Fostering with Babywearing

Shelley 2 baby

I am privileged to know a wonderful lady who is often called an angel, because of what she gives to babies who need fostering. I wanted to share with you a little of the magic she does, and how baby carriers help her to make such a difference in these wee babies’ lives… And she is also a fellow babywearing consultant. Introducing the wonderful Shelley Docking Du Plessis from Up A Bubba in Hamilton, New Zealand.

Shelley 1

SnugLove: A bit of background first – how long have you been a foster mum and what inspired or motivated you to do it?

I have been a foster mum for nearly 5 years now.  We started fostering children just after our youngest turned one. It has been something I had wanted to do for a long time, and my husband and I had looked into it initially after my eldest was born, when we had just moved to New Zealand. However, we decided that we were not quite done with trying for our own family and wanted to complete that first. That took longer than expected, another 8 years of IVF and donors later, it was easier said than done!  I myself had been adopted, and put that together with needing donor IVF help with all my children, it was important to me to be able to “pay it forward” and do something for others. Also playing its part is the fact that when I was a tiny baby, I don’t know where I actually was and how well I was taken care of, in the weeks leading up to my own adoption. I want these babies that come through my care to know that they are loved and were given all that I could give them, to help them thrive whilst they were in my care. The first 1000 days of a baby’s life is such an important time in building the foundation of who you are.

What aged children do you tend to care for, or does it vary a lot?

I mainly care for newborns and babies under the age of one.  In the beginning, we did take a couple of older children, but we made sure that they were always younger than my own children, making sure the we kept the natural pecking order right, so to speak. I work part time from home, as well as being a babywearing consultant, so I needed to be able to work around this while I care for these foster babies. So now I specialise in younger babies. Just as well I don’t mind living in a forever state of newborn madness and sleepless nights!

 

Shelley 5 with family

What has been the toughest learning experience since becoming a foster mum? What has been your greatest source of happiness on your journey so far?

I think the toughest thing I have had to experience with being a foster mum, is learning to say no, or having to put my family first and say, sorry I can’t cope with taking a baby right now. This became very clear when one of my foster babies ended up in ICU for a week. It was very stressful, your natural instinct is to be with the baby whilst they go through their medical needs, but your family has to take a back seat while you do this, and of course they need you at home too. I made it work that time with the love and support of my husband, and friends who rallied around to help. But it did make us have a talk about when the needs of the foster baby would be too much.

It is always tough to say goodbye. It’s like having a loss in the family. We all go through a mourning process, and I also need to be there for my kids and help them process their feelings. They are very compassionate people and get just as attached to the babies as I do.  Some foster babies stay for just a weekend, but others have stayed for over 6 months. It’s hard to let go when all you want to do is love and protect them, and you know that you probably won’t see them again.

It is also very hard to have to go through and support a baby with the trauma of being uplifted from their mother, not matter how young.  I have had a newborn baby arrive to me, at just 3 hours old. Imagine being ripped from everything you have ever known, everything that is familiar at only 3 hours old! I have had a baby come to me who had been co-sleeping, and breastfeeding with their mother, but yet also detoxing from drugs. Other babies have come to me who have been emotionally and physically abused, it can be so heartbreaking to know that.

But it can also be heartwarming.  To see the little changes that happen.  To have a 4 week old who had never opened their eyes, had never even cried, because they were completely internalising everything as no one was meeting their needs. And then, after a week in your care, to suddenly see them respond, to look at you and to hear their first cry a whole week later.  Or to have a baby who just clings to you all the time and is terrified to to let you go, but then over time, to see them begin to feel that they are safe and that it’s ok to go and play 3m away from you, that they can just look at you and smile, and no longer feel they have to keep calling for you or that they have to always keep you in their line of sight.

I have also been lucky enough to witness and be part of the adoption process for some babies. This is such a special time, being able to teach a new mum how to care for her baby, and to help support a family who have made the decision to give a baby a better life than that child might otherwise have had.

I have also seen a family pull themselves together, and over time, get back all of their children who had been fostered out. And not only that, but to become role models to other families having a hard time in life. And I am blessed to still be a part of their lives and to be able to watch their baby grow into a beautiful little girl.

Shelley 7 tandem wrap

You are a very experienced babywearer and use carriers with your charges. Why do you do this?

I don’t think I could do what I do without carriers.  What better way is there for a baby to bond with me?  To get to know me, their new number one, their new carer.  To let them feel safe and secure, and to let them explore their new environment in their time. Some babies I have had, were not even at full term yet when I received them, straight from NICU. What better way to let them get to know me, my smell, my heart beat? We all know that babies benefit from skin to skin contact, and from being regularly carried during the first trimester at least. It’s only natural for me to do the same with a foster newborn. I have seen it work first-hand to help a baby who had very erratic breathing and had turned blue on occasion. Having them on my chest would help bring their breathing in sync with me, help them relax and learn to regulate themselves.

Bigger babies, it’s a chance to get to know me, in a safe way. It’s pretty scary being dropped off into a strange house with a strange family. My kids love the babies as much as I do, and sometimes in their excitement they forget to give them space and can get right in a baby’s face. So being able to carry them on me gives them a chance to settle in, look around and take it in slowly from the safe space bubble of me and them. They also learn very quickly that it is a place of comfort, and some children will come looking for it, time in a carrier. Not all babies, don’t get me wrong. Some babies can’t cope with being held, particularly if they have never had that love and attention before. These ones need space to start with, and you have to work hard to slowly let yourself into their bubble, and to help them realise that it’s okay to be held and hugged and kissed.

Of course, don’t forget the practicality of carriers! I have often sat on my exercise ball, working away at my desk with a baby bouncing on my back as I try and get them to sleep. And they are so handy for doing the school run, sports days, shopping trips, with a baby in tow!  I don’t actually own a stroller, although this is about to change as at the moment, not only have I got a 6 month old in my care, I will also have a newborn once they are born in the next couple of weeks, who could appear anytime from now on. So they will compliment each other as chaos descends on the house!

 

Shelley 4

What types of carrier do you tend to use, and why? Is your choice based mainly on your own preferences, or is it more based on their needs?

I am a wrapper, I love to use woven and stretchy wraps, I am lucky enough to have a beautiful collection of wraps woven by some very talented NZ weavers that I know personally.  Each wrap is very sentimental to me and each has a story behind it. But  I don’t always reach for one of my wraps.

I do tend to choose a carrier depending on the baby I am carrying and what age they are.  I am lucky enough to have a wide range of carriers, I love using my Vija skin to skin clothing on very fresh squishes, as well as ringslings with newborns, particularly while doing the school run.  I will also use a soft structure carrier with an older baby who may have not have been carried before.  I have had a 7 month old baby who when wrapped to me with a woven wrap, pretty much just looked like a starfish with their limbs sticking out straight in all directions! In those situations, it is so much easier just to pop them into a soft structured carrier for the first couple of times, until they become more sure of what is expected from them, and after that, they will be able to relax whilst I take the extra time to wrap them to me with a woven wrap.

In desperate times, I have also used that close to hand hospital sheet or towel, which has worked just as well when I have forgotten a carrier!

I also get to try some of the new carriers on the market, because I am also a babywearing consultant. This has the extra advantage of providing personal experience with new carriers, which really helps when having a consult, as that inside knowledge does help shape what recommendations I may be making for my consultant clients.

Shelley 3

Do you think using baby carriers would be of value to other foster parents? Would you recommend it be used more widely, or would it be fair to say that you use carriers because of personal preference and there’s no particular advantage to other foster parents to use carriers?

I totally think that more foster parents would benefit from using slings and carriers. In fact, I personally give a carrier to the family that any of my babies are moving on to.  What an awesome tool for them!  Not only is it a way for them to bond with the baby, but it is something familiar for the baby, something they know. All my babies go with a carrier, a blanket, a comforter, and a photo album.  All things that will ground them and help them as they face their next step in their life journey. When the family has finished with the carrier, I ask either that they return it to me or pass it on to someone else who may benefit from it.

I have a friend who also fosters, an older mum, who has been doing this for 40 years.  She always used to laugh and shake her head at me, and tease me about my gypsy ways. But with her last foster premmie, I finally convinced her to try a carrier. She is now my biggest advocate and I love seeing her with her foster baby snuggled in her ringsling, and talking about the benefits she has found since using it. She has some of my business cards and recommends carriers to all the mums that cross her path.

I have also been speaking with my social worker, about getting carriers more available to other foster mums and making other social workers aware of the benefits and options available. This is something I hope I can help make happen in the Waikato region.

Shelley runs Up-a-Bubba Babywearing Consultancy, from Edenpark Drive, Hamilton, and can be contacted at upabubba@gmail.com

Babywearing Older Children – An Unexpected Bonus

Where do you take an animal-mad 5 year old? To a National Geographic Photography Competition exhibition, of course! What better than big, framed, beautiful images from the natural world? So off we went to the Auckland Museum.

It was also the middle of the school holidays, so unsurprisingly, I had to park quite a significant distance away. No problem, thought I, I will pop my carrier in my bag in case her legs are too tired for the long trek back to the car. And with that, we set off for the exhibit.

Amazing images greeted us, hung around the walls like an art gallery. But almost as soon as we started walking around the exhibition, my daughter surprised me by asking to go up on my back. I agreed, and helped her into her carrier, adjusted it for comfort, and then we continued to walk around and look at the big photos.

Aoife and me and Freeon back carry green MD

What I remember from that afternoon is crystal clear in my memory. I remember my daughter looking over my shoulder at the same photos I was – and from the height that they were designed to be viewed from, as opposed to a 5 year old’s height. I’d not thought of that, the fact that my adult eyes were the target audience and so I would be enjoying these stunning images at the perfect angle, while a child would not have that same view. I remember my daughter, having my ear right there, easily asking me questions about things in photos she didn’t recognise. And of course, me easily replying. I remember my daughter realising, when I occasionally paused to read the paragraphs mounted underneath to find the names for things I didn’t know, that there was a small story under each photo, and then asking me to read the whole story out to her at each photo after that. And I remember us then engaging from time to time in further discussion about what the photos were showing, and what we each thought about them.

What I remember, looking back, was that from my back, my daughter got a much better view of each image, a wealth of info from the accompanying information paragraphs, a robust discussion about her reactions and thoughts about the images, and my full attention for a good hour. If she had remained on her own feet, she would still have seen the images, and had some interaction with me about what was in them, however the depth and quality of her experience would have been substantially diminished… and I wouldn’t have even realised.

What else I didn’t realise, as it only occurred to me now as I write this story, is that the reason she most likely asked to go up on my back in the first place was not so that she could see better and ask me questions easier. I suspect that the reason she asked to go up just then was to feel better. It was a reasonably dark space, with black walls and carpet, all the better to highlight the photos with spotlights, but still a dark space. And while there were some other children around, and it wasn’t super crowded, there were quite a number of tall adults wandering around. So being on my back would have enabled my 5 year old daughter to feel safe and secure, and close to me. Which to me is reason enough to be happy I had my carrier with me, even though she’s no longer a small child. But add in the exceptional learning and connecting experience she found on my back, and it makes my big kid carrier worth its weight in gold.

The Great Stretchy Wrap Comparison Challenge!

Note: This was originally written as a guest blog post for Babywearing With Jess, if you feel like you have some déja vu going on….

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So here in New Zealand right now, it’s a beautifully hot summer. Prohibitively hot if you like stretchy wraps. Usually at this time of year, babywearing consultants and group instructors might not recommend stretchy wraps until the weather starts to cool. It’s that “three layers over the child” bit that causes all the heat issues. Like wearing three t-shirts at once. But Jess and I have been wondering “Is there a stretchy wrap that is particularly well suited to hot weather?” And so the Great Stretchy Wrap Comparison Challenge began!

BW Jess and I stretchy comp 1

As we really started to look at all the stretchy wraps we could get our hands on, we discovered that the amount of variation there is among stretchy wraps was broader than I thought! Here’s a quick list:

  • Do they stretch just in one direction or in both? (1-way vs 2-way)
  • How stretchy actually are they? Do they all stretch the same amount?
  • How light or dense are they?
  • How long are they?
  • How wide or narrow are they?
  • What are the ends like? Blunt squares, slanty triangles or long, narrow tapers?
  • What do they feel like? Soft and marshmellowy or shiny and synthetic?
  • How supportive do they feel? How boingey? (I think I made that word up but it fits)
  • Would you use it with little babies, bigger babies, toddlers?
  • What type of fibres did they make it from?
  • Can you machine wash it? Tumble dry it?
  • Does it stay stretchy for a long time? Like multiple children?

BW stretchy wrap comp2

So Jess and I came up with some ways to answer these questions as consistently as possible, trying to put numbers to as many things as we could, and give reasonable comparative statements when we couldn’t. The data is all in a table, so you can compare to your heart’s content, if you like comparing numbers. But before we show you our “data”, we wish to make something very clear. We did this in the lounge, on a coffee table, with a tape measure and digital kitchen scales and our brains. We did not test on analytically certified, temperature controlled equipment, or measure 5 times and average the number. We just measured well enough to get a pretty good idea. To those who know about scientific error and quality assurance and stuff (and trust me, both myself and Jess’ husband have degrees in this sort of thing and totally know how rough and ready our processes are) we were very clear in our aim. It was ONLY to gather some information to give people a general idea, so that they have something useful to go on when working out what they want in a stretchy wrap. This should be taken as a rough guideline only, a starting place, something to help narrow down your ideas about what you want or don’t want. But ultimately, at the end of the day, if you can, try on the ones you think you will prefer and see how they feel to YOU.

So who won? Which one’s the best? Which stretchy should everyone rush out and buy for summer babies? I’m sorry, we are going to disappoint you if you want us to say “Go buy this one, it’s way better than all the others” because we can’t. I know which one I really liked if I was having a wee baby in summer, but if I wanted to keep using it as my baby got bigger and heavier, I wouldn’t pick that one, I’d pick another. And Jess might actually go for another brand to me, although we’d both totally agree with each other’s choices. No help? Sorry, but everyone’s a little bit different in what they need from their stretchy. Is it organic? Made from natural fibres? Does it feel super soft against your skin? Is it as light as possible? Does it need to be able to be tumble dried? Does it only have to last 3 or 4 months or do you want to use it longer, or even be still using it with a toddler? Do you have good air conditioning where you live so it doesn’t have to be super thin if it has all the other properties you want? Is price a factor? Plenty of people will agree with my favourite and plenty of people will find one of the others a better choice for them. And that’s one of the awesome things about humans, we are all a bit different and love different things about our things. Which is also good for the businesses that make all the different carriers, coz it keeps them in business.

So have a look at the data, and see which aspects are important to you, and how the brands you are interested in compare. And underneath this data table, I will write some more, and explain how we measured stuff (or otherwise) and how it might be relevant.

stretchy-table-Jess

Measuring Width and Length: With a tape measure. Relevance: The length is about how much fabric there is to tie around you. If you have a broader torso, you want to have enough to go around you and do the tie you want (like the traditional PWCC). If you are particularly narrow, sometimes all that length is a pain. Plus you are wearing it, so you are carrying it. Although stretchy wraps do mostly come in all the same length, and they aren’t really that heavy. Now width, that is a different story. A narrow stretchy wrap means as your baby grows taller, you will struggle to carry them securely as there isn’t enough width to use properly. So a narrow wrap becomes too small sooner. But less fabric is less fabric across you if it’s hot. A particularly wide stretchy makes back carrying easier and safer, particularly with toddlers, so your child won’t outgrow it. But there is more fabric to be wrapped across you.

Blend and Washing Info: We copied it all off the label. Relevance: Blend is about if it matters to you whether it is synthetic or natural fibre (predominantly) as synthetic fibres usually trap heat more and natural fibres are usually more breathable. The 4-6% of elastane or spandex is the tiny amount added for stretchiness, it doesn’t impact breathability. Bamboo is considered softer and lighter than cotton. Washing info is whether it can go in the machine or be handwashed, needs to line dry or can go in the drier.

Relative Density: We grouped them into three piles, Heavy, Medium or Light, based on both of us feeling the thickness and heaviness of the fabric itself, and agreeing with each other. It is more a continuum, so some Mediums are lighter than others, for example. Relevance: a rough way to get an idea of how warm these layers would feel when wearing the stretchy (thick t-shirt vs thin t-shirt).

BW stretchy wrap comp 3

One Way or Two, and Stretchiness: One way or two was done by pulling the fabric and seeing if it was stretchy in one direction only or both. Stretchiness was measured by getting a 10cm length of fabric at rest, and then pulling it as far as I could (the same person pulled every time) and we recorded how far it stretched in excess (e.g. if we recorded 6cm then the 10cm length could be stretched to 16cm and no further). L means we pulled in the direction of the length of the wrap and W means we pulled in the direction of the width of the wrap. Relevance: personally I find a two way stretchy wrap massively easier to work with, for a pretied carry. A one way stretchy wrap is not as easy to work with, it doesn’t move as easily and is harder to get perfectly comfortable and get the baby in place, in my opinion. If you are wrapping as you go, like a Front Double Hammock, then a one way stretchy is a bit easier, in my opinion, because it’s easier to tighten supportively with only one direction of stretch. But that also depends somewhat on the wrap brand as well. But most people buy a stretchy wrap for the pretied carries like a PWCC, so I would look for a two way stretchy for that.

Weight: We rolled each wrap up and weighed it on a set of digital scales. Relevance: while the wrap is wrapped around you, you are carrying that weight as well as the baby. Stretchy wraps don’t add a great amount of extra weight but in hot weather, that might be a relevant factor to consider.

BW stretchy wrap comp 4

Toddler Doll Test: A 5kg* toddler sized demonstration doll was worn on the front in a PWCC by the same person (myself) who reported back on how comfortable it was at this weight and how secure the doll felt – I called it the Diggy and Boingy Test. Again, a relative and subjective test but I tried to be fair about how it felt. Comfort level was if it felt uncomfortable (I wouldn’t want to keep it on for 5 mins), reasonably comfortable (could have been better but I could tolerate that like that just fine for a while) or comfortable (felt like I could do it for ages). Note: the doll was only on for 5 minutes each test, we had 16 stretchies to get through and I did have to go home and cook dinner later. Security level was about whether the doll felt like it was held safely and securely, or if it felt boingy (bouncy) and the doll could move around too much. Secure means the doll was held pretty solidly. Reasonably secure means there was a bit of bounce but it wasn’t much and the doll seemed safe still, and insecure means the doll could bounce easily and there’s no way I would be carrying a real child like that. Note: I was just standing and walking around, I wasn’t running after children or doing anything bouncy myself which would put more boing on the wrap.

* This test used a 5kg demonstration doll, with all the arms and legs of a toddler. Toddler dolls feel way heavier than their 5kg because they have no life force and no muscle tone (have you heard the term “deadweight”? Makes sense when you’ve picked up one of these). Usually the fact it is only 5kg doesn’t matter, it feels so much heavier and has long limbs to work around so it is the perfect practise doll for carrying an older child. However, for this test, even though it felt like a 8-9kg child, it still only weighed 5kg as far as the fabric was concerned, so we are aware that this wasn’t the best representation of carrying a heavier child in these wraps. If we were doing this again, we would find some heavy weights to stick down his pants to actually give him 8-10kg. Having said that, we figured that if a wrap is diggy or boingy with the 5kg doll, it’s not going to hold up well to a real child. So again, this can only be a beginning guideline, please be aware that those that felt comfortable and supportive with a 5kg doll might also be comfortable and supportive with a 10kg child… or they might not.
What We Didn’t Test For: Longevity of elasticity. That’s a time thing, or you have to pay for fancy machines that stretch it in ways that mimics continual or ongoing usage and we ain’t got any of those in our kitchen! Some stretchies are as good as new after ten years of wear, others lose their stretch after a few months of use. Chat to people who have used a particular brand for a while, preferably several children, to see how well they hold up over time.

Hey Prince Charming! Which one’s the perfect buckle carrier?

I was fluffing around with my “Consultant Carrier Collection” in the lounge this evening and my husband was amazed by how many buckle carriers I have (and no, I don’t have every one available, that would be just crazy!). “It’s because there are so many brands, and they are all a little bit different to each other”, I told him. And what I didn’t tell him was that you almost have to do a Prince Charming, and try out a kingdom worth of feet, I mean buckle carriers, before you find the one that fits best. And that takes quite some time… I mean, Prince Charming took all night to find the right foot for his glass slipper, and we could take quite a while to try out every buckle carrier option, to work out which one was your best fitting one too. So I thought I would try and narrow down our options a little before we got started….

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Sometimes I feel like I am swimming in a sea of buckle carriers….

After about four years of helping people try out and find the best buckle carrier for them, there are a few things that I’ve learned can be a significant barrier to a good fit. Some people have tiny waists, and can’t get a snug fit before the padding on the waist gets in the way. Some people have broader waists and need a more generous waist belt length. Some people want mesh because they know that they, or their baby, tend to run hot. Some people are much comfier crossing the straps at the back, and not all carriers can do that. Some people love the super security of those 3 point waist belt buckles, while others are driven nuts by the fact it will take them two hands to undo it but if they take bubs out to fed, they won’t have two hands free to undo the waist buckle for quite a while… Some people are wanting to use their buckle carrier right from newborn, others want to get a buckle carrier that will last for as long as possible and grow with their child, rather than having to upgrade to a bigger size. Some people want a lovely soft woven wrap fabric, others want something super pretty, but are not fussed what fabric it’s made of. And I could never (and I mean never!) use a hood with my daughter (even if she fell asleep and I then put it on, she would wake instantly, darn it!) so I preferred a carrier that was, or could be made to feel hood-less.

So what have I done to help? I have gotten all scientific, got out my measuring tape, and made a chart. Yup, I have taken the time to open up every single buckle carrier I could lay my hands on, and measured the heck out of them, writing down all the variations I could think of to measure and record, hehehe! And why did I do this? So that if you have factors that are important to you, you can easily eliminate those buckle carriers that just won’t pass muster. Do you need the straps to cross at the back? Cool, then we can rule out that one, that one and that one. Do you want something that will take you through to toddlerhood? Cool, these ones go this wide and those ones only go that wide.  Are you a sucker for a woven wrap fabric? Excellent, then these ones are where we will start.

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And this is only the top layer…..

So can you use my chart to choose your buckle carrier without trying anything on first? Well you could, but I wouldn’t advise it. One thing I have learned is that there are variables between carriers that I can’t measure and put on a chart. How do the shoulders sit on you? Does the padding there feel great, or uncomfortable? Where does the shoulder strap come through under your arm? Does that feel great or is it uncomfortable? And can you easily reach back to do up the chest belt clip? Not to mention, does your child feel comfortable in it….. Like every type of carrier out there, the vast majority of children are content in them, but there are always occasional children that object to that type of carrier for a while, or for always….

Here’s the link to my super duper carrier comparison chart.  The ones with the SnugLove logo beside them are ones I personally have available in my Consultant Carrier Collection for clients to try. I will keep updating the chart as I get my hands and measuring tape on other buckle carriers. Also check out the link here to the carriers I hold one or two of, for clients to purchase straight away at a consult, if you like the pattern I have in stock.

Happy babywearing!

Sandy,

SnugLove Babywearing

Back Carrying In A Stretchy Wrap – The Leg of Lamb Debate

I once read a story about a young woman who was showing her friend how to cook a roast leg of lamb, as taught by her mum, who was taught by HER mum. So she turned on the oven, took out the roasting dish and greased it. Then she took out the piece of meat, grabbed a knife, cut a piece off the end of the leg of lamb, put the remaining meat in the roasting dish, and popped it in the oven. “Why did you cut a piece off the end of the meat?” asked her friend. “Because that’s the way my mother always did it,” was the reply. “So why is that?” “I’m not actually sure, I’ll just ring her and ask,” replied the young woman. When she rang her mother and asked, “Mum, why do you cut a piece off the end of the roast before you cook it?” Her mother answered “Because that was the way I was taught by your grandmother”. “Do you know why you were taught to do that?” “No, I’m not actually sure, I’ll ask her next time I visit,” replied the mother. “I’ll come with you, I’m curious to know the answer too,” said the daughter. The next weekend, the pair of them visited the grandmother where she lived. They asked her if she knew why she always cut a piece off her meat before she roasted it in the oven. “Of course! I only had a small roasting dish, and the whole leg of lamb was too big for it so I had to cut off a piece to make it fit” she replied.

I was reminded of this story today while thinking about some fierce debate going on in a few different babywearing groups I am connected in, here in New Zealand. It is regarding whether someone should or shouldn’t be encouraged, or in fact should be actively discouraged from back carrying a baby or child in a stretchy wrap. The issue is that the accepted practise at present is to actively discourage back carrying in a stretchy wrap because it is deemed unsafe. Now, this accepted practice is one of a number of guidelines that are commonly used in babywearing circles, particularly in places where people are helping each other to learn. As a novice babywearer, I learned these “accepted guidelines” in one of these groups particularly, and as a volunteer baby wearing instructor, I have passed on these guidelines for several years to the people who came to my local babywearing group for advice.

Now don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of guidelines that are great, clear, helpful and keep babies safe. But there are other guidelines that I don’t think are as helpful as they might first seem because they are so buried in absolutes that the understanding of why we do what we do, or say what we say, often can’t be seen anymore.  And more importantly, the best way to apply these guidelines so that they will fit to each person’s unique situation has been lost over time. It’s like a game of Chinese Whispers, but it’s not the words that are getting misunderstood as it gets passed from person to person, but the meaning behind them.

I also think that some of the current situation is due to a certain approach we often have, in the English-speaking Western world at least, when addressing issues where potential risk is involved. A decision gets made to go with either Approach A or Approach B. In Approach A, you educate people about the risks and dangers, and therefore enable them with the necessary knowledge and skill to then manage these risks themselves. This approach means that you need to then go and trust each individual to get it right. Every time. And then maybe some day someone won’t, and a person will suffer. Which is not a nice thing. So then there is Approach B, which is to strongly discourage or even ban all practise of this potentially risky activity and hence remove all risk and responsibility, and then you can sleep easy at night knowing no person will be in danger. Which only works as long as everybody gets the memo, and goes along with not doing it ever. Even if it’s something helpful or interesting to do. Now, I have written this in very general terms, and not just babywearing terms,  because it applies to a number of risky behaviours out there in our world, and some are treated with Approach A while others are treated with Approach B. Driving, for example, which kills a lot of people each year, is treated to an Approach A solution. Bedsharing on the other hand, which also causes some tragic deaths, but much fewer, is given the Approach B treatment and strongly discouraged completely (which in my opinion actually increases the risk of tragic outcomes, as the knowledge and experience that would prevent these tragedies is not easily found or passed on).

With regard to the babywearing world guidelines, my opinion is that some of the situations rated with a higher potential risk are given the Approach B, strong discouragement treatment, when I personally feel that it would be better to be clear and teach about the potential risks to manage, hence allowing individuals to make their own educated decisions. Backcarrying in a stretchy wrap is one of these situations, in my opinion. In the past, there have been several key issues that are commonly raised to defend such a negative stance. In the spirit of understanding the potential risks for yourself, however, I am going to look closer at each of these concerns and see how they could be better understood. If this is too much for you, look away now….

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My lovely friend, Amy Mills of WrapUps, with her gorgeous 2 and 1/2 year old son…. on her back…. in a stretchy wrap… and it doesn’t look dangerous or unsupportive… what IS the world coming to???

Concern 1: A stretchy wrap is not supportive enough, and an active child could push back and fall out.

Relevant points: A stretchy wrap has give. That’s its nature. But there are a variety of different stretchy wraps available now and they differ in several ways – one way or two way stretch (one way stretch is only stretchy crosswise and not lengthwise – or vice versa, and two way stretch is stretchy both lengthwise and widthwise), elasticity (how well it bounces back into position again), and longevity (how long the stretchiness hangs in there for). As well as that, there is also the way you use it. Traditionally, the way people are taught to use a stretchy wrap is to tie on a FWCC/PWCC type cross arrangement, pull out the front, slot the baby into the passes on the front, and pull up the horizontal pass over the top of it all. And that method will eventually get less supportive as the baby gets beyond a certain weight (determined by your particular stretchy wrap, and the factors I mentioned above). However, that is not the only way to use a stretchy wrap and not the only carry to use. In a nutshell, you can use your long piece of stretchy wrap in similar ways to how you use your long piece of woven wrap, and WRAP YOUR BABY INTO IT, using different pass combinations, and tightening as you go. A stretchy will handle differently to a woven wrap, depending on the above factors again, but that just means some different tightening techniques will be needed. It’s a pity there aren’t more YouTube videos teaching these. Hmmm maybe I should learn how to shoot video clips for YouTube some time… (Did any of you start wondering if this means that it is also possible to use a stretchy wrap for an older child, if you use it more like a woven wrap? Hmmmm, what do you think?)

With regards to the “active child pushing back and falling” point, yes. It is a potential danger. And they will push back and fall from ANY carrier that isn’t anchoring them well enough to prevent this. There are pass combinations you wouldn’t use to back carry in a woven, if you were worried about a child pushing back, and the same goes for stretchy wraps. Make sure the passes you use will keep them anchored and safe, same as you always do. Note: if your child is pushing back because they aren’t wanting to go up, maybe now is not the time to try and back carry them.  Or if you simply have to, for their safety/your sanity, you might want to use a different carrier that will anchor them quicker. Just sayin’.

Concern 2: Back carrying a very young child in any carrier should only be done if you match one of the pre-approved list of acceptable reasons to back carry a very young baby.

Relevant points: What??!!!! When did we get given the right to judge and police each other’s parenting choices? The one and only major point to consider is IS THE BABY SAFE AND CAN THE WEARER KEEP THE CHILD WELL MONITORED, SO THAT THEY CAN RESPOND AS NECESSARY IN A TIMELY MANNER? Yes? THEN THERE IS NOTHING WRONG HERE!!!! Safety means that they can breathe, and continue breathing (so being careful of baby slumping right from the start, and as time passes, is important), and that they will not fall out. Monitoring can look a variety of different ways, from being constantly aware of the baby’s breathing (feel or hear), to using a mirror or the selfie option on your phone to look, to having someone else handy to sight the baby for you. Safety also includes making sure the baby doesn’t overheat, and most people can reach a hand over their heads and feel their baby’s temperature quite easily. Most babywearers, including novices, can easily tell if their baby feels secure or not, in the carrier of choice (stretchy wrap or otherwise) and you can always use mirrors, selfie features on your phone or a second pair of eyes to make sure the carrier looks to be holding the baby well. Whether the wearer’s skill level is sufficient to safely getting the baby up onto their backs and securely stowed in the carrier of choice, now that is a different matter, but I find most parents could be accused of being too timid regarding this scary step rather than not cautious enough.  No one wants to drop the baby.

Concern 3: Back carrying by inexperienced people is potentially dangerous.

Relevant points: Yes. Which is why it is something that you learn how to do safely. Which goes for ALL carrier types, not just wraps. And if you can, practise with a non-child (heavy doll, small sack of potatoes, etc) first, have a spotter handy if you can, and practise over something soft and squishy like a mattress or couch in case of falls. Myself, I learned by watching a multitude of YouTube videos over and over, and in actual fact I didn’t do any of the above suggestions. My daughter was about 8 months old by then and had a bit of bulk to her, and I felt that I could hold her well and quickly feel if I was losing control of her. I’d like to think I was right, as I haven’t ever dropped her or felt as if I was going to. And also I know my daughter’s temperament, she isn’t one to try and push out of my arms or leap off my back. If she was still a squish (very young baby), I would have been too scared to try, in all honestly! If I did still want or need to try, I would definitely have done one or all three of the suggestions above, multiple times, before attempting back carrying with my real wee one. Anyway, the point I was trying to make is that yes, there are more risks for back carrying than front carrying, but that doesn’t mean we can’t learn how to do a safe, half decent job, and then a better job, and then a pretty darned good job. And how does anyone learn ANYTHING without trying and practising? We actually put Back Transferring under Approach A, like driving a car, and encourage people to learn and practise and then move carefully into doing it themselves. Isn’t it strange that when it’s a stretchy wrap, we are suddenly all Approach B?

Concern 4: Even if you know what you are doing, you should still only do this with a hybrid wrap, eg a JPMBB or a Wrapsody.

Hmmmm I own both of these wraps and they are soooooo very different to each other. The JPMBB Classic has a two way stretch and has crazy strong support and elasticity. The Wrapsody disappointed the heck out of me when I first got it out of the bag because it barely seems to have any stretch at all (beautiful colours, though!) Now I know that it has a one way stretch and doesn’t have a lot of give (either that, or the one I bought had already lost much of its elasticity!). They handle completely differently and as such I would use different tricks and techniques to work with each of them when I use them, front or back wrapping. So to say these are the only two wraps to use to back wrap is bizarre because they are very very different to each other, and the different way a wrap stretches and moves just dictates which different techniques you’ll need to work with it easily. And that goes for all the other stretchy wraps out there as well. There is nothing magical about either of these two in particular (except the JPMBB Classic is soooo strong I’d be tempted to wrap a baby elephant in it!), other than historically they were both publicly used to back carry, in situations that were difficult to criticise (ie the person doing the carrying was a well respected, highly experienced babywearer in each case, so beyond the usual criticism). And so the wraps were deemed acceptable exceptions, without people actually realising what really was going on – that the wrappers were working with the properties of their wraps, stretchy or not. The term “hybrid” in the case of these different stretchy wraps makes no sense either. Apologies to whoever originally thought it was a good idea to use that word, coz it isn’t. A hybrid is something that combines aspects of two completely different things. A hybrid car has an engine that can be powered by two completely different fuels, petrol and electricity. Mythical creatures that were half this and half that, like the centaur (half man, half horse) were hybrids. A Wrapsody stretchy wrap is a stretchy wrap that is crossed with a…stretchy wrap… nah, there’s no combining going on here, it’s just a stretchy wrap. And a JPMBB stretchy is …. also just a stretchy wrap. No hybridness at all, just an attempt to label something to contain the madness that was threatening to explode out and break all the rules…..

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 I collect lovely friends… this is Jess from Babywearing With Jess, tandem carrying a toddler weighted doll on her back and a baby weighted doll on her front, in a JPMBB Classic stretchy. And it’s pretty bomb-proof, I must say. Remember what I said about baby elephants???

So why would anyone even WANT to back carry in a stretchy wrap? Why not just get a pretty woven wrap? I wondered this myself, until an insightful conversation with Lorette Michallon at a Slingababy consultant training session, where she said that if she’d known she could back carry in a stretchy when she first started back carrying, she may not have bothered with woven wraps, because she really liked her stretchy wrap and would have loved to just stick with using it. What??!!! Seriously???!!! And then as we talked about it further, I learned a few things. Just because I like woven wraps, doesn’t mean everyone else does. Some people like the soft jersey feel better than the feel of a woven. Some babies don’t like the feel of a woven wrap against their skin, particularly if they are very sensitive to touch. Some mums want to back carry but another carrier just isn’t in their budget at that time. Some people may just love the stretchy wrap they have been using so much, which has brought them such joy carrying their gorgeous baby on the front, that they don’t wish to stop using this faithful friend. And there may be other excellent reasons I haven’t heard of or thought of yet.

So at the end of the day, what I am hoping people will do is THINK. Think about what is most helpful, and what is going to best meet your needs. Find out WHY people tell you to do things a certain way. Make sure you have a clear understanding of any ways it might not be SAFE and if these things can be addressed – safely! If you aren’t sure about something, ask more questions, do more research. And finally, remember that at the end of the day, the most important things are the things that ensure that your baby is SAFE, and that you two get to hang out together.

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 So I thought I had better add a photo of me too. Unfortunately my daughter is now 4, and my lower back is not strong (darn it!), so I don’t wrap her anymore these days or else I’d be all over it! But this photo is from 2013 when she was almost 1…

 

Happy babywearing!

Sandy

First blog post

Right. So. I was never even planning to use this blog part of the website. Coz there are so many other cool people writing stuff about babywearing, I didn’t think it made sense to try and do that too. Better leave it to other people who had great stuff to say.

Then the other day I realised I actually DID have something to say. Something that I haven’t really seen many people say before. So I wrote this thing…. and now I have to switch on this part of my website, and pretty it up, so that I have somewhere to put it.

I can’t imagine I’ll be writing blog posts that often… but, hey, I didn’t think I’d ever write one! And now I have! So feel free to follow me, or not, I don’t expect to be overflowing your Inbox. I have a young family, I can’t imagine having the time, hehehe! But if you like what I’ve said, I’d love it if you shared the link around to others who might like it too. And if you have something babywearing that you think I could make a good post about, feel free to toss me a note, and I’ll see if I can do it justice.

But most of all, please have a great day, and remember to play nicely with others!

Happy babywearing!

Sandy

 

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