I used to see babywearing simply as a practical choice, for convenience above all else. My first child, my son, spent the first year of his life in Kathmandu, Nepal. I had been living there for four years when he was born. Across Nepal, parents carry their children on their backs wrapped in a sari or shawl, largely to allow them to continue with their daily chores whilst tending to their child. Raising my son in a babywearing culture, I opted for a Lovey Duds stretchy wrap and carried him on my front. Many of the local people I passed while wearing him would comment, “Look how much that woman loves her baby, she’s carrying him on her front!” They weren’t wrong. While babywearing had started out as my only feasible option, it became an integral part of my journey through motherhood.
I wore both my children. From day one they were carried in a stretchy wrap, and later a woven wrap or buckle carrier. Babywearing gave us closeness. When they were just a few days old, with their tiny curled-up bodies snuggled next to me, I could feel our connection deepening and my love for them overflowing. In those early days when I wore my babies, they were totally content, and so was I.
As my babies became more aware of the world around them, the wrap gave them a safe space from which to explore. When they felt overwhelmed or overstimulated, they could hide in this safe space and settle calmly there. As they grew even bigger and I started to wear them on my back, we would ‘talk’ about the things we could see around us. We would laugh at sounds we heard and point out things we liked, engaging in a dialogue before they had even spoken their first words. It felt natural for me to keep my children close, to build our connection and to strengthen the bond between us.
My husband also enjoyed babywearing. One of the more practical advantages for us was the convenience. In Nepal, there are no other options for getting around with a child other than babywearing. The roads are bumpy, dusty and often flooded after monsoon downpours, which makes using a buggy impossible. Public transport is not buggy-friendly, and it is commonplace to hand your baby to a sitting stranger if there is only standing space available, unless your baby is in a carrier in which case you will normally be offered a seat. Furthermore, the pollution in Kathmandu makes the air thick with fumes, and the carrier can offer some form of protection from the worst of the grime.
My daughter was born in our current home, Norway, and although the environment here is much more baby-friendly, the convenience of the carrier is still relevant. In the first few weeks of my babies’ lives they would be very unsettled in the early evening – the witching hours. This coincided with kindergarten pickup or dinner preparation, times when my focus was split between my newborn and the task at hand. The carrier offered a place of safety; they would settle down nestled next to me, leaving me hands-free to complete whatever I needed to accomplish. I was also quite active during my daughter’s first few months. I was engaged in several mums’ groups and we would often meet for walks in the neighbouring forest or for hikes in the hills. Using a carrier gave me the freedom to do this; I wasn’t restricted to gravel trails and could go off route into the forest – good for body and soul, for my mental health and for my daughter’s growing mind.
Convenience aside, babywearing brought me into a new community of like-minded parents. After my daughter was born, I wanted to try other carriers, and so I joined an Oslo Sling Library meet-up. This meet-up was held in a cosy cafe, and brought together parents like me who enjoyed babywearing and wanted to learn more. It was a social space as well as a learning platform, and I found myself attending meet-ups even when I didn’t need any advice. As I got to know the hosts and watched their interactions with parents, I realised I too wanted to help parents to love babywearing as much as I did, and so I enrolled onto a Slingababy consultancy course. Now I attend meet-ups as a consultant, to help parents with their questions and concerns about babywearing. Most recently, I managed to convert a group of mums to woven wraps – my personal favourite! It was empowering to see these women growing in confidence with carrying their babies and exploring something new.
Initially, babywearing wasn’t really a choice, but a necessity. Once my babywearing journey began, however, I plunged headfirst down the rabbit hole. I love the closeness it gave me to my children, the freedom it allowed me to carry on doing the things I enjoyed, and the community it brought me to. Though babywearing may not have been a natural choice for me at first, now I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Sarah Shrestha-Howlett is a development graduate, TEFL and kindergarten teacher, and mother of two, living in Oslo. Prior to moving to Norway, Sarah lived in Nepal where she worked as a teacher and NGO volunteer, and where she met her husband and had her first child. Sarah volunteers for Oslo Sling Library where she helps other parents with babywearing.
First published in Issue 68 of JUNO. Accurate at the time this issue went to print.