How Babywearing promotes Attachment
A caregiver is wearing their child in a carrier whilst they go for a morning stroll.
The child is awake and alert and is turning their head to look at the different coloured houses as they walk past. The caregiver notices this and points out the brightly coloured doors of each house. Suddenly an ambulance rushes past with sirens wailing and the child is startled. The caregiver covers the child’s ears and leans close to their face and starts talking in a low, soothing voice. The noise disappears and the child begins to suck on their hands. The caregiver finds a shady spot and feeds the child.
It’s easy to see in the above scenario how responsive the caregiver is to the child’s needs. However, when we, as caregivers, wear our child in a carrier, wrap or sling, these behaviours are so natural and instinctive that we barely give them a second thought. We respond to our child’s startled behaviour by soothing them. We notice their feeding cues and respond.
Modern society has tried to define this behaviour as being an ‘attachment parent’. Whilst this responsiveness is certainly related to attachment parenting, it can also be considered as attachment forming without constraining ourselves to the boundaries of attachment parenting.
The term ‘attachment parenting’ was a term coined by Dr William Sears. He defines it as ‘an approach to raising children, rather than a strict set of rules’ (Sears, 2001). Sears also mentions the seven tools that parents can use to help them develop a secure attachment with their child. These ‘Seven Bs’ are: Birth, bonding, Breastfeeding, Babywearing, Bedding close to baby, Belief in baby’s cry, Balance and Boundaries and Beware of baby trainers. However, it is important to realise that these are not a stringent set of guidelines for those wishing to classify themselves as attachment parents; they are simply tools that you can call upon to help you develop a connection with your child.
As one of these tools, babywearing plays a very important role in creating a secure attachment between caregiver and child. But just what do we mean by secure attachment.? How do we measure if our child is securely attached?
In the Anisfeld et.al. (1990) study, she used many different measures and scales in order to objectively determine the level of attachment. Not only were questionnaires administered to the caregivers, videos of the caregivers interacting with the child were also analysed and three different objective scales were used to determine levels of attachment through analysing infant development and infant temperament. In this way we see that attachment is a quantifiable and measurable outcome.
Over the years, a great deal of research has determined that increased touch and closeness increases the caregivers’ oxytocin levels (or the love hormone). As the skin is the largest organ in the human body, providing increased contact and touch through babywearing is an easy way for most caregivers to provide that extra sensory input whilst going about their day. By continuing to wear our child closely, our oxytocin levels are increased and our instance of stress and depression are decreased. The benefits for both caregiver and child are enormous!
Securely attached children are often secure in the knowledge that their caregiver will respond to their needs in a timely manner. They can be free to explore their surroundings with the knowledge that they have a safe environment to return to should this new exploration prove to be overwhelming.
So what are some ways that we, as babywearers, can actively assist the development of a secure attachment?
Wear your child as soon as you are able
It is no surprise that most hospitals and birth facilities are now allowing for uninterrupted skin-to- skin time after the birth of a child. The benefits for both mum and bub are incredible. The rush of oxytocin provided by this skin-to- skin not only helps kickstart bonding but can also assist in the development of a healthy milk supply for mum. Plus it certainly allows for easy access for the baby. As soon as both you and your baby have been given the all clear by your medical professional and/or you are feeling well enough, it can be very beneficial to start wearing your baby. It is important to listen to your body at this time to ensure that you are not pushing yourself for too much, too soon. Some mums may find that chatting with a women’s health physiotherapist can also be helpful in determining when is the appropriate time to start wearing their child.
Remember that there is no time limit for wearing your child
Like breastfeeding, babywearing is all about the mother-baby dyad. It is a mutual decision by both as to whether to wear your child or not at a particular time. It may be useful to utilise some ‘poppable’ carries like the Kangaroo carry in the early days when you may have to unwrap your child more than you would like to change nappies, feed and/or change clothes. Don’t let anyone tell you that you are spoiling your child by wearing them. Babies are born expecting to be carried and, by wearing your child, you are able to respond to their cues promptly and appropriately. No wonder worn babies cry less! (Hunziker, 1986).
Share the load
Many partners choose to wear their child to assist with the development of a secure attachment. New studies have shown that the levels of both the hormones prolactin and oxytocin are increased in males when men become fathers (even though they have not physically experienced any changes to their body). By carrying their child, the partner can also experience the increase in oxytocin through close contact and help form that secure bond. Partners can also assist by wearing their child when the mother is still recovering in the early days after birth.
Babywearing has thousands of benefits for both the caregiver and child. By teaching our child about the world as we experience it through our day-to- day life we are allowing our child into our life and demonstrating to them their importance in our world. By carrying our child close we are able to respond promptly to their cues and we become more confident in responding to these cues as we are able to catch them sometimes before we would otherwise notice them. Providing our child with a safe place is vital in allowing the development of a secure bond between caregiver and child. By snuggling our children close to our heartbeat we are allowing them to experience familiarity, security and more importantly, accommodation in our ever expanding heart.
Anisfeld, E., Casper, V., Nozyce, M. and Cunningham, N. (1990) ‘Does Infant
Carrying Promote Attachment? An Experimental Study of the Effects of Increased
Physical Contact on the Developmet of Attachment’ Wiley, Child Development, Vol.
61, No. 5. pp. 1617-1627.
Hunkziker, U. A. and Barr, R. G. (1986) ‘Increased carrying reduces infant crying: A
randomized controlled trial’ Pediatrics, Vol. 77, pp. 641-648.
Kirkilionis, E. (1999) ‘A Baby wants to be carried’ Pinter & Martin Ltd, London.
Knowles, R. (2016) ‘Why Babywearing Matters’ Pinter & Martin Ltd, London.
Sears, W and Sears, M. (2001) ‘The Attachment Parenting Book – a Commonsense
Guide to Understanding and Nuturing your Baby’ Little, Brown & Company, New
Wagenknecht, F. (2014) ‘Babywearing School Australia: Simplify your
Babywearing’ BSA, Brisbane.