Student NT editor Holly Morse discusses the benefits of babywearing for the modern parent.
The importance of developing secure attachments in early infancy is now well-established in the literature and is firmly recognised by policymakers as critical in child development and as a predictor of life chances.
Parents’ are the first provider of love and security, creating a bond (attachment), which nurtures confidence and self-reliance, fosters resilience and supports the social and emotional development critical to ongoing cognitive development.
For children growing up in otherwise disadvantaged settings, secure attachments can play a protective role whereas children who are insecurely attached (when parents either respond inconsistently to or reject their stress) are less resilient to poverty, family instability, and parental stress and depression.
The strongest predictor for children being insecurely attached is having a parent who is not securely attached themselves. Parents who are living in poverty, have poor mental health or are young are also more likely to struggle with parenting and have insecurely attached children.
“Recent studies have consistently found that 40% of children have insecure attachements”
These groups are also the least likely to access antenatal education or breastfeed, and are at increased risk of poor perinatal mental health. Recent studies have consistently found that 40% of children have insecure attachments.
Being carried is normal human infant behaviour, creating an external ‘womb’, in a sling or arms, that builds a relationship of trust, closeness and loving touch.
It enables easy, fast responses from the parent to meet the baby’s needs, reducing crying and lowering hormonal stress responses in both.
Close contact regulates temperature, heart and respiratory rates, conserving energy for growth and development and plays an important role in establishing breastfeeding, which itself infers numerous health benefits to mother and baby.
Evidence is growing that suggests ‘adult-led’ modern society and parenting practices, increasingly less responsive to children’s needs, is detrimental to emotional health and brain development. However, parents are under huge economic and sociocultural pressure – bombarded with messages prizing early infant independence and returning ‘to normal’ as quickly as possible post pregnancy/birth. This is also a factor known to impact on breastfeeding experiences and mental health.
Those suffering with poor postnatal mental health are less likely to access postnatal care and to breastfeed, which are key indicators of ongoing health inequalities for the family.
“As a student midwife, I have seen many families struggling with the transition to parenthood”
To support families, messages about responsive parenting, family health and resilience need to be consistent, evidence-based and communicated in an accessible way by both midwifery and health visiting teams.
As a student midwife, I have seen many families struggling with the transition to parenthood, seeking out what the media sell as a ‘good’ baby (one that sleeps for long stretches and demands very little) – the opposite of what we know is a biologically and physiologically healthy starting point – and feeling a failure when normal newborn behaviour is perceived as the opposite.
Although we have a long way to go in modifying societal representations of normality and promoting realistic expectations many families are adopting slings and babywearing as a cheap, convenient and effective way of managing modern life while meeting the needs of a newborn (and other children hands-free).
Having seen the benefits and understood the research I am now busy promoting this to expectant parents as widely as possible, improving attachments and mental health but also accessing peer support.
There are many local ‘slingmeets’ and sling hire groups popping up offering all these benefits without huge financial outlay and in Scotland from 2017, all babies receive a ‘baby box’ containing a sling – an acknowledgement of the widespread benefits this offers to all parents.
Now it’s down to midwives and parents to spread the word.