Babywearing: Pros and Cons

In the 1960s, a Peace Corps nurse named Ann Moore saw women in Togo carrying their babies hands-free by tying the infants to their chests or backs with a fabric sling. Moore went home to the United States and had a baby of her own. She wanted to follow the example of the women she had met in Togo, but found that it was harder than she thought to create a secure sling.

With her mother, Moore invented the Snugli, a baby backpack (or front pack) that was easy to use. The first Snuglis were handmade from corduroy, but Snuglis and other brands of baby carriers quickly grew to a multi-million dollar market. “Kangaroo care” research began turning up in the literature on pediatrics, showing that babies who were carried several hours a day cried less.

This was not amazing news. Babies like being carried and cuddled, and parents can do that more with hands-free carrying. But it was a new idea for many American parents.

Fast forward to 2004, when the idea got a new name: babywearing. By 2006, there was a babywearing conference. This year, Des Moines is hosting an International Babywearing Conference. Babywearing International is an organization advocating the practice. You might describe it as a fad, if it hadn’t been around for so long.

Is babywearing safe?

One concern about babywearing is whether it can be dangerous. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has identified more than a dozen suffocation deaths related to babywearing. Parents should make sure that their child’s mouth and nose are visible when the baby is in the carrier.

USCPS recommends thinking twice about using baby carriers for premature or low birth weight babies, as well as for infants who have a cold or other respiratory challenges.

The carriers themselves may not be the problem. Rather, the carriers make it easier to hold babies in an uncomfortable or even dangerous position. The International Hip Dysplasia Institute makes the same point in their warnings about baby carriers. It’s important that parents arrange their child in a comfortable, safe position.

Bottom line: read the safety information that comes with your baby carrier, or the resources linked here, to make sure you know how to use your baby sling safely.

Mom’s health and wellbeing

Baby carriers don’t present any dangers to parents, but moms especially may find that carrying a baby for hours is uncomfortable. Like backpacks for school or sport, a baby carrier may put a strain on parents’ backs.

Just as with backpacks, choosing the right carrier is important. There are so many different models and brands that most parents will be able to find a comfortable option. Consider carrying baby on your back instead of in front as he or she grows. Remember your good posture, too!

One young mom we spoke with told us she just didn’t feel strong enough to use a baby carrier. If this is how you feel, consider using the carrier for shorter periods of time, perhaps while getting the floor cleaned or shopping.

Does babywearing spoil children?

There is no evidence that carrying a baby spoils the child. Babies, as they grow, want to get down and explore their world. Allowing babies to crawl and play, as well as to be carried, provides a good balance of closeness and autonomy.

It’s generally agreed that young babies can’t be spoiled. Infants are busy learning things. They grow to understand that objects have a separate existence and do not disappear when they are out of sight. They develop the ability to make the sounds of their native language and learn the concept of communication. They need lots of interaction with their parents and with the world. Carrying babies doesn’t spoil them.

Babywearing doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing decision. Whether it’s a convenience for busy parents, an alternative to a stroller, or a way to enjoy keeping baby close, a baby carrier—used correctly—can be a helpful tool for parents of infants.