European paediatricians widely and misleadingly recommend that newborns and infants lie flat on their backs in a buggy and not be carried in order to avoid pressure on their underdeveloped bodies. But what are the benefits of carrying babies in slings?
Laying an infant on his back alone in a buggy for a prolonged time is physically and emotionally stressful and can be developmentally inhibiting. Babies need human contact to regulate their emotions and stress levels. Being pushed around in a buggy all day means the baby is in a passive state, which inhibits the physical, emotional and intellectual growth. The ideal is for the infant to feel safe and secure close to the parent as much as possible. Although this is not always possible at night time, it is possible during the day by avoiding long periods in buggies and sometimes using baby slings.
Factors to take into account
Disadvantages of baby slings:
- Infant spine development – At birth, babies are in a state of flexion, still curled up, with their spine in a natural long c-shaped (convex) curve. Gradually as the muscles in his neck get stronger, he begins to lift his heavy head against gravity, and a curve starts to develop in his neck to help balance his head. When a baby starts to creep and crawl the lower back (lumbar curve) and the muscles that support it develop. Only by about the first year does your baby attain the ‘S’ shape in the spine.
- Stress of lying flat – Laying an infant flat on his back stretches the c-curved spine into a straight line, which is against his natural shape. This is not believed to be a sound physiological position for prolongued periods of time.
- Physical affects – Babies who spend a lot of the day lying flat in a buggy may be affected by plagiocephaly (flattened skull on the back or side) and poorer muscle tone.
Advantages of baby slings:
- Developing muscular strength – When infants are held upright and the mother walks, stops, or turns an infant’s body naturally works against the pull of gravity to maintain his position. They are able to have compensatory movements, enhancing muscular strength and allowing more control over their fine motor skills.
- Stimulating – Not only can the infant learn about the world around her from all the different sights she sees, she is in the state of mind to do so. When an infant is calm but alert, that’s when all the information is allowed to permeate into his being. He finds out about the world and his place in it.
- Regulating – Babies physically need to be in close contact with their parents. Not only are babies better off physically, in the upright position they are happier and calmer. The movement of the parents body, the facial and body expressions, the body temperature and the heartbeat all help to physiologically regulate a baby and help them feel secure and safe. Recent studies showed that when an infant is taken away from his mother he experiences a “decreased heart rate, temperature decreases, sleep disturbances and EEG changes”- representing an impairment in the regulating processes of his own little body.