As an example of how closeness regulates a baby’s breathing, a mother shared the following story with me: “My baby was born four weeks premature at five pounds, fifteen ounces. I held her all day long and never put her in a bassinet. She breastfed well. She seemed perfectly healthy, pink, and breathed normally. The evening the pediatrician came to check her, she took her into the nursery and put her in a bassinet. As soon as our baby was lying in the bassinet alone she had a stop-breathing episode, which alarmed the neonatologists, and she was put into intensive care for nine days. They never found out why she had apneic episodes, although they thought it was due to a ‘slight seizure disorder.’ All they had to do was touch her and she would start breathing again. She never had any stop-breathing episodes when she was in my arms, only when she was lying alone. The doctors told me she was a prime candidate for SIDS. They convinced me that she needed to be on an infant monitor at home. I agreed, but it turned out to be a nightmare for our whole family. They told me not to put her in my bed, so she slept alone with the monitor. The monitor went off all night long, probably from false alarms, and no one got any sleep. I left her on the monitor but put her next to me in bed. We both slept wonderfully, and the monitor alarm never sounded. I strongly feel that my presence stimulated her to breathe until she outgrew her stop-breathing tendencies. My touch and closeness to her was all she needed. In fact, while she was in my arms, all day long, in the hospital no one ever knew she had a ‘breathing problem.’”
2. Motion regulates babies. Motion calms babies. Carried infants show a heightened level of quiet alertness, the behavioral state in which infants best interact with and learn from their environment. Researchers believe that during the state of quiet alertness, the child’s whole physiological system works better.
3. Carried babies cry less. Parents in my practice commonly report, “As long as I wear her, she’s content!” Parents of fussy babies who try babywearing relate that their baby seems to forget to fuss. This is more than just my own impression. In 1986, a team of pediatricians in Montreal reported on a study of ninety-nine mother-infant pairs, half of whom were assigned to a group which was asked to carry their babies for at least three extra hours a day and were provided with baby carriers. The parents in this group were encouraged to carry their infants throughout the day regardless of the state of the infant, not just in response to crying or fussing, although the usual practice in Western society is to pick up and carry the baby only after the crying has started. In the control, or non-carried group, parents were not given any specific instructions about carrying. After six weeks, the infants who received supplemental carrying cried and fussed 43 percent less than the non-carried group. Anthropologists who travel throughout the world studying infant-care practices in other cultures agree that infants in babywearing cultures cry much less. In Western culture we measure a baby’s crying in hours per day, but in other cultures, crying is measured in minutes. We have been led to believe that it is “normal” for babies to cry a lot, but in other cultures this is not accepted as the norm. In these cultures, babies are normally “up” in arms and are put down only to sleep—next to the mother. When the parent must attend to her own needs, the baby is in someone else’s arms.
In addition to the physiological effects of vestibular stimulation, there appear to be psychological benefits. Sling babies seem to show a feeling of rightness, enabling them to adapt to all that is unfamiliar about the world to which they are now exposed, lessening their anxiety and need to fuss. As baby senses mother’s rhythmic breathing while worn tummy-to-tummy and chest-to-chest, the babywearing mother acts as a regulator of her infant’s biology.