While babywearing and kangaroo care might be fancy jargon to new parents, the practices themselves have been around for a while. It is not uncommon to find women in rural India tying their baby to their back in their saree while they continue working in the fields and plantations.
Today, women across the globe are waking up to the benefits of babywearing and have started investing in ergonomic baby carriers.
Image courtesy: Soulslings.com
Baby wearing is a big trend among new mothers and there are support groups to educate and help new mothers on the art of carrying their little ones. From ring slings which have a steep learning curve, to structured carriers, options are many. The most popular models include the stretchy wrap, the woven wrap, the ring sling, the meh dai, the tonbuhimo and soft structured carriers.
We spoke to some babywearing moms and educators to understand how they discovered baby carriers and the many benefits.
Babywearing and sleep
Bengaluru based IT professional Sharmilla Abhilash, learnt about babywearing after the birth of her son. â€śHe was a premature baby and I learned about kangaroo care and later how babywearing helps to keep the baby close. I started to babywear using a cotton saree when my son was 4 months old and later purchased a ring sling from Soul. I was surprised by the results â€“ he was calm and slept better. Also, babywearing helped me to step out easily and do my work without disturbing his sleep cycle,â€ť she says.
While some take to baby carriers due to necessity, some other mothers knew they wanted one even before they delivered their child.
Mom and blogger Atheetha Raghuchandran, says, â€śI knew I wanted a carrier when I was pregnant itself. However, since my sister-in-law gifted me one, I didnâ€™t explore other options around me and didnâ€™t read too much about the available carriers. Although the carrier was useful many a time, it was difficult to use it and by the time the little boy was more than a year old, I felt he had outgrown it. Thatâ€™s when I started searching for the available options in the market to get a new carrier and came across a couple of Indian brands selling quality, tested and affordable ergonomic carriers.â€ť
Image courtesy: Ganga Sudhakar; Explaining babywearing at an exhibition.
Chennai based babywearing educator, Ganga Sudhakar, says, â€śMy pregnancy YouTube searches led me to babywearing and I got hooked the moment my 3-week-old slept soon after I had worn her. An opportunity to train as an educator presented itself and ever since I have been spreading the word about babywearing and its benefits for both the mother and the child.â€ť
Baby carriers are a useful tool for working moms and those in a nuclear family setup. For Shefali Tiwari who was recovering from a C-section surgery and also had to take care of two dogs, the baby carrier was a life-saver. She also says that babywearing helped her deal with postpartum depression.
Image courtesy: Shefali Tiwari; For Shefali, babywearing helped her beat PPD.
â€śIt helped me get out of my depression and for the first time, I stepped out of my house alone with the baby while wearing her. She always wanted to be held and babywearing really helped her stay calm and close with zero pain for me,â€ť she says.
Coimbatore based mother Sunayana, says, â€śBaby wearing was an easy route to help my son sleep without following the traditional methods. Babies when worn feel the warmth of the parent / care-giver and find a sense of security.â€ť
For architect and babywearing educator, Yaman Banerji, a social media post about baby carriers kickstarted the journey. Yaman says, â€śI stumbled upon a shared image of a hybrid wrap on Facebook and happened to invest in one, and our joyful babywearing journey began. Soon, I happened to attend a Mumbai Sling Library meetup which helped my partner decide on the type of carrier that would suit him.â€ť
Baby carriers give moms a sense of independence and allow them to indulge in their regular chores while keeping their babies close. Yaman says, â€śBabywearing walks became possible - it being the first step to get back to my fitness routine as I was very wary of retaining the pregnancy weight, especially with a family history of obesity. Daily routines now didn't need 'adjusting' just because we became parents.â€ť
Babywearing moms feel in control and develop a sense of confidence about their parenting abilities. Coimbatore based ex-radio jockey and babywearing consultant Anjana Dhanavanthan, recollects, â€śIn 2016 I delivered our second child and throughout my pregnancy, babywearing has kept us close enough to beat any forms of new sibling jealousy. I even successfully danced in front of a mall full of people (during the World Breastfeeding Week) while 6 months pregnant, wearing my son on my back! Babywearing gives you that kind of confidence.â€ť
Image courtesy: Soulslings.com
And though not as common, many new fathers too have taken to babywearing to bond with their child.
How do others see it?
Babywearing is still nascent in India and reactions range from curious glances to judgmental comments.
Yaman says, â€śI have been welcomed with awestruck glances from strangers at parks who have stopped me and said that it was a great thing to be able to carry the baby wrapped on me, and that these middle-aged ladies would have loved to have had such options when their children were young.â€ť
However, Yaman has also had to face some unpleasant remarks.
â€śI also had 'well meaning' relatives casually say that this was what the beggars and the tea estate women did. But then, as a parent, even the beggars and tea estate workers are doing the best for their children, keeping them close and secure, we hold them with as much respect. Random people have asked if my child was 'ok' (and didn't have a walking disorder) as I wasn't letting a toddler run amok in a busy market but had her 'tied up'. And my father-in-law has asked if I would carry my baby till she went to college.. as I still reach out to a carrier often, even now that she is over three,â€ť she shares.
Baby wearing is fast becoming a fashion statement with moms investing in different colours, prints and even matching other accessories to the baby carriers. Shefali says, â€śI have many carriers and love to match them with my attire. They look very pretty and still serve their most essential purpose.â€ť
Sharmilla adds, â€śThere are matching bags and shoes for the carriers! I have seen mothers who wear clothes matching to the carrier and accessorize to go with the carrier. Baby carriers are an essential parenting tool and jazzing it up a little bit makes it more interesting.â€ť
Babywearing educators urge new parents to research and invest in quality carriers. Sharmilla adds, â€śParents should understand the benefits of ergonomic babywearing and why carriers tested for certain standards (mostly US or UK standards because we don't have any testing standards in India) are important. That baby safe fabrics and dyes are used is important. Babywearing helps to bond with the baby.â€ť
Anjana says, â€śTo begin with, take time to look at all carrier types. Visit your local babywearing network meets or check out local city libraries (Yes, there are libraries across the country that let you try and rent carriers). The help of a babywearing consultant eases your learning curve and gets you to pick a carrier that works perfectly for your child and you.â€ť
Babywearing moms often become advocates and educators of babywearing. Says Shefali, â€śAs a babywearing mom and educator, I have met numerous parents and come across unique experiences. Babywearing has helped them travel more often, helped severely colicky babies, made single mother more confident, helped mothers give more skin to skin to their preemies. I have also worked with special needs babies and such experiences certainly make the journey rewarding and satisfying.â€ť