Wearing your baby:
An Interview with William Sears, M.D.
By ANNE SOMMERS
Dr. Sears, a practicing pediatrician in San Clemente, California, has authored several
books on parenting, including the Fussy Baby, Creative Parenting, and Nighttime
Parenting. At the time of this interview (1988) Dr. Sears was also Assistant Clinical
professor at USC and the father of 6 children.
New research is proving what experienced mothers have long known – that something
good happens to parents and infants when they’re attached. Infant development
specialists who travel through the work studying infant-care practices, have repeatedly
observed that babies who are carried in a variety of cloth type slings and carriers seem
more content than infants who are kept in plastic carriers, strollers, and prams.
Which is better – to be worn or wheeled? To answer this question, I interviewed Dr.
William Sears about the latest research on what he calls the art of “wearing your baby.”
Is the style of wearing your baby, as you call it, just a fashionable trend or is it
likely to continue?
I believe it's here to stay for two reasons. Parents want to do whatever they can to
enhance their baby's development, but they also have busy lifestyles. Wearing your
baby accommodates both. Mothers and other cultures have fabricated various carriers out of necessity because they are constantly on the go. Mothers in Western culture are also on the go a lot - they just "go" differently.
How did your personal interest in baby carriers begin?
Several years ago while doing research in preparation for my book, The Fussy Baby,
(New American Library, New York), I noticed that the more babies were
carried the less they cried. Mothers with fussy babies would commonly say, "As long as I wear him, he's content". Based upon these observations, I began advising parents to carry their babies as much as possible. I advised them to experiment with various baby carriers and choose the one most comfortable for themselves and their baby.
How did carrying affect the babies in your practice?
Over a period of three years, I observed that carrying greatly improves the behavior of
the babies. Carried infants cried much less, showed fewer colicky episodes, and in
general seemed more content. When babies are more content parents are more
content and, I may add, their pediatrician is more content.
Have other researchers observed similar results with baby-carrying?
Yes. Encouraged by the observations on my own patients, I searched the medical
literature to see what others have found. Infant development specialist whose writings I
respect, such as doctors Marshall Klaus, and T Berry Brazelton, noticed in their travels
to other cultures that babies who are carried in a variety of homemade slings as a
norm, cry much less than their Western counterparts. In a Journal of Pediatrics article entitled, "Infant Care – Cache or Carry?" Dr. Betsy Lozoff, expressed concern that in the United States a pattern of carrying infants that endured for thousands of years has been replaced by one resembling nesting or caching.
She also pointed out how different ways of transporting babies may profoundly alter
infant development and maternal involvement. Last year Pediatrics, the official Journal
of the American Academy of Pediatrics, published a study on the effects of infant carrying performed at the University of Montreal and randomized controlled trial, 99 mother-infant pairs were assigned to either an increase carrying group or a control group. Infants from 4 to 12 weeks who were carried an extra 3 hours per day cried 50% less than the infants in the control group. The carried infants showed overall increased contentment and feeding frequency.
Why is there so much interest in reducing crying? I've heard it's good for babies to cry a bit.
Not true! It isn't good for babies to cry. While it is true that all babies will cry, and some
cry more than others, one of our goals as pediatricians and healthcare providers is to
teach parents practical comforting methods to decrease their babies crying, while at the
same time reassuring parents that it is not their fault that their baby cries. Crying serves
no useful medical benefit other than getting babies needs met. In fact, studies show
that prolonged and excessive crying may actually be detrimental to a baby.
How does carrying reduce crying?
Carrying organizes a baby. One of the most important functions of a new parent is to
organize their baby. A newborn comes disorganized. His movements are random and
jerky. Most of the cues he gives his parents seem purposeless and hard to decode.
Carrying probably settles babies primarily by its effect on their vestibular system
located behind each ear. The system is similar to three tiny carpenter's levels, one oriented for side to side balance, another for up and down, and the third for back and forth. During carrying a baby moves in all three of those directions. They all function together to keep the body in balance. Every time you move, the fluid in these "levels" moves against tiny hair-like filaments which vibrate and send nerve impulses to the muscles in your body that will keep you in balance. For example, if you lean over too far to one side, the vestibular system signals that you should lean back to the other side to stay in balance.
The pre-born baby has a sensitive vestibular system which is constantly stimulated
because the fetus is in almost continuous motion. This is why motion not stillness is the
normal state for a baby. A baby is born programmed to expect a stimulated vestibular
system. Carrying reminds the baby of the womb. The famous Anthropologist doctor
Ashley Montagu describes this style of mothering attachment as "a womb with a view."
(See Touching, The Human Significance of the Skin, by Ashley Montagu.)
Besides reducing crying, does carrying benefit babies in any other ways?
Yes. I believe carried babies thrive better. All babies grow, not all babies thrive. Thriving
means growing to one's fullest potential, not only getting taller and wider but growing in behavioral competence. I don't believe there's any mysterious scientific reason why carried babies thrive better. If baby wastes less energy crying, he has more energy left to thrive.
Carried babies have a head start on learning. Babies who are carried more, cry less,
and spend more time in the state of quiet alertness (also called interactive quiet). This
is the behavioral state in which a baby is most receptive to interacting with and learning
from his environment. This is why some researchers report enhanced visual and auditory alertness and carried babies.
Carrying humanizes a baby. He becomes accustomed to your bodily movements and
sees things from your viewpoint. Carried babies become more aware of the parent's
face, of the parent's walking rhythm, voice and scent. Carried babies are intimately
involved in their parents' world because they participate with what mother or father is doing. A baby worn while Mom washes dishes, for example hears, smells, sees, and
experiences in depth the adult world. Very simply, he is more exposed to and involved
in the environment.
Also, baby carrying models a style of parenting for other children. I love to see little
children carrying their little dolls in their own carriers.
Some parents may worry about so-called spoiling if they carry their baby so much. Could this attachment practice result in overly dependent babies? Also, if you carry your baby a lot, does this diminish his desire to crawl?
On the contrary, in my experience and that of others, carried babies actually turn out to
be more secure and more independent. Because they've grown-up in early infancy with such a secure home base, these babies seem to separate easily and experience less
separation anxiety. Carried babies do not show diminished development and, in fact,
carrying may actually enhance a baby's overall neurological development (see. NIH
Researcher James Prescott, PhD "Alienation of Affection") probably because of the energy sparing effect of reduced crying.
In the early 50s, dr. Marcelle Gerber observed that carried and securely attached infants
actually showed precocious motor development over that of matched infants of the
same age who were carried less and we're less securely attached. I think that motion has a calming effect on the baby to the extent that the baby's neuromuscular system is then able to show more organized motor development. Concerning spoiling, one mother of a carried baby put it this way, "she's not spoiled, she's fresh!"
How much should parents carry their babies? Certainly parents have to put their
baby down sometime.
Yes. Parents have to put the baby down to tend to their personal needs. In fact, it is
important to take a balanced approach to baby carrying. The system which contributes
the most to the baby's overall growth and development is carrying the baby as much as
possible when the baby wants to be carried, yet taking cues from the baby when he
wants to be put down and allowed floor freedom. The amount of carrying usually
decreases as the baby increases with age and motor skills. Yet even the toddler may
show occasional high-need periods when he needs increased carrying. This style of
parenting means changing your mindset regarding what babies are really like– from "down" babies to "up" babies.
New parents may think of the picture book baby as one who lies quietly in a crib, gazing
possibly at dangling mobiles, and that baby should be picked up to be comforted, fed,
played with, and then put down; that "up" periods are dutiful intervals to quiet him down again. The concept of carrying reverses this view. Babies are carried most of the time, and put down long enough for parents to attend to their own needs, during naptime, and allowed floor freedom for those necessary freestyle movements the baby's love to do. "Down" babies learn to cry to get picked up. "Up" babies learn non crying body language signaling their need to get down. One mother shared with me, "My baby seldom cries, she doesn't have to."
Do some babies need more carrying than others?
Yes! Certain babies, who I call high need babies (a nicer term than fussy baby), settle
quite nicely when carried. These babies have a tendency to stiffen, arch, and seem to
be doing continual back dives. These babies profit from the bending posture that
carrying gives and they enjoy the closeness of being wrapped around the mother or
father's body. Like so many parenting styles, no one thing works all the time. There are
a group of high need babies called "uncuddlers" who protest being carried as if they find the cocoon like environment of a carrier too restrictive. With patient practice and
creative positioning, such as facing forward, even these babies often melt and mold into
a cuddle posture and eventually adapt to a carrier. It helps parents survive their high
need baby if they consider the total gestation of a baby as 18 months - 9 months inside
the womb and nine more months outside the womb.
for more information see:
The Continuum Concept by Jean Leidloff
“Why African Babies Don’t Cry”
Copyright 2017 Anne Sommers