By Meredith Flory

“Babywearing”, the activity of carrying a child with the assistance of a fabric carrier, has historically been used in many cultures, and many indigenous populations have culturally specific ways to wear their children.  However, it is only recently becoming popular again in the United States, and you may have noticed more and more people forgoing strollers and carrying their children in wraps or backpack-like carriers.

Erin Ritter is an artist and mother of two, including a daughter that she “wrapped every day for the first two years of her life”.  While Ritter no longer lives in Augusta, she is the founding member of the Augusta Area Babywearers group and lending closet.  Ritter shares that her “hometown had a wonderful babywearing group”, but there was not one in our area when she moved here, so she decided to start one.  Overtime the group has grown to include monthly meetings, a facebook page, and a lending closet of carriers.  She recalls, “I needed to find more people who were already babywearing to help me more, and I wanted to be able to help others who knew even less than I did.”

Harley Goodman, one of the current co-leaders of the group is an Army veteran, a working mom with two children and one on the way, who is also attending school part-time.  Goodman says that other than seeing a friend use a carrier, she “was not exposed to babywearing before being a parent”, but after having her first daughter, a friend let her borrow a wrap and says she  reached for it “out of desperation when her daughter would cry every time I put her down.”   Goodman notes that a concern she often hears is that some people are “afraid to wear because they think it can create a “needy” baby.  What I have observed is the opposite — my children are both fiercely independent, and I think part of that is due to babywearing helping to instill their confidence in us.”

How  can Babywearing help parents or caregivers?

Babywearing allows parents to keep their infant or toddler close to them, while still having use of their hands, and distributing the weight for holding an extended time.  Goodman exclaims that is was an “instant game changer,” making tasks such as cooking and cleaning easier.  When their second child was born, he had bad reflux and “being upright in the babywearing position” helped both parents soothe him. Goodman shares many stories of babywearing helping families who are caring for a special needs child or how babywearing helped them get through an emotional time, such as a death in the family.  Sara Kift, a retired Army Occupational Therapist, is a “Party Rocker” for the Ft. Gordon chapter of The Carrying On Project, an organization that distributes baby carriers to low-income enlisted military families, and arranges local playdates for military families that babywear to help combat the isolation a new parent may feel, particularly if they are living in a new place.  Kift adds that the health benefits she has seen for parents and children through babywearing and shares that it may be soothing for service members struggling with postpartum depression, PTSD or other mental health issues as they work to connect with their families. When Kift was still active duty she says it gave her and her child the bonding and cuddling time they needed as service members often work long hours. For nursing mothers, Kift adds that her son wanted to “nurse non-stop when I was home with him in the evenings” so being able to nurse her son as she wore him allowed her to move around the house freely.

Babywearing can also be helpful for frequent travelers, or families that move often.  Kift notes that babywearing can help both the parent and child feel safe in unfamiliar places, and it can be helpful for navigating places like airport security with the child strapped to you instead of in a stroller for “one less piece of baby gear to manage”.  The Augusta Area Babywearers creates community through their meetings and social media, where parents ask questions, post pictures of babywearing and sell or trade used carriers.

How can I learn to babywear safely and properly?

All of the women I talked to advocated finding an experienced wearer or educator to help you learn to use your carrier properly if you are interested in learning to babywear.  Ritter states that our local group, “has monthly meetings where we teach a certain carry”.  Even if you have been babywearing, a meeting might help you learn about a different style carrier, or learn something new, such as ways to successfully wear a child on your back.  Kift echoed that local groups can “provide hands-on education, which is invaluable for safe and fun babywearing.” Ritter acknowledged that while she figured the basics out on her own at first “it can be frustrating and overwhelming to start – for one, you have a tiny baby, and if it is your first child you are terrified of hurting them! Two, it can be hard to learn to use a carrier…if you are crying and exhausted yourself.”  She added that expectant mothers are welcome too and you can practice putting a carrier on with a stuffed animal or doll before the baby comes.

However, if your schedule or location does not allow you to find a babywearing group that works for you, Ritter suggested YouTube videos and social media groups for assistance.  Organizations and individual trained educators, such as Babywearing International, Wrapping Rachel, Danny the Babywearing Dad, or Wrap You In Love have large blog or social media followings with educational materials. Goodman also suggests the “website of the manufacturer of your carrier, as they usually provide tutorials on how to properly use the carrier” and Ritter adds that specific wrap or carrier brands may have a social media community for their customers.

There  are so many choices – How do I decide on a carrier?

Ritter shared that “as the local group grew, we needed more than our own personal carriers to have at the meetings.”  Through donations, giveaways, and discounts, they were able to start a lending closet that parents or caregivers can join.  While it is free to attend meetings and try on carriers, for $30.00 per year, lending closet members may check a different carrier out each month – a good option if you’d like to try various carriers or are unable to purchase one to keep.  References from friends can be helpful, but a lot of it is personal preference.  Ritter explained that often people have given up because they’ve tried a low budget carrier that isn’t ergonomical, and assume that all babywearing will be uncomfortable, but she encourages people to know that “quality makes a huge difference” and that people are often “so surprised by the difference a carrier that fits you well will make!”

Things to consider are: who will use the carrier (if it needs to work for multiple people), how and where you plan to use it, what your budget is, for what age child and how many children will it be used for (there are options for tandem wearing twins or multiple ages), and if you want a certain color or style.  Common styles of carriers include:

• Ring slings: pieces of fabric with rings to adjust and hold the fabric that fit over one shoulder.

• Wraps:  a long piece of fabric that can be tied in various ways to support the child.  Different fabrics are suitable for different usages, such as mesh slings made for the water, or woven wraps that support more weight.

• Mei Tais: a version of traditional carriers from Asian cultures, it is a large panel of fabric with two connected fabric straps that are tied around the shoulders and waist.

• Soft Structured Carriers (often referred to as SSCs): easy to adjust carriers that use buckles and backpack-style straps, making them very popular.

While there are many affordable options available at stores that carry baby products, there are also companies that understand parents often want something that shows off their own fashion and interests.  Carriers influenced with designs from popular books and movies, reflect certain jobs or cultural fashions, or come in all manner of colors and designs are available.  These are often through smaller boutique companies, and do not be surprised if the workmanship and artistry raises the price point.

Two local mothers, Christina Baker and Jennifer LaBarge shared with me how babywearing has been a lifesaver since each of their families has three small children.  Baker explained,“without babywearing, normal tasks people do everyday…would be impossible; sometimes I wear only one and sometimes I tandem wear one on my back and one in front!” While LaBarge noted that in addition to keeping all of her children calm as infants, that with only one not walking yet, it eliminates the need to push a stroller while, “I have two hands to hold my other two’s hands.”  Goodman concludes, “I think having our children be close to us when they are young has made them feel safe and comforted, helped us as parents be more productive and have peace of mind, and overall impacted our health as a family.  I recommend babywearing for everyone!”  Will you try it as part of your parenting routine?

This article appears in the July 2017 issue of Augusta Family Magazine.
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