FARGO – Kristin Jameson didn’t know she was participating in a growing parenting trend. She just needed a way to get to class with her new baby.
Jameson, of Moorhead, got married her first year of college and gave birth to her son her senior year.
“I had to carry him around campus, and with all my books and everything, it was a lot,” she says. “A stroller was just out of the question; there were stairs everywhere on the campus.”
She purchased a wearable baby carrier. Later, when pregnant with her second son, she discovered a huge online presence devoted to modern baby wearing.
“I didn’t actually know it was a thing at all. … I guess I’m cool then,” she says, laughing.
The options available to moms and dads for baby wearing are vast, including slings, wraps and structured carriers. They tie or buckle, are worn on the front or back, but all allow parents to carry their babies hands-free – a common practice in many cultures.
Some studies claim baby wearing reduces infant crying, regulates physical responses in premature babies and increases the parent-child bond.
Some options, however, are controversial.
Many online forums express sharp criticism for carriers like the Baby Bjorn, calling them “crotch danglers” and claiming they will damage a baby’s hips.
Baby Bjorn’s website devotes three entries on its frequently asked questions page to refuting such claims, as well as supportive commentary by doctors, child orthopedists and child psychologists.
In 2010, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission announced the recall of a million Infantimo SlingRider and Wendy Bellissimo sling baby carriers after reports of three infant deaths.
The commission also issued a warning about sling carriers, particularly for infants younger than 4 months, stating they pose two different types of suffocation hazards to babies. The fabric can press against the infant’s nose and mouth, and when baby is in a curled position, with chin toward chest, the airways can be restricted.
Dr. Stephanie Hanson, a pediatrician with Sanford Health in Fargo, notes this warning didn’t necessarily distinguish good carriers from bad, and created some backlash that baby wearing was bad.
She says baby wearing definitely has benefits, but parents need to do so carefully and thoughtfully.
“Every family and every parent-child pair is so different. Baby wearing is certainly something that’s good as long as it’s something that the parent and child are both comfortable with and interested in,” Hanson says.
Hanson says baby wearing has been very beneficial to her family. She has a 5-month-old daughter she describes as “somewhat fussy.”
“I find she’s calmer when I’m wearing her. Developmentally, I feel it’s good for her,” she says.
Hanson has four different types of carriers, some loaned to her by friends. Her stash features a Moby wrap, a HotSling, an Ergo soft-structured carrier and a Baby Bjorn.
“I find I like each one of them for different situations. I certainly don’t need four, but I use all of them,” she says.
Jaci Kulish, Moorhead mom of two, doula and La Leche League leader, says modern baby wearing had just started getting popular around the time she was pregnant with her son Connor, born in 2007.
Kulish started with a Moby, and later added a soft-structured carrier, ring sling, woven wrap and mei tai carrier to her collection. She shared her baby-wearing journey on the website paxbaby.com.
Baby wearing became crucial when Kulish’s younger son Graeme was born in 2009, so she could attend to the needs of her toddler, she says.
Kulish also researched baby wearing so she could help other moms, demonstrating different wrapping techniques and carrying positions. For example, she encourages moms struggling with breastfeeding to baby wear in a kangaroo hold, which she says facilitates nursing.
Kulish stresses safety in baby wearing. She says it’s important to purchase not only a reputable brand of carrier, but to do so through a reputable dealer of that brand.
“There are counterfeit Ergos out there, made in China,” she says, which don’t use the same materials, meaning the buckles can break or fabric can rip.
She says it’s important to keep baby upright. She doesn’t think babies should face outward, like they can in a Baby Bjorn.
Other complaints about Baby Bjorn carriers are that they place pressure on the child’s genitals, and can cause hip dysplasia.
Hanson says there is no scientific research and no documented cases of hip dysplasia caused by Baby Bjorns, which have been around 50 years.
She says it is a theoretical concern, as a baby’s hip socket is soft and malleable, but the baby’s legs and hips would need to be in an unnatural position for hours upon hours most days of the week.
“So by the time where you’d be at the point of causing hip damage, you would be so uncomfortable you wouldn’t be doing that,” Hanson says, saying it’s “a self-limiting thing.”
Jameson used a Baby Bjorn with her first son. She didn’t care for it, finding it somewhat uncomfortable, and chose a Boba, a type of soft-structured carrier that can be worn on the front or back, for her second son.
Even though she didn’t care for the Bjorn, she’s not totally convinced by the distaste some moms espouse about them. She wonders if there isn’t some elitism at play, as Bjorns are widely available.
Hanson says she wouldn’t recommend against a Bjorn, but notes other carriers support the baby in more natural positions.
Her biggest concern about baby wearing is the risk of compromising a young infant’s airways. She recommends following the acronym TICKS:
- In view at all times
- Close enough to kiss
- Keep chin off chest
- Supported back
Jameson, whose sons are now 4 and 2, encourages experienced moms to loan their carriers to soon-to-be moms so they can “see what kind they like or even if they want to baby wear.
“For some moms, it’s not for them, and that’s cool, but then they don’t have to spend the $50.”