These days, you hear a lot about babywearing for healthy, full-term babies. But there’s almost no buzz about wearing your premature baby. Jennifer Canvasser created a buzz when she was a guest on my radio show. Many mothers — and nurses! — don’t know premature babywearing is possible. But it is! In spite of the tubes and the wires, and your baby’s small size, you may be able to babywear your preemie and carry him against your body. Want to know more?
Listen to the show! You’ll love hearing about Jennifer’s experience. Meanwhile, here are the top 7 tips she gave for any parent who wants to do premature babywearing.
Check out different types of carriers
Both Jennifer and an earlier radio show guest, Samantha Bunnell, identified four different types of carriers: the Mei Tai, ring sling, soft-structured carrier, and woven wrap.
Each type of carrier has its benefits and drawbacks. What might be a plus for you and your baby might be a minus for another couplet. So talk with other mothers. Find a babywearing group if you can, so you can “try on” the various options. (You might want to start with a ring sling; Samantha and Jennifer both say it’s quicker to learn skills for that than for the others.)
Work with your baby’s primary nurse
Your baby’s primary nurse might not know much about baby carriers, but as a NICU nurse, she knows a lot about babies: their capabilities, limitations, wires, tubes, and devices.
Premature babies can’t be “worn” until they exhibit physiologic stability. The primary nurse is in the best position to interpret the data and discuss whether your baby is stable enough to handle being worn yet.
Gain skills and confidence with your carrier
When Jennifer’s friend first brought up premature babywearing, she knew it would be a while before her babies were stable enough to be worn. So, she used that time to develop her skills with the carrier by “wearing” a stuffed animal. She needed to make sure she was comfortable handling the carrier before she tried it with her baby.
I can tell you, using any sort of baby carrier takes skill. I gave it a try, and my initial attempts at wearing a woven wrap were unsuccessful. I would have had to practice many times to get it right. Yet, the woven wrap was what worked best for Jennifer’s son, Micah.
Determine what type of carrier works for your preemie
Jennifer had twins. One type of carrier worked best for the more stable twin, whereas a different type worked for the less stable twin. There are no “rules” on which style is best; you have to figure it out for yourself, especially with premature babywearing.
Learn to read your baby’s cues
Premature babywearing is incredibly soothing for both the mother and the baby. But preemies are in a vulnerable state. Keep alert for signs of stress. When you see any, it’s time to alert the nurse. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll have to take the baby off for now … but it might.
Be patient as you learn premature babywearing
Jennifer’s babies were born 2 days short of 28 weeks’ gestation. It was 8 weeks before she could wear one of her boys, and 7 months before she could wear the other. Babies cannot be worn until they are stable. (Kangaroo care may be possible sooner.)
Get help: Human, media and other
Hands-on help from a person who is knowledgeable about babywearing would be ideal. (Look for a babywearing group in your area, or connect with your local La Leche League group.) YouTube videos, Jennifer’s article, books by Maria Blois or Evelyn Kirklionis would be good starters.
Babies naturally want to be with their parents. Babywearing is a great way to make it happen … even if your baby is a preemie!
Did you do premature babywearing? What was your experience? Share your thoughts in the comments below!
If you are interested in babywearing babies in the NICU, see our newly-updated self-learning program, “Babywearing in the NICU,” and earn 1.5 L-CERPs and 1.5 contact hours.