Monday, March 15, 2010

Wear the baby? How about Give Mom a break?

This well-circulated article from the New York Times about the popularity of baby slings brought me back eleven and a half years, to when my son was an infant. Like the parents in the article, I wore my baby all the time. Everywhere. It soothed him; it entertained him; it kept my hands free. And then I realized something: I was really getting tired.

Though I wasn’t a full-throttle Attachment Parent – both my children slept in our bed only their first night home from the hospital; my son started daycare at the age of three months old; and we used a combination of breastfeeding and bottle-feeding - I definitely bought into the baby-wearing part of Dr. Sears’ equation. When Tim was a newborn I used a Snuggli pack that kept him tight against my chest; then we graduated to the Baby Bjorn, which allowed him a little bit of limb extension. When his neck grew stronger, I turned him to face outward, so that he could stare out at the world with the same perspective I had (literally if not figuratively). And when he was eight months old and could sit straight up on his own, we moved on to a backpack.

Especially for those first six months or so, I loved wearing that baby. Around the house while I did housework or cooked. On walks around the neighborhood. In stores. It was a wonderful thing. My baby was content; we were bonding like mad. It was just like the parents in the article say.

Except did I mention I was becoming really tired?

Still, it kept him happy. Not until my second child was born four years later did I rethink my passion for baby-wearing. And this time, four years older and that much farther into parenthood – as well as having experienced toddlerhood and begun the preschool years – I had a revelation. I’d already carried this new baby for nine months. And from what I knew about babies and small children at this point, there was going to be a whole lot more lugging, lifting, toting and hefting in the months and years to come. So maybe, I slowly came to realize, I didn’t want to spend quite so much leisure time with this baby strapped to my body.

Even the New York Times, normally the last bastion of evenhanded presentation of an issue, seems to suggest that the only downside to baby-wearing is that it could possibly be hazardous to the baby. And of course, that’s a huge downside. But I’ve never heard anyone except for me take a peek at that other downside to baby-wearing: it’s exhausting. And maybe, possibly, the last thing that tired new moms need is the message that they should be expending even more physical effort on parenting than they already are.

So my second child spent more time on a blanket on the floor, more time sitting on my lap rather than on my back, and yes, even more time in a stroller than my firstborn ever had. And I came to see that as a wonderful thing. It turned out my baby didn’t need to be borne by my musculature in order to be happy. It turned out that playing on the floor or even being rolled along in a stroller was just fine with her. It turned out the view she took in as she sat in her jog stroller as we traversed the neighborhood, or even as she perched in the cheap fold-up stroller as we made our way through the mall, wasn’t so bad either. She could still take in the scenery and sounds and enjoy the passing view. Only it wasn’t my spine doing all the work this time.

I’ve heard that attachment parents eschew strollers, though not until I read this article did I come across the amusing term “isolation pod.” Isolation pod? Really? How about “independence unit?”

Because that’s what it came to symbolize for me, really. Putting my baby in a stroller rather than in a Baby Bjorn made me feel more like she was my counterpart rather than my, well, extra weight to lug. I don’t mean to say that I wasn’t willing to carry them when they needed to be comforted, or in places where a stroller didn’t make sense. I loved hitting the hiking trail for a good two- or three-hour workout with the baby in the backpack. There were times that baby-carrying was a great option. But there were times when it was even better to not be bearing the baby’s weight. And I came to see my children as people whom I could love and lavish attention upon and enjoy spending time with – without stressing my skeletal system in the process.

The first couple of years of each of my children’s lives gave me plenty of opportunities for skeletal stress, from pregnancy to nursing to middle-of-the-night soothing to lifting in and out of the car seat. And all of that was before the toddler chase-around phase set in. My point is not that there’s anything wrong with baby-wearing per se but that this might be an area in which more parents could use a break. Trust me, you’re just as good a parent rolling your baby along as you are lugging him on your back. And your vertebrae might very well last a lot longer for it.

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