The Benefits of Baby Carrying - Stimulating the Senses

Author // Elizabeth Antunovic

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The Benefits of Baby Carrying
Swaddling and Hip Dysplasia
Stimulating the Senses
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Stimulating the Senses

Not only can an 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 can permeate into her being.

“Our body is a sensual cornucopia where smiles, aromas and laughter mingle amid undulating caresses that put the entire sensory world at our baby’s fingertips,” writes Heller. “Our baby gets tactile or cutaneous stimulation from our skin touching hers and proprioception from the pressure of her limbs flexed into our body. She gets tactile, olfactory, and gustatory stimulation if we nurse, of our milk, and vestibular stimulation from the gentle stimulation of our movements and, when held upright, from her efforts to right her head and maintain her balance. She gets visual stimulation when she looks all around her, auditory impulses as we whisper endearments, and kinesthetic stimulation as we change her to the other side. When we put our babies in a container, especially if out of sight, all of this sensory nourishment is lost.”

Easier System Regulation

The mother/infant relationship actually provides physiological regulation of the infant’s autonomic system. A 1992 study 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. Upon being separated from his mother, a baby’s immune system weakens. His body literally stops producing as many leukocytes. But when his mother rejoins him, he strengthens again. An infant’s body physically needs his mother present to help regulate his own body.

Roots of Misinformation

With all the studies demonstrating the clear physical benefits of carrying a baby upright on mother’s chest, it’s hard to understand a pediatrician’s ambivalence on the matter, or outright scorn when his patients choose to do so. Perhaps the reason for not supporting upright carrying is that they want to discourage mothers from “spoiling” their babies, or to prevent the mother and baby from getting too close or attached to each other.

Straying from wearing our babies may be linked to an old school of thought, dating back to 1928, when the famous behaviorist Dr. John B. Watson published The Psychological Care of Infant and Child, setting out to change the course of humanity and make infants independent, strong and tough. His theory was that we were all born basically a blank slate, ignoring any evolutionary hardwiring or any inborn biological tendencies, and that in order to “form” an independent child it was necessary to prevent the newborn baby from creating dependent habits. In other words, if you hold on to your baby, he will cling to you and never let go. He will be needy. Not only should you refrain from carrying your baby but you should withhold cuddling, kissing and rocking, too; if you show affection, your baby will come to expect it.

So many of our grandparents and parents were influenced by this mechanistic train of thought, pressured by the experts to believe that if they picked up their babies when they cried that they would create a tyrant of a child and become enslaved. Unfortunately this psychology has had a profound effect upon pediatric thinking and practice, and even pervades conversations between mothers and doctors today.

Evolutionary Need for Touch

Most mothers are still pressured to carry out the harsh parenting methods that were inculcated into our grandparents and our parents. Yet, these mechanistic methods only go back so far. Anthropologist James McKenna claims that today’s babies, more often in some container than in our arms, are “at odds with evolution.” “Virtually all of our biochemistry and physiology are finetuned for the conditions of life that existed when we were hunters and gatherers, in which babies were held by their mothers,” McKenna writes. “Our culture may be changing, but our evolutionary need for touch remains the same. Babies’ brains are designed to expect closeness and proximity—to be held for their safety, psychological growth, physical growth, mental growth, to aid and stabilize their physiological processes and keep their immune systems strong. Touch is not an emotional fringe benefit. It’s as necessary as the air we breathe.”

Making Strollers the Exception

Even though most Western parents cannot conceive of life without one, strollers are not as gentle on an infant as we assume them to be. Placing an infant alone on his back for long periods of time is not how humans are hardwired to thrive. Lying horizontally in early infancy is not easier or less stressful on an infant’s spine, skull or neck. When a baby is upright on her body, a mother adjusts to all her baby’s movements, and he to hers, moving like dance partners. The two create a rhythm together, physically and psychologically, and move together in sync. Even the most state-of-the-art stroller can’t provide the warmth of a mother’s body, nor her comforting smell, the varied movement, and sensitive motherly responses. These are all so essential to her baby’s healthy growth and development, especially during such a critical period when his brain is growing more than any period in his life. No toys can match the joy that an infant gets from his mother’s face. The view of the fabric liner with which the manufacturer chose to line the stroller cannot compare to the rich environment a baby witnesses and observes when he moves together through the day with his mother.


Strollers are not “bad,” per se. To go further, babywearing and strollers need not be mutually exclusive, as long as an infant is content and his cues are responded to when he signals that he needs to be held.

Laying babies flat on their backs in a stroller is actually not easier on their necks, spines, hips and minds. Nature intended for babies to be carried. Upright positioning, with proper leg support, is the preferable position for your infant and is gentle enough not to physically stress even tiny babies. A mother should trust her heart. By holding her baby close to her heart, she is not just choosing the most beneficial and physically supportive method of bringing her baby along with her, she is providing the optimal environment for his psychological and emotional growth.

Pathways Issue 28 CoverThis article appeared in Pathways to Family Wellness magazine, Issue #28.

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