Jenny Neill of Connect Emotional Education is kindly sponsoring our breakout session on Babywearing, and has written for us here about why babywearing means so much to her.
When I found out about the Growing Families conference I knew that I had to be involved. I have always worked with children (as a teacher) and in the last five years I have worked more closely with parents too, culminating in me setting up my own business ‘Connect Emotional Education’ this year where I provide 1:1 support and parent workshops in the area of emotional wellbeing of children and teenagers.
I’m really happy to be sponsoring the Babywearing breakout session. Babywearing has been important in my parenting journey and I am a trained babywearing peer supporter which means I help other parents in my local area to find out about babywearing. I love introducing new parents to this simple way of meeting their babies’ needs that has a myriad of other benefits too.
Before I became a parent I had learned, as I did further study in Emotional Education, about the evolutionary theories about babies’ attachment to their parents. It made total sense that a baby who had spent time growing inside their mother would notice a sudden change once they had been born and that this was down, in part, to the fact that this was something that had been a definite advantage in the days when we lived in caves and had very real physical threats.
For a few years I worked as a Baby Sensory teacher and this gave me a great insight into baby development and I was also lucky to be working in Sheffield, which some call ‘The Sling City’ due to its’ large numbers of babywearers and babywearing support sessions. I would watch lots of parents come to my classes with their babies wrapped up in various slings and carriers and I saw, first hand, how these babies looked content and settled. NB – there’ll probably be a time when your baby is looking far from content and settled and you will hope that nobody sees you as you feel sure you are the worst advert for babywearing ever – this happens! I was convinced by what I saw and decided it was something that I wanted to do with my baby when he came along.
So I did and at nearly three years old we are carrying still, for shorter periods of time and on my back now as wearing evolves as your little one gets older. I don’t know how long we’ll enjoy this but it’s so much easier that carrying in arms at this age – toddlers are heavy!
A lot of the work that I do with older children and teenagers involves understanding the reptile and mammal parts of the brain so I’m going to start there. Babies’ brains are not finished at birth and will continue to grow and be shaped by their experiences in the first years of life. The lower (reptile) parts of their brain are quite well developed as these deal with survival aspects like breathing, feeding, getting rid of waste and sounding the alert (through crying) if they’re in pain, discomfort or hungry. The upper parts of the brain (those associated with mammals and humans in particular) are not very developed at all which is why when I look at this picture of my son from when he was about six weeks old I’m left thinking, “Where is the rest of his head?!”
These upper parts of the brain develop rapidly throughout the first three years of life (which is why you might have heard about various organisations supporting parents and children during the first 1000 days). Part of our role as parents is to provide nurturing experiences for our babies so that their brains develop and grow. They are learning about themselves and the world in every interaction so these need to be positive (or challenges dealt with in a positive way). When they have positive interactions pathways in their brain are strengthened. Being close to a loving parent also helps to calm baby and send lots of chemicals whizzing through their brain and body. Oxcytocin is particularly important, sometimes called the ‘cuddle chemical’, and it’s released through touch, sucking and warmth. Touch and providing warmth can be achieved through holding baby (something that we instinctively do); babywearing using slings and carriers can be used to make this easier – even small babies get heavy after a while! Having your hands free to do other things is also a benefit (particularly if you have other children to look after as well).
If you want to find out more I have included some book recommendations at the bottom of this post.
“Having that extra contact is wonderful. I think it makes them feel more secure. I love the closeness.” – Lisa, mum of three
“One of my favourite things was carrying her in our sling. I loved having the intimacy and whispering in her ears; being able to respond and have that degree of closeness to her was truly magical.” – Ben, dad of three, slingdads.co.uk
As I briefly mentioned before, the world can be a new and confusing place for babies when they arrive. As they get older their understanding of the world increases but so does their awareness and this can lead them to need more security. Wearing babies and toddlers can help them feel secure by keeping them physically close but also by having them close to you they can be included more in daily life and it’s easier to reassure them or explain what is happening as you move around.
Babies have a lot of things going on that they can’t understand and the main means they have of communicating is crying. Laura, mum of two, sent this picture with the caption, ‘early evening walks in the ‘colic hours’ … relaxed and contented baby and mummy!’ There are various theories about what colic is but, when it occurs, a baby’s main method of communicating about their pain is through crying. Parents will try anything and everything to help and it’s often reported that holding or wearing baby in an upright position can help. Laura elaborates, “my son had horrendous colic. My daughter (in the picture) didn’t but had some unsettled evenings that reminded me of my son’s colic and taking her out in the wrap was brilliant! I wish I’d have tried it first time round!”
Adam, babywearing blogger, talks about the benefits of wearing his son close, “what I love about baby wearing is the closeness, the bonding we have enjoyed from birth to toddler. Babies love it in the sling. It calms them down.”
Security for parents
I read the quote, “making the decision to have a child is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body,” and it’s what I think of when I think about that time after birth. I had been very anxious during pregnancy and was desperate for my baby to arrive safely then, as soon as he did, I was unnerved by not always being able to reach down and touch him as I had when he was a wriggly bump. It’s not quite as simple of that but I can definitely understand the comments of two mums that I spoke to recently:
“I found babywearing hugely helpful. I suffered from PND and anxiety but could feel the pressure lift and my anxiety drop when I wore baby. By keeping her close it made me feel calmer.” – Rebecca, mum of one
“I have felt panicked when separated from both sons as infants. Holding them close in a sling meant we felt connected. I could feel their movements and hear their breathing.” – Natalie, mum of two
It’s a natural instinct to want to keep our babies close and meeting their needs as they grow is important too. Claire, from Honeybee Mama, sums it up when she says, “Now I can meet my son’s needs whilst still getting on with other stuff. So apart from the beautiful early days where all you want to do is hold them, slings are great for your sanity as your children grow.”
Seeing the world through the eyes of your baby. Living in the moment.
Becoming a parent involves a big change, a really big change; in pace, priorities an perspective. One thing that I hadn’t considered until a friend pointed it out was that connecting with your baby through babywearing could have the following impact on us as parents.
“For me, it took an actual baby looking at the world with such awe to make me truly look deeply at what was around me and be taken aback by it all.” – Tracy G. Cassels, author of My Unexpected Consequence of Babywearing.
When you’re walking along wearing your little one it’s almost impossible to stop yourself from talking to them, pointing out things that you see along the way or around. As they grow this inevitably involves stopping to touch leaves on trees, post letters, talk to people you see and your child can be more closely involved in these things when you wear them so it’s great for communication and so you roll along in a circle of communicating and connecting leading to more communicating and so on.
For a more in-depth discussion please see http://evolutionaryparenting.com/my-unexpected-consequence-of-babywearing/
This picture is of me wearing my son at around 8 months old. We were on a very windy beach in Scotland and I remember his exhilaration at the wind in his face. Being in the sling meant that I could get the balance right between letting him experience this new sensation but sheltering him from the wind when it started to get too much.
Carry on wearing
Babywearing could be called baby, toddler and pre-schooler wearing (but it’s not a very snappy title). I love a bit of myth-busting and it’s often thought that babies are too heavy to wear after a certain point. It’s not true and may be down to finding the right sling or carrier for the next step on your babywearing journey. I find it so much easier to carry my nearly three year old on my back in a carrier than I do to pick him up and carry him in my arms. He walks about 90% of the time because he’s an active toddler but there are times when he’s too tired to walk or he’s fallen or another reason and then carrying him comes into its’ own again. I spoke to two other parents about their experiences of carrying their older babies and children. Louise, mum of one, spoke about the conscious effort she made to wear her son when she returned to work. “I returned to work and our son was being cared for by my husband. I felt that I would miss out on loads (of experiences and opportunities for connection) so continuing to carry at this time (10 months until now at 22 months) has really helped to keep us connected. Now he’s at nursery part time and I sling him there and back so we can have one on one time to talk about the day and ensure he is comforted during this transitional time.”
Ellie, sling consultant at Peekaboo Slings, said, “(when my son was 2 ½) I began carrying him home in a sling, pushing the babies in the buggy … this gave us the chance to talk while the babies were soothed by movement. He’d tell me about his day and I’d feel us reconnecting, finding our way through our new normal.” For more insight into this see http://peekabooslings.co.uk/why-i-carry-my-big-kid
I’m looking forward to the Growing Families conference, if you are attending and are interested in finding out more about babywearing you can attend the breakout session run by Victoria Ward from School of Babywearing. There will also be a pop up sling library run by Ellie Thouret of Peekaboo Slings. I hope the new parents attending will be inspired to have a go at babywearing – search for your local sling library or babywearing meet if you want to find out more information after the event or you can ask lots of questions at the event. I love this quote which sums up the benefits of babywearing, both emotional and practical:
“Babywearing can soothe our children, help us become a flexible ‘all-terrain’ family. Really it’s almost close to a super-power from something that’s a simple as a piece of fabric. Something that feels so instinctual and so good.” – Daniel Nisbet
Books I love if you want more information on neuroscience and its’ implications for parenting
What Every Parent Needs To Know – Margot Sunderland
The Hormone of Closeness – Kerstin Uvnäs Moberg
Kiss Me! – Carlos González
Baby Calm – Sarah Ockwell-Smith
Why Love Matters – Sue Gerhardt
Baby Bliss – Dr Harvey Karp
Brain Insights cards (Love Your Baby, Fun While I’m One etc) – Deborah McNelis
Connect Emotional Education