Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Evolution of A Babywearer

My experience as a "baby wearer" began 21 years ago after the birth of my first baby. At that time there was limited choice for baby "carriers" and the term sling was not even in my vocabulary. I purchased a Snugli, a navy blue, corduroy one with a white flannel lining. I was in heaven! I carried my son in it everywhere and not having a car meant using public transit was necessary and now much easier! I practically wore it out! Once he was too big for the Snugli I transferred him to a stroller when I needed to go anywhere. I had a car seat for the occasional car trip, but it wasn't used much when he was an infant. Eventually I got a car and my Snugli was retired to the container of "baby stuff" I no longer used.

Fast forward five and a half years to the birth of my second child. There were some differences to my circumstances now. I was no longer a single parent, and had a five and half year old to drive to school (out of our neighborhood at the time) and to hockey practice. Having a car meant no more public transit for the most part, but the blue Snugli came out of the baby stuff bin( it was one of the few items I kept from the first baby). I used it much less then, but, when my baby didn't need to be in the car seat for travel he was out of it and in my arms. He spent quite a lot of time in hockey arenas as a baby, attending most of the practices and virtually every game his brother played so that would have meant a lot of time in his car seat! Eventually the Snugli went back to the bin.

In between the second Snugli retirement and the birth of my third child, six and a half years later I learned a thing or three. I became a doula, and that in itself opened up a whole new world to me (that is another blog post). Through the many books I was introduced to I discovered Dr. Sears and learned the terms "baby wearing" and "attachment parenting". To many of you who had not started having babies in the 80's this might seem odd to you , because it's now more mainstream. It could have been my age back then or partly because I didn't know anyone else who had a baby except a neighbor in my apartment building. I didn't know anyone who breastfed, slept with or carried their babies. I had one book on childbirth and did not attend any prenatal classes. I was going purely on instinct, so I was pleasantly surprised to learn there was a term for it. With our second child my husband followed suit, felt good about the same approach, gladly co-slept, and supported breastfeeding although I don't recall him ever baby wearing.

When I had my third baby I bought a ring sling. A lovely woman showed me how to use it properly and effectively. I found it to be more versatile than the Snugli as I could carry the baby longer and more comfortably. I went on to use it for my fourth baby too. I hiked many times using the ring sling, attended trade shows and sporting events, shopped and breastfed while carrying a baby more than I had ever done in the past. I had more children to care for so it made life so much easier. I had two babies (the last two were 22 mon apart) to take along to their big brother's activities and Daddy's as well. I couldn't imagine using a stroller and carrying a car seat or maneuvering a double stroller during those times!

Through my work as both a postpartum and birth doula I introduced client's to baby carriers and shared my experiences with them. When I became a childbirth educator, baby wearing and attachment parenting became part of the curriculum more and more. I needed to know a thing or two about it and my education continued so I could pass on accurate and safe information to my client's.

Fast forward again to the wonderful world of retail! When I considered the kind of business I wanted to run it was more of a resource center. It would be a place where customers and clients could come to gain information, share their experiences and buy practical, high quality products. The service that I would provide would be thorough knowledge of the items I stocked and to pass it along to my customers with hands on practical demonstration. How I learned about each carrier I sold was originally based on the manufacturers guidelines and instruction booklets. I felt this approach was good but, not ideal as I was learning along with my customer and let's face it I had not worn my own baby for a few years by this time. I purchased a DVD and watched You Tube videos to get a more practical idea of how they were used. Luckily for me I had a very experienced baby wearing Mama who worked with me who mastered many different carriers and the various positions they offered and we learned together as we added new styles to the inventory.

The baby carrier industry has practically exploded in recent years, both with work at home Mothers creating their own businesses and larger companies as well. One thing is for certain, there is no shortage of choice. I have been selling carriers for almost 4 years now, with the ring sling as my start point. From there I ventured into different styles and narrowed down my inventory based on some criteria that I am comfortable working within. I now carry some favorites including Mei Tai's, soft structured carriers, stretchy wraps, pouches and ring slings. I will be phasing out some brands in favour of others in the coming weeks and months.

I've been interested in carrying a woven wrap at the store for about a year now. I have sought out information on them and have seen a few up close. I have questioned Mothers who use them, people that sell them and perused baby carrier websites. I really feel like a woven wrap will be a very welcome addition to our carrier collection. However, woven wraps have been the one carrier I strongly feel that I need to learn hands on myself. It offers such a variety of carrying options for babies of all ages and the many tying options mean I need someone very experienced to show me first. I am excited to be attending a baby wearing workshop this weekend, where I will become proficient with wraps and polish up my skills with other carriers at the same time. Besides, with baby wearing front and center in the news at the moment I feel I need to be more than ever, very confident in my ability to help my customers and to pass on the message that baby wearing is safe for babies of any age.

I have come a long way since my Snugli days, but just as I felt back then carrying your baby against your body, close to your heart is one of the best gifts you can give both of you. Keep an eye out for some great new carriers at Birth Source Inc. and happy baby wearing!

Peace Out,


Thursday, March 11, 2010

Do As I Say, Not As I Do

I have been initiating some conversations around breastfeeding covers these days, because I read a blog post with a very negative opinion of them. It caused me to wonder why someone would have such a strong opinion about a piece of cloth and how breastfeeding women choose or not choose to use one. I was curious if other women who had used them felt the same way.

In talking to Mothers I learned that the ones who chose to use some sort of cover did so for various reasons, none of which stem from wanting to "cover up" that they are breastfeeding. Simply put it offers them the ability to feed their babies in public with some degree of comfort. Some women with larger breasts have told me that it is easier to use a cover than to try and make sure the baby and the clothing are covering them up. For other women it was due to a distracted baby or the fact that they wanted the baby to be able to nurse in privacy. Good point really, because when I go out to lunch or dinner with someone I love I don't appreciate strangers watching us eat either sometimes. Other women use them in certain circumstances and social settings such as when they are in church or out to dinner. Other women told me they appreciated having coverage in the back and were more concerned about exposing their postpartum backs and bellies than their breasts.

The woman who authored this blog post used a cover herself at one point and apparently it didn't work well for her. It seems that she initially used one to prove to her friends that one could discreetly nurse in public. When one cover didn't work beyond three months because her baby no longer wanted to be covered she tried a different style, that one also failed her so she ended up nursing her child in the bathroom.

Now with her second child she has "learned her lesson" and proudly breastfeeds in public. She states "I breastfed everywhere with pride. I just whipped the boobie out and put it away without anyone being the wiser." I guess all the women who use covers must not be proud to be breastfeeding in public? I appreciate that she has come to this point and feels like she has liberated herself from the nursing cover, but it is after all her second child and she now has some experience with nursing. Many of the Mother's I talked to also used one with their first baby and not as much or not at all with their second and/or subsequent babies. Good for them at least they were not feeding the baby in a bathroom!

With her new found freedom from the "silly nursing cover" she goes on to assure us that she isn't an exhibitionist. "I really do not want strange men staring at my second-baby-30-something-year-old breast. They are not as nice as they were when I was 19 and proud to show them off." I am still not sure what to say to this, but I guess she still attempts to cover her breast albeit without a cover.

There are a number of options for women who want to cover up while feeding the baby including fashionable nursing blouses, t-shirts, even dresses that are specially designed so babies have access to the breast for nursing, but allow for full coverage at the same time. Some women use a receiving blanket, shawl or whatever is handy. Still other women wear their own clothes with no special features and opt for no cover. What I rarely if ever see is a woman nursing her baby in public with her breast(s) actually exposed. So even those Mothers' that don't feel a special cover is necessary are typically nursing their babies with some degree of coverage for whatever reason.

So my point really is that this seems to be another case of "Do as I say, not as I do" which to my mind is unfair and judgemental. If you want nursing women to get out of the house, not have to pump bottles to feed the baby while they are out and not nurse in cars and bathrooms get off her case about using a cover. Remember because it didn't work for you, doesn't mean it is silly and useless. I am going to agree that no special cover is a must have for every expectant Mother, but I will say that if she chooses that then let her have it and be happy for her that she is continuing to breastfeed her baby whenever and wherever she chooses and on her own terms, which is really the point.

For a discussion about covers go

Peace Out,


No One Puts "Doula" In The Corner!

Well, actually they do and that's fine with me, I prefer to blend in at a birth whenever possible anyway. What I mean by "blend in" is to not be at the center of the experience at all times. I step up when I am needed and step back when I'm not and when I do it right I don't confuse the two.

So, how does one know when they are needed or not? Good question really. That answer lies in the relationship with the client and how the labour unfolds. Sometimes I pull many tools out of the birth bag and at other times (more often) just use my hands, my voice and typically my ever trusty Omni massage roller. Sure we talk about the various comfort measures available at the birth during our prenatal visits, but we don't know if they will be necessary or desired at the time. These are options at our disposal and to use with our discretion. If a couple decides the woman's partner will be primary support then he/she can use all the comfort measures and tools and I am happy to guide if need be.

When a client and her caregiver are discussing her care I step back or remove myself from the conversation. It is awfully awkward when the caregiver keeps shifting eye contact between myself and my client as if they need to convince me that what they are telling her is reasonable or acceptable. Of course it is none of my business, but if I am in the space of the ensuing conversation they might feel like they need to include me. If a client wants to bounce the information off of me or clarify something there is plenty of time to do that once the caregiver leaves. What if the caregiver doesn't leave you ask. Well, if my client seems confused, afraid, or anxious and the caregiver doesn't address it I might ask her "How does that sound" and then follow her lead. I know that when my client looks at me and says " what should I do?" she isn't asking me to decide for her or looking for approval just trying to make a decision and doesn't have enough information to go ahead. But, to a nurse or caregiver they might confuse that with imposing my ideas onto my client so I ask if they have any questions. This is usually enough to clue the staff in that they need to give her more information.

When a client is working through contractions and is coping well I am happy to simply offer her a drink, chat in between contractions if she likes, check in with her partner or simply nothing. If she needs massage, suggestions for positions or if her partner needs reassurance I am happy to do that for her. For all intents and purposes to the casual observer it might appear as if I am doing "nothing" just sitting in a corner quietly observing, trusting and waiting until I am "physically" needed. But in doing nothing I believe I am giving her space to find her strength, space for the couple to work it out between them. That is my job as I hold the space, and model the type of atmosphere they desire.

If birth takes a path less travelled and our map is no longer helpful then together we adjust our sails and move forward. In the end the experience will be hers and she will own it. I will be happy knowing that sometimes the most valuable thing I can do for her is be a familiar face, affirm her feelings and express my confidence in her and the decisions she will make. When a woman says "I couldn't do it without you" I know what she is saying is " I did it, thank you for believing in me" Of course she can do it without me, I am there to hold the space for her, serve when I am needed and sit in the corner when I am not, because SHE is doing it.

Being put in a corner by a less than accepting caregiver, nurse or midwife because THEY don't see the value in what a doula does is not a problem to me. Disrespecting the wishes of the woman and dismissing who she chooses to invite to her birth is on the other hand and all the more reason to quietly support her, because of all the people in the room aside from her partner I might believe in her and respect her the most of anyone. So put me in the corner I don't care, but don't put the Mother there she deserves to be front and center in her experience and no one else.

Peace Out,