The term babywearing suggests an infant can only be carried whilst they are a baby. Is this true and how can we tell when to stop babywearing?
Modern babywearing in its essence was born out of the research that was compiled from attachment theory. It has been hypothesized by Mary Ainsworth,
John Bowlby and later Dr William Sears, that attachment to a secure base (usually the mother) was a large catalyst in any given persons mental and emotional well-being throughout their life. In the 1960’s an American woman invents the ‘snugli’ carrier after spending time in West Africa. In the 70’s founding baby carrier companies such as Baby Bjorn and Didymos began designing carriers that allowed a mother to hold her child close to her heart. Whilst both carriers were completely different in make-up (Bjorn carrier was structured and Didymos was based on a traditional Mexican Rebozo cloth that she had acquired whilst in central America). The underlying use and reasons behind it were the same. To be close and build a bond with their child.
In the 1980’s as we began to realise the importance on the roles of both parents, more companies started to appear offering carriers such as Girasol. In Hawaii, a man invented the first Ring Sling for his wife, and later sold this to Dr William Sears the inventor of the term attachment parenting and his wife coined the term ‘babywearing’. In the beginning sling and carriers were used as a bonding tool, more than a method of transport.
Carrying in historical terms from European Shawls to Ornate African Kanga and Kitenge to the Mexican Rebozo was are borne from the need to safely carry a child whilst working or migrating. Historically these would have been used until the child was able to walk unaided. However, in modern time in Europe and relatively newer babywearing cultures, carriers were used only for smaller infants.
As the popularity and financial reward of carrying became clear, companies started to expand the size and weight ability to carry older children. In the past 5 years, the range of carrier more suited to older and larger children has exploded.
Wearing your child in a sling or carrier can happen at any age. from newborn til the child no longer needs the parent to hold them and carrier them. It’s not uncommon for established babywearers to carry their child at 4 or 5 years of age. Generally, however, children start to shy away from being carried around similar age to their buggy pushed counterparts.
Which is usually around 3 to 4 years old. You will find most children will still require a certain amount of carrying, especially on long walks or when tired. Weight can also be a determining factor to how long an individual carries for, the heavier the child the more challenging it can be for a parent. This is impacted more depending on the ability of the person carrying.
For those who cannot back carry, the age they wear their child for is far shorter. Front carrying can be prohibitive with weighty children and the parent can experience discomfort and fatigue, although this is not always the case. Whilst there is no upper limit to front carrying, you will rarely see a child older than 2 being front carried. Hip carries can be useful during this transition from front carrying to not carrying at all.
Your ability to carry also comes into play. Those with health limiting abilities may find that they cannot carry beyond a few months, due to weight bearing problems. Or they may only be able to carry for short periods of time. Essentially you have to find what works for you and your ability. There are no restrictions in carrying, but common sense should be applied to ensure both the wearer and the child remain safe.
Carrier weight limit and width
In western culture slings and carrier were designed to be used for under one year. In recent year this has increased due to public demand. Parents can see the benefit of carrying and want to remain doing it for as long as possible. Whether your sling is capable of carrying larger children will lay in its ability to bear the weight of your child. The safest way for this to happen is through testing. All safety tested carriers will have an upper limit for weight. For example, the Boba 4G Baby Carrier upper weight limit is 45lbs. Whereas the Toddler Beco Carrier is up to 60lbs. It’s always good practice to check your carriers weight limit and bare this in mind when using it.
There is also the knee to knee fit of a carrier. Whilst it is not thought to be harmful to wear a carrier that has a width out of the knee pits, the parent may feel that the child is heavier or become strained sooner than if the child is supported to the kneepits. The carrier should also come no lower than the armpits, to ensure that they do not lean back and fall out. T find more about how to tell if a carrier is too small read here
There is a lot of factors that can impact the age at which you can carry to, so explore these thoroughly before deciding, there is never a right or wrong age. Only one that suits both you and your child.
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