“Babywearing communities are valuable sources of support and often a great place to forge new friendships.”
You’ve decided you want to wear your baby. You feel a little unsure about it as babywearing isn’t yet truly mainstream, and everyone around you seems to have it all together perfectly. You’re beginning to doubt yourself a little as parenting seems to be harder than you thought. You take the plunge to find some local babywearers… and when you find a community who recognises how you feel, has made the same choices that you have, and welcomes you with open arms, it can be life changing. Even more so if they become your friends, share their knowledge with you, and end up being part of your parenting toolkit!
It was European Babywearing Week earlier this year and International Babywearing Week happens in October each year too. These weeks are designed to build awareness of babywearing around the world, and people often get very involved, organising group activities and community events, as well as participating in challenges and giveaways. They are a lot of fun and help varying groups of people to engage and interact with each other, and efforts are often concentrated on outreach to parents who may not yet have discovered the benefits of carrying children close.
However, when these weeks are over, the real work of carrying communities carries on, behind the scenes, without a lot of fanfare, making a real difference in the lives of the people within them. One thing that is very obvious to me in my role in running such a community in my local city, as well as hearing from other parents around the world, is just how important a part the babywearing community plays in helping families.
Almost every parent or carer will hold their baby in their arms at some point; babies are hard to ignore when they are insisting on being picked up and cuddled. Choosing to carry your child in a sling or carrier is an active choice, whether it is to help reduce crying, to do some of the carrying work for you and/or to facilitate the development of secure attachments.
Read more about some of the benefits of babywearing
For some, the sling is simply a tool for occasional use, for others it becomes a way of life.
However it is used, more and more new parents are turning to resources such as sling lending libraries or babywearing consultants, as well as online social media groups or brand fan groups, to learn more about some of the options out there and how to use these options as well and as safely as possible.
This initial contact frequently turns out to be the gateway into something wonderful.
People who have discovered how special babywearing feels, or how much easier it has made their lives, often want to share this joy with others.
The sensation of a baby finally falling asleep in contented trust while being carried, or the feelings of connection when a child enjoys being close all have an effect; these experiences reduce stress and anxiety through several pathways, and increase feelings of wellbeing and reward. Many parents feel that babywearing has helped them to survive postnatal anxiety and depression.
Comfortable carriers that make life easier, help babies to settle and and are also pretty to look at make a significant difference to many people’s experience of parenthood.
Thus it’s no wonder that many parents and carers come to love babywearing and find it enormously therapeutic. They can become very enthusiastic and long for other parents to discover this wonderful tool for themselves.
However, babywearing still has a slightly counter-cultural feel. It isn’t yet hugely visible as a “must-have” option for all parents in the same way that cots and prams and toys are. There are often a lot of misunderstandings about baby carriers which can make people feel uncertain.
New parents may feel a little isolated if they think they are swimming against a tide of opinion around them.
“Put that baby down! You’re making a rod for your own back! That child will never learn to walk!”
These new babywearers often go looking for others who share their interests and can encourage and reinforce their choices as good ones, looking online for help and support, and find groups of enthusiastic people who would love to provide it!
At their local sling meet, they find a friendly face who says hello and smiles at their baby and asks how they are with genuine interest. They find someone who will listen and sympathise as they tell them how hard the last week has been with crying and lack of sleep, who will see the tiredness in their eyes and make them a drink and sit them down. This can make all the difference between a good day or a bad one. A kind pair of hands who will show new parents how to carry their baby safely so they can be hands free to do the things they need to. A warm set of arms who will hold their child for them as they practice, or play with their toddler. People who will help them make their carrier fit better and feel more comfortable so they can use it more and more. A group of people who will meet for babywearing walks or picnics, or open their homes to others, providing social contact and changes of scenery… these things matter.
They say “it takes a village to raise a child”, and it’s true; a village of parents who have walked this road before and found the same solutions tend to become friends, and to care about each other. Human beings have a tendency to sort themselves into social groups where they feel familiar and where they can fit in, and let their guard down a little.
I’ve seen so many parents find a family among fellow sling users, a family they have chosen for themselves. One that lifts them up, that doesn’t judge but empowers, a family who don’t criticise but go and help, who are there to listen and encourage all hours of the day or night (as someone is always up feeding or with a child who can’t sleep!)
The lovely thing about having babywearing as a shared common interest means that many of the potentially contentious parenting topics can lose their edge. It seems to matter less how you feed your baby, or where your baby sleeps, as everyone has already identified a common experience that unites them. This helps people to connect to each other across all walks of life and all parenting styles and will encourage them to learn about each other and to listen to different approaches with a more open heart.
Such families tend to reach out to others and to grow… and this is how babywearing can change the world, one family at a time.
Children who grow up in communities (or with other families) that share the same ideals learn a great deal about how families work, which will influence their own parenting.
Connections forged in the early years of parenting can last for many years, beyond the babywearing stage, but still providing love and support and encouragement as children reach school and then the teenage years.
It’s heartening to see that as babywearing moves more into the mainstream and becomes more widely accepted as normal, there is greater understanding and knowledge about what truly matters, and more of a sense of cohesion. Babywearing should be safe and comfortable and empowering, rather than insular with lots of rules.
After all, if we want the world to carry their children, we need to be accepting and open to a wide range of people.
It’s important to remember too, that carrying children is not a new or modern idea; human beings have carried their children in their arms since they first began to walk upright, and have been using carriers as soon as they first learned to fashion some sort of container; fur, leather, woven reeds, cloths. We’re part of a global community that spans history and culture, and can still remain wonderfully local and immediate.
Have you found your local sling community? They often have websites and social media channels, and often run meetings for people to come and get some support and make friends. If you have been feeling low, or are struggling with anxiety, perhaps let them know in advance you’re coming so people can make sure you have a quiet corner.
If you're part of a happy community, do you present a friendly face to others and ensure you’re welcoming to a diverse group of people? Are your meetings at accessible times for parents who have different patterns to their lives? Do reach out.. you just might change the course of someone’s parenting journey, and there is little to beat the feeling of watching a tired parent’s shoulders relax and the little “whoo” sound they make as baby settles into sleep at last cuddled up safely and hands free on their chest. You just might find a speck in the corner of your eye!
Rosie Knowles is a mum of two and a family doctor in the UK with a particular interest in holistic medicine as well as children and women’s health and mental health. She is a passionate advocate of building secure attachment relationships between children and their carers, due to the long lasting effects this has on future health. Her book, “Why Babywearing Matters”, was published by Pinter and Martin in May 2016 and she has written for a wide range of publications. She trains carrying advocates, peer supporters and health professionals, and speaks at conferences around Europe about why carrying matters.