Babywearing by Lela Rankin Williams, PhD.
Lela Rankin Williams, PhD.
I have been a babywearer for 10 years and a researcher in child development for even longer. Although it doesn’t feel as if I am old enough to have done anything for 10 years, my oldest son, who was excited to turn 10 during this year’s International Babywearing Week (Oct 2nd!), reminds me of how significant that period was for me.
During those early postpartum months, I never left home without my stretchy black Baby K’tan carrier. I feared we might find ourselves in situations where we’d need to be quiet, and the K’tan was my trusted infant-contentment guarantee-er! I bought the K’tan for myself in the weeks leading up to his birth as it appeared beneficial for new parents. I first practiced using the Baby K’tan with my dog, as if somehow my ability to successfully maneuver the carrier would mean I was equipped to parent my new baby (no dogs were harmed).
I had no idea what I was in for. The K’tan turned out to be as comforting for me as it was for my son. During those days, smartphones weren’t a thing like they are now (yes, I am, in fact, that old), so I needed both hands to write emails, which at that time was my only contact with the outside world. My beautiful and wonderful son, who could not be left alone for more than 10 minutes, would sleep for hours in the Baby K’tan, which any new parent knows is worth its weight in gold.
Now, as an expert and researcher in child development, I know why I felt so calm. Both infants’ and parents’ heart rates actually decrease while babywearing. This research is part of my most recent work in the NICU with infants who have been born exposed to Opioids.
In my research these past 5 years, I made some fascinated discoveries. For example, parents who chose not to babywear but were randomly asked to babywear as part of an empirical research study used their carrier to calm and soothe their baby. The more hours they spent babywearing, the more parenting benefits they experienced, such as an increased ability to respond and meet their infants’ needs (Williams & Turner, 2020). This made perfect sense to me since that kept me babywearing in those early days, too (a cure for crying is a huge motivator!). Still, what amazed me the most was the unexpected connection I felt through spending so much time together in such close, physical contact.
My research with young mothers (The Mother Baby Bonding Study https://www.facebook.com/MotherBabyBondingStudy/) focused on the potential for babywearing to be used as a tool to enhance parent-child bonding. Young mothers often face more significant parenting challenges compared to other parents, which makes bonding difficult. However, in my studies, mothers randomly assigned to babywear had more positive mother-infant engagement, greater mother-infant attachment security, and fewer instances of disorganized attachment compared to a control condition (Williams, 2020; Williams & Turner, 2020).
A few weeks ago, I co-edited a collection of research articles for a special issue in the Journal of Infant Behavior and Development on the effects of physical contact on infants and their caregivers. Seven of those articles specifically review or examine infant holding or carrying (via skin-to-skin contact or babywearing). It is exciting to see this field growing and expanding every day. By developing a better understanding of the benefits babywearing offers to parents and children, the greater the likelihood of getting it into spaces where it can provide the most impact, like child care centers, hospitals, pediatricians’ offices (and even the living rooms of stressed-out parents).
I don’t do too much babywearing these days, but we are really good at piggyback rides. Happy Babywearing!