Open any pregnancy or baby book, and you’ll find that list: the baby essentials, the things you absolutely cannot live without. While many accessories are easily recognized as frivolous, certain items are truly indispensable: the basic necessities for life with a baby.
Or are they?
In this weekly series, we’ll be looking at several baby essentials that really aren’t. They may be useful in certain situations, but if money or space is tight, or if you’re just looking to simplify and reduce consumerism and waste, here’s how to get along just fine without these so-called “essentials.“
Non-Essential #3: The Stroller
Like our other non-essentials so far, strollers certainly have their place and usefulness. Even some of the most ardent (dare I say militant) babywearers will admit to using a stroller once in awhile. But it’s certainly possible to get by without one, and in most cases even preferable.
The obvious alternative is a sling or other babywearing carrier. I personally do not recommend Baby Bjorn-style carriers, due to the issues with spinal stress and compression and hip dysplasia. Basically, babies are carried dangling by their crotch — which can hardly be comfortable (imagine it for yourself!), even if the actual occurrence of spondylolisthesis is fairly rare. There are many carriers available (such as the Ergo or mei tais) that have the same advantages of a Bjorn-style carrier, but keep the baby in a more comfortable and healthy “frog-legged” or sitting position — the position older babies will naturally take when being carried on their mother’s hip — and many consider these to be more comfortable for both baby and mom. According to some, babies with hip dysplasia should never use a Bjorn-style carrier, as it can aggravate the condition, and in fact the “frog-legged” position supported by other carriers is used for treatment of dysplasia.
All that being said, being worn in a Bjorn is still better than not being worn at all. But if you or your baby find your Bjorn uncomfortable, do look into the alternatives!
So, why should we question pushing baby in a stroller? Perhaps Frank Njenga, a child psychologist in Nairobi, Kenya (where mothers have been very slow to adopt the “modern” convenience of the stroller), said it best, when he said “The pram is the ultimate in pushing the baby away from you.”
Want some more reasons? Here are just a few. Okay, more than just a few.
- Strollers are large, heavy, and bulky. Newborn babies are none of those things. A baby in a sling weighs no more than the baby.
- Strollers are often hard to fit into your car, and need storage space at home as well. Many slings will fold up into your purse.
- If you frequently use public transportation such as transit buses, you will find the sling much easier to take on board, and much more secure on a bumpy ride!
- How often have you seen parents struggling to push an empty stroller while carrying a fussy infant, or with their too-active-to-sit toddler walking alongside it instead? An empty sling is no additional encumbrance.
- Obviously, your hands are free! You might not even realize the difference this makes until you experience it. This is especially handy when you have older children to deal with as well. Additionally, you never have to worry about the safety issue of a stroller rolling away from you when you forgot to set the brakes.
- Slings are easier to lift over curbs, go through turnstiles, maneuver through heavy entrance doors, climb up hills, and carry up stairs. You can even ride the escalator — which is very dangerous with a stroller!
- Strollers are very difficult to push through snow or grass or along hiking trails. Even “all-terrain” strollers have their limits. Slings are only limited by where your own feet can take you.
- Have you ever tried to navigate in narrow store aisles with a stroller? How about crowded places like shopping malls? Not only are you more maneuverable with a sling, but you don’t have to worry about running over anyone’s feet. You will also feel more secure in a heavy crowd with your baby safely snuggled next to you, rather than at arm’s length at risk of being bumped and jostled.
- There are many places where you simply cannot take a stroller, such as theme park shows (which often feature complimentary “stroller parking” outside). Since you have to carry your baby into those areas anyway, why not do so more comfortably, and not worry about having to park your stroller in the first place?
- Strollers are heavily manufactured items, usually made in China, with toxic plastics and who-knows-with-what-chemical-treated fabrics. Slings are more commonly locally-made, or European, and organic choices are numerous.
- Newborn infants have a very short range of vision. When they are pushed in a stroller, they are too far away and cannot see you. As far as they know, you no longer exist.
- If your baby starts fussing in the stroller, you have to stop, bend down, possibly turn around, figure out what the problem is, and fix it, before you’re able to continue on. If your baby is in a sling — well, first of all, he’s less likely to fuss in the first place — but you can soothe him much more easily, often without even stopping.
- When wearing your baby, you are more in tune with her moods and her needs, and you will naturally interact with her more often and more easily than if she were in a stroller.
- You can nurse discreetly while baby is in the sling. Just try doing that in a stroller!
- If your baby falls asleep while out for a walk, it is much easier when he is in a sling. You can either just keep him in the sling when you get home, or (depending on the type of sling) lay him down while slipping yourself out of the sling.
- Babies who spend too much time on their backs in cribs, strollers, and car seat carriers are at risk of “flat head” syndrome.
- Excessive use of strollers, especially as babies become toddlers and even older, may be partly involved in the growing childhood obesity epidemic.
- Let’s not neglect the effect strollers have on other people, outside of mom and baby. Strollers greatly increase congestion in already-crowded areas, taking up more than twice the ‘floor space’ of a parent with their babe in a sling; empty strollers outside shops block pedestrian traffic; and when numerous, are commonly regarded as a nuisance.
- Babies who are worn cry less. This reduces stress hormones, and increases learning capacity: less time and energy spent crying = more time in the “quiet alert” state, where they are primed to absorb information.
- Worn babies experience life at “eye level”, and are more actively engaged in their surroundings, observing you and others. Babies in strollers, particularly young infants, are frequently completely covered up, totally deprived of any sensory stimulation and interaction with the world.
In other words, babywearing grants you much greater freedom than being shackled to a “travel system.” And I have not even addressed the benefits of babywearing around the house, or how it enhances vestibular development, reduces the chances of SIDS, and even enhances digestion.
Finding the Right Sling
One final note about slings. There are many different styles of baby carriers with literally hundreds of variations. If you have found that a particular type did not work out for you, look into some others. Whether your baby prefers to be upright, lying down, on your back, facing forward, or whether you are a petite or a plus-sized momma, there is a sling that’s right for you. Unfortunately, it can be very difficult to find the help you need, since babywearing is still a bit of a “fringe” activity. I know of many moms who excitedly tried a particular sling, found it uncomfortable, or insecure, or too difficult, or their baby hated it — and so they gave up on the whole idea completely. I think this is comparable to breastfeeding support in our society. Many moms try breastfeeding with the best of intentions, but do not have the necessary support to get them through problems that arise, or even had bad advice to begin with. So it is with slings.
For more information and reviews on different types of slings, how to decide what’s best for you and your baby, and help with particular issues you might have, visit The Baby Wearer; and keep an eye out for a future post from me describing and comparing the types of slings commonly available today.
[This post was written by Heather Dunham]
Photo: Joe Shlabotnik under Creative Commons