Most parents use carriers/wraps for two reasons: practical and personal. But did you know that wearing your baby can also help your newborn sleep better?
Being able to carry your baby allows you to have both hands available. Baby wearing is an intimate connection that parents usually enjoy. Babies feel their parent’s heartbeat and listen to their voice, just like before birth. Before I tell you how this improves sleep, here is some practical information about safety and carrier/wrap choices.
Wearing your newborn safely is essential. Always make sure that you can see their face and that their head is not tilted forward so far that they cannot easily breathe. An older baby can turn their head but a newborn cannot, especially against gravity. Never lean forward without holding your baby, and never lean near a flame or burner.
My favorite manufactured carrier is the Ergobaby system. It is well-crafted and the insert is designed to safely support newborns. Using slings and wraps is just fine, but it is a bit more challenging to get newborns in the right position and keep them there. Totally possible, and there are parents that are amazingly good at the traditional sling wrap styles. I don’t take sides in the carrier/wrap debates. Use what works for your family.
Carriers/wraps allow your baby to experience all the movement stimulation that he got in the womb. Babies calm to the jiggle-style swinging of the Happiest Baby on the Block for a very similar reason. It feels amazingly familiar to them! When you wear your baby, they get so much more variety and variation in movement than just using an infant swing. No wonder they love being carried long after you have discontinued infant swing use (usually 2-3 months of age.) This movement is stimulating their balance system, and we all need a dose of movement input to feel good. To sleep well, we need to have had enough, but not too much, vestibular stimulation. Baby wearing combines movement plus some deep pressure and warmth from being wrapped against an adult to deliver an almost perfect dose of sensory input. As a pediatric occupational therapist, this makes so much sense.
Wear your newborn safely, use all the other S’s from Happiest Baby on the Block, and you may be able to extend his sleep periods. The gift that keeps on giving!
A correctly swaddled baby that is also using white noise and all the other Happiest Baby strategies can sleep amazingly long periods at night. But as your baby goes from a 2 week-old to a 2-month-old, they are up and awake for longer periods of the the day. Nobody wants to swaddle them all day, and nobody should. Parents now have to think about “positioning” a baby who is not yet rolling over by herself, and not sitting independently. A baby’s daily exposure to sensory input during the day can have a huge effect on their development. The American Academy of Pediatrics warns of skull flattening if a baby is left in a carrier or on her back most of the day. Here are some thoughts from a HBOTB educator who is also a pediatric occupational therapist.
* Babies that get lots of opportunities to look and move at the same time are developing their balance even though they are not even old enough to roll. And vision is one component of balance. One secret to great visual development is having the opportunity to develop close and distance vision as early as possible, as well as looking at things from different angles and speeds as she is moved around. Carrying and holding her in your arms or using a wrap/carrier can provide that input.
* If you use an infant seat or car carrier, use it for brief periods and not for sleep. if your baby seems to love the enclosure of a carrier, then you might have someone who would be a good swaddle candidate. Swaddling with a blanket is a skill you can learn, or you can try the swaddle garments.
* Wearing your baby in a front-facing carrier or a wrap/sling is terrific as long as your baby’s head is supported to keep that airway open, and you move carefully to avoid falls, bumps or burns. Wrapping babies who cannot hold their head steady or even turn their head to get more air is trickier than carrying a 6 month old. I have heard stories of people who stand at the stove while wearing their baby. Take as few chances as you can. Always bend at the knees when reaching down, and check your baby’s head and neck position as they can slide a bit due to gravity. Every time you turn and bend your baby will get valuable balance stimulation, as long as she is secure and safe.
* Young infants can learn to love tummy time, but start early and make it fun. Temperamentally cautious babies and babies who resist novelty by complaining may need a gradual introduction and some creative approaches. The reward is that play on her stomach can help the development of head, arm and trunk control for sitting and crawling. Plus less time with the back of her head pressing into a carrier or mattress.
* THBOTB uses side lying as a calming position, but when supervised it is a great play position. Never leave a young baby unsupervised in a position in which the could roll on their stomach and be unable to breathe. Use rolled towels to support your baby’s back and the leg that is on top, and maybe a folded receiving blanket under her head so that it isn’t tipped downward. Placing their backside against the firm back couch cushions can work too. Then put a few toys in front of her to reach for and look at. Best part: both hands can work together easily.