Friday, November 20, 2009

A call to persist in babywearing

When my son was born, babywearing was a necessity. Mikko emerged weighing an astonishing 12 pounds, and he was not amused at being ousted from his soft, liquid home. The one thing that made him feel better? Snuggling close to a warm body, feeling loving arms around him, and hearing a gently beating heart — and bouncing. Parents have instinctively known for centuries that newborns respond well to the rhythms of a mama's walk, because of course that's what the baby's been experiencing these long nine months within.

But our little guy hit 20 pounds at nine weeks, and we couldn't manage the continual walking and bouncing he demanded without something to hold him up and give our arms a break!

I was glad I had invested so heavily in a babywearing stash during pregnancy. Out came the ring slings, the stretchy and gauze wraps, the structured carriers, and each had its place in our babywearing repertoire, depending on task (long walk? chores around the house?) and mood (do I feel like green butterflies or fuzzy brown?).

What didn't change was the give-and-take at the heart of babywearing. We poured out love and security into Mikko, we offered the lovely memory of those free-floating days in the womb, we wrapped him warm and close and spoke into his ear. Mikko in turn gave us his trust, and before we knew it he could reach out his arms to us to signal that now, again, was the time to pick him up and hold him close.

Sometimes, as babies turn into toddlers, babywearing falls by the wayside or is given over to the next sibling to arrive on the scene. Once a baby can walk, it seems that we as parents are not needed as much for transportation, and we give our young a chance to stretch their legs and their freedom.

This autumn, we moved house. Since our new digs were just down the street, we frequently took advantage of the short distance by walking back and forth between the two places, to look for something we couldn't find, to transport a bulky object that didn't fit in the cargo van we rented, to free up more passenger space in our tiny car to fit that many more boxes for a trip.

I needed a way to accomplish all the tasks that come with moving, but our 2-year-old whirlwind was making getting anything done a bit of a challenge. I plucked the Ergo off the coat tree and turned to Mikko. "Want a ride on Mama's back?"

His eyes lit up, his arms shot out, and once again he was lifted up close to me. At this vantage point, as we walked along the beach toward our new home, he could see from our perspective, he could feel snuggled against a loving body, and I could hear his voice chirping sweetly in my ear and reach back to give his feet a squeeze.

I've made an effort to put babywearing back into our everyday lives, even though Mikko is a hefty 35 pounds and change, and even though he sometimes prefers to walk on his own. There's a lot more up and down than when he was a newborn, but babywearing is adaptable. If he wants to walk, he can, and if he wants a piggyback ride, I'm available.

Even once your child is too big or too heavy or too old for you to babywear, there are still ways to carry forward the spirit and intention of babywearing.

You might not have the kangaroo-care skin-to-skin bonding of those first few days, but you keep that contact alive by giving regular, nurturing touch: holding your child's hand, cuddling him close for nursing, giving a back rub as she falls asleep, and pooting that tempting soft belly.

You might not always be carrying their full weight against your body, but you can still find chances to physically interact: saving a seat on your lap, wrestling on the floor, twirling around the room, and squeezing in a great big hug.

At some point, you might not be able to pick up your child anymore. It's an observable truth that most kids eventually outgrow their parents' ability to haul them around, even in a really sturdy back carry! But we can still respond as attached parents when they lift up their arms, either literally or emotionally, and ask for our help, our connection, or our awareness.

If you keep in mind the reasons you chose babywearing in the first place, you will always find ways to hold your kids close to your heartbeat.

I'm curious: What's the heaviest or oldest child you've worn in a sling or other carrier, and do you have carrier recommendations? How do you physically connect with your children?

Read more about different baby carriers and babywearing, complete with pictorial how-tos, in my Natural Parent's Guide to Babywearing!

Special notes about this post: If it is Nov. 20 still, you can enter my mei tai baby carrier giveaway!

Even more significantly, I wrote this post to enter a contest myself: Parenting by Nature’s Blog to Inspire contest. Please comment and share this post — even if you're usually a lurker, I'd love to hear from you! We're judged partly by our engagement, so engage with me, fellow hobo mamas! And if you're a parenting blogger in Canada or the US, consider entering Blog to Inspire yourself. Wish me luck!

Inspire Natural Parenting Contest

Photo courtesy Carin Araujo on stock.xchng


Olivia said...

My only experience so far is carrying my 16 lb daughter in a ring sling or ergo. I'm starting to use the sling less for long outings because she wiggles a lot and wants more freedom to swing her legs.

Amy R said...

I have briefly worn the 3 year old son of a friend to test out a pouch that I made. I personally love using a woven wrap, but have found a pouch easiest wth my 13-month old who wants down all the time. I got started late with babywearing with my first, but can't wait to start wearing our new little one as soon as s/he arrives!

The Accidental Pharmacist said...

We are often told that we won't be able to carry our newborn much longer (usually as an explanation for why someone else's baby isn't worn and whe we need the stroller we won't buy). It's nice to hear that it's realistic to wear our 8 pounder when she triples (or quadruples in size).

Geeks In Rome said...

This was a really nice post.

I had to carry my daughter constantly because she experienced persistant intestinal pain (long story). Not/luckily she never weighed very much so we indulged her no problem. Unfortunately she didn't like the sling that my son loved and used until he was 1 1/2.

Now that they are heavy-ish and they want to be carried I just
get down on my knees to their level and hold them tight. Segue into hugs and tickles and they forget about wanting to be carried. They still love doing the airplane where I get on my back and they fly on my legs. good exercise.

But you're right, I never thought of the snuggling and belly farts as substitutes for being held/carried. so we're good there!!!

Lisa C said...

Holy cow, 20 pounds at nine weeks?????????? Mine is only 21 pounds at 16.5 months! I'm so grateful he's on the light side, though, otherwise I might have had to give up on the baby wearing. When he hit 18 pounds he felt really heavy to me, and around 20 pounds my hip and ankle started to give out. I have to take it easy now, but I know he still needs it. I need to make a greater effort, and I started today by talking for a walk, in the rain, in the mei tai. It was so peaceful and I'm so glad I did it. I'm also thinking of putting him in the hiking backpack while I cook because he always wants to watch.

Lauren Wayne said...

Olivia: Yeah, eventually it got easier not to squish the legs up! I'm curious about the new Boba carrier that's supposed to have foot straps for the kid to rest in — I wonder if that's more comfortable or just constraining. I guess it depends on the baby! We have foot rests on our child bike seat, and Mikko sometimes keeps his feet in but then eventually gets tired of that and kicks them out.

Amy: I've got to get skilled in a woven wrap! I made my own and never got into it, and I think I maybe just need to suck it up and buy a high-quality one (probably used) to give it a good shot. I haven't tried a pouch yet, but you're right that it would be really easy with up-and-down-ing. (There, I made up a term!)

Accidental Pharmacist: So funny that you're here! I mean, I understand why, because I found your site early this morning through the Twitter feed for the contest, and I had your lovely article open to go back and comment once I'd gotten some sleep and could be coherent! :) The most important thing is to get a good, supportive carrier for when your baby's heavier, something that supports the baby's weight and spreads it out over your torso so you stay comfortable. We love our Ergo; other good options are various mei tai-style carriers (Kozy, Babyhawk, etc.) or woven wraps (Didymos, Storchenwiege, etc.). Then you can safely ignore the naysayers even when she's a chunky monkey! :) We definitely also had our share of people telling us to give up and use a stroller!

Geeks in Rome: Sorry for your daughter's intestinal pain! That sounds like it must have been wrenching for all of you. I love the idea of hugging and connecting physically when you can't carry them. I'm going to try that trick when I'm tired or sore! The airplane game is a great favorite here, too — thanks for bringing it up.

Lisa: Yeah, Mikko gained it all at once, it seemed, and now he's gained nothing for the past year and a half or so, maybe longer. He's gotten taller, but he's just been living off his breastmilk blubber. Ha ha! You definitely do need to find your comfort level with carrying a heavy weight. I also have hip problems from the pregnancy still, so for instance I find I can't do front carries for longer than 20 minutes or so now, but fortunately back carries still work for me. But I'm tall and pretty strong, which is maybe why a big baby fit me so well in the first place! I was so glad to start babywearing regularly again, because it's such a great connection, so I'm glad you had a good walk in the rain! I love the idea of the hiking backpack for cooking, because then they can see but are out of reaching range for hot pans and sharp knives. We looked at getting a hiking backpack but couldn't find one big enough for our chubster. Go figure!

Jenny said...

I decided to enter this contest when I saw someone else's entry a week or so ago, and finally just got mine posted.

Anyway, I love this post. It's important to stay connected with our toddlers. For me, this was necessitated by weaning from the breast as well and it's even more important when there's a new baby. The last time I remember wearing Suzi in a carrier was when she was almost two and we went to Disney World. Her dad will still occasionally carry her in the Ergo if the situation calls for it. She is really light, though. Probably only 25 pounds or so at 2.5 years :-)

Anonymous said...

The heaviest child I've carried is my 4 1/2-year-old, who currently weighs in at 37 or 38 pounds. This makes her too big for most carriers, but the Beco and Ergo can both handle her, as can a good woven wrap. However, at this point I will say that it is cumbersome. Not so much from a carrier standpoint, as just from hauling almost 40 extra pounds around. It does tire me out.

I definitely do believe that a good carrier can help prolong babywearing. And that the responsiveness we learn in babywearing carries over into other areas of parenting. Hooray for babywearing!

Jamie (Suddenly Stay @ Home) said...

I am thrilled to hear you talk about baby wearing the older baby! I didn't really start wearing my baby until he was over a year old, inspired by your posts on baby wearing the heavy baby. We had a Jeep carrier from the big box store when he was itty bitty, and I used it, wearing him in the grocery store, but I felt like everyone was looking at me, wondering why I didn't just put the poor kid in the car seat. Flash forward 13 months and 1 home made mai tai carrier of my own, and a walk while wearing my baby is entirely different than when he is in his stroller. I love to talk with him and be able to react to what he sees and hears while we are walking. It's a bit tough on my back, but I just figure that makes me all that much stronger, right? I would LOVE to have an Ergo- you should get them to sponsor a give away here on hobo mama!!! Thanks for this great reminder, as well as your other posts on baby wearing- no question that you were an inspiration for us! And not just a source of inspiration, but INFORMATION- how to do this, not just why to do this. Good luck!

Jessica said...

This is a topic close to my heart. I wore my son everywhere... until my back couldn't bear it anymore which was about 14 months in (he's now 2).

Just tonight, on our nightly walk, I thought about how badly I wished I could just throw him in the Ergo Baby and go, but I can't. Poor little guy has to toddle around on his own, even when his legs get tired.

And earlier today I thought, I would love to go hiking today, but then remembered my effed up back. It's so frustrating.

Babywearing is such an incredible experience: so simple, yet so rewarding. I wish I saw more babies being cradled close to their parent's bodies.

molly said...

I started out with a Moby wrap, which worked great until my daughter hit about 20 pounds and started learning to walk (read: got more wiggly!). We saved up and bought an Ergo and I LOVE LOVE LOVE it. I can't say how much I love it. In fact, between the Moby and the Ergo, I'm not sure we will ever use our stroller again unless we want something to cart around our stuff at Sea World or the Zoo. (Strollers are great for that!)

Eden is 16 months and about 24 pounds and I can carry her for hours in the Ergo without any problem.

Laura said...

My just over 2.5 year old gets to ride occasionally in my homemade SSC's. Her baby sister is most often the one being carried around, but when big sister gets the chance she loves it. She only weighs around 24lbs, but she still feels heavy to me. When we went to a baseball game, dad wore the toddler, while I wore the baby. It worked great because strollers are really inconvenient at the game and it was way too far for her to walk.

Rambling Rachel said...

I wore my son in an Ergo for a few minutes when he was 3ish and over 40 lbs. Quite heavy! But he needed the closeness and I needed to make supper.

Now, he sits on me while we read or watch TV. This is especially important when I have been away at work.

I lie down with him at night and that gives us a good chance to connect and talk about the day. We also talk in the car.

So now that he's four and VERY mobile and independent, we connect through touch and words.

Lauren Wayne said...

Jenny: I saw your post and love it! I'm glad so many of us are entering together. I'm sure it means a lot to Suzi to have you maintain that closeness even after weaning and Ivey's birth. I comprehend the difficulty of wearing even a light toddler with a newborn! :)

Amber: Yes, it's definitely not as easy! Sometimes I remember my school backpack used to feel that heavy... I've found that by exercising my babywearing muscles back up again gradually that I can carry Mikko for longer times again. But not as long as when he was half this size! 40 lbs might be my max; I'll have to see.

Jamie: I TOTALLY want to get Ergo to sponsor a giveaway! Think they'd go for it? Thank you so much for your kind words. It's such a joy to hear that my writing went somewhere and touched and helped someone!

Jessica: I've heard some babywearing advocates tell people with bad backs to suck it up and do it anyway, and I want to say...bad words to them. Because, seriously, back pain hurts. If your back can't take it, it can't take it. I'm glad you got to wear him for so long. It really is rewarding, and I can't imagine why more (able-backed) parents don't do it.

Molly: Isn't the Ergo great! See, Ergo Baby, you really should do a giveaway here! We're so nice to you here. Ha ha! No, but seriously, it's so nice to have something supportive, though I agree that having a pushcart for shtuff is a plus!

Laura: First of all, I love that you have homemade SSCs. What pattern(s) did you use? I'm thinking I might try an actual sewn one someday. It's great if you can double-team it with two worn babies! That rocks. I know it's possible to wear both yourself, but I've never actually tested that.

Rambling Rachel: That's excellent. Dinner has to get made. I love that you have lap time now instead. Mikko's always on our laps now, but I will tuck that one away for when it's not as obvious to me. And talking and attention are just as important as the physical contact, especially as they get older. I have to remind myself to really focus on him in those moments, or it doesn't really feel like connection to him, you know?

Elita said...

I wore my son until he was 14 months old and became entirely too heavy. Baby wearing was a huge part of our parenting. Daddy would wear the baby down to sleep at night and we almost never used a stroller because he was worn. It helped with breastfeeding, it allowed me to get things done around the house and also helped to create a bond between baby and daddy. When you are breastfeeding, the baby tends to be in your arms the majority of the day and night, so having a baby carrier was a great way for hubby to connect to the baby.

Parenting By Nature said...

Older children get so much joy out of being carried - my 4 year still asks for this often. It's wonderful to have a carrier supportive enough to continue beyond the first year. I used a carrier with my oldest until she was about 2.5 years and she would get so excited - just as you said, her eyes would light up when she say the carrier come up. It's such a special way to continue bonding.

Thanks for your lovely post - and good luck in the contest!

Lauren Wayne said...

Elita: You're so right about how babywearing's a way to connect the partner with the baby. That's so important for them to have that chance to bond, when you as the mama are doing all the breastfeeding. Forgot about that benefit!

Parenting by Nature: That's so sweet that your 4-year-old still loves being carried. I definitely was the same, even when I got way too heavy for it to be easy on my poor dad. :) It's just such a great way to bond. Thanks for sponsoring this contest! I've been so enjoying discovering new blogs out of this. And the topics are dear to my heart, of course. Thank you!

Felicia said...

I didn't carry my first three kids (other than the old-fashioned way of on the hip), but received a wrap for my fourth child. I don't know I would have survived without it! I wore her constantly those first few months. Even though she is 16mo old now, I still carry her for long walks or on fussy days. I have used the one wrap for all carrying needs. I even put my 6 year old (50lbs) in it just to prove I could do it. Of course the 6yo had to help by hanging on, but it was comfortable as far as holding a 50lb kid goes!

FYI - I have the new Boba's on order right now. Plan on trying that one out too. And until tomorrow (Nov 30) you can order one for 15% off by emailing me privately. Just wanted to pass that along.

Melodie said...

Beautiful post. I'm actually behind on my blog reading so I actually missed this when it was first posted. Thanks for answering my tweet! I carried my babies until they were about 25 pounds or so. It was more because they wanted to walk or because we were going for a walk (and my back couldn't handle the weight) that I forewent the carriers for the stroller. But I also have never tried any other baby carriers other than the ring sling and moby wrap (which I loved!). If I had been more hardcore about it I would have invested more wisely in a backpack carrier. Next time.

Dionna said...

We still wear our 30'ish pound son often - he loves it! On the days he is feeling particularly clingy, I wouldn't be able to function without the ability to put him on my back.

Joy said...

I routinely wear our 26 pound almost 2 (gasp!) year old for long hikes/naps. The other day we did about 5 miles while he slept on my back in the ergo.

We also own the Boba and while I prefer it for the height on it, I actually found the foot stirrups too fiddley and the boy child hated them.

With a colicky little guy, and a toddler who is now resisting naps but will fall asleep within minutes of being worn if he's tired--baby wearing has truly been a lifesaver!

Plus, I enjoy the extra exercise of wearing him! Love this post!

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