Friday, 17 October 2014

Barriers to Babywearing

It's been a while since my last post, mainly because my little munchkin can now get herself to sleep all by herself, meaning I don't spend time surreptitiously typing on my phone in the dark. However, that's a whole new post in itself, and today I've been mulling over the barriers to babywearing.

Unsuspecting and minding my own business, I morphed into a bit of an avid babywearer myself, carting around my now 7 month old in various fabrics. Also, without really realising I was doing it, I've begun advertising strongly to those around me (just subtly of course - making slings of their own for friends who mentioned in passing that they might fancy 'trying' mine out sometime, or whipping them up on the sewing machine for any newborn due in the vicinity...)

But it's not for not for everyone, and inevitably,

 there are barriers to babywearing... 

I thought I'd look at some of them along with a few solutions. 

Being of the more - determined - ilk,  it never crossed my mind for one moment that I wouldn't get on with a sling. I started out with a stretchy wrap and lived in it, with my munchkin, for the first 4 or so months of her life. Looking back, there were the days when no matter how I tied it we weren't quite right, the days where she was too loose and I readjusted this or that bit of the wrap every few minutes. And of course, the inevitable moments where, having tied it on sans baby, driven for twenty minutes and then tried to post her in, we both ended up in a slightly sticky, flustered mess with reams of fabric everywhere combined with a general attempt not to become mudmonsters from whatever bog we were about to walk the dog in. These incidents didn't bother me particularly, or put me off wearing my munchkin, but I can see how they might if you were all for the easy life, had even less patience than me, or weren't absolutely convinced that this was the best way to transport yourself and your bundle. 

After the first few months, the weather got hot. For Britain, it was utterly ridiculous, and after making a thinner, lighter coloured stretchy wrap and discovering that we were still wandering around in a sticky, sweaty mess, I investigated my other options. This resulted in making a mei tai (there's a post on the whole why, how thing, if you're curious), and - again, looking back - we had a couple of rocky launches before our mission was a-go-go. It felt very different - less supportive and firm, I suppose, and I didn't tie the little sprite high up enough  me to begin with. Plus the body was a little long for her and I hadn't sussed that I needed to fold it from the bottom, so we spent our first walk getting a bit irate with each other, her squirming and squiggling around and thrashing her head to try and get it above the fabric (being a curious little'un) and me worrying that her bottom was about to fall out the lower bit of fabric and convincing myself that re-tying the shoulder straps repeatedly was going to fix all our problems. 

It didn't. We had to about-turn  home with her wailing and me wanting to. The dog was also less than impressed. A thorough YouTube session later (I'll post a few links at the bottom, though there a a gozillion videos...) and a bit of home-based wearing and we were in business. I barely use the stretchy wrap now, although my husband still prefers it by far. I am thoroughly converted to the world of mei tais - so versatile, superquick to put on and take off, easy to breastfeed in on the go and vastly cooler than the reams of fabric I was wrapping us in before. (Don't get me wrong, I still loooove my stretchy wrap. It's a wonderful snuggly cocoon with very little ones and a bit more weatherproof in terms of cover - I wore it today when it hoofed it down.) 

So, there are my first four barriers: 
1. It takes some getting used to - generally, and with each sling type you use. I can see how some might just decide life's too short... 
2. The type of sling you have might not work for you. 
3. The sling might not feel comfy. Even if you're wearing it how you've been shown - and it's a correct way.
4. It can be a bit hot and sweaty. Ok, a lot hot and sweaty... 

Babywearing in the home is a fantastic way to get cuddles, let you little one sleep snuggled up to you to their heart's content, or keep a clingy baby happy whilst still being able to get on with the housework, play with any other mini-people (or pets!) or generally carry on with life without losing contact with your bundle. This has been invaluable to me, as my munchkin was never a fan of sleeping anywhere without me, and with cloth nappies there has always been a laundry load per day to get done as a bare minimum in the housework stakes! 

However, for me it really comes into its own when you're out and about. We have a pram which was bought for us as a surprise gift, and lovely as it is, I never wanted to use it. (I've talked about why in other blogs - suffice to say that my protectiveness levels were astronomically high, and it surprised me more than anyone else when I admitted I couldn't cope when she wasn't glued on to me.) We also have a mad spaniel who can't get by on less than 2 hours of walking (or rather, crazed running) each day, and pavements are just plain boring, so we need to be cross country explorers in our family. Perfect when you can just strap on your baby or toddler and get going. 

We did just that from about 6 days old...Exhibits A and B:

But in Britain - and many, many other places in the world, I'm sure, it rains. Buggies have rain covers. Slings do not. 

5. When it rains, you're both open to the elements. 

You can get wet. So can your baby. Actually, I think I'll open this up to all weathers. Sunburn, windburn - all possible when you're out and about, let's be honest. Of course there are things you can do to stop these things being a problem (I'll go into my solutions in a moment), but it could really put you off, especially if you're not an all-weather person yourself. 

Finally, I'm going to admit it. I wear my wraps and slings a lot. I wear them right - for me at least; the little'un sits high and tight unless I've shimmied her down to feed her (and even then I contort myself so she's still higher up than a non-sling feeding pose - something that will render my bras ever more necessary when they valiantly try to support me post-feeding, I'm sure). We are snug as a bug, and our straps as wide as can be (I make my own wraps with wider fabric and my mei tais with wider straps to help with comfort for long-wear). I am generally told I have good posture. I am young (well, late twenties), fit, and healthy. And - here it comes - my back hurts most of the time. 

***Gasp!!! 'Did she say that out loud? Shhhh!'*** 

I think it could put off new parents pre-babywearing. I think it could put off even the staunchest babywearer some days, as their little'un becomes a bigger'un. It could be the biggest barrier of all. When she was mini, I didn't get any discomfort, and I might be the only one who feels this, so don't take me as gospel or anything. But for me, it's the thing I put up with because having my munchkin close enough to chat quietly to as we walk around, and watching her awed expression as she takes everything in, is priceless. 

It's not bad pain. It's perfectly bearable. It's a bit like the dull, persistent ache in the small of your back when you carry your bump inside instead of out. Or to explain how I feel to any of you chaps reading, like that solid, leaden feeling in your muscles a day or so after you've painted a whole floor of rooms in one weekend (surely we're not the only ones who've done that?). I get it in my lower back. And I get a tightness across my shoulders that feels like I should spend the next hour in the cat pose (yoga - arched back, tilting head and hips as if trying to make pelvis and head meet). And it's ok. For me, it's really ok. But I could definitely understand if, for you, it wasn't. So that's my final barrier for this blog post: 

6. It can make you achey. No matter what you do. 

I'm sure you can all think of many other barriers, but these are the ones that have cropped up for me, or for friends, over the past few months. I thought I'd share my solutions. Just like babywearing, they might not be for everyone, and just like each sling, the solution I've found might not be the one for you - but I expect there will be one out there that will suit, if you're wanting to find it. 

So, the solutions that worked for me... 

1. It takes some getting used to... 
You might not find this. You might be like me and so staunchly determined that what you've decided is right that you don't even register the niggles. But you might just not be too keen to start with. Does it feel a bit odd? Are you uncomfortable? Worried about your tiddler being swathed in a haberdashery? 

All I can say to this one is - why are you babywearing? Because if the reason you're choosing to wear your child, regardless of whether it's a parenting choice, a method of convenience, or born of desperation to appease a regularly inconsolable child, it comes down to the same thing. If the reason you're doing it matters more than the niggles you feel over whether it's working for you, keep going. Just for a bit longer. I was once told that a book deserves you to read at least the first 5 chapters, or 100 pages, before deciding whether or not it's for you. (I was about 10, and quickly decided that if I'd invested 100 pages-worth of time into it, I might as well finish the thing...obviously.) So if you're having a few doubts over whether babywearing is suiting you and your lifestyle, I'd really encourage you to just give it another chapter or two. Go on. 

2. The type of sling you have might not work for you. 
Alternatively, the reason you might not be feeling quite right might be that the sling you're using isn't the best one for you. There are so many, and finding the right sling for you could make all the difference. I prefer unstructured ones for the most part (buy some fabric and away you go), but a semi or fully structured option might be better for you. I don't like the buckle-y feeling of structured options too much because they interfere with my feeling that it's just me and my munchkin, which sounds a bit odd now it's out in the open, but there you have it. My husband finds the mei tai uncomfortable because he thinks it feels too unsupportive and loose, even when our girl is snugged right up to him and there's not a whiskers' width between the two of them or the wrap. A friend of mine can't stand stretchy wraps because of the hassle of hoicking and twisting metres and metres of fabric. If you were only to try one sling and it wasn't the one for you, it could definitely put you off babywearing completely, when all it really means is that particular sling wasn't for you. Maybe give another one a go? 

Playing around with a friend's sling, if they have different ones works well, and there's nothing wrong with trying on some different options in shops. When I was pregnant we did that, and took my teddybear along as a baby-sub. You couldn't possibly look any sillier, but it didn't seem to cause much of a stir, so we can't be the only ones. There are also sling swaps around the place where you pitch up with your sling, throw it into the mix and try everyone elses', then go home with the sling that someone else didn't get along with but suits you perfectly. Hey presto. 

3. The sling might not feel comfy. 
Given that slings have come into being to be the comfiest and most minimal way to carry your child hands-free, you can be pretty sure that it was designed to feel good. If it doesn't, it might be that you could do with finding an alternative way to wear yours. You need to work out the right way to wear your chosen sling - which means both the way it's safest and most secure for you and your bundle, and the way you are happiest and most comfortable with it. That might not be the way you're first shown to wear it, but you can almost guarantee that with most slings, there's more than one way to do it. YouTube, various blogs, and most sites that sell slings can all be mined for a million and one ways to tie your stretchy wrap, or how to modify your mei tai to suit a bigger / smaller child, to avoid their legs getting any red marks on, etc etc... I've lost track of the different ways to tie a back carry with a non-stretch wrap, and if one doesn't work for you, just try another, and another until it does. 

That said, often the reason for an uncomfortable sling is that it's not being worn properly - by which I mean safely. Wearing the child too low on your body will decrease the support both they and you feel, and is likely to give you back ache. Wearing it too loose again is likely to hurt your shoulders, back or both, as well as meaning your little'un is bouncing around, slipping sideways, falling out or has their head lolling dangerously whilst they're asleep. If in doubt, have a look at the recommended ways to tie your wrap and have a practice when your little imp is less impy than usual... It's amazing the difference a good tie can make. If you know full well that you've tied it right, it's always worth retying it. A twisted strap, a looped bit of fabric or your baby's bum having secretly slipped out on one side are all things I've found to make both of us feel wriggly. 

4. It can be a bit hot and sweaty. 
Ok, a lot hot and sweaty.  I'm a... warm... person anyway, and I can get a bit sticky and bleugh outside even in the middle of winter. My munchkin appears to have inherited my thermostat, and at 8 weeks, you will have found us often both stripped off, attempting a feed to calm her whilst lying down on the cool bedsheets with the window wide open. The weather warmed fractionally, and every walk we took, no matter how few clothes we wore, wound up with her telling me in no uncertain terms that being hot was not ok. Which, understandably, used to worry me a fair bit. We resorted to her in a vest and me in a thin t-shirt, never wearing coats unless it was pouring down, and draping a white muslin over her head whenever she was sleeping. I kept to shade, and would stop for water and a brief rest whenever I could feel myself getting hot - regulating my own temperature was the best way I found to regulate hers. 

My other solutions? As I've said, firstly I made another stretchy wrap out of thin white jersey (careful to make sure it wasn't too stretchy - a lot of the thinner fabrics have more stretch which I personally think is unsafe to use in a wrap  as it's a lot less secure and can loosen around your little'un as you carry. (I should point out that I haven't explicitly researched this, though and I'm happy to be corrected if you know otherwise.) Finally I made a mei tai - essentially opting for a wrap with less fabric over me and my munchkin, allowing her arms and legs to be open to the air and leaving an air gap all around her. It's still snuggly, but both of us were able to dress for the weather in it, rather than walking around in our swimmies all summer. 

Ultimately, my solution is to find a way to keep yourself as cool as you can, and it might be that changing to a different style wrap helps that. Whatever you do, you don't want to let your baby overheat, and that should be your priority - but that said, a bit of sweat never hurt anyone, and if it's hot outside, you're going to sweat anyway, I would have thought. Why not do it with a hug?! 

(On a slightly vain note, it did initially bother me that my clothes sported dark bands all over them when I took the sling off. It doesn't now. But we all know the tricks to minimise sweaty armpits tells, I'm sure - just follow them and it'll help down-play your sweaty back and / or tummy if it bothers you!) 

5. You're both open to the elements. 
We have had sunkissed cheeks where my girl's sunhat got a little small before I noticed, wind-roughened skin on her legs where her trousers rode up while we were walking, and rain drops on her face because the umbrella lost out to the wind. Solutions are obvious really. In the sunshine, I don't like using SPF a lot on my munchkin's skin, so I mostly go for thin cover-up materials, and use a bit of SPF 50 where I can't keep her covered. (Now that it's dimmer I don't worry about that, though; a bit of sunshine on the skin helps keep that vitamin D up.) Sunhats, wooly hats, cotton in-between hats, hoods - you name it, we wear them. My recent knit is some legwarmers to keep her lower legs cosy as they stick outside the mei tai. I invested in an aged 3-4 year old cagoule to help with the rain, which I stretch over the outside of the wrap once she's inside, and tuck into the fabric straps. The hood goes over her hat / hood to keep her dry and the wrap is covered by its own coat, whilst my coat is a little bigger than it needs to be, and just about poppers up under her bottom to seal us in. Her coat bit sometimes comes untucked so I'm thinking of sewing some ties to it so I can strap it around my back like a mini apron. I've written a whole blog on babywearing in the rain here

And this is us in action...

Ultimately, I love that my daughter is exposed to the elements. She giggles and licks the rain when it lands on her face. She has never flinched or hid herself from any weather, sunny or stormy. I love that she is learning about weather, temperatures and seasons just by dint of being outdoors. I can completely understand wanting to keep a child toasty and dry inside a covered pushchair or pram, but I personally feel like she is learning more of life by being in it, rather than sitting in a cosy plastic bubble. If you don't feel this way, then my homemade solutions probably won't help much, but if you're keen to get out and about in it, I'd like to share something I once heard from someone wise (I have no idea who they were): 
'There's no such thing as bad weather. Just bad clothing.' 

6. It can make you achey, no matter what you do. 

This one? I can't help a lot, other than to say that for me, it's worth it. Totally, completely worth it. I'd encourage you to work on your core strength, if you don't already. Babywearing from day one means that you're body is slowly strengthening in the right places as your tiny bundle grows into a bigger bundle, and if you've just been pregnant (just the girls here, obviously!), you've already started those muscles from carrying around your increasingly large bump all day. Gradually building your core will help postpartum generally, as well as for babywearing. Yoga and pilates are great, but many exercises and sports help strengthen your core muscles, so however you choose to do it, do it. It will help. 

Finally, a good stretch every day, or several times a day, is my lifesaver. A bit of cat/cow posing when I'm playing on the floor with my munchkin, or leaning forward and letting my body weight drag my head towards the floor before rolling up slowly both really, really help. If you have a partner who's willing to pummel your back occasionally, that helps too. 

My parting thought here has to be that for me, even if I was struggling to find a solution that worked - and I'm sure we'll get to them in time, I've not been doing this long - I'd want to keep trying, and I hope I've encouraged you to do just that. There are more pros to babywearing that you can shake a fluffy cat at, so if you're interested, have a look at the research. I'm going to leave you with my little unscientific pros list: 

My own top pros to babywearing: 
  • An ever increasing bond with my little'un 
  • Being able to chat to, sing to, and listen to her all the time 
  • Feeding her brain - the amount she seems to take in as we wander around is just incredible! 
  • Speaking of feeding - breast-feeding on the move is always a bonus 
  • Being cuddled while I vacuum. And stuff. • Travelling super-light! 
  • Being able to cover any terrain, easily 
  • Getting back into shape post-pregnancy, but... 
  • Not having to worry about anyone seeing me before then - because I'm obscured by a baby!! 

Links to wearing mei tais: