Monday, October 8, 2012

Carrying On Traditions

Happy International Babywearing Week to all the awesome babywearers out there!  Babywearing is not a new fad, but actually something that has been around for ages, in all corners of the globe!  Not only are we participating in an age old tradition, but we are passing it on as we start our own family traditions.  In honor of this years theme, Carrying On Traditions, I wanted to share these amazing photos showing the tradition of babywearing around the world.

Happy Babywearing!

Carry on the tradition!

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Golden Rule of Babywearing

Lately I have been hearing a lot about the "rules" of babywearing.  While most people just mean to educate and help others wear the babies, the focus seems to be moving more and more away from what babywearing is really about.

Babywearing is about carrying your baby.  It's about holding them close.  Letting them hear your breath.  Making sure they feel safe and loved.   Letting them fall asleep to the sounds of your heartbeat.   Smelling their sweet little heads.  It is not about the carrier you use or being a perfect babywearer.   Just wear them.

The message

Some of the things I  am going to say in this blog may not be very popular.  I am not trying to offend anyone and this post is being written with the best of intentions.  Please remember that while reading and if something can be taken the wrong way, give me the benefit of the doubt that it was not intended that way.  And I want to ask that everyone reads this fully, and with an open mind.  I know we all have kids and who has time to read lengthy posts right?!  Heck, I don't even have time to write it!  But I feel it's an important topic that need to be discussed and to really get the point of this post, you must read it in it's entirety.  So if you find yourself annoyed with me, hang in there and try to appreciate the message.

I am writing this post because many people in the babywearing community are noticing a sad trend in the community we love so much.  Babywearing is turning into a very black and white topic, you're either doing it wrong or right.  But the reality is that there is no wrong way to wear your baby as long as you do it safely (e.i. not chin to chest).  There may be more ideal positions to carry your baby, more comfortable carriers, but all babywearing is good.  Instead of wrong and right babywearing, it should be good babywearing and better babywearing.  Every parent that wears their baby is trying.  Trying to be closer to them.  Trying to bond.  Trying to wear them in the best way they know how.  That should be celebrated, always, in any form it comes in.

But before I get too carried away, let's take a look at some of the rules I am talking about.

Safety:  Though I do not believe in "wrong or right" babywearing, there are safe and unsafe ways to babywear.  Always make sure you are wearing your baby safely.  Visit for more information on safe babywearing.

The "Rules"

Facing forwards/out
Wearing your baby facing out is a seriously hot topic in the babywearing community.  Experienced babywearers don't like wearing baby facing out because it throws off the wearer's center of gravity making it less comfortable, doesn't support the baby's spine properly, and can cause your baby to be overstimulated and unable to regulate the input by looking away.  These are all good reasons not to wear your baby facing out and I personally don't do it or recommend it.

So what's the problem?  Facing out is bad right?  Well, like it or not, most people's first experience with babywearing will be wearing their baby facing out.  I have heard/read many mothers being attacked for wearing their baby facing out.  Now ask yourself, is this mother likely to stay around these babywearing discussion boards to learn more?  Is she likely to feel welcomed by the babywearing community?  Does shaming her and telling her to sell her carrier ASAP make her feel good about wearing her baby?  Chances are she will walk away from the community, and maybe babywearing all together.  After all, that carrier was uncomfortable and her baby is perfectly content in the stroller, so why bother?

The reality is that facing out is not ideal, but that doesn't make someone a bad parent or babywearer just because they do.  Some people argue that it could hurt the baby's spine.  But as Babywearing International recently pointed out on their Facebook page, there is no research to show facing out is bad for baby in the long run.  Is this position ideal for spine development?  No, but neither is overuse of a car seat or stroller or even a crib!  Wearing your child facing out for a couple hours a week is not likely to damage their spine.  Telling people they are harming their baby by wearing them actually harms the babywearing movement, labeling babywearing as "unsafe" when it is simply not ideal.

The "Crotch Dangler"
This topic is closely related to the first one since carriers that allow a baby to sit facing out are made with a narrow base.  This lets the baby's legs dangle underneath them, leading to them being referred to as "crotch danglers".

Ideally, a carrier should put the baby in a seated position to decrease the pressure applied to their spine and hips.  Their knees should be supported and their butt sitting down into the carrier.  This makes it much more comfortable for the baby, especially for larger babies that weigh more.  But this is an ideal and a carrier can be perfectly safe and not fit this standard.

I was shocked when a huge controversy broke out over Babywearing International receiving a donation of carriers from Britax, a sponsor for the International Babywearing Week celebrations.  People were outraged that Babywearing International would support that kind of carrier, but they support all babywearing as long as it's done safely.  When people stated that these carriers harm the baby's spine, Babywearing International said this:
There is NO research that shows that this type of carrier causes any of the problems you mentioned. Do people think those things? Yes. Is there research to back it up? No. By stating things that aren't fact as fact, (hypothetical) you are damaging the babywearing industry.
Many people do feel like these carriers are not good for babies and feel they need to warn people, and I'm not saying it's not okay to tell people there are better options.  I don't personally recommend these types of carriers and do not carry them in my store, but I owned them!  Two of them!  And they were horribly uncomfortable and I didn't like using them.  But if someone had run up to me and told me my baby carrier would damage my baby, emailed me a link showing me the "evidence", I would have never worn my baby again!  There is no way I would have kept looking and ultimately found so many amazing carriers out there.  But if someone would have told me it wasn't ideal and that there were way better carriers out there, I would have been so grateful for the tip.  No judgement.  I wasn't a bad mom, I just wasn't using the best style of baby carrier.  Now, I may have had to wait a while, I may have continued to use what I had until I had the money to afford a new one, but at least I wouldn't have felt like babywearing was bad, unsafe, and harmful.

Knee to Knee
Okay, I am sorry, but this one drives me CRAZY!!!  Knee to knee is a guideline to help people find the most supportive carrier for their baby.  A carrier that goes from the underside of one knee to the underside of the other knee will give a baby the ideal seat for their body, supporting their legs and putting their body in the best position for prolonged sitting.  This may be best, but it does not make it RIGHT!

Again, knee to knee is a guideline, a tool, an ideal and does not mean a carrier is bad or wrong for not fitting this way.  In fact, knee to knee is pretty much an impossible goal.  Anyone that has a baby knows they are an inch bigger every time you leave the room!  Unless you plan to buy a new baby carrier every three months, it is going to be pretty much impossible for someone to have a carrier that fits their baby knee to knee.

Imagine, your toddler is 18 months old.  You love babywearing, you've been babywearing since your baby was born.  You bring a pregnant friend to a babywearing meeting so they can see the different kinds of carriers and learn how to use the ring sling you bought her, but when you're there, you are told your favorite carrier doesn't fit your toddler any more.  They explain the knee to knee "rule" and you can obviously see how far your toddler's legs sick out, it's not even close.  You're sad.  Your toddler never seemed to have an issue or be uncomfortable, but you don't want them to be harmed by sitting in a carrier that doesn't support their body properly.  You look into toddler carriers, but they are expensive, way outside your budget, especially since you don't know how much longer you'll be babywearing anyway.  Your toddler is big and getting heavy.  They love to walk now and they can always ride in the stroller if their legs get tired.  You haven't been wearing them nearly as much as you used to and this just seems to be one more sign that your baby is growing up.  So instead of investing in an expensive new carrier, you figure it's just time to be done anyway and pack your carrier away for the next baby.

This actually happens.  People are told all the time that their carrier doesn't fit their baby anymore and they need a new one.!  A carrier can still fit and be comfortable for everyone even if it's not knee to knee.  I was just showing someone the other day how one of the carriers I own fits my almost 2 year old despite having a narrower body than some other brands.  Even though the carrier was no where near her knees, it was obvious to all of us that her legs were still in a good seated position with plenty of support, the carrier didn't cut into her legs at all, and she was perfectly comfortable in it.  Knee to knee should be a guideline or tip to help someone find an ideal fit, but it should never rule out a great carrier or make someone feel like their carrier is not good enough.

"That's a horrible carrier"
So this time, you are a new mom and are super excited about babywearing.  Someone gave you a carrier at your shower and you just used it for the first time.  You post a picture in the on-line babywearing group you found and are so excited to share with the other babywearing moms.  Then the comments start and your heart sinks.  You're doing it wrong.  You are breaking your baby.  Your carrier is awful, dangerous, and you need to return it right now to the store!  But you didn't keep the gift receipt because you were so sure you would keep it.  Now you're crying and pissed at these damn postpartum hormones.  You spend the next 3 months researching to make sure you get the "right" carrier.  When you find the "right" carrier, it's so big, you just don't feel comfortable using it until your little one is a little bigger.  In the mean time, your baby sits in the bouncy while the "bad" carrier lies crumpled at the bottom of your closet.

I cannot tell you how many times I have seen/read someone being told to return their carrier, it's awful, and don't use it!  I have even see people say those things to moms about a brand I loved!  Not because it was a "bad" style, but because some people don't like the way that brand's material feels.  Are some brands better than others?  Absolutely, hands down.  But as long as a carrier allows you to wear your baby safely, then they are all good carriers, even if some others might be better.

There are so many factors involved in which carrier someone is using.  Maybe it was a gift.  Maybe it was the only one they could find at the store.  Maybe it was all they could afford.  Maybe they couldn't afford one at all and they are borrowing their friend's carrier.  We don't know and it shouldn't matter.  What matters is that person in the picture holding the most precious thing to her in the whole wide world with a beaming smile.  Why do we want to crush that?  Why does it matter if she's not starting out with the ideal carrier?  Why would we want to do anything other than shout "way to go mom"?  Making someone feel like their carrier is inadequate doesn't help them no matter how good your intentions are.

Golden Rule of Babywearing

Treat all babywearers with the respect we would like to be treated with.  Whether new or experienced, all babywearers are parents that love their babies and want to wear them.  They deserve to be treated kindly without judgement.

Why we need it

I don't know if it has always been like this or if I am just noticing it now, but the babywearing community does not seem like the inviting place it should be.  Maybe it's because the internet makes it easy to see people as just words on a screen and not for the caring parents they actually are.  Maybe it's because education on safe babywearing has been merged with ideal babywearing.  But for what ever the reason, it's been nasty out there.

We were all new

Every babywearer starts somewhere.  Some are lucky to have great mentors around them that expose them to awesome carriers right from the start.  But most of us start off with less ideal carriers.  I went through several pretty uncomfortable ones before finally finding a stretch wrap that I loved.  But even then, I wrapped horribly and it took a long time before I got "good" at babywearing.

Luckily, when I finally did find other babywearers to interact with, they were all super nice and supportive.  Not one told me how horribly I was wrapping, or made me feel like I was doing something wrong.  They were great examples of ideal babywearing and I learned a ton from them without ever feeling bad about myself.  I seriously doubt I would have had the confidence to continue to babywear at playgroups if I had felt judged or intimidated by them.

So stop for a minute and remember what it was like to be new.  How would you have felt to hear that you weren't wrapping right because your wrap was twisted?  You had just been super proud you didn't need the instructions anymore.  How would you feel if you were told your carrier was bad?  Or even worse, that wearing your baby would harm them?  You might have rolled your eyes and never talked to that person again, or you might have felt too shamed and embarrassed to go to another babywearing meeting.  Would you feel welcomed?  Would this be a community you wanted to be a part of?  How many of us started out perfect?  Let's be supportive and help babywearing grow, not scare people away by making them feel not good enough to hang with the cool babywearers!

Room in the tent

I don't know if there is a topic more polarizing than parenting.  As a parent, we are constantly made to feel like we have to defend our parenting choices.  If people aren't openly judging us, we often still think they are!  And face it, no one judges us more than we judge ourselves.  I don't know a parent out there that thinks they are doing a great job.  Maybe that's why it's easy to judge others, because it makes us feel like at least we are doing it better than that person.

I don't want to see babywearing become just another way to judge parents.  Babywearing is babywearing.  Ideal or not, it should be celebrated in all forms.  Babywearing is becoming more and more "mainstream", which is great!  It means that more and more babies will be carried instead of spending so much time in strollers or swings.  Let's make room in the tent for all babywearers.  Let's spend our energy focusing on the joys of babywearing instead of worrying about who is doing it "right".

What Babywearing is really about

A recent photo posted in a babywearing group was such a powerful reminder of what babywearing is really about.  It was a photo of a mother, at the hospital, wearing her baby while she rested.  She has cancer and was at the hospital for her chemotherapy treatment.  The treatment left her too weak to hold her baby and she didn't have her carrier.  So she took a blanket and fashioned a sling out of it.  She put in the description that it was definitely not a "hands off" carrier, but it let her cuddle with her baby.

That's what babywearing is about.  It's not about the kind of carrier you own.  It's not about the "rules".  It's about being close to your baby.  That's it.  Simple, but so, so important and something that should be encouraged.  Even a simple piece of cloth can be used as a baby carrier.  A blanket.  A towel.  Anything that can safely be used to help you keep your baby close when you otherwise wouldn't be able to.

So next time you see that baby facing forward with their legs dangling beneath them, instead of cringing or being irritated, be happy that that baby has parents that love them and want to be close to them!