by Brianna Graber
I started babywearing ten years ago, when it was my siblings that I was wearing. Five years later, I was married and had our first baby…whom I just knew I would wear all the time. She loved it, I loved it, and life was happy. My second, a visual introvert, was so happy to hang on my back and watch the world.
By the time I was pregnant with our third, I had a babywearing group, a “stash” of carriers, and loads of experience, both wearing personally and instructing others. This was going to be the baby on which I learned how to tie my wraps 900 different ways.
Except it wasn’t. Because instead, this was my baby who didn’t love being worn.
He’s a bit in-your-face, and as an infant wanted all the attention. That meant wearing him while I was concentrated on chopping veggies was hardly good enough. When he was a bit older it became obvious he’s also a hands-on learner, which further contributed to his apathy towards babywearing. If I was holding him on my hip, unrestrained by a carrier, he could reach things more easily to grab and explore. And he’s a mover. I didn’t realize how much he’d love being down, trying to follow his big siblings around. And shopping? There’s so much cool stuff in the cart! He just had to touch it and felt like a king sitting in there surrounded by colorful produce and squishy sour cream containers. As an 8-month-old, life was way more awesome sitting on the kitchen floor with half a cup of flour to throw around, than up on mama’s back just watching.
After two very neat children who didn’t like to get dirty, he kind of threw me for a loop. But after having two children who loved having conversations with me and watching everything I did from their cozy spot on my back, I had to learn to adjust my methods and my expectations.
I’ve still worn my third-born a lot. When I need two hands and the options are for him to fuss on the floor or fuss in a wrap, I feel more comfortable having him close. Babywearing is how he would fall asleep and stay asleep best (attached to his beloved milk source). It has also been the best method for getting him to nap while we’re out and about (even now at 16 months of age). Babywearing is how I get grocery shopping done. I wear my son on our daily walks, and he usually enjoys it. But to get things done around the house, I mostly do the one-handed routine. He is sure to resist being strapped in securely if he feels there is something he could be getting into. And at his siblings’ bathtime, when he was supposed to snuggle in on my back, he much preferred the bouncy seat till he was old enough to go in with them.
It’s not what I had planned. But it is what has worked best for us, with him.
So what do you do if you find yourself in a similar place? You were told babywearing is the cat’s meow, but it seriously doesn’t feel like it. Your baby screamed when you tried putting them in a carrier. And you’re ready to give up.
It’s true that most babies love being worn. It’s true that many snuggle right in the first time, like it’s the most natural thing in the world. But if yours doesn’t, s/he isn’t the only one.
When you experience your first babywearing try-and-fail, don’t give up immediately. Take a few steps to help you decide whether your baby genuinely dislikes babywearing, or if you can come up with a babywearing method that works for you.
Here are several ideas to help you find out how your baby may or may not like to be worn, along with some ways to incorporate babywearing (enjoyably!) into your day.
7 things to try if your baby isn’t a fan of babywearing
If you are brand new to babywearing, it presents its own set of challenges. Most high needs newborns aren’t thrilled about waiting patiently while you figure out straps, buckles, or yards of fabric. By the time you actually do, they’re way over the idea and consequently scream inconsolably when they’re in the carrier. I can’t tell you how many moms report that as their first experience and only experience and end up giving up on babywearing right then and there. Don’t quit without lots of practice!
If you are reading this pregnant, practice now. Find a friend’s laidback baby, or use a stuffed animal or baby doll. You may also wish to find a local babywearing group and try out a whole bunch of carriers with some expert help at hand. I know it sounds awkward to go to a babywearing meeting with nothing but your generously sized belly, but trust me: you’ll be glad you did when you can expertly wrap up your week-old baby! And if your first carrier doesn’t work out, it will be invaluable to have more knowledge about all the other babywearing options that exist.
If baby has already arrived, try getting your spouse or a friend to hold the baby while you practice using the carrier (or practice during nap time if your baby sleeps down just fine). It’s just so hard and stressful to be fiddling with directions or YouTube videos while also trying to console a fussy baby. Ask me how I know…
2. Practice at prime time.
When you’re ready to actually try wearing your baby, make sure they are fed (nursing in a carrier works really well, but not the first time), changed, and happy. For most babies it’s helpful to try when they have recently napped and are happily alert. Others may do better drowsy but not over the edge. While a baby carrier may be the tool that will be able to help you through the witching hour, it’s not the best time of day to practice babywearing at first.
3. Ensure you’re using the carrier correctly.
Check the directions to ascertain you’re using your carrier correctly. Make sure it is comfortable for you and for baby, and that baby is snuggled in safely. If your carrier has multiple options for positioning, try them out. It’s almost amusing how big a difference one small tweak can make for a baby.
4. Try several different carriers.
If there’s any way that you can try out someone else’s carriers, get a carrier rental package, or purchase several carriers to try, do it. Surprisingly, it’s not just about what Mom prefers; babies have very strong preferences! My first was a sling baby, my second loved our woven wraps, and my third is mostly a soft structured carrier guy, except for naps (wraps all the way!). It didn’t matter what I preferred or wanted to make work: each had their own little agendas. My third loves SSCs because he tends to feel more free in them and is able to move around a bit. My second was a “seat-popping” expert from just a few weeks old, so it didn’t matter how badly I wanted to use my ring slings: they just didn’t work for us.
5. Try babywearing in the fresh air, or to some dance tunes
Most babies love being outside, so if the weather is conducive, try babywearing outside initially, where there’s so much to see and feel. Otherwise, try turning on some music and dancing. If babywearing wasn’t love at first try for you and your wee one, don’t plan on it instantly being the tool that lets you make dinner. Instead, use babywearing just for fun cuddling and soon it might become a habit baby is more happy to enjoy.
You’re probably getting the drift by now, but make sure you persevere in your attempts at babywearing if it’s something you are truly interested in. Try different times of day, a diversity of locations, a variety of alertness levels, and multiple carriers before you give up.
Even if you do throw in the towel for now, don’t forget to try again periodically. Babies change so much in the first couple months — and years — of life. While your 1-month-old might hate being worn, your 3-month-old might think it’s the best thing ever. While as a 9-month-old, my youngest wanted to be in the shopping cart every time, lately he’s turned into a snugglebug and has chosen my back every week.
Seasons will drastically change your baby’s needs and desires. Even if babywearing doesn’t work for you right now, there’s no need to shelve the idea of babywearing forever!
7. Know you’re not a failure.
Babywearing is an incredible tool that almost every baby can benefit from. But if your baby is “different”, if hours and hours of hanging out on mom’s back is just not his thing, or if life is so much better on your hip, then know this: I’m not a mom failure for listening to my baby, and neither are you.
The important thing is to understand your baby, helping them to uniquely blossom. Just as all grown ups are different, so are all babies. They all need love and touch. But how they receive that love and what else they need varies greatly from baby to baby. If your baby needs something different than my baby, the important thing is that he receives it, even if it wasn’t what you wanted or how you had planned.
I’m still passionate enough about babywearing to beg you not to give up easily. I’ll still talk to strangers and rave about how awesome babywearing has been in our life. I could talk all day about the “9 months in, 9 months out” theory, the benefits to you and baby of keeping baby close, how much more natural it is for baby to experience life with you, how much you miss when leaving baby in contraptions, how they develop faster socially and emotionally when they spend the day with you. And I’ll casually mention that I’m 3 for 3 on very well adjusted, independent, social children in spite of (I think, because of) never having them out of sight (or usually even out of arms) the first year. Babywearing is a huge part of that. Babywearing is the tool that enables us to share life together so naturally, allowing me to function without leaving the baby alone.
But, if there’s one thing I learned with my curveball baby, it’s that babywearing isn’t the be all and end all.
Babywearing isn’t the goal; it’s my tool. It enables me to reach my goals, to accomplish what we want to with our children. However, if I have to, I can accomplish those goals without a baby carrier. Is it a whole lot harder? Yes. Would I be totally lost if we didn’t babywear at all? Absolutely. But I’ve been able to nurture my third just as well as my first two, even though we babywear many hours less per day.
I hope babywearing can be a useful and special part of your journey, whether it plays a little or a big role. But most of all, I hope your baby feels loved and that you know you’re doing a great job.
Brianna Graber lives with her husband, Ben, and their 3 kids, Viviana, Timothy, and Landon. She enjoys sharing life with her family (making it a fun adventure), and is also interested in all things birth, babies, and postpartum.