If you aren’t already in the know, the benefits of breastfeeding—for both mom and baby—are vast, and they go well beyond the obvious (after all, not many things in life are free, convenient, and good for you!). But, did you know that breast milk is composed of exactly what your baby needs to grow and thrive?
Indeed, breast milk contains the perfect ingredients to support your baby’s development, from proteins, fats, vitamins, and minerals for optimal growth to immune factors and beneficial bacteria for proper immune system function and development. Breast milk truly is the original “superfood,” and with all these benefits, it’s no surprise that breastfeeding (especially exclusive breastfeeding) leads to healthier, smarter, and more emotionally attached babies.
But here’s the thing: it’s not always easy. Not only is there a significant learning curve as you begin your nursing journey—for both you and your baby—but add in factors like work schedules, other kids to take care of, and lack of community or family support, and breastfeeding can feel like an insurmountable challenge.
Fortunately, once you have the hang of the actual mechanics of breastfeeding (positions and latch, for example), you can refine your practice to make breastfeeding an enjoyable, intuitive part of everyday life. One of our favorite tips? Baby wearing.
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What Is Babywearing?
Babywearing is the practice of carrying your baby in a carrier on your body, and although it has become increasingly popular in the last couple of decades (especially as part of the attachment parenting movement), humans have been practicing babywearing for thousands of years.
Nomadic tribes likely used bark and animal skins to make simple carriers for transporting children from place to place in the hunt for food and shelter, and cultures all over the world have been using fabric carriers for centuries to keep their babies close while walking, working, and visiting. And it’s no wonder—research shows that carrying an infant in your arms contributes to a 16% greater physical energetic burden than using a sling, so it makes sense to enlist some help.1
In the 1960s, the practice made its way back to America when new mom, Ann Moore, designed the first Snugli in an effort to emulate the women she saw carrying babies on their backs as a Peace Corps volunteer in Africa. A new era was born as American mothers, used to strollers and hard child seats, sought more closeness and connection with their babies and toddlers by wearing them on their body.
Over the next several decades, carriers of all types appeared on the market and now, moms (and dads!) can choose from a variety of slings, pouches, wraps, and backpacks to suit their needs.
Babywearing Benefits the Whole Family
In earlier times, wearing a baby was a very practical solution to the demands of parenting—in societies without daycare centers and nannies, it wasn’t often feasible for women to be without their babies as they went about their daily chores and obligations.
The good news is, we now know that babywearing has a host of other benefits for your little one, beyond just an easy way to tote them around:
• Less crying. Babies who are carried throughout the day cry less than babies who aren’t, according to studies. In one trial of mom/infant pairs, 6-week old infants (a peak age for crying) who spent at least three hours a day in a baby carrier cried and fussed 43% less overall, and 51% less in the evening hours than babies who weren’t carried.2
• Secure emotional attachment. Research shows that babywearing promotes a secure attachment between baby and mom. In one study, moms who used soft baby carriers (as opposed to infant seats) were more responsive to their babies and the infants were more securely attached to their mothers at 13 months of age.3
• Activated calming response. Movement while being carried by mom elicits a calming response in infants. Researchers discovered that babies under six months old who were carried by their walking moms (as opposed to moms who held their babies while sitting) showed immediate decreases in heart rate, voluntary movement, and crying.4
• Better coordination. We often hear how important “tummy time” is for a baby’s motor skills, development, and neck strength, but many babies resist being left to fend for themselves on their bellies. Cruising in a carrier enables your baby to exercise his head, chest, and neck muscles and learn to hold his head up, all while enjoying the comfort of being close to you. Bonus? Spending significant time in a soft carrier—as opposed to a crib, car seat, or swing—helps with proper development of the skull so the back of the head doesn’t flatten from too much back time.
• Improved learning. A baby riding in a sling or pouch, eye level with the world and easily able to hear all the conversations going on around him, is in a state of quiet alertness, most conducive to learning. He is constantly learning from all the interactions he hears and sees, and is likely to experience advanced speech development.
The benefits of babywearing for babies are nearly endless, but don’t forget about the benefits to the “wearer” too! For moms, babywearing can help to ward off the baby blues and low mood common in the first few weeks after birth.5 Dads and other caregivers also benefit—having baby on your body is not only an excellent form of weight-bearing exercise (hello, baby squats!), but it can facilitate the release of oxytocin, the hormone that promotes bonding and feelings of love.6
And what about convenience? Babywearing allows parents to (mostly) go about their normal routines—running errands, exercising, cleaning, cooking, tending to other kids—all while giving their baby a safe, warm, nurturing place from which to explore and learn about the world.
But perhaps one of the most amazing benefits of babywearing is how well it pairs with breastfeeding.
Babywearing and Breastfeeding: The Perfect Duo
We think wearing your baby is one of the best ways to promote a healthy, lasting breastfeeding relationship—and research concurs. In one study, women who wore their newborn babies in a carrier for at least an hour a day during the first month of life were much more likely to still be breastfeeding at two months (72% vs. 51% for mothers who didn’t wear their babies) and at five months (48% vs. 24%).7
So, how does babywearing have such a beneficial effect on breastfeeding?
Wearing your baby...
...calms and soothes your child. When in a soft carrier (particularly one on your chest), your baby is right where he wants to be, as near to his food source as he can possibly get. Why does this proximity matter? Well, babies like to eat...a lot! And if they have to wait too long for their meal, they can get fussy, tense, and upset—all of which can seriously derail a breastfeeding session. With your baby right on your chest, he knows his meal is within reach, and is much more likely to take it all in stride.
...lets you easily nurse on demand. Not only is your baby tuned in to you, but wearing them close enables you to be tuned in to him and his hunger signals. Nursing on demand (providing breast milk whenever your baby wants to eat) not only ensures that you have a healthy, abundant milk supply, but it can help your baby gain weight, cry less, and has even been shown to boost their IQ!8
...helps with digestion. Carrying your baby in an upright or semi-upright position (with the head above the feet) while they nurse helps them digest and can work to prevent some of the digestive issues common in babies.
...gives you hands free time. Breastfeeding in a rocker, chair, or sitting on the floor usually requires one or both of your hands to cradle your little one. If you can master the art of breastfeeding while babywearing, you can have your hands free (imagine that!) to cook, walk the dog, shop, or play a game with your older child—the possibilities are endless!</>
...affords you some privacy. In an ideal world, women everywhere would be encouraged to breastfeed whenever and wherever they desire, without judgment or criticism. While we’re not quite there yet (don’t worry, we’re working on it!), if you feel more comfortable breastfeeding in private, baby carriers provide the perfect modesty cover—no one will even know you’re nursing and you can go about your day!
Now that you know the benefits, how do you do it?
We’ll be honest; learning to breastfeed while babywearing can take some time, but with patience and persistence (and maybe even some laughs along the way), you’ll be a pro in no time! Here’s how to get started:
1. Make sure your breastfeeding relationship with your baby is off to a great start—those first couple of weeks while you are both learning to nurse can be frustrating, and you don’t want either of you to associate babywearing with negative breastfeeding experiences.
2. Shop around to find the best baby carrier for you and your baby, and if you can, try several different types of carriers before you commit. Baby Tula has a great variety of carriers, wraps, and slings to get you started.
3. Once you have your chosen baby carrier, practice, practice, practice—until putting it on, moving around with your baby, and taking it off all feel natural.
4. Experiment with breastfeeding positions to find which is most conducive to wearing your baby. You can contact a local chapter of Babywearing International for information and support.
Breastfeeding and baby wearing both facilitate and strengthen the beautiful bond between mom and baby. Wearing your child close to your heart while providing him with the precious, life-supporting gift of breast milk can be a savior for you—both during transition periods and developmental leaps—and can pave the way for a healthy, loving relationship for many years to come.
1. Wall-Scheffler, C., Geiger, K., & Steudel-Numbers, K. (2007). Infant carrying: The role of increased locomotory costs in early tool development. American Journal of Physical Anthropology,133(2), 841-846. doi:10.1002/ajpa.20603
2. Hunziker, U.A., Barr, R.G. (1986). Increased carrying reduces infant crying: a randomized controlled trial. Pediatrics,77(5), 641-648.
3. Anisfeld, E., Casper, V., Nozyce, M., & Cunningham, N. (1990). Does Infant Carrying Promote Attachment? An Experimental Study of the Effects of Increased Physical Contact on the Development of Attachment. Child Development,61(5), 1617. doi:10.2307/1130769
4. Esposito, G., Yoshida, S., Ohnishi, R., Tsuneoka, Y., Rostagno, M., Yokota, S., . . . Kuroda, K. (2013). Infant Calming Responses during Maternal Carrying in Humans and Mice. Current Biology,23(9), 739-745. doi:10.1016/j.cub.2013.03.041
5. Badr, H. A., & Zauszniewski, J. A. (2017). Kangaroo care and postpartum depression: The role of oxytocin. International Journal of Nursing Sciences,4(2), 179-183. doi:10.1016/j.ijnss.2017.01.001
6. Weisman, O., Zagoory-Sharon, O., & Feldman, R. (2012). Oxytocin Administration to Parent Enhances Infant Physiological and Behavioral Readiness for Social Engagement. Biological Psychiatry,72(12), 982-989. doi:10.1016/j.biopsych.2012.06.011
7. Pisacane, A., Continisio, P., Filosa, C., Tagliamonte, V., & Continisio, G. I. (2012). Use of baby carriers to increase breastfeeding duration among term infants: the effects of an educational intervention in Italy. Acta Paediatrica,101(10). doi:10.1111/j.1651-2227.2012.02758.x
8. Iacovou, M., & Sevilla, A. (2012). Infant feeding: the effects of scheduled vs. on-demand feeding on mothers’ wellbeing and children’s cognitive development. European Journal of Public Health,23(1), 13-19. doi:10.1093/eurpub/cks012
Emily Courtney is a Writer and Editor at Hyperbiotics and mom to two fun and active boys. Emily is passionate about natural wellness and helping others learn about the power of probiotics for vibrant health! For more ideas on how you can benefit from the power of probiotics and live healthier days, be sure to subscribe to our newsletter.