To Have and to Hold

"One Sunday, at an outdoor festival in Florida, I did a casual count of how infants under one year of age were transported. Babes-in-arms totaled five, one carried by mother, and four carried by father. Babies in buggies numbered thirty, divided equally between mother propelling and father propelling. This indicates that even on Sunday, when both mother and father can share carrying, babies are primarily wheeled. In other words, not carrying our babies goes beyond our lack of helping hands. If Florida is at all representative, it has become a national habit."

--Sharon Heller, Ph.D. in The Vital Touch: How Intimate Contact with Your Baby Leads to Happier, Healthier Development

 

"Once I became accustomed to actually carrying my child on my body in the frontpack and later, the backpack, it began to look really strange to me to see tiny babies in carriages. It seems very artificial and bizarre to wheel around at arm's length a fifteen pound bundle of baby human who longs to snuggle in close to your body warmth."

--Cindy, mother of an eighteen-month-old

In the minds of many modern parents, the stroller and carriage are truly essential items of baby equipment. New models are released every season, and each one is more colorful, feature-laden, and costly than the year before. Nowadays, parents can buy strollers made of space-age titanium, "sport-utility" strollers, or even baby carriages that will coordinate with the color and theme of their diaper bag and nursery bedding. In recent years, a veritable smorgasbord of other expensive baby-holding gadgets such as vibrating bouncy seats, "exersaucers," rolling bassinets, automatic swings, portable playpens, reclining high chairs, and feeding seats have also come to be seen as necessary items to have on hand when a new baby arrives. In fact, navigating through a new parent's house these days can often be tricky, as one attempts to avoid stumbling over the vast array of brightly colored baby containers littering every room. Entire households appear to be organized around figuring out how the new parent can escape from actually holding and carrying her baby.

And it's a common sight to see a parent lugging her baby around town by the handle of an unwieldy, heavy, plastic "baby bucket" (carrier/car seat)--often weighing as much as or more than the baby himself--rather than simply transporting the baby in her arms. Of course, the companies who manufacture, market, and sell these products, as well as the glossy parenting magazines that advertise them on virtually every page, have a strong interest in promoting the idea that parents really shouldn't carry or hold their babies excessively. But the fact is that human infants, like most mammal babies, are happiest and most comfortable, and develop best, when they are kept physically close to a warm body much of the time. And parents who hold, carry, or "wear" their babies on their bodies find themselves better able to read and respond to their babies' cues, as well as to more easily go about their own regular daily routine while staying physically close to their little one. For these reasons and more, "babywearing"--a term coined by Dr. William Sears--is one of the basic (and most enjoyable!) attachment-parenting tools.

 

Baby-Carrying Around the Globe

"From a baby's point of view, the hunter-and-gatherer life is better because it supplies all the necessary ingredients and opportunities for a symbiotic parent-infant dyad. The point is not that we need to re-create the dynamics of hunter/gatherer societies, but rather that we recognize those parts of other lifestyles that are beneficial to infants and figure out those ways to incorporate those lessons into the parent-infant tradition in our own culture, if we choose to do so."

--Meredith F. Small, anthropologist

As with so many of our parenting practices, our excessive reliance on baby containers differs markedly from the way families all over the globe handle the issue of where the baby will "be" as a parent goes about her day. Many other cultures assume that a parent-infant pair simply belongs together, comprising two parts of the same whole, for at least the first year or so. Additionally, these busy parents have things they need to accomplish and they need a way to keep their child close-by and safe without being unreasonably tied down themselves. They also need to be able to breastfeed easily and on the go. For these reasons, in a wide variety of cultures, babies and young children spend the greatest part of each day riding comfortably in a cloth sling of some type that is worn on an adult caregiver's front, back, or side. In some instances, women even create slings out of the same fabric as a favorite item of clothing so that her carried baby literally becomes a part of her "outfit."

 

Why Don't We Hold Our Babies?

In the United States, our views on baby-holding and -carrying are at the other end of the spectrum. Prior to the advent of the male-dominated "scientific" child-care guidance that began to flood the American marketplace at the end of the nineteenth century, our babies were probably carried and held much more often. But once the pediatric advice industry began strongly influencing new parents, many mothers and fathers became convinced that too much holding or carrying of a baby was actually a Bad Thing. Today, lingering fallout from this outdated and unsupported point of view can still be found in many child-care guides and pediatric offices, which advise that carrying, holding, or wearing a baby can hinder a child's progress toward independence, tie a parent down, and even (according to one well-known child-care advisor) cause "developmental damage" in children. Of course, none of this is true, and a rapidly growing number of modern, Western parents are discovering the ease and advantages of holding, carrying, and wearing their own babies and young children.

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