Have you ever wondered why clinging is an important human behaviour? There is a big focus on the attachment side of carrying (and babywearing), which is obviously a very important thing, but there are also many other important reasons which promote normal, healthy human development. Here are four of them:

 

Clinging facilitates normal physical development

Humans are clinging young – it is undeniable. Almost all of us are born with the ability to cling to our caregivers, and – if clinging behaviours are encouraged – babies go through an on-body clinging developmental process, from much assistance as newborns, right through to independent clinging as toddlers/pre-schoolers. Working through this developmental process supports the normal development of the muscles and spine, enabling them to achieve their full clinging potential.

Clinging builds a strong core and powerful legs, which in turn are very useful for other physical activities, such as walking long distances. Active carrying is for when they are alert, energetic and seeking movement and interaction. It’s whole-body movement, exercise, and complements independent exploration of their environment.

 

Clinging encourages human interaction

As mentioned previously, active carrying promotes interaction – both with the caregiver and the environment. When a baby/child is participating in the carrying process they are involved in an activity. They’re present, alert and thirsting for interaction. The freedom of movement, the shift from calm- and sleep-inducing movement to invigorating movement, it all contributes towards a thriving learning environment, exploring at the caregiver’s level with the comfort of their closeness and touch to navigate it together.

It’s no surprise that caregivers tend to find that their baby/child is less likely to get agitated or bored during an active clinging phase. Clinging requires the caregiver to be fully present too – it’s an activity which requires mutual participation and the communication is incredibly hard to miss.

 

Clinging makes caregivers more aware of their posture and alignment

A clinging baby/child shows caregivers that their subconscious body adjustments are rarely needed. We have been programmed from a very young age to carry our young in specific ways – ways in which their clinging capacity is compromised and so are our bodies. A reliance on passive carrying is harming our bodies. Focusing on active carrying where possible helps us to be more aware of our own bodies and protect them better.

A clinger is also gentler to the body than a passive load. Many of us will still hold our bodies in ways that aren’t normal, as many of us have postural and alignment issues. By having less of a weight impacting on existing issues we’re being kinder to our body than when we’re holding or bearing a static load. Their perceived weight is much less when they are doing much of the work. This also means the caregiver is able to carry for longer when they are using active carrying.

 

Clinging is communication

Active carrying is a cacophony of communication – from clinger to caregiver and vice-versa. Clinging requires the caregiver to respond to the clinger’s cues. These can range from subtle movements or changes in pressure to outright climbing or vocalisation/speech. Clinging cannot happen without communication, and the ease of this depends on the physical and verbal barriers to communication.

Clinging opens up a whole new level of connection to your baby/child. Learning the clinging “language” helps you to understand each other in different ways. Much of this communication is subconscious, bodies responding automatically to physical communication, but there is plenty of conscious communication going on too. If you have practiced elimination communication or baby sign language, for example, you will have an idea of how various forms of communication open up a new world and another level to your connection to each other!

Communication also brings about a new-found awareness of the subtle behaviours and promotes easier carrying.

 

All of these reasons show us that carrying is normal. It’s an integral part of baby and child development and is one of the many processes which contributes towards their normal development in many areas. Clinging is a normal human behaviour which is not yet universally recognised, which means so many families aren’t even aware of these inborn capabilities of their babies and children. When they aren’t encouraged to cling, they are much more likely to lose the ability (although it can be re-taught) and happily opt for the “easy option” which is letting their caregiver do all the work as they remain passive.

If we carry passively most or all the time, we’re encouraging sedentary behaviour in our children. This is one of the first things we do as parents which makes them move less! As almost all caregivers carry their baby/child on a daily basis, no matter their parenting philosophy, doesn’t it make sense for us to be sharing the tools to encourage normal development whilst making this a much easier and more enjoyable part of raising children?

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We know that young babies tend to reflexively adopt a posture suited to being carried when they’re picked up (squat position), but have you considered the reflexive actions which come into play before that movement?

Today I want to share with you some fantastic research from Reddy, Markova and Wallot, which explored the anticipatory responses of young babies (2-4 months of age) in England, as they were about to be picked up. Their research showed what some of us already know – that many babies begin their participation in carrying before they’re even touched. You can read the study in full here. In it, they explore three phases of the 6-step process of initiating carrying.

The sensory input in the chat (auditory) and approach (optical) phases differs from the usual, more obvious ones in basic carrying (tactile/touch and vestibular). Carrying is a multi-sensory experience. The anticipatory response from this sensory stimulation before being picked up can trigger the baby to do things like go still, move their arms apart, tense their muscles in a certain way, raise knees etc. in preparation to aid in the next step: being picked up. As is seen both in real life and in this study, babies will have their own adjustments and not all babies may respond to this sensory stimulation. That’s something which raises its own questions and is going off-topic from what I want to talk about today, but it’s something that should be kept in mind.

So, once contact is made, giving them the sensory input from touch, the next part of the “going up” process is initiated, and again (not explored in the study), once movement is initiated, the additional vestibular stimulation which triggers yet more postural adjustments to aid in being in a good position ready for their own bodily contact with the caregiver’s body. Carrying in itself is such a complex process, yet look at how even something as “simple” on the outside as being picked up is a multi-layered thing!

Babies who are active participants in going up (and in carrying) feel less heavy than a baby (e.g. sleeping) using little to no muscle tone, as they are activating their muscles, ready to participate. This is great for the caregiver, obviously! Yet think about how this participation impacts on their body. If they are floppy, what is happening to their neck and spine as they are picked up?

As with many reflexes, these postural adjustments become voluntary over time (though still can be triggered subconsciously), and as this awareness takes over the baby is also able to refuse to engage in the behaviour. You know, like when they don’t want to be separated from what they’re doing and go dead-weight on you when you try to pick them up. That’s using their body voluntarily to say “no!”.

Another interesting part of this research (ok, all of it was interesting!) is the chat phase which was also monitored. Although very few babies made any sort of postural adjustments in anticipation of being picked up from 3 months of age, I think there’s likely a simple explanation for minimal response to the auditory stimulation. From my observations working with caregivers and their babies, and what I see in general around me when I’m out and about, I have some theories, and I’m going to go into one of those today.

Very young babies tend to be picked up and held a lot. They pretty much eat, sleep and eliminate for the first 2-3 months, so don’t spend a great deal of time awake. When they’re awake they tend to need feeding or changing/toileting, so from that angle that may explain why auditory stimulation was a trigger for 50% of the babies at 2 months of age. At 3 months or so, babies tend to be spending a lot more time awake and “chat” is happening in a different way.

Reflexive actions – and voluntary ones too – require a specific trigger to send a message to the brain to do something. For example, just generally touching a baby won’t tell them you’re about to pick them up – they need a specific type of touch. This tends to be the placing of the caregiver’s hands in a grasping hold on the baby/child’s body. This gets even more fine-tuned as they get older, if they ask to be placed onto something, for example, they can differentiate between the outcomes of being picked up so create a response suited to the specific situation.

Babies learn and progress through each stage of development. For visual stimulation of postural adjustments, it gets more straightforward as babies’ vision improves. They can develop their response further as they begin to associate the caregiver’s outstretched arms with being picked up as well as the proximity of them, so can distinguish, for example, between a game where their caregiver moves their face close to them and when they’re about to be picked up. We see this even more clearly when babies respond to our outstretched arms by offering theirs too. When it comes to talking to babies, not many people tell their baby that they are about to pick them up, so once talking to them becomes more of a general thing rather than associated with being picked up, it would make sense that the association is more likely to disappear.

It’s yet another thing to ponder about – how we interact with babies. It tends to be something inherent in the way many of us approach communicating when we become parents for the first time, and is probably because society is still putting across the message that we do things to and for them because they are “helpless”, which doesn’t exactly convey a positive message of their intellect.

One last thing to highlight is something I’ve noted before in my book which is also mentioned in this article from the University of Portsmouth – that recognising normal human behaviours may aid with diagnosing (or at the very least, raising suspicions of) certain disorders much earlier than conventional methods. When caregivers (the people who spend the most time with the baby) know what normal behaviour looks like they’re more likely to notice when something seems off, and can then get advice from a medical professional about if there is an actual issue or not.

So, how fantastic is all that? Not only are babies so awesomely clever, and biologically programmed for carrying, but we’re actively aiding their physical development every single time we pick them up too! It’s yet another part of the carrying process which completely fascinates me and why I’m on a mission to discover and teach more on this fascinating area of our human development. If you share my interest, make sure you’re following me on Facebook/Instagram/Twitter to get notifications of more posts like this!

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Before babies have a greater awareness of how to use each part of their body, and how to interact with the world around them, they have a wonderful range of primitive reflexes. Primitive reflexes are an immediate, involuntary response to certain stimuli. Some are used to ensure they find and consume food, some are designed to help with their position, others for their safety and so forth.

Newborn carrying is reflexive. There are many reflexes involved in newborn and older baby carrying – far too many to talk about in one blog post – so I’m just going to talk about one of them; Babinski’s sign. This reflex is one of the longest lasting reflexes as it also comes into play when babies begin standing. It fully integrates (disappears and is replaced by voluntary action and postural reflex) once a toddler gains a good sense of balance, but – as with all reflexes – the integration process begins many weeks earlier. Out of all of the reflexes to shine a light on, I’ve chosen Babinski’s as it’s one of the ones which is often overlooked as unimportant.

We know that spinal curves develop from the top down, as babies gain head and neck control first, then upper torso control, and lower torso control as they hit the milestone of sitting unaided, then finish with walking independently as the lumbar spine develops further. This is why Babinski’s hangs around so long – it’s used in earlier development but also needed later on, when physical development is more focused lower down the body.

Babinski’s sign

[Image description: Part of the torso, arm and legs of a white baby in a disposable nappy, and part of blue jeans are in the background. At the front of the picture is a white left hand curled round with the forefinger placed behind the baby’s left foot, and the thumb at the ball of the foot. The baby’s toes are fanned out.]

Babinski’s sign presents as a fanning of the toes plus dorsiflexion (lifting upwards) of the big toe in it’s strongest response. It’s lesser response is fanning of the toes. Its purpose is to help stabilise/balance and it creates a wider surface of the uppermost portion of the foot. It’s elicited by stimulation on the underside of the foot. In standing and walking it’s easy to understand how this may help with the developmental process of standing assisted to walking unaided, but how does this work in carrying?

Well, as the baby’s leg slips down the caregiver’s body (which tends to happen often when they and we are wearing clothing) the sensory input to the baby is telling them to stop this happening and to stabilise, for fear of falling. The immediate physical reaction of the toes spreading creates a wider range for the toes to reach on the body. In the instance of dorsiflexion of the big toe, it provides an opportunity for the baby to “hook” their toe onto the clothing/skin. The reflex can effectively work as a “brake” as well as providing a stabilising point. It’s one of the many reflexes and abilities a baby has to safeguard them against harm, and is something worth celebrating! If you accidentally lose some of your grip on your baby, they have in-born reflexes which attempt to keep them safe in the milliseconds it takes you to realise what’s going on. How magical is that?

Babinski’s sign falls within the “plantar reflex”, and is only really separated as an individual reflex in terms of testing for this specific response. In working action it’s most commonly seen as one part of a multi-response from the foot, and this is seen clearly in carrying. As mentioned above, it helps with slippage on the caregiver, and there are other reflexes which are also stimulated by this message that they’re not holding on well. This group of reactions also sets off other responses further up the body. This is why it’s important to acknowledge that, although reflexes can be elicited independently, they tend to work alongside others when seen in “real life”.

It’s very interesting to note that many reflexes are not well understood, with some of them being thought to be insignificant or “left over ape reflexes”, and Babinski’s is one such example. If we look at different reflexes from an in-arms carrying angle, many begin to make much more sense, and it will be interesting when the day comes that research is conducted from this viewpoint.

It’s also interesting to acknowledge how foot covering is the norm in my culture. Reflexes require sensory stimulation and for Babinski’s that is physical. In the early months foot covering usually comes in the form of socks and/or babygros, which means the stimulation is only partially blocked. Socks are by their very nature snug, though they tend to be baggy at first, as a baby grows into a new size. This means the reflex in action can also be partially inhibited.

As babies get older, we are encouraged to cover their feet further. “Pre-walker” shoes are a thing here in England, and tend to start at UK size 2, which is generally accepted as a standard 3-6 months size. We’re told that they will protect their feet as they begin to explore, which is sad to hear, as the sensory stimulation is blocked even further!

We do have to adapt to the reality of our culture if we won’t or can’t make big changes, and find ways to work with our choices and/or needs, but I don’t believe it should mean we should completely overlook the times where we can go “back to basics” to encourage full sensory stimulation where possible. If you’re looking to encourage active clinging behaviour when you hold your baby, then, where possible, let them have access to the sensory stimulation needed to fully activate the “carrying reflexes”. This builds a great foundation for them to adapt to being carried when there are barriers to stimulation.

Recognizing that Babinski’s sign plays a role in it’s own right in carrying means we can appreciate how it works and when it’s most effective. Knowing that even when it cannot be used in it’s full capacity it still has an important role to play in a “chain reaction” of other responses helps us realise that it is still not a “pointless” reflex!

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This has been on my mind for quite a while now, and I have to admit – even with my extensive knowledge of in-arms carrying – I’m guilty of calling babywearing “carrying”. It’s a bit of a funny one, as yes, we’re technically carrying our children when we use slings and carriers, but the two are very different things, even if they look very similar on the surface. So, in a bid to address this bugbear of mine and to make a move to stop myself keep falling into that comfortable way of lumping the two together, I decided to blog about it.

 

OK, so babywearing is something we do for our babies and children. Essentially, it is the act of strapping them to our bodies to enable us to carry them hands-free.

Carrying – in the truest sense of the action – is a developmental process which is carried out in-arms and/or sling/carrier-free.

Yes, you heard me right (read me right?) – carrying is a developmental process. It’s not something we do for them; it’s something we aid them in as they develop their clinging behaviour. It may have been labelled from the wrong perspective (surely it should be “clinging” or a word to describe the participation of both parties), but for the sake of what it has been labelled as, we’ll stick with the term.

Of course, how they develop this movement depends on how we carry them, which is a whole other kettle of fish, but for this post I’m just going to address this difference, and get to why it needs highlighting. I feel strongly that we all need to be aware of the distinction between the two. Both are very important with each having their clear place, and in-arms carrying is the foundation for ergonomical babywearing, but they most certainly are not the same thing.

Babywearing is on the static end of the spectrum, and tends to be passive in nature. Carrying is dynamic, much more active, and is to babywearing as natural terrain is to a treadmill. I’m sure there is a much better analogy, but this is all I’ve got right now!

Babywearing is a very useful sort-of-copy, but more of an adaptation of carrying. As it stands at this point in time, in-arms carrying is seen by many as unimportant and inferior to babywearing. That it is just a means of transportation, and hey, babywearing frees up both arms so why not just do that?

My mission is to clearly define the two, and get more people aware of the absolute importance of in-arms carrying for normal human development. It’s the “missed” developmental stage and its rediscovery needs sharing far and wide. That’s why I wrote my book – a ton of valuable, easily accessible information.

So, although it can feel like a useful word to highlight the importance of holding our babies, to leave this as an umbrella term for two different things devalues the importance of in-arms carrying and keeps the (incorrect) belief that they’re essentially the same thing. To move forwards in our understanding and learning about both babywearing and carrying, I feel it’s very important to distinguish between the two. When we do this, we can take a step back to see the bigger picture, and learn and educate in a better and more accessible way.

I hope you’ll agree that this is an important distinction and one of those times where careful consideration of language and how we use it is needed. So, next time you find yourself using the word “carrying”, have a think and ask yourself “do I actually mean babywearing, in-arms carrying or holding?”?

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On Friday 27th October, Niamh and I flew to Sweden for the very first Swedish Babywearing Conference! If you know me well, you will know I’m terrified of flying, so – although a piece of Swedish Babywearing history in the making was exciting enough – there was a specific reason for this trip.

Back when I was writing my book “In Arms Carrying”, Ulrika Casslebrant (Nära bebis) asked me to speak at the conference. Seeing a great opportunity to share my message with babywearing educators I agreed. It was only afterwards that it clicked that I would actually have to fly. And speak. So I decided to bring Niamh to hold my hand, and also take some photographs. Fast forward 5 months, and here we are, waiting for take-off…..

 

[Image description: Mel, a white woman with straight dark brown hair looks scared. Niamh, a white teenager with light brown hair tied back looks excited]

 

Well, the flight was not fun, but we made it, and that was the first scary experience over with. We made our way to Stockholm, and went straight for “fika”, which is “coffee break” in Swedish. Ulrika had recommended a lovely traditional place called Vete-Katten, and it really was wonderful!

 

[Image description: In the top left of the picture is Niamh but only her coat and elbow are visible. In front of her is a latte in a white cup with a silver spoon on the saucer. At the front of the image is a brown tray with a white plate with a silver cake fork on it, with a white chocolate and strawberry mousse cake with strawberry puree and a small piece of strawberry on top. Next to it is another white plate with silver fork, and a slice of chocolate mudcake.]

 

After fika we headed for our hotel to check in and drop our bags off before doing some more exploring, and later on we finally got to meet Ulrika! We met up for a meal with her, two other babywearing educators (Zarah and Camilla), and Henrik Norholt (Chief Science Officer for Ergobaby, and one of the speakers at the conference). We were able to get to know each other a little better, and enjoy some time socialising before the conference the next day. It was interesting to learn about the babywearing educating community in Sweden and hear about some of the work each person is doing.

 

[Image description: L-R Niamh, Mel, Camilla, Ulrika, Zarah and Henrik sat at a table with water, a collection of glasses, some tealights and a plate with remnants of a curry]

 

Getting to meet Ulrika after months of talking online was just the best – she’s an amazing person. She’s also into many of the same things as me, so there’s nothing to not love about her! We were so busy this weekend that we forgot to fit in a fika date, so that was disappointing, but means I have to go back so we can catch up properly in person, haha!

We soon headed back to the hotel for an early night, as the 3am start had taken it out of us both, and we had an early start the next day too.

 

In the morning we headed to the conference venue early to set up for my talk. Soon, everyone began arriving and before I knew it, it was time for the conference to begin. I was up first and discussed in-arms carrying. My talked approached the subject from a beginner’s angle as most were new to my ideas. Some of my aims for the talk were to introduce the concept of babies being active participants in carrying, break down the stages babies and children go through when learning clinging behaviour, discuss the effect carrying can have on our bodies and look at ways in which we can apply in-arms principles to babywearing.

Unfortunately I had to cut the talk short as I over-ran, but the response was wonderful. The willingness to be open-minded, and the appreciation and excitement about my ideas was a bit overwhelming! I was told that in Sweden it’s similar to the UK, where in-arms tends to be seen as either inferior or people don’t realise the enormous wealth of knowledge in-arms can give us for how we carry, and babywearing too, so it’s encouraging to get this sort of response.

 

[Image descriptions: Image 1 – Mel speaks at a podium with a laptop on it. To her right is part of the projector screen, showing ‘ng” reflex’ and a grid of suggested videos at the end of a YouTube video. The back of three people are at the front of the image. Image 2 – Again, Mel speaks at the podium with a laptop on it. This time the whole projector screen is visible, with the back of one person slightly obstructing it. The slide reads ‘Knees in line with hips?’ and the BabyDoo image of 4 diagrams with different aged babies and their position in slings is below the heading. The backs of 4 other people are at the front of the image.]

 

We had a break and people were able to purchase a copy of my book – In-arms Carrying: A practical guide for comfortable carrying – if they wanted. Unfortunately I didn’t have enough with me for all who were interested, but it’s lovely to know that there are now a bunch of copies owned in Sweden! Ulrika and I are working on a plan to make them more accessible over there, as currently it takes 4 weeks for delivery from Amazon.

 

Next up was Henrik from Ergobaby. This was the third time I’ve had the pleasure of listening to him speak, and his talk on attachment theory was as thought provoking as always. I like how he incorporates videos which tap into our feelings, as it helps get his points across strongly as well as making us think more about how we may affect our children’s attachment through both our own parenting practices and how we were raised by our own parents. His talk was well-received and got everyone thinking about how babywearing can facilitate the attachment process.

 

After Henrik’s talk it was time for lunch. I was too focused on the day to remember to take any of my own pictures, other than this one of our lunch, so I’m missing pictures of Henrik and Kerstin speaking. Our vegan lunch was amazing – it was filling and nourishing – definite “brain food” to go with the intellectual food for thought!

 

[Image description: Lunch in a recycled container, containing green leaves to the left, beetroot houmous and quinoa “bread” next to it, and chickpea salad with pickled radish on the right.]

 

I was able to get hold of some other pictures from Ulrika though, so many thanks to her for the following ones.

 

After lunch it was time to hear Kerstin Uvnäs Moberg, author of “The Oxytocin Factor”, talk about the importance of oxytocin, its benefits, and how it’s activated. She gave us things to think about, including how the birthing system of today tends to be set up to deny both birthgiver and baby the environment and time to make the most of how both are primed to get an “oxytocin explosion” in the period shortly after birth, and how that can impact on them and their relationship going forwards if it’s missed. It was great to both meet her and hear her speak for the first time, as I loved her book!

 

After Kerstin’s talk we gathered for a group photograph to commemorate the day…..

 

[Image description: Everyone is gathered in front of the projector screen in a group. There are chairs visible at the front of the image.]

 

The day wasn’t over yet though – after a short break we came back for the last part of the day – a panel discussion. This consisted of questions such as should there be a new attachment category based on babies who are carried, what can we do to promote the release of oxytocin, and should there be a “hybrid” carrier which merges the benefits of in-arms carrying and babywearing.

 

[Image description: Ulrika, Kerstin, Henrik and Mel sit in front of the projector screen. Ulrika is holding a microphone. The back of some people’s heads are at the front of the image.]

 

All in all, it was an incredible day. I really enjoyed the fact that the talks weren’t completely babywearing-specific (e.g. focused on carriers etc.), that they encouraged exploration of other areas which can then shape your babywearing experience and/or help you develop your babywearing educating. Everyone clearly enjoyed themselves, it was a great opportunity to meet new people and connect other people who hadn’t seen each other in a while, and had such a warm and welcoming atmosphere. It was wonderful making new connections and friendships, and meeting some of the Swedish Slingababy family too!

The day was very well organised, ran smoothly, and was held in a great place. Having no shopping area meant that the full focus was on the talks and networking, which is unusual compared to UK conferences, but it worked so well. Also, the fact that it was well attended but not massive meant that it had a busy but cosy and no overwhelming feel to it. It was the best conference I’ve attended so far!

 

So, the conference was over, but my work in Sweden wasn’t! The next day I facilitated an in-arms carrying workshop. We decided the day before to just do one, and I’m so glad for that as we were able to slow it down and ended up running for just under 3 hours instead of the 90 minutes it was meant to last for!

Among other things, we explored primitive reflexes, how the birth process may affect carrying for both baby and caregiver, how we affect the carrying process, and ways to encourage the development of clinging behaviour while carrying. It was great having baby Ivar participate, as it makes things so much clearer when you can see them in action.

If you’ve worked with me before, you’ll know how much I get into everything and I always wish there’s more time. Well, this was no different! We got to go deeper than the workshop was intended, but we still could have easily stayed another 3 hours, just discussing the points we had been exploring further.

 

[Image description: Åsa, Mel, Zarah and Anna sit in a semi circle on a wooden floor. Baby Ivar is laying on his belly in front of Åsa, on a white quilt with square patterns on it. Around them are worksheets, pens, a toy bag and cups on a tray.]

 

Unfortunately, I had a plane to catch, so we had to leave it there, but plans are afoot to bring the in-arms carrying course to Sweden, so hopefully it won’t be too long before I’m back, exploring in-arms carrying in greater detail with some awesome people! Babywearing consultancy may be a relatively new thing in Sweden, but I can see that it’s going to develop in a very special way, from what I’ve seen this past weekend.

So, a huge “well done” to Ulrika and her team of volunteers who organised and ran the event. I’m still on a high from the day, and I can’t wait to hear when the next conference will be – I’d love to go back again as an attendee, and catch up with the new friends I’ve made this weekend! I hope more people from other countries will attend too – it’s always interesting seeing how the babywearing community works in different parts of the world, as well as getting to discuss ideas with new people.

 

If you’d like to work with me, please get in touch to find out more about my Consultancy, Peer Supporter or In-arms Carrying courses. I’m also happy to talk about speaking about in-arms carrying at other events. You can reach me at hello@melcyrille.com

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So, something big is happening here that I’ve been sitting on for a little while as I’ve been processing and working out the rolling out of the decision. In a nutshell, I’m changing my business name and from now on, I’m operating as “Carried” for my carrying courses and under my own name for doula work and other services. I’ve been wanting to implement this change for several weeks, but Facebook has been denying my name change requests for my page, so I’m now at a point where I’m just going to share this with you all and create a new page – if you want to continue following me, I’d love that. If this revelation puts you off, it’s ok – we’re not in alignment with each other, but hopefully one day we will be.

The change of my business name has come because I’ve come to learn that using “Tribal Babies” is actively hindering social justice. I have been in contact with an agency – InterChange –  to consult with them about getting some more personal education on cultural appropriation and hopefully organising a CPD event for later next year. They were happy to talk about it, but wanted to make some enquiries about my business name before proceeding further. The questions they put to me opened my eyes to another perspective, and triggered me to do research about the word “tribe” and its use by white people.

For those of you who don’t know, I named my business “Tribal Babies” as in 2011 I “found my tribe” and the woman we all looked up to as our wise woman called us “Tribal Mamas” in honour of this – a group of mamas who found their tribe. When I was setting up my business at the end of 2011, I couldn’t settle on a name. The only one that felt like it fit was “Tribal Babies”, as my business was about the things us “Tribal Mamas” were all doing.

For many people though, the word “tribe” or “tribal” conjours up different images – more so if they don’t know of the word as a term for a community/people who feel like family. Things like poor, underdeveloped, primitive, national geographic, developing countries, back to basics, half naked etc. come to mind. It all seems so obvious to me now, and I feel foolish for not thinking beyond the fact I named my business because of my parenting and friendship support network.

The thing is, impact trumps intent of course. I named my business for my own reasons. What others take it as is the impact it makes. For people who it conjours up any of the stuff I mentioned, it’s perpetuating that image and it would be irresponsible of me to carry on using this name now I know better. For people of colour who know the true history behind the word “tribe”, it can bring upset, offence, annoyance, reminders of persecution etc. One big thing I learned was that many cultures don’t even call themselves tribes, they call themselves “people” or “nation” and that much of the time it’s been white people either describing these communities as “tribes”, or even going so far as to divide peoples into “tribes”.

Seeing the bigger picture and impact of what I’m actually perpetuating has been an eyeopener, especially given the fact that everything my business has been about has been to do with or endorses/promotes things like babywearing, breastfeeding, normalising birth, elimination communication, bedsharing, natural term weaning, home ed etc. These things are things things that are seen (in varying degrees) in England and other Western countries as being different/strange/weird, so you can probably see now how having the “tribal” tag attached to these practices further stigmatises the word.

I’m sorry to any person or peoples I’ve offended by using this as my business name. I know intention doesn’t trump impact, but please know that in my awareness I’m committed to change.

So, I’m holding my hands up, and admitting I’ve done wrong. I now know better, and so am committed to doing better. I’ve made the decision to operate under my own name as this is me. This is who I am. I’m not hiding behind a company name any more. I stand here accountable for my actions, and maybe just being me will help me to think longer and harder about the choices I make going forwards. With regards to my carrying consultancy course, that will operate as “Carried”, so if you work with me you will complete the “Carried Consultancy Course”.

It will take a while to implement the changes in full, as there are many things I need to do for the full transition to happen, and I have a whole site and lots of online course modules to move over, as well as rebranding, but my first step is changing the logo name on this website, and my Facebook page name as these are immediate ones.

Babywearing has brought so many positive things into my life – friends, acquaintances, a gateway to learning about other parenting practices, a business, nearly 5 years of volunteer work with families in Suffolk, and so much more. In the past year it’s brought me a valuable gift – insight into the harsh realities of this world that I’ve been unaware of on this kind of level for so long. I’m humbled, and incredibly grateful for the learning that’s ensued (and will continue to for the rest of my life), grateful that people who are marginalised are standing up and demanding their voices be heard, however uncomfortable that may be for many uninterested in the realities of so many people in this world. We can make changes for the better if we admit when we’ve done wrong, do better when we know better, leave our egos at the door and replace them with courage and conviction.

It’s terrifying putting this out there, acknowledging I’ve done wrong and knowing that there will be people who look at me thinking “you’re a fool to have never considered this” and yet others who think I’m foolish to think there’s a problem with this name. But you know what? I can look at this as a profound learning experience. My mind’s been opened up more than I could have imagined (thinking I was open-minded and aware of such issues anyway!), I’m actively searching for more stories from people who live with systematic racism against them every single day, I’m able to let go of not needing to please everyone…..what’s right is more important than people liking me. The already-wide-open door to my children’s heritage is illuminated so brilliantly, realising it’s not for me to do what I can to share it with them, it’s my responsibility to immerse them in it, to go the extra mile to make sure their roots aren’t forgotten and buried. So for all the inevitable scariness of change, the growth and learning experiences from this eclipse it.

I’m happy to share that I am still working with InterChange, and that my course materials on Cultural Appropriation and the Babywearing Industry have been met with their approval. I look forward to sharing more information about a CPD webinar later in the year on the subject, direct from InterChange, in the coming weeks.

Thank you to those who have been supporting me through this learning and change, and to those of you who have read this with an open mind and heart.

If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to comment or drop me an email. Thank you for taking the time to read this, and I look forward to carrying on moving in the right direction.

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Have you ever wondered if babywearing could be bad for your back? Maybe a concerned family member or friend has warned you against using slings/carriers because they’re worried about the effect it may have on your body?

It’s an understandable concern, especially for those living in a primarily sedentary culture like we are here in the UK. Our postures tend to suffer from how we live and move (or the lack of movement in our lives), so to be aware of how our bodies react to the normal practice of baby carrying is a good thing!

The good news is, babywearing and carrying isn’t inherently bad for your body. If it were, our babies would be able to walk from birth. The fact is that we are primates and we are designed to carry our young. As human primates, we don’t have an abundance of bodily hair like other primates such as apes and monkeys do, so our bodies are designed to carry in a different way. Instead of our babies clinging onto fur, they cling onto our bodies with the assistance of either our arms or a baby sling/carrier.

Unfortunately our bodies have ended up adapting to the invention of the pram, as well as many other ways of being that contribute to poor posture. There are obviously many benefits for caregivers for using prams (including personal space, carrying heavy bags etc.), but the fact we as a society have moved away from what our bodies were designed to do (carry babies), has meant that prams have helped to contribute to poor posture.

If you take a look at people pushing prams, you’ll often see they are slouched over, handle bar too low for their height, pushing a weight that is far from their centre of gravity. This can make pre-existing postural problems worse, and introduce problems to a good posture. If you use a pram, making sure the handle bar can be set to the right height for your height will help your body out.

While babywearing-specific research is still in its infancy, there is a good amount of research about how various load-bearing activities may impact on the body. Research into backpacks and how wearing them can affect the body is of the greatest interest here, as wearing a backpack is the closest example we have with wearing a baby.

It’s been shown that having more of the weight lower down the body is better for comfort, stability and flexion. This makes so much sense when you think about how the primary caregiver usually has a body genetically designed to have wider hips, meaning babies and children naturally sit around the waist/hip area. In fact, it’s been shown that the lumbar part of the spine (lower back) has resilience to increased loads placed upon it, meaning that the lower spine is more readily able to adapt to heavier weights without sustaining injury.

Of course, too much of anything can have negative effects on our bodies, so the key is to pay attention to what our body is telling us over any “rules”, warnings or advice we’re given. Work out what’s best for you and your body, and identify if you have any current problems that may be making a certain way of wearing more comfortable for where your body has transitioned to. Always consult a medical professional if you have any concerns.

On top of this, paying attention to any postural problems you may have will help you in adjusting your carrying to make it more comfortable if you’re experiencing discomfort with adequately tightened carries. Front carries with a slumped-forward posture will no doubt make your posture worse if you’re not correcting it as you go along. Those experiencing this postural problem may find that back carrying helps to “straighten out” their posture, and those with a “sway back” problem may find front carrying is more beneficial for their body.

I’ve mentioned how baby carrying is completely normal for us as a species. The thing is, in England at least, we’re so out of the loop of what “normal” carrying means that it’s become something that we need to relearn. One thing you can do is look at how you carry in-arms and mimic that when you use a sling/carrier. Also, paying attention to cultures who haven’t given up baby carrying as a norm, and study how and why they carry can give you a fantastic insight into what positions may work best for certain situations and why. Also, doing research into your ancestry is a brilliant way of tracing back the roots of your family’s babywearing culture!

As with everything when it comes to baby carrying – one size does not fit all! If you have any questions or concerns, you can either email me or contact your local babywearing educator.

If you’re a carer or babywearing educator interested in learning more about how the wearer’s physiology impacts the carrying journey, take a look at the Carried Consultancy Course and/or email me for more information.

 

Some research/further reading links:

The Effects of EMG activation of Neck, Lumbar and Low Limb by Using Baby Carrier with Arms during Walking – http://www.koreascience.or.kr/article/ArticleFullRecord.jsp?cn=DGMHBK_2010_v5n3_323

The effects of body posture by using Baby Carrier in different ways – http://www.koreascience.or.kr/article/ArticleFullRecord.jsp?cn=DGMHBK_2013_v8n2_193

Increase of load-carrying capacity under follower load generated by trunk muscles in lumbar spine – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17539579

Soldier load carriage: historical, physiological, biomechanical, and medical aspects – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14964502

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