The term ‘babywearing’ has become a recent trend and many regard it as a lifestyle choice. But as a practice, it is not new - mothers and child carers in many cultures have been ‘wearing’ babies in some form or another. In Malaysia, we call it ‘gendong’ and we typically use a batik selendang, which is twisted on one shoulder and supports the baby within the fabric, balanced on the hip of the person carrying the baby.
Many of our indigenous tribes use a customised woven basket, typically worn on the back, attached by straps around the shoulders.
So what is babywearing? It is carrying your baby or child in a type of carrier on your body. It might be on your back, the front of your body, or on your hip. When you babywear, you are holding your child close to you, and it allows you to have both hands free to do your chores around the house, or go to the supermarket, or hold the hands of your other children, plus a bag or two, while you are out and about.
When I started babywearing, I took a much more westernised route and started with a baby bjorn.This type of carrier is readily available in most commercial baby stores. It did its job and allowed me to be hands-free, but I never found it to be overly comfortable. An Indonesian bidan demonstrated to me how to carry a baby in a batik selendang, but I never got the hang of it and gave up.
For my second child I bought an Ergo, which is considered to be an ergonomic carrier, under the category of soft structured carriers (SSCs). It allows for good positioning of the baby and is also comfortable and supportive for mummy. Again, it did its job, but I never really took to it and soon put it aside.
It took having a third child, and a real need to be hands-free so I could run after the other two, to lead me to research further into babywearing, and it opened my eyes to a much bigger and better range of varieties and options. I started with a ring sling, a carrier similar to the batik selendang, but with rings sewn into it to help hold the fabric together, making it more secure and more easily adjustable. I then moved on to a slightly more complicated baby carrier, but so much more versatile and comfortable, called a woven wrap.
There are many babywearing groups, in Malaysia and all over the world, that offer support and advice, and YouTube tutorials for every type of carrier and versions of carrying. In Malaysia, we also have a growing number of babywearing educators who hold classes on the benefits of babywearing and how to do it properly. Many babywearing groups also organise regular meet-ups to offer guidance to each other as well as to trade baby carriers and even lend each other carriers to give mums who are new to babywearing a chance to try it out before they purchase a wrap or a carrier themselves.
I learnt how to use a woven wrap from a fellow member of a babywearing group that I found on Facebook and she lent me a wrap for a couple of weeks before I made my own purchase.
The world of babywearing can be daunting. There are many types of carriers, many ways of carrying and many acronyms used that can be confusing at first. And the cost of some types of carriers, depending on the fabric and the maker, can be very expensive. But once you understand the work behind it, the artistry and the materials that are involved in the creation of these carriers and woven fabrics, you will appreciate and understand it better.
Benefits of Babywearing - Why would I want to do it?
I have seen an increase in the number of parents and child carers babywearing in the last year, which is a good indication that it is a beneficial practice.
- Babywearing allows you to have at least one, and often both hands free. You can get things done around the house, it makes shopping at the pasar or supermarket much easier and if you have to go to a public place with more than one child, you have your hands free to hold the hand of the other child or children.
- Most carriers allow you to breastfeed while on the move, or at least keep your baby close while you bottle-feed, a convenience many mums would appreciate.
- A baby carrier alleviates the pressure on your arms and shoulders as the weight of the baby is supported by the carrier.
- I have found that wearing your baby close promotes the bond between mum and baby, and also gives dads the chance to bond with their child. Babies who are carried like this can feel the heartbeat of the person carrying them, which can help to keep them calm.
Although there is still not much research or scientific evidence available about the medical or health benefits of babywearing, anecdotal evidence from mums who babywear reveal how happy their child is, how much more confident and in some cases, how their children seem to have developed their motor skills much faster than those who are not carried.
I have been told that I am spoiling my baby for carrying him too much and it is a common story from other babywearing mums, however I do feel it is a very natural thing to do; to keep baby close and allow him to see things and take part in your daily activities rather than watch passively from a cot or chair. Of course he gets put down when he falls asleep, and now that he is crawling, he spends more time on the floor, but a lot of the time he is carried in a ring sling.
How do I get started?
- Join a local babywearing group on Facebook and start asking questions.
- Go into a baby care shop and ask what kind of carriers they have and try them. Tiny Tapir has a good selection and the shop assistants are quite helpful.
- Google" :babywearing + how to’
- Take a look at BabyCenter Malaysia's slideshow on the different styles of babywearing for new Mums
A quick word of caution - Dos & Don’ts
Babywearing is a great way to carry your child and the benefits are many, however, there are a few things to be aware of when babywearing:
- Practice as much as possible with a doll or with someone supporting you when you first start using a baby carrier. If you can find a babywearing educator or a babywearing group to meet up with, even better!
- Always check the fabric or the seams of the carrier and see if there are any tears or loose threads.
- Don’t wear your baby in a car, it is not a safe way of carrying. Put your child in the car seat.
- Be careful around household appliances when wearing your baby. Remember that your baby is able to reach out and grab things.
- Do wear your baby as often as you want to, it does not ‘spoil’ your baby!
Do follow the babywearing international T.I.C.K.S guidelines:
- In view at all times
- Close enough to kiss
- Keep chin off chest
- Support the back / head
Local babywearing associations
Retail outlets with a variety of baby carriers
Types of BW Carriers
Soft Structured Carriers (SSC)
Ring Slings (RS)
If you have any questions or want to comment on this article, please drop me a line - [email protected]
Credit: Main photo courtsey of BabyCenter Malaysia