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!
Last year I wrote a post on the Bumbo chair, but this time I feel it is time to write a post about the early days of baby positioning, before anyone would put a baby in a bouncing saucer. I recently published an article locally on why tummy time is now fussy time. This is news to most great-grandmothers, because their babies weren’t known for throwing fits when placed stomach-down. Human development takes a very long time to change biologically, so what would cause babies to wail so frantically now?
Today’s babies are sleeping on their backs, which is the safe choice to prevent SIDS. Pediatricians hardly ever mention that doing so means that parents and nannies will have to make early and intentional efforts to use “tummy time” to get their newborn to 3 month-old familiar with this position for head control and crawling. I have even met parents that thought the prohibition on this position for sleep meant that it shouldn’t be used for newborns when awake. Oops!
The American Academy of Pediatrics has a short instruction piece at the end of their very good “Back To Sleep” publication, and it even mentions the [eventually reversible] delays in motor development noted with babies that do not get tummy time. They do not explain why car seat carriers and other passive positioning devices aren’t recommended for long periods. And they do not mention the developmental benefits of well-fitting and well-monitored baby wearing for those first months.
Many American babies under 3 months will spend large parts of their day in a car seat/sling seat/vertical carrier. They are designed to be so comfortable and so entertaining that babies and parents both like them. Taking a peaceful baby out of a seat/carrier seems cruel. But so is depriving them of the opportunity to develop neck, shoulder and eye muscle control. Spending the short periods of time they are awake in a seat prevents the opportunity to move, look and balance. A baby cannot turn his head freely or sometimes at all in a sling seat. He can’t use his emerging vision fully when lying on his back at an angle. Most of the action is not near the ceiling. He cannot build a sense of balance because he is in one position until an adult moves him. When these babies get the chance to try tummy time, they fuss a bit. Or a lot. A parent who is wondering if tummy time while awake is safe, or who cannot distinguish between complaining while developing a skill and being in pain, might scoop up a baby before he really got the hang of it. Imagine if you lifted a weight at the gym and groaned, and someone took it away from you? It would take you a very long time to get stronger.
Just like at the gym, having good company, something fun to watch, and taking breaks can really make a difference. And cross-training by being carried on someone’s shoulder, playing tummy down on an adult’s chest or lap, etc. is great. Safely done baby-wearing can be very stimulating and handy for a parent on the go. The biggest issue is getting to “the gym”. A baby can’t drive there. We have to bring the gym to them.