Ah, the new parent. Bleary-eyed, sleep-deprived and facing one unavoidable reality: Those lazy, carefree days are suddenly his-tor-eee.
What to do? Take a cue from the kangaroo. Carry baby in your pouch and go about your life.
It's been dubbed "marsupial mothering," and at its most basic level it means this: carrying a young child in a sling, pouch or pack so as to free the parent's hands while keeping baby happy and secure.
A new invention? Hardly. Babies around the world have been carried--and cared for--this way for centuries. In Guatemala and Mexico, mothers carry their little ones in colorful rebozos, or shawls, and go about their work. Balinese babies are carried in slings and literally don't touch ground until they are several months old. Up in the Arctic, Inuit children ride for hours at a time nestled in the hoods of their mothers' coats.
Closer to home, a growing number of child-rearing experts are praising this age-old method. They note that children who are carried--as opposed to those who spend the majority of their time in strollers, cribs or playpens--have increased opportunities for learning, as they are at eye-level with whatever the parent is doing. Parent-child bonding is enhanced. And, studies show, babies who are carried three hours a day or more cry about 50% less.
Ten years ago, there were only a few baby carriers on the market. Today, most baby product manufacturers offer at least one model. Ranging from simple, hand-sewn cloth slings to high-tech baby backpacks, they make it practical for parents to pick up the kids and go, go, go.
When it's time to wind down, Emery and Durga Bernhard's beautiful children's book, "A Ride on Mother's Back: A Day of Baby Carrying Around the World" (Harcourt Brace, 1996) makes for a nice bedtime story.
A closer look at different types of kid carriers:
The most popular style--in this part of the world, anyway--front carriers hold baby vertically in a pouch-like pack against the parent's chest. Most brands are designed to allow baby to ride two ways: directly facing Mom or Dad (best for a young and / or sleeping infant), and facing outward to better see the world (once baby has good head and neck control).
Front carriers are relatively easy to use, though for a proper fit, it's important to follow the manufacturer's instructions carefully. Many companies state that their packs can be used until baby weighs 30 pounds or so, but some moms (and dads) find that they're out of their comfort zone at half that weight.
Be cautious when using the carrier on warm days. Baby absorbs the warmth from your body and can overheat quickly. As with any baby device, your baby's smile is one good guide.
* Details: The Baby Bjorn, made in Sweden by Baby Bjorn, ($70) offers a comfortable ride and good head support for baby ( 593-5522). Infantino's 6-in-1 Baby Carrier ($39) also converts to a secure baby seat for grocery carts and chairs ( 840-4916). Heading for stormy weather? The Clip 'N Go Warm & Cozy Carrier by The First Years ($30) is basically a rain suit and carrier in one ( 533-6708.
The most versatile of the carriers, these hammock-like sacks allow baby to be carried in a multitude of positions (lying down, sitting up, on your hip, tummy-to-tummy) from birth through the toddler years. Though some find this carrier tricky to master, veteran sling-wearers tend to be quite passionate about them.
Riding in a sling provides baby with a natural, rocking motion and a secure cocooned feeling--similar to what was experienced in utero (hence the nickname "womb with a view"). Breast-feeding moms can discreetly nurse while using the sling. And baby can play peekaboo by ducking inside the cotton cocoon.
* Details: The Original Baby Sling by NoJo ( 541-5711) and the Over the Shoulder Baby Holder by C.D.M. ( 637-9426) are slings with padded sides and adjustable sizing. Both sell for about $35. The New Native Baby Carrier by the company of the same name ($34--add a few dollars more for organically grown cotton) is not adjustable, but comes in five sizes--small through extra large ( 646-1682). Traditional woven rebozos from Mexico ($28 to $70, depending on the weave) can be ordered through The Rebozo Way ( 782-2140).
By about 6 months, baby is likely to be sitting up, curious about the world. Backpacks offer baby great views and allow the whole family to enjoy the great outdoors.
Because they're designed to carry up to 40 pounds--sometimes more--proper fit is crucial. (Be sure to try it on with the child inside.) If the pack doesn't feel just right, call the manufacturer's customer service line or consult a camping store for expert advice. Better that than an aching back.
Remember also that while the person wearing the backpack may feel comfortable in cool weather--carrying 40 to 50 pounds tends to warm you up a bit--baby will be exposed to the elements and should be dressed accordingly. You may want to wear a hat, as babies in backpacks just love to pull hair.
* Details: Tough Traveler ( GO-TOUGH) has been making baby backpacks since 1983 and has a wide range, starting at $85. Kelty offers four designs, ranging from $95 to $165, through its K.I.D.S. line ( 423-2320). Most of the carriers are sold at baby shops or outdoor stores, but L.L. Bean's Deluxe Child Carrier ($139) is available through mail-order only (800) 221-4221.