by Dr Rosie Knowles, General Practitioner, Babywearing Consultant and Author of ‘Why Babywearing Matters’
Carrying babies close to their carers’ bodies is vital to their normal physiological and psychological development. Skin to skin in the early days and weeks after birth is of enormous value in beginning to build secure attachment relationships (with all the many benefits that result) and to help to establish breastfeeding. Babies who enjoy close contact with their mothers are much more likely to be breastfed, and to be breastfed for longer, than their non-carried counterparts. This is of course largely related to the release of oxytocin from soft contact that triggers milk-let down, but also due to the fact that oxytocin plays a role in reducing anxiety and building bonds between mother and child. Any activity that encourages the formation of a healthy and secure attachment relationship will be of great benefit to the family unit and also to the local community; reducing problems with child and adolescent mental health later on, for example.
Using a carrier (in a safe way, where the airway is protected) can help with difficult breastfeeding circumstances. They can provide an extra support for the child’s body while mother works on establishing a latch, and for feeding on the go when babies are older, to allow mothers to get out and around, thereby reducing loneliness and feeling trapped, which contribute to postnatal depression.
Many babies want to be held almost constantly in the early months. This is entirely to be expected, and part of the ‘4th Trimester’ concept of normal infant development. Having a baby who wants to be held all the time, or cries whenever he is laid down, can be hard work for parents; we no longer live in large societies where the burden of child care can be shared among the wider family. Babies may suffer from colic or reflux, or have tongue tie, and need to be held upright for prolonged periods. A good, ergonomic carrier that respects babies’ anatomy (especially their spine and hips) and protects their airways can be a lifesaver for such situations. Babies respond to gentle movement and tend to calm better when they are rocked; a sling can save many tired arms from fatigue.
If you want to know more about sling use there are many local ‘sling libraries’ and ‘sling consultants’ around the UK, who are trained in the safe use of slings and can advise parents, loaning carriers to help them find the one that works best for them. They are listed at Sling Pages.
With thanks to Rosie for her contribution to this website. Rosie runs the Sheffield Sling Surgery and Library.
Baby Sling Safety: T.I.C.K.S Rules for Safe Babywearing from Baby Sling Safety, from the UK Sling Consortium
Sheffield Sling Surgery: Breast and Bottle-feeding Safely in a Sling Information and a video from Dr Rosie Knowles on how to feed safely while using different types of sling
Further Information on Baby Carrying
Huffington Parents: Seven Reasons to Carry your Baby by Dr Rosie Knowles
Baby Sleep Info Source (Basis): Slings For Daytime Sleep Documents the evidence related to sling wearing and infant daytime sleep
Sling Pages A one-stop website for UK and Ireland professional advice, resources, safety and training on sling wearing, including information on sling meets, hire and purchase
NICE Guidelines CG132 Caesarean Section Updated September 2019 – Says ‘Early skin-to-skin contact between the woman and her baby should be encouraged and facilitated because it improves maternal perceptions of the infant, mothering skills, maternal behaviour, and breastfeeding outcomes, and reduces infant crying’.
Cochrane Review: Early Skin-to-Skin Contact for Mothers and their Healthy Newborn Infants Moore ER et al 2016 – The evidence supports that early skin-to-skin should be normal practice for healthy newborns including those born by cesarean and babies born early at 35 weeks or more. The review supports using immediate or early skin-to-skin to promote breastfeeding.
Cochrane Review: Skin-to-skin care for procedural pain in neonates Johnston C et al 2017– Kangaroo care appears to reduce the pain response to, and recovery from neonatal tests and procedures.