When it comes to cultural wisdom and anecdotal evidence, the case for babywearing is strong. But is it backed up by science?
The short answer is yes. But to get a complete picture we need to look beyond the small handful of direct baby carrying studies.
Let me explain.
Any babywearing advocate worth their salt knows how important it is to be equipped with “the science”. And rightly so. It’s essential when having an intelligent conversation, especially with those who mistakenly think baby carrying is a “crunchy mom woo-woo thing”. (I think we’ve all encountered that perspective once or twice!)
Until recently, I felt despondent; there have only been a few studies directly measuring the effects of mothers carrying their infants. In fact, I can count them on the fingers of both hands.
Don’t get me wrong, some of these studies are excellent:
- Anisfield et al. (1990). In a sample of nearly 50 low-income, around half were randomly assigned soft baby carriers and told to use them for at least one hour per day. The high level of maternal touch associated with babywearing led to enhanced mother-infant bonding and secure attachment. Babywearing mothers were also observed to be more responsive to their infants.
- Pisacane et al. (2012). Of 200 mothers, half were randomly given baby carriers to use and told to babywear for at least one hour per day. At three and five months, these women reported significantly higher breastfeeding rates.
- Hunziker et al. (1986). In a sample of 99 full-term newborns, randomly assigned parents were asked to carry their baby for a minimum of three hours per day, and it was emphasized that carrying should occur throughout the day, not only in response to crying. At 6 weeks of age, these children cried and fussed 43% less overall and 51% less during evening hours (4 pm to midnight) compared to the control group.
Yet, to bolster the claim that babywearing is backed by scientific evidence, we need more. It’s a case of strength in numbers.
But while I do agree that, as a movement, we should pushing for more babywearing specific research (and indeed some awesome organizations are doing just that), I don’t accept that there is currently a lack of evidence.
Here’s the thing:
There is a wealth of evidence, it’s just that most of it is found in scientific studies that weren’t specifically looking at the benefits of babywearing. There are plenty of studies that do, however, measure the effects (both on infants and mothers) of conditions and stimuli that typically also occur during babywearing. Things like:
- Touch stimulation;
- Physical closeness;
- Rocking and motion;
- Being held in an upright position; and
- Skin-to-skin contact
Below is a round up of 23 compelling studies that provide science-backed evidence for the benefits of babywearing. Some do so directly, while for others, the benefits must be inferred indirectly.
As we engage in dialogue, it’s intellectually honest to acknowledge when a study was not specifically aimed at babywearing. At the same time, it would be remiss not to include highly related findings where babywearing benefits can and sometimes ought to be reasonably inferred.
So, as we celebrate International Babywearing Week, let’s be confident and bold as we advocate babywearing. We aren’t short on evidence. On the contrary, beyond the overwhelming cultural and anecdotal indicators, there is a hoard of scientific research that bolsters the case. We just need to know where to look.
Neve is a babywearing advocate, toddler wrangler, and research geek. She writes at WeTheParents with husband, Keane. There she attempts to empower new parents, while he messes around testing toys. Ah, the imbalance!