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Benefits Backed By Science

February 03, 2021

So you've heard that babywearing is "good for your baby", but maybe you don't know some of these things that have been studied pretty extensively. Let's dive in ...

Wearing your baby upright on your chest:
1. ENHANCES IMMUNOLOGICAL PROTECTION

If the mother is breastfeeding her baby, she will raise antibodies in response to all of the microbes that they come in contact with and transfer them to the baby. (Lawn, 2010)2

Touch is so important to the healthy development of an infant that a lack of touch, or separation of mother and newborn, actually causes high amounts of the toxic stress hormone cortisol to be released. High levels of cortisol in the blood and separation from mother may negatively impact immune function as the body may stop producing leukocytes (infection fighting cells).

The Developmental Psychobiology Research Group at the University of Colorado Medical center reported how primates separated from their mothers for a brief period of time stopped producing leukocytes to fight off infection. When reunited with their mothers, their immune system returned to normal and started producing leukocytes again

2. PREVENTS EAR INFECTIONS AND EASES THE SYMPTOMS OF GERD (Tasker, 2002)13
Gastric reflux of contents into the middle ear causes ear infections. Gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD can be pretty prevalent in babies as sphincters tend to take a while to fully close. Parents of babies diagnosed with GERD are advised to be carried upright to ease the symptoms.

When infants are placed lying in the horizontal position, not only are the symptoms exacerbated, but gastric juices can enter the immature Eustachian tubes easier making reflux from the throat into the middle ear more probable.

The same may occur when bottle fed infants are fed positioned flat on their backs and not slightly upright as milk may enter into the middle ear. The build up in the Eustachian tube can cause inflammation and a buildup of bacteria and subsequently an infection. A slight upright tilt prevents milk from entering into the middle ear.

Wearing your baby upright can actually be a preventative measure against ear infections and can help ease the symptoms of GERD (Schon, 2007)

3. REGULATES BODY TEMPERATURE
Babies can better maintain their own temperature upright on mom’s chest. Thermoregulation is possible even with dads and/or other caretakers. Babies can actually have “thermal synchrony” with their mothers. If the baby gets too cold the mother’s body (breast) temperature will actually warm up one degree to help warm the baby (Ludington-Hoe, 2006)10. If the baby gets too hot, the mother’s body (breast) temperature will decrease one degree to cool the baby. It even works with twins held/worn on the mother’s chest. Even if one is hot and one is cold!! Imagine, intelligent breasts. Amazing.

The flexed position of a babies’ body on their mother’s chest is a more efficient position for conserving heat than lying horizontal.

4. ENHANCES LACTATION, PREVALENCE, AND THE DURATION OF BREASTFEEDING (Furman, 2002)9
When babies are together with their mothers throughout the day it is easier to breastfeed more frequently and unrestrictedly. When a mother wears her baby and she knows how to breastfeed in a baby carrier she is likely to nurse even more frequently and for a longer time.

5. ENHANCES GROWTH/WEIGHT GAIN
High cortisol levels that result from mother baby separation has a negative impact on growth hormone. With mother present to help assist in regulating the baby’s breathing, heart rate, and temperature, the baby has decreased energy needs and can conserve his energy and calories and direct it toward growth. (Charpak, 2005)5

6. SUPPORTS AROUSAL REGULATION
When held upright on their mothers’ chests babies spend more time in a quiet alert state, the optimum state for observing and processing all that’s going on around them.

7. REDUCES APNEA AND UNEVEN BREATHING PATTERNS
Babies use their mothers to help regulate her own systems. While upright on mom’s chest babies’ systems are kept at a regular tempo. But apart, the newborn must work doubly hard to maintain physiological harmony.

When a baby is worn on the chest of either parent there is usually an improvement in breathing patterns. Parental sensory breathing cues and general proximity to parents can help overcome babies’ breathing control errors (stopped/paused breathing or “apnea”). There is an interactive effect of arousal and breathing rates. The baby can hear and feel the breathing and it stimulates the baby’s breathing so that the baby imitates the parent. (Ludington-Hoe, 1993)7

8. STABILIZES HEART RATE
Bradycardia (low heart rate below 100) is markedly reduced and tachycardia (heart rates of 180 or more) rarely occurs. (McCain, 2005)11
Heart rate is so important because a baby’s brain requires a steady and consistent flow of blood to get the oxygen it needs to grow and perform properly.

9. RELIEVES STRESS REACTIONS
Babies deal with pain better and cry less in response to pain (for procedures such as heel sticks). (Kostandy, 2008)1

10. IMPROVES NEUROBEHAVIOR
Babies are neurobiologically immature at birth.
Nature intended for babies to be with their mothers, especially at a time when their brains will grow more than any other time in their lives. Babies’ brains increases from a mere 25% adult size at birth to 60% of the volume of the adult brain by the end of the first year alone. That is almost 2/3 of the total growth of the brain occurring within a very short window of time (Montagu, 1986, 55–6).
Mother-Infant proximity correlates with higher scores on mental and motor development tests in the first year of life. (Charpak et al., 2005)

11. INCREASES OXYGENATION OF THE BABY’S BODY (Feldman, 2003)8

12. PROVIDES LONGER PERIODS OF RESTFUL SLEEP
Babies remain more calm and transition from one sleep state to another (Ferber, 2004)4 and also sleep longer in general. (Messemer, 1997)12

13. MIMICS THE ENVIRONMENT OF THE WOMB
Babies continue to receive touch, rhythm and pressure and the soothing and comforting sounds of their mother’s heart beat, breathing and rhythmic rocking. It is in an ideal holding place during the “exterogestation“- or the second nine months after their birth.

14. SAVES LIVES
According to the latest studies, the practicing of Kangaroo Care, the special way of holding your preterm infant skin to skin, shows a 51 percent reduction in newborn mortality when babies (stable and less than 2 kg) were kangarooed within the first week after birth and breastfed by their mothers. (Lawn, 2010)2

References

  1. Kostandy et al., “Kangaroo Care (Skin Contact) Reduces Crying Response to Pain in Preterm Neonates: Pilot Results,” Pain Management Nursing 2008: 9:55-65
  2. Lawn et al., “‘Kangaroo Mother Care’ to Prevent Neonatal Deaths Due to Preterm Birth Complications,” International Journal of Epidemiology” 2010: April.
  3. Whiting, J.M.W., “Environmental Constraints on Infant Care Practices”. In Handbook of Cross-Cultural Human Development edited by R.H. Munroe, R.L. Munroe & B.B. Whiting, New York:Garland STPM Press, 2005.
  4. Ferber et al., “The Effect of Skin-to-Skin Contact (Kangaroo Care) Shortly After Birth on the Neurobehavioral Responses of the Term Newborn: A Randomized, Controlled Trial. Pediatrics 113 2004:858-865.
  5. Charpak, N., “Kangaroo Mother Care: 25 Years After,” Acta Paediatric 94 2005: 5, 514-522.
  6. Powell, A. “Harvard Researchers Say Children Need Touching and Attention,” Harvard Gazette.
  7. Ludington-Hoe, S. Kangaroo Care: The Best You Can Do to Help Your Preterm Infant. New York: Bantam Books, 1993.
  8. Feldman et al. “Testing a Family Intervention Hypothesis: The Contribution of Mother-Infant Skin-to-Skin contact (kangaroo care) to Family Interaction, Proximity, and Touch,” 2003 March Journal of Family Psychology. Vol. 17, 94-107
  9. Furman, L. “Correlates of Lactation of Very Low Birth Weight Infants,” 2002 Pediatrics Vol. 109 (4) 57
  10. Ludington-Hoe, S. “Breast Infant Temperature with Twins during shared Kangaroo Care,” 2006 Journal of Obstetric , Gynecologic and Neonatal Nursing, 35 (2) 223-231
  11. McCain, G et al. “Heart Rate Variability Responses of a Preterm Infant to Kangaroo Care,” 2005 Journal of Obstetrics, Gynecologic, and Neonatal Nursing,” 34 (6), 689-694.
  12. Messmer P. et al., “Effect of Kangaroo Care on Sleep Time for Neonates,” 1997 Pediatr. Nurs. 23, no. 4 408-414.
  13. Tasker, A., Dettmar, P. W., Panetti, M., Koufman, J. A., Birchall, J. P., and Pearson, J. P. (2002). Is gastric reflux a cause of Otitis media with effusion in children? The Laryngoscope, 112:1930–1934.