Monday, January 4, 2010

"Look Ma', No Hands!" : Wearing Your Newborn

We've had a mini baby boom here at Beltway Babywearers.  In the last month, two local mamas (including me) and our group founding mama (now spreading the love down South) have had new babies.  We thought this would be a great time to share the benefits of wearing a newborn.  These include bonding with baby, helping baby to transition to the outside world, and most importantly, giving parents back their hands so that they can get on with daily life.  Wearing your newborn when in public and at family gatherings can also limit the number of germy hands that touch your sweet new baby.  This can make for an easy way to avoid hurting feelings when you want to say, "stop touching my baby with your filthy paws!"
Newborns and especially preemies can benefit from kangaroo care or wearing baby skin to skin.  However, many busy parents are like me and stumble upon babywearing when they have a baby who insists on being held.   Still other parents are drawn to babywearing as it fits with their parenting philosophy, urban lifestyle, or simply because they like the look of carriers. You can even post on the internet from the hospital while holding your sleeping baby, or at least that's what I did to relieve the boredom from being stuck in bed following my third c-section.Whatever path you took to get here, there are many options to fit you and your baby comfortably and safely.

Some parents like to use a ring sling or pouch in the early days.  These one shouldered carriers are fast, easy to take on and off for frequent changes, and seem a bit more "approachable."  Pouches are generally fitted and tend to be difficult to fit correctly especially in the post-partum period as your size changes a lot.  Most people tend to choose pouches that are too large in my experience, when in doubt, size down.  My favorite pouches from my last child seem to be too big this time around, apparently my size changed enough that they don't work for me anymore.  This is something to bear in mind if choosing a pouch.  Ring slings are adjustable and are good choices if you want to share a carrier with other caregivers.

In pouches and ring slings, baby can be carried in both cradle and upright (tummy to tummy) positions. Angelique is demonstrating a RS tummy to tummy carry here.  Instructions for using a sling or pouch can be found here. When wearing a newborn in a cradle carry, be especially mindful of her airway.  Baby should NEVER be positioned with chin to chest.  If you hear baby grunting, remove him/her from the sling immediately and change positions.  Grunting is a sign of difficulty breathing. 

I generally prefer a two shouldered carrier for a newborn, as I tend to do a fair amount of traipsing around the playground after my older kids.  A great two shouldered option is a wrap or a simple piece of cloth.  Wraps come in stretchy and woven materials.  Wrap tutorials can be found in a variety of places online.  A fairly comprehensive chart can be found at The  These can have a steeper learning curve, but are very comfortable and adjustable for a variety of situations.  Also, as they are essentially a long piece of fabric, a stretchy wrap can be made very inexpensively (see previous article on Babywearing on a Budget).  Like slings, baby can be worn tummy to tummy or cradled.  The same rules regarding airway apply.  And wearing isn't just for mamas.  My husband broke out the wrap while we were still in the hospital so that he would be able to assist me with my first post-c-section shower.  The nurse was highly impressed.

Gretchen is demonstrating how to nurse in a wrap.  Hands free nursing isn't a beginner technique, but can be invaluable to getting out and about with baby.  My littlest one is 3 weeks and we've nursed in a carriers while wheel chairing out of the hospital, while on the playground with her siblings, at Christmas dinner, and most recently on a trip through Ikea.  The ability to nurse while continuing with other tasks is imperative to me as the mom of three, I'm actually doing it right now.  You can nurse in most any carrier depending on adjustability and anatomy.

 Notice that she gets baby settled with a good latch, baby is semi-upright.  You can nurse in upright, semi-upright, and cradle positions.  Once she has baby latched, she can then pull the loose outer rail across for privacy (as baby gets older this can also help minimize distractions). 

When nursing in a carrier, it is important to pay attention to baby and make sure that if baby falls asleep, she isn't smushed against mama.  Also make sure the fabric isn't pulled too tightly as to make it impossible for baby to pull away if necessary.  Pay attention to baby's breathing, just because it is hands free nursing, doesn't mean it is "set it and forget it."

Another more advanced wearing option is back carries.  I did my first back carry with this little one at 3 weeks.  I needed to prepare for company and she needed to be held, so back wrapping to the rescue.  This is not something to try on a whim and should be done with a woven wrap rather than a stretchy.  I have been wearing my almost 2yr old on my back since she was 2.5mo.  I got plenty of assistance at babywearing meetings and was confident in my abilities before attempting it with a newborn.  However, if you are experienced, or want to spend some time wearing dolls before giving it a shot with a spotter, this can be a great way to make your front available for needy toddlers.  I've used a ruck sack carry with a chest belt in this picture.

As with all carries, especially with newborns, it is important to pay attention to baby's breathing.  A high back carry can be helpful because baby will be breathing on your neck which makes it more obvious.
Finally we come to Asian style carriers like the mei tai, podaegi, and soft structure carrier.  This can be a happy medium between one shouldered carriers like the ring sling, and the more intimidating long length of fabric in a wrap.  These carriers are comfortable, can come in stylish prints, and tend to appeal to more men than ring slings or wraps.  For this reason I'm showing Angelique's husband and older daughter using mei tais with their babies.  Notice that for a newborn (or doll baby) the carrier is tied behind the baby's back.  Wearing instructions for Asian inspired carriers can be found here.
My husband is demonstrating a soft structured carrier (essentially a mei tai with buckles).  Soft structured carriers tend to be the least newborn friendly of the wearing options, but this particular one is designed to better accommodate small babies.  One reason soft structured carriers tend to not work as well for newborns is that they do not have the same level of adjustability and do not mold around a little body as closely as some other carriers.  However, they are very popular for older babies and toddlers, so if you plan to only own one carrier, you might want to consider them.  Once again, these are very popular with dads as they have buckles which are apparently manly (so guys tell me). 

Whatever carrier you choose, you will find yourself enjoying more cuddles and hearing less crying than without the carrier.  You won't find yourself pushing the stroller while trying to carry the baby in your arms, and your house will have less dishes and laundry waiting to be done as you try out your new-found free arms.

If you can't decide which carrier suits you best, come to a babywearing meeting and try things out.  Come while still pregnant and see the carriers in action, or arrive with your new bundle and try the carriers with your own newborn to discover what works best for your needs.  Some may find one carrier that will suit all of their needs; others may need 2 or 3; and still others may find they don't NEED more, but like shoes or purses, they want to have some options in carrier fashion.  No matter which category you find yourself in, I firmly believe that a good carrier is a parenting necessity.


  1. I love your post! Melissa M. forwarded it to me.

    I started with a peanut shell then moved on to a moby (which I wish I had discovered earlier). Now I'm on to the Lillebaby, which is a much less bulky version of an Ergo.

    I don't know how moms carried babies without fabric assistance!