that you want to carry a wriggling 35lb backpack around for 3 hours, your body will probably rebel. If you instead have a gradually growing load (baby) who you carry regularly from birth, then your muscles will grow along with that load. Bowman also makes a case for in-arms carrying; this theory makes sense to me, though I also know that in practice, using a carrier meant, and still means, that I can accomplish tasks that would remain undone otherwise, or that I can get places I wouldn’t otherwise manage to reach.
More carriers joined the collection as time went by; over the years we have also used a Trekker, an Ergo, a Mei Tai and another Ergo when the first one wore out. We have no particular favourite – each has served a useful purpose for specific reasons. But for every reason, both baby’s wellbeing and parent’s, and for practical reasons, babywearing has been a very important part of life with young children, and we know we will all reap the rewards for years to come.