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Carrying My Babies

Guinevere Webster
Oxford, GB
From: New Beginnings, Vol. 29 No. 4, 2009, pp. 20-21

One of the most enjoyable things I did in my first year of motherhood was carrying my daughter wherever we went. Shopping, cooking, housework, walks, trips out, and holidays were easy and fun with Jemima along for the ride.

At first we used a soft front carrier both indoors and out (she liked to face out so she could see what was going on). At around six months, when she could sit up and was getting too heavy to be carried in front, Jemima progressed to a metal-framed backpack. We still used the soft carrier in the back-carrying position for vacuuming and other jobs around the house.

Along with breastfeeding, carrying Jemima was a vital and joyful way to overcome a difficult start. Halfway through our home birth, the midwife discovered that Jemima was breech and we were blue-lighted to hospital for a cesarean that was a far cry from the gentle birth we wanted. We spent most of the first month in hospital, after Jemima was infected with herpes, during which time I suffered such severe mastitis that I was admitted myself, to a separate part of the hospital. My poor husband had to ferry us back and forth -- a ten-minute sprint with a screaming hungry baby! It took all of us a long time to recover from the experience -- baby wearing was a positive part of that process.

Jemima spurned her expensive new buggy from the start in favor of the carrier, and never looked back, consistently preferring to be carried than pushed. Going out for a walk or to the shops quickly became a favorite activity. She used to shriek with delight when we set off. I think what made a difference to her was being close to me, or her daddy, and enjoying the walking rhythm, which often lulled her to sleep when nothing else worked. She enjoyed having a clear view and being at the right level for interaction.

When she got too big to be carried in front, I was concerned to find a carrier that would not put any pressure on my breasts as I was prone to blocked ducts. The backpack had the advantage of keeping the straps well away from my tender areas as well as preserving Jemima's view over my shoulder. Shopping trips and bus rides were punctuated with shouts of "Da! Da!" as Jemima attracted the attention of passers-by. Adults generally responded positively to her because she was on their level. When in the stroller she was too low down to make such an impact on the adult social world.

Jemima sadly outgrew her backpack at around 18 months, but when her younger brother arrived when she was three, my baby wearing moved up a gear and I discovered a whole community of baby wearers online all over the world, and in the flesh in my neighborhood. I quickly realized I wanted to carry Rufus pretty much all the time; but as he grew it felt difficult to reach round him to play with Jemima and I missed being able to give her a hug. I needed a way to carry him on my back, and a sling that would enable me to breastfeed hands-free. By trying a few different slings I found one that worked for me, when Rufus was two months old. This made our busy life so much easier. I could put Rufus on my back for a sleep, get Jemima ready to go out, head off out with Rufus still asleep, and, when he woke up, I could easily swing him around to my front to nurse in the sling and continue with whatever we were doing.

All this baby wearing led to two things -- a very independent toddler who loves to walk by himself and a desire to share my love of slings with others. With friends I set up a local "sling meet" and sling library, so that parents who are new to baby wearing, or need to solve a sling problem, as I did, can easily try out a few different carriers. Although Rufus is now nearly two years old, I still enjoy carrying him in a woven wrap, mei tai, or soft structured carrier (when he will let me, that is!).

I was struck by how many people spontaneously commented on the fact that I was carrying Jemima, particularly when she was in the backpack -- perhaps because it is less common to see an older baby being carried. Children are drawn to the backpack and think it looks fun, and toddlers would often try to climb into it when it wasn't in use. Some adults seemed to recapture this childish sense of fun when they saw Jemima in the backpack. For example:
A man working in the mail sorting office: "It looks fun in there!"
A woman working on the checkout: "You can see everything up there, can't you?"
An old lady walking with a stick: "You can carry me like that if you like!"

For others, the backpack conjures up associations, for instance, a child once said, "That's like a buggy," and one old man told me it reminded him of sherpas in the Himalayas who could carry a grand piano on their back. But others were concerned for our safety, or worried by the burden of a chunky-looking baby.
Young woman in a shop: "Does that get heavy after a while?"
A middle-aged woman in the street, when Jemima was asleep with her head lolling out to the side: "That baby's in the wrong position."
A guy in a shop: "Is it hard carrying that?"
Me: "No."
The guy: "That would kill me, carrying that."
Crotchety old woman who passed me on the street: "You ought to get a pushchair; you'll hurt your back." Jemima was quite little at the time.
Or my personal favorite. Young man in pharmacy: "Doesn't that give you a bad back, carrying your baby like that?"
Me: "No."
Young man: "I'd have thought it would give you a bad back."
Me: "Well, you have to be strong."
Young bloke: "I like that, 'you have to be strong!' But you'd never see a man do it!"

All these remarks are all the more curious since in over ten years of traveling with a rucksack of similar size and weight, not to mention carrying my shopping home in it when I was heavily pregnant, no one ever commented on the fact or expressed concern that my burden might be too heavy.

Something about seeing Jemima being carried by me, and so obviously enjoying it, seemed to go right to the heart of people's beliefs about children and parenting, so that they felt compelled to express their views. It has made me wonder about their own experiences as babies, especially those who seem angered by my carrying arrangement. Some people appear to be transported back to the bliss of babyhood, when they see loving parents carrying a baby. While others view it as unacceptable to be physically encumbered by children, although making the same physical effort to transport inanimate objects arouses no concern at all.

When I thought about it afterwards, I realized I hadn't been completely straight with the guy in the pharmacy. Yes, baby wearing has been hard work at times; it can be strenuous and tiring. Breastfeeding was also hard in my first year as a mother, when I struggled with recurrent blocked ducts -- a legacy of my early mastitis. But both breastfeeding and baby wearing are also a joyful part of my relationship with my children. The bottom line is that my children are worth the effort. There's nothing more satisfying as a mother than to give your babies their heart's desire.

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