The Impact of Babywearing on Postnatal Mental Health: Mothers’ Voices

According to the Joint Commissioning Panel for Mental Health (2012), childbirth is a significant risk factor to women’s mental health.

There is a marked elevation of risk in the early weeks following delivery of:

  • developing a mental illness.
  • recurrence of a pre-existing mental illness.
  • deterioration of a current mental illness.

Many sources quote that one in ten women suffer from postnatal depression but last year (2014) it was reported by the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) that nearly 60% of mothers felt down or depressed after giving birth.

RCM

According to the NSPCC (2013):

“Relapse or recurrence of previous post-partum mental illness is well established and believed to be a risk of between 33% and 55%.”

And the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (2013) observes that:

“Young, single mothers are thought to have a three times increased risk of post-natal depression compared to older women.”

This demonstrates that postnatal mental illness is much more prevalent than we are led to believe and that it is not limited to a diagnosis of postnatal depression.

In their same report, the RCM states that “encouraging mothers to use soft baby carriers” is recommended.

What do mothers say?

Survey

At the beginning of 2015, I conducted a survey which received almost 100 responses, mainly from the North (83%) and South (16%) of Ireland.  The purpose of the survey was to capture the personal thoughts, views, feelings and emotions surrounding the ‘impact’ of the practise of carrying baby in a sling or other carrier on mother’s postnatal mental health. A significant majority (91%) of respondent mothers are ‘babywearers’ either currently or in the past.

Almost all (93%) were aware of specific benefits of babywearing on postnatal mental health, or were not surprised that there are benefits of babywearing on postnatal mental health.

Benefits cited by mothers include:

  • Bonding: aids mother/baby relationship, attachment, closeness.
  • Breastfeeding: supports breastfeeding relationship, helps in coming to terms with the end of the breastfeeding relationship before mother and baby are ready.
  • Stress reduction in mother: feeling positive, calmness, reduces anxiety
  • Responsiveness: recognising and responding to baby’s cues, baby cries less, baby is calmer, easier to settle, baby’s mental health is improved.
  • Coming to terms with a difficult birth.
  • Enabling mother to undertake other activities: tend to own needs and those of other children.
  • Postnatal depression: helps through a period of postnatal depression, helps avoid a recurrence, helps maintain positive postnatal mental health when at risk of developing postnatal depression.
  • Exercising: moderate weight bearing, ability to engage in exercise with baby.
  • Socialisation: meeting other mothers, building a support network.
  • Shared care with partner.

Interestingly, despite recommendations to encourage the practice, only 3% of mothers surveyed reported receiving information about babywearing from their health care providers.

Mothers’ Voices

Given the nature of the content shared, the option of anonymity was of great importance.  The following quotations are those that were given specifically for the public audience.  As you can imagine, this is just the tip of the iceberg.  Other raw and heart wrenching contributions were given, many gave permission to disclose them for ‘training and research purposes’ which I can share in person during CPD courses if requested. Themes are listed alphabetically rather than in order of any measure of importance – each is equally important as the other to the individual mother.

Impact: Bonding

“The first two weeks after birth were very difficult. I was exhausted and emotional. I cried a lot and couldn’t bond with a baby. After two weeks I started using sling and was ecstatic that I finally had a settled baby and two free hands. I believe babywearing has made the breakthrough for me.”

Merren, NI

“Babywearing has helped me and my baby bond which has been great for my mental health. Babywearing helps us (me and my baby) remain as a unit which is the way nature intended us to be.”

Sarah, ROI

Kerry“As a first time mum babywearing has helped me bond with my baby while grieving the loss of my father. I don’t know where I would be without my baby to hold close!”

Kerry, NI

Impact: Breastfeeding

 

“I am convinced wearing him in a wrap helped us establish a breastfeeding relationship after 6 weeks of him [in NICU] having my expressed breastmilk via tube and bottle.”

Anon, NI

Many mothers felt that babywearing helped them overcome the grief felt when breastfeeding came to a premature end.  Babywearing gave mothers a similar continued closeness that they experienced through breastfeeding.

Impact: Coping

Sharon“Babywearing gave me confidence as it was a tool with which I could comfort my baby when nothing else worked! I don’t know how I would have coped without it.”

Sharon, ROI

Jenny“I have felt able to cope on my own with looking after a young toddler and newborn due to babywearing. It has enable my independence both in and out of the house, which has allowed me to return to my ‘normal’ activities and therefore my coping mechanisms.”

Jenny, NI

 

Impact: Freedom

“I feel that babywearing really helped me get out and about more with the freedom of hands free, no pram to lug around everywhere, just me and my son and I’ll definitely be practising it in future children too.”

Anonymous, NI

Catherine“Babywearing has allowed me to do so many things more easily even popping to the shops. I’ve also been able to share with my son things that I liked to do before I had him – all made possible by babywearing.”

Catherine, NI

 

Impact: Managing Family Life

Claire“For me, babywearing eased the adjustment from having bump to baby – it kept him as close to home as he could be which benefitted us both. With another child to look after, babywearing ensured all our needs were met. And I got lovely oxytocin.”

Claire, NI

Anne“Managing my life helps me manage my mental health. As a parent of more than one child it helps me in a very practical sense. It helps me to comfort my child as well as get on with home life, responding to the needs of all my children more effectively.”

Anne, NI

Kym“Babywearing has meant I can get on with other chores and look after my older child, which has had a positive effect on my mental health.”

Kym, NI

Impact: Postnatal depression

 

Grainne

“I was at high risk for PND given my baby’s traumatic newborn period and continuing medical needs and I firmly believe that babywearing helped me avoid illness and contributed to a stable mood. What I did struggle with was anxiety over other people’s reactions to my baby’s unusual appearance. Eventually my anxiety eased and I thank my slings for being the crutch I needed to take those first steps.”

Gráinne, NI

“I honestly believe babywearing has massively contributed to me avoiding PND with my second baby. It has helped me recover from a traumatic delivery by being able to keep my baby close and know that he is safe with me. My baby is so content in his sling.  I adore having him so close.”

S Nix, NI

“Whilst I am lucky enough not to have suffered PND, I know that baby wearing has contributed positively to my mental health and well-being.”

Anonymous, England

“Babywearing has helped me bond with my son in the midst of severe PND, and helps ease the guilt I feel for crying around him and for wanting periods of alone time.”

Anne, ROI

Impact: Sleep

“Providing my baby is not hungry, being ‘worn’ makes him sleep and / or calm. This causes me and him less distress and it also allows me to get things done around the house, for work, for leisure and / or for my physical health, in particular the ability to eat.”

Lisa, NI

Patricia“If I didn’t babywear, I would feel I was constantly in battle with a baby who fights sleep. But instead, I put her in the carrier, we dance around the house and she will magically fall asleep…and I have both hands free to make a cup of tea. Babywearing gives me a break while meeting my baby’s needs.”

Patricia, NI

Impact: Stress

 

Rachel“I have found baby wearing helps me feel connected and responsive to my baby. It has also eased my anxiety and stress as I found it too hard to listen to their cries in the pram.”

Rachel, NI

Rebekah“Babywearing eliminated the typical stresses of a newborn baby and as a result I could enjoy those early weeks and months with my new baby. Babywearing was always a definite way to soothe him within seconds.”

Rebekah, NI

Les“When my little one was just born I was very stressed and she was quite unsettled.  I feel babywearing would have been beneficial for both of us had I been aware of it and confident.  I will definitely be using a sling quicker if I have another baby.”

Les, NI

Conclusion

The risk of suffering a postnatal mental illness is greater than commonly thought.  Mothers’ voices are clear: babywearing has a positive impact on their postnatal mental health.  For some it is simply the ability to manage day-to-day life and for others it is profound.  The benefits of babywearing should not be overlooked.

As primates, humans are carry mammals.

“carry mammals are the most immature at birth, need the warmth of the mother’s body, and are carried constantly… human infants are meant to be carried and held… a sling should be on everyone’s Essential Newborn Accessories list, rather than being considered just as a nice optional extra.

La Leche League (2010)

By engaging in babywearing, mothers are using one of the most powerful parenting tools that has served women well since the beginning of time (and clothing!).

“Babywearing was a positive experience that I and my husband both enjoyed. I felt close to my son and I loved every minute of it.  I would highly recommend it for practical reasons as well as supporting positive mental health.”

Anon, NI

Modern ignorance of, aversion to or alternatives for the practise of babywearing are robbing mothers of so many advantages practically, physically and emotionally: not least their mental health.

A concurrent survey of health care providers was carried out.  Read what they have to say here.

One Mother’s Voice: Gráinne Evans

I had the very great pleasure of interviewing Gráinne Evans who responded to my survey.  She felt that the impact on her postnatal mental health and her ability to mother was so powerful that others need to know about its benefits.  My interview with her is here:

References:

Joint Commissioning Panel for Mental Health (2012) Guidance for Commissioners of Perinatal and Mental Health Services http://www.jcpmh.info/resource/guidance-perinatal-mental-health-services/

Royal College of Midwives (2014) Maternal Emotional Wellbeing and Infant Development: A Good Practice Guide for Midwives https://www.rcm.org.uk/sites/default/files/Emotional%20Wellbeing_Guide_WEB.pdf

Hogg, S. (2013) Prevention in Mind All Babies Count: Spotlight on Perinatal Mental Health. NSPCC http://www.nspcc.org.uk/globalassets/documents/research-reports/all-babies-count-spotlight-perinatal-mental-health.pdf

RCOG (2013) Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. TOG release: Managing teenage pregnancy. http://www.rcog.org.uk/news/tog-release-managing-teenage-pregnancy.

La Leche League (2010) Babywearing, Sarah Barnard, From New Beginnings, Vol. 31 No. 2, 2010, pp. 18-21 http://www.llli.org/nb/nbiss2-10p18.html

Aimee Gourley NI

Babywearing Consultant & Breastfeeding Peer Supporter

All content copyright Aimee Gourley NI 2015

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18 thoughts on “The Impact of Babywearing on Postnatal Mental Health: Mothers’ Voices

  1. Hi Aimee, I am writing a book about perinatal mental health for parents. In the part about protective factors, I am mentioning the benefits of using a sling. I’d like to use some of your women’s quotes, anonymously, but referencing yourself. I wondered if that would be okay? Have you published any of this? Thanks in advance.

    Like

  2. That’s an amazingly thorough post! Baby wearing has been such a life saver for us. And now with bub #2 due in august I’m sure it will be even more welcome! Keep spreading the word! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Great article. I was just wondering if you could share thereference list for this article – I’m a physical therapist in Australia and would love to share this with some colleagues if I can attach the article references to it. Thanks

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m glad you’ve found this useful. I would be delighted for you to share it with your colleagues. The reference list is at the end of the article. Sometimes technology can be a little bit slow. I’m pleased you’ve got the information you were looking for.

        Like

  4. I really enjoyed reading your article, it was very interesting. I’m not a mother myself but I’m an early educator, I work closely with new moms and babies, so I’d like your permission please to translate this to Spanish (Latin American Spanish and obviously with the link to the original article) so I can share it with the moms that follow my posts and the ones I share. I would share the original one but not all the moms who read me understand enough English so I hope you’ll give me permission to translate it. Thank you in advance this was very informative 🙂

    Like

  5. Hi I’m soon to become a dad for the first time. Reading this has helped me understand the benefits of baby wearing,whereas before I always thought it was more of a gimmick,and fashion thing. Excuse my ignorance. However I do have a question about the baby’s development whilst in the sling,particularly with newborns. To me,the baby looks rather squished up,and if your carrying them around all day,will this have a possible affect on its spine n legs? Again excuse my ignorance if this is a ridiculous question.
    Thanks

    Like

    1. Hi Daniel,

      Thank you for your feedback. Congratulations on your impending transition into fatherhood. Babywearing will make a huge difference to the minutiae of everyday life and help you build a secure attachment with your baby. It’s not just for mums:
      https://www.facebook.com/babywearingdadspage
      http://onyababy.com/2014/06/babywearing-for-dads/
      http://www.slingbabies.co.nz/Site/Articles/Real_men_wear_babies.ashx

      I’m glad to have challenged the misconception that babywearing is a fashionable gimmick. Although many parents do love to have the fashionable carriers, it is more important to find a suitable ergonomic sling or carrier that does the job well i.e. comfortably and safely. You can do this at your local slingmeet. If you are in the UK or Ireland I can point you in the direction of your local group.

      Regarding spine and hip development, it is important to keep in mind the natural position of baby in the womb: back curved, knees bent – known a foetal position. It is this position that you should replicate when carrying a newborn baby in a sling or carrier while following TICKS guidelines for safe babywearing. A babywearing dad and chiropractic doctor has written on this topic here: http://onyababy.com/2012/09/babywearing-baby-positioning/ This position can be achieved in ergonomic carriers. Thank you for asking the question. The only ridiculous question is one you need the answer to but remains unasked.

      It might be useful for you to have a look at the information in my blog post called Babywearing: An overview of information which goes into the detail more thoroughly with additional links.

      I hope this answers your question.

      Aimee

      Like

  6. I love ‘wearing’ my baby and it certainly helped reduce my anxiety in the first weeks and calm my baby. I just wish more people would accept the benefits, I am told I am spoiling in him, that he’ll never be happy in anyone else’s care, rod for your own back etc…This made me question my feelings and the amount of time baby was in the sling but I’m glad I stuck with it.

    Like

  7. This is a really interesting article. Having read of all the benefits for babies I was keen to babywear from the get go and I did. However I did develop PND and actually grew to associate a lot of negative feelings of being “touched out” with baby wearing. Once I started treatment for PND I took a break from baby wearing and was able to continue with it later once I felt more positively towards my baby. I now baby wear frequently and I love it. I am absolutely an advocate of baby wearing and would encourage others to do so but I thought that it might be interesting for you to hear another perspective!

    Like

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