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Monday
Oct042010

Babywearing

Tristan was strolled in an umbrella stroller. It wasn’t until I went to La Leche League while I was pregnant with Meghann that I ever even considered Babywearing. We got a Snugli, dark blue corduroy one that had zippers, on an angle, so I could unzip and stick my breast through for the kid to nurse, all while remaining covered and modest (a concern I gave up mid-way through my nursing career). This was 1984. 

The Snugli was a puzzle of flaps and snaps; it took an entire family of engineers to strap the thing on. Through trial and error, I finally figured out to put the baby in after putting the carrier on. One try doing it while the baby was inside already ended in with the baby falling onto the bed… at least I’d had enough foresight to be near a bed! I could put it on this very second if someone laid it in front of me. The long strap that criss-crossed my back, the plastic hook grabbing the plastic ring… repeating with the other strap crossing in the other direction. snap snap Each shoulder was gifted with thick padding, helping the wearer to not have cutting cloth leaving dents in his or her flesh. One more long, thinner, belt-like strap wrapped around the waist and also snapped into a ring, securing the carrier in yet another direction. Bolted down, the baby could now be dropped (so to speak) into her seat, a sling of yet more cloth (dang, this thing was heavy!), legs through the seat’s holes. It was important to hold the baby through the rest of the process lest she flip out of the contraption. With hand on the baby’s back, we’d tuck her feet into the outer sack before pulling the drawstring tight around her back. I suspect an earlier version had the baby’s face resting on the corduroy itself, but imprints of lines isn’t what a mom wants to see on her newborn’s face, so someone came up with the good idea of putting a “bib” of flannel wherever the baby’s face might touch; it was white (at least until it got barfed on). It was under the bib that the zippers hid. In order to allow the baby to nurse, the flannel bib had to be unsnapped and left dangling from the other snap. Even writing this, I’m exhausted thinking about all we did to carry a baby! 

As it is now, Mothering Magazine was our window into Natural World… natural birth, extended breastfeeding, not vaccinating, etc. I devoured the magazine, trying to incorporate the foreign ideas into my new life as a homebirthing and co-op working mama. It was there I learned about rebozos, the traditional baby carriers of Central and South American Indians. One rebozo in particular caught my eye. I saved for months to buy it and remember being so excited when it finally came in the mail, folded into a small puddle of cloth inside a golden envelope. I took it out, kept it near me for years, but I never learned how to use it. Occasionally, I’d ask someone to wrap Meggie in it, she on my chest, the cloth ‘round and ‘round my torso, but it seemed like a math problem to learn how to use it, so I found other uses for the rebozo. 

When a mama’s laboring for an extra long time, the suspicion of a malpresentation can set off a cascade of ideas to re-position the child inside mom’s uterus. Using a rebozo, we can sling the cloth under her belly, grasping the ends and lifting her belly (and, hence, the baby) up and out of the pelvis, then allowing the baby a do-over in getting himself/herself into the pelvis at a better angle. We do need to repeat this a few times, but this midwifery trick of old can save a woman from a cesarean for an acynclitic baby. 

I’ll admit, I even used the rebozo as a dining room table runner on occasion. 

After years of non-childwearing use, I finally lost the rebozo in a heap of bloody drapes and chux after wrapping it around the squat bar and having a mom pull on it as she pushed. When her baby was born, the nurse untied the rebozo, dragging it into the birth fluids being caught in the plastic “bowl” at the end of the bed. She looked at me and asked, “Want it?” And in an instant, I said good-bye to the lovely rainbow cloth that’d been in my birth bag for two decades. 

Over the years, I’ve seen rebozo-like wraps come into fashion with the crunchy crowd. Babywearing being an overt sign that a mama has natural ideas and her family choices are surely questioned by the mainstream. When I see a mama “sling her baby” (as I call it), I go out of my way to thank her for doing so. My kids, as they’ve grown up, chuckle when they see me approach an unsuspecting mama (and occasionally dad or grandparent), watching her expression go from concern to confusion to a smile of understanding. (I do the same with nursing-in-public mamas.) 

Not too long ago, I was in Costco and came across a mom and baby, both crying, as mom struggled with her wrap, holding the baby flat against her chest as she tried to adjust the cloth. The baby was very new and I could tell this might have been mom’s first outing after the birth. I smiled as I came up to her and asked her if I might help her with the wrap, that I was a midwife. Her face filled with gratitude and even more tears fell. She said she couldn’t understand the instructions very well and I let her know there were tutorials (of sorts) on YouTube and those would help a lot. I also let her know there are several Babywearing groups here in San Diego and she’d find many like-minded mamas to keep her company during these strange new days of motherhood.

After asking if I could touch her, I unwrapped the material from around her waist, then pulling the cloth that was around the baby tighter, helping the baby down some in the wrap as well. Already, the baby stopped hollering. Mom had also stopped crying. I explained about swaddling, making the wrap around the baby tight, that the baby would feel so secure and loved that way… and she’d have her hands back. (It defeats the purpose of the sling if you’re always holding the baby with your hands.) Once her baby was securely wound around, I showed her how to tie the ends so they were secure, but she could also undo it quickly if she needed to. I also showed her how she could nurse while wandering around the store, no one the wiser; she liked that info lots. I gave her my card and walked away smiling, seeing her a few minutes later down another aisle, leaning over to get something off the bottom shelf, hands-free and the sleeping baby ensconced in love and cloth. 

We all should be so lucky.

(Babywearing is a right our babies deserve! Make your voice heard by writing about your own experiences with Babywearing. Link back here to join those who are tired of being legislated down to the last hair on our babies' heads. We know what's right for our families! Get out of our slings so our babies can stay in them!)

Reader Comments (12)

Oh, this post and that story has me so moved. I am so sorry about the loss of that Rebozo!!! And I love your view of loving on nursing/babywearing mamas. :)

Steph

October 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAdventures In Babywearing

.

1986. I also used snugli, dark blue denim!
i loved it and mastered it quickly.

As she grew I started using something called "Sara's Ride" it was hip carrier. I wonder if anyone remembers that?

Then the simplest of all was that kelty baby back pack, my husband liked that. Made me feel like a pack horse most of the time, and eventually decided to incorporate a Maclaren stroller into my repertoire of getting child around NYC streets .

October 4, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterdewi

I'll always remember walking into an office with my 6-week-old son and having the receptionist, an older woman, tell me how nice it was to see someone actually carrying their baby.

Everyone has those infant car seats - kid falls asleep in the car and you just pull out the whole thing.

Now that I have another little one, I've learned an additional advantage of baby-wearing. She sleeps so soundly once she's settled in it that an outing to the park or the zoo is almost like one-on-one time with me for my son.

October 4, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterchingona

I have never been able to nurse with a kid in a sling - they're too content and quiet. But what I like the best about slings is that often one can hide the fact you have a newborn on you and folks leave you the hell alone. I hate hate hate hate hate people coming up when I have to be in public with an under 2 month old (life goes on, we have other kids and I have to be out) before the first vaccinations, inevitably someone wants to touch, hold, poke at the baby, cough on or near the baby and in this day of pertussis on the West Coast that isn't happening if I can help it.

Heck, even after the first vaccination slings are good for keeping a child content in unfamiliar places, well with my boys only as long as they were mildly sleepy - they want to see everything so sometimes the front pack with them looking out is best, but that's my babies for you. At least by then I or my husband have enough sleep to be able to say "Whoa, you need to wash your hands first!" or "I am pretty sure he doesn't want to be touched by a stranger."

October 5, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterEthel

This post made me tear up! What a wonderful thing you did for that mom. I know most people (myself included) would have been too afraid to approach her for fear that she may take my offer in a defensive way. Beautiful story! And so sorry about your rebozo :(

October 5, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKim

I have a moby. We love it! The most basic wrap is the fabric criss-crossed across the chest, lower babys leg into one side, spread the fabric across, repeat with other leg and then the waistband pulled up around their back for more support. We are both so comfy we haven't moved on to other wraps/holds yet! She is 4mo. I can't seem to get the hang of feeding in it tho, but that's my only downer with it. We've got SO much use out of it. She is so happy in there and I love having her there. It's like being pregnant, minus the discomforts, only now she is on the other side of my belly button :-)

October 5, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSam

What a perfect post! First let me say, I have been lurking here for MONTHS, reading all the archived posts and I HEART YOU, NGM!! I knew that eventually I would de-lurk, just when the right post occured...
I am a childbirth educator in Canada, and will probably end up as a midwife some day (but first have to get my little ones into school!).
There are so many YES! moments in this post, I don't know which ones to mention first! (so many exclamation marks are undoubtedly the result of reading and not writing here for the last 6 months...)
I too was given a sling for my first, and could never figure it out (now with hindsight I realize that it was too big for me), but had a Bjorn and used it a bit. I really wanted to sling my babies - I spent time in Africa as a child - and it just seemed like the right thing to do, but had no idea how to do it and no one to ask. By the time my second was born, I not only had some mama friends who were crunchy enough to know how, but I was confident enough to ask - and never looked back! My baby lived in her sling, which probably saved both our lives. I had severe post-partum depression compounded with unsuccessful breastfeeding, and most days had to choose life, consciously. I cannot fathom how my baby would have survived, had I not had her that close. It was at times the only way I mothered her.
Now, I spend a good deal of my baby care classes teaching parents how to sling their babes. I have a LARGE collection of different kinds of carriers, and I offer the opportunity to try so many that almost everybody finds one they like. So many mums bring to class wraps and slings that they have been given but have no idea how to use, and they leave class with baby tucked in close and everyone is smiling.
And just this morning, in Costco, as I walked in there was a mum with her new baby in a beautiful sling, and as I walked by I smiled and said how lovely it was to see her baby in a sling... it just makes my day!

October 5, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterNicole

Isn't it wonderful to see children carried in a sling - close to Mama's heart? It lets Mommy soak up those brief months of "babyness," while still being able to attend, with two hands, to the necessities of everyday family life!

October 6, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRebecca

beautiful! I felt sad for your Rebozo loss, but also liked how you used it to help babies even after yours were grown.....

You know what I love about grassroots movements? They work.
8 years ago I had my son, and wore him. Moms would literally run me down in stores to ask what I was doing, and how, and where could they get one? I even ended up giving MANY babywearing classes to Moms groups by invitation ( I had to turn some down I got so many)..... Now With my lil gal born this year, I have her wrapped too, but I don't get run down in the store as often....because you can buy a moby wrap in Target. : )
THAT is progress, and shows that things CAN change with time.
Thanks to all the babywearing mommas, Mothering Mag., and other groups out there who led by example! .....And you BARB!
( I love how you helped that new momma too, i bet you made her day)

October 6, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterStephanie

I also love the moby wrap! My first daughter is four months old and she has loved it since I started using it at one week old. Having her snuggled on my chest was the most amazing feeling when she was a newborn, I loved hearing every little breath and sigh while she was sleeping. And I definitely felt like a rock star the first time I did dishes and mopped my kitchen floor with her in it! Now we have moved on to different ways to carry her as she gets older (the youtube tutorials are great), and I also now use the ergo which also feels so good, I can go for long walks and my back feels good even at the hefty 15 pounds she is now! My husband carried her in this on our first hike as a family this weekend and she LOVED it! I never did quite figure out the nursing and wearing at the same time, but never really felt a need. Thanks for your support of breastfeeding moms, I was recently nursing her outside at a fall fair (where else would I even go - my car??) and a woman thanked me for nursing in public as they walked by..... I was a bit startled at first, but it definitely made me feel good!!

October 7, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRebekah

I absolutely love babywearing.
I tried it with my first but couldn't get the hang of a pouch carrier and had no idea that there were so many more options out there.
When my son was born I hopped right on the babywearing thing when he came home from the hospital with a homemade jersey wrap to a pouch carrier and finally to a mei tai when he became heavier. He will be 2 in August and loves being carried in the mei tai, even my daughter who is now 3 asks to be carried in it as well.

February 15, 2012 | Unregistered Commenternikki

I know this is an old post, but I just had to say something! I'm a twenty-three year old new mama, and I use a boba carrier when we go out (that five yards of cloth is less intimidating than you would think!). However, my mom had the exact snugli carrier you described for me, and still has it tucked away in the garage! When my daughter was a couple weeks old, we attempted to put her in it and let me say, I much prefer my boba! So glad the times have changed for the better!

August 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMelissa G

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