Babywearing: Health Benefits for Parents and Child

Babywearing Health Benefits Pic

Hello, my name is Kara and I am an occupational therapist and one of the new WMC trusted community members. I am very excited to share my journey, both professionally and personally, with this community of moms in SETX.

By day, I am a full time working mom who provides occupational therapy services in BISD. Specifically, this is my second year in the district- and I primarily serve middle/high school-age students, as well as provide all district OT evaluations.

By night, I am a ‘full time mommy/wifey’ to my daughter, Natalie, age 15 months, and Andrew (the hubs). And by full time, I mean we eat take out a lot and our lovely apartment constantly looks like the aftermath of a nuclear warhead. Luckily, thanks to you ladies, I now also have the opportunity to participate with and educate other WMC mommas in the evenings.

I wanted to write some blog posts for the WMC that can help create a bridge between the medical profession and the ‘crunchy momma’ tendencies we ladies seem to have in this community. I personally have internally struggled between the two, seemingly dichotomous, groups of thought for navigating parenthood in 2016. However, in my personal research, I have found that many attachment parenting strategies are beneficial to the health and wellbeing of both child and parent. Specifically, it is my goal to provide information and resources that support and legitimize these choices in order to empower all WMC mommas in the decisions they make regarding their children.

The first topic I would like to discuss is what are specific health benefits that can be derived from babywearing.

  1. Reduction of positional plagiocephaly (flat head syndrome). Positional plagiocephaly is on the rise, with an estimated 46.6% of infants between 7 to 12 weeks of age (Mawji, et. Al, 2013) having this condition. This occurs, as Dr. Clair McCarthy explains, because “The skulls of babies are actually not one bone but lots of them held together by cartilage. This allows the head to squeeze through the birth canal, and it allows for the rapid brain growth we see in infancy. The fact that there are many bones and that those bones are so able to adapt to change means that they are likely to be affected by position–and end up with flat spots when babies lie in the same position a lot. Usually, the flat spots are noticeable by the time a baby is a couple of months old.” 

    If we were to look at a baby and the position they remain in throughout their day, they are usually in supine (laying on their back). Specifically, they sleep on their back, ride in the car seat on their back, and lie on their back with many of the toys/devices marketed to young children (swings, bouncers, etc). This adds up to a lot of time on their backs! With the use of a baby carrier, the baby is held in vertical suspension. This allows them to rest the side of their head on mom’s chest in either direction, versus placing all the pressure on the back of baby’s skull.

  2. Enhances Motor Development: I have heard from several people that if you wear your baby, “they are never going to walk!” However, this is far from the truth. Starting around 2-4 months (when baby starts to get head control), babywearing provides strengthening to critical muscle groups in addition to the neck for cervical extension and rotation, shoulder girdle stabilization, and trunk extension/strengthening through abdominal and spinal muscle activation. All these muscles work together to support all the major motor milestones we think of, including rolling, sitting unsupported, crawling, and walking.

    This is very important, as motor delays in children is becoming more of a concern. Around ~13% of infants and toddlers will have a motor delay in the US (Rosenberg, Zhang, & Robinson, 2008). Research has shown that lack of tummy time has led to ‘artificial’ delays in motor development; secondary to not having the opportunity to develop the muscles needed to reach motor milestones (instead of the child having a medical disability). Baby carriers provide opportunities for active participation by baby to develop these skills, unlike typical baby equipment, such as swings, infant seats, suspension seats with activity tables, etc.

  3. Enhances Sensory Development: Development of the sensory system (sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell) is critical in the beginning stages for baby and continues into toddlerhood. Parents use the sensory system to help regulate baby’s behavior and provide comfort to their little one. Babywearing simulates the the womb, providing the baby with familiar parent rhythms that were experienced inside the womb, including walking, heartbeat, breathing, and voice (which has been shown to synchronize body movements). Tactile input from baby and mom aid in regulating baby’s temperature and heartbeat. Older children experience the same visual field as mom, and joint attention is promoted.

    Less talked about sensory systems, including the vestibular and proprioceptive systems, are also regulated and organized. Vestibular input, which comes from fluid movement in the semicircular canals of the inner ear, are activated by mom’s movement. Linear movement is calming and relaxing, which promotes sleep! (Hence the sleepy dust everyone talks about with babywearing). Proprioceptive input, which is registered as the pressure between joints and tells your brain where your body is in space, is also developed as the wrap/carrier you use provides a ‘swaddling’ effect against your body- again promoting calm and sleep!

  4. Enhances learning theory: Research shows that babies who are worn for >3 hours in a day cried less. At 6 weeks, which is the peak crying age, there was 43% decrease in crying in the group of worn babies. The theory, by Hunziker and Barr (1986), states that babies who cry less have more energy to develop cognitively and physically. Their theory also states that babies who feel safe and secure are more open to outside stimulus.
  5. Promotes caregiver attachment and bonding: Attachment is defined as “affectional bond that is formed with a specific individual that binds across space and endures over time.” (Whitcomb, 2012) Attachment is basic, inborn, and a biologically adaptive motivation system. The key to attachment is proximity. 

    Per Blois 2007-2008, “increased physical contact between a mother and her newborn promotes greater maternal responsiveness and more secure attachment between infant and mother.” In a randomized control trial by Ainsfield, at 3 months, mothers who used a soft structured carrier were more responsive than those mothers that used a plastic infant seat. In the same trial, at 13 months, infants were more securely attached as evidenced by the Ainsworth Strange Situation scale.

  6. Ergonomic Lifting for Wearer: Babywearing provides mom with an ergonomic way to carry her baby that prevents stress injury in the new/experienced mother. Specifically, babywearing works by symmetrically distributing the load of your baby across your larger joints, including your shoulders and hips (where you are strongest). This allows you to hold your baby longer and with less pain.Repetitive stress injuries are common in parents. For example, when rocking/feeding/holding your child in your arm with your elbow bent, holding that position for an extended amount of time can cause fatigue and pain. This happens because you are engaging in what is referred to as an isometric hold- where both the agonist and antagonist muscles are contracting at 50% capacity. With older children, it is common to see parents holding them on the right or left hip (typically the same side you write with). This position, over time, can also lead to low back pain from an over contraction of the quadratus lumborum and other hip flexors.
  7. Aids in reduction of Post-Natal Depression: “Babywearing helps satisfy the baby’s need for human interaction. Human touch, which is facilitated through babywearing, reduces the baby’s need for eye contact and verbal interaction, both of which can be a struggle for mothers suffering from depression.” (Pelaez-Nogueras, Field, Hossain, & Pickens, 1996).
    Babywearing also allows mom to be ‘hands free’ and complete household tasks, attend to other children, and complete desired activities while still caring for baby. According to Babywearing International, “Babywearing allows for a less cumbersome stroll. Stairs, doorways, bumpy sidewalks and woodland trails are not obstacles to a babywearing mother like they are to a mother with a stroller. Babywearing makes it easier to get exercise and sunshine, which benefit a mother’s well-being.”

 

Resources:

Babywearing International (2008, November). Babywearing: Benefits for mothers with postpartum depression or depression. [Brochure]. Babywearing International, Inc.

Blois, M. (2007-2008). Birth: Care of infant and mother: Time sensitive issues. In W. Gordon & J. Trafton (Eds.), Best practices in the behavioral management of health from preconception to adolescence (108-132). Los Altos: Institute for Disease Management.12

Gatzemeyer, A. (2011, October 14). The science of babywearing. [Web log comment]. Retrieved from http://asecurebase.blogspot.com/2011/10/science-of-babywearing.html

Harbourne, R. and Williet, S. Physical therapist’s guide to developmental delay. Retrieved from http://www.moveforwardpt.com/symptomsconditionsdetail.aspx?cid=0cb9916b-6b09-44ab-8708-cfc52eb351f5

Hartnett, K. (2015). OT’s role in promoting babywearing. [Powerpoint Slides- Prezi]. Retrieved from https://prezi.com/2fjkher7carl/ots-role-in-promoting-babywearing/

Hunziker, U.A., Barr, R.G. (1986). Increased carrying reduces infant crying: a randomized control trials. Pediatrics, 77: 641-648.

Kift. S. (2015, June 17). Talking heads: An occupational therapist’s perspective on positional plagiocephaly and babywearing. [Web log comment]. Retrieved from https://wrapsodybaby.com/positional-plagiocephaly-and-babywearing/

Mawji, A, Vollman, A.R., Hatfield, J., McNeild, D.A., and Sauve, R. (2013, July 8). The incidence of positional plagiocephaly: A cohort study. Pediatrics, 132: 2, 1-7. doi: 10.1542/peds.2012-3438.

Mintz, Z. (2013, July 8). Most babies have flat spots on their heads, positional plagiocephaly caused by sleeping position. International Business Times. Retrieved from http://www.ibtimes.com/most-babies-have-flat-spots-their-heads-positional-plagiocephaly-caused-sleeping-position-1336385

Ot, B. (2011, December 13). Wearing baby as therapy- Part 1, 2, 3, and 4. [Web log comment]. Retrieved from http://astrokeofot.blogspot.com/2011/12/wearing-baby-as-therapy-part-1.html.

Pelaez-Nogueras M, Field TM, Hossain Z, Pickens J. (1996). Depressed mothers’ touching increases infants’ positive affect and attention in still-face interactions. Child Development, 67, 1780-92.

Rosenberg, S.A., Zhang, D., and Robinson, C.C. (2008, June). Prevalence of developmental delays and participation in early intervention services for young children. Pediatrics, 121, 1503-1509.

_____________________
KAra Michael Headshot

Kara is an Occupational Therapist, wife, mother and Trusted Community Member in WMC’s Facebook groups, as well as an all-around awesome chick. We are so excited to have her aboard, and look forward to bringing our communities more informative and fascinating articles from her like the one you’ve just read!

 

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