How a Sling Can Help Brain Development

For the past few generations, many parents have been told by detachment advocates to let their new infant or baby cry themselves to sleep, “self-soothe”, or learn to calm themselves. As any mother can attest to, it goes against every fibre in our bodies. It does not feel right, and in my opinion, and the opinion of many, it is not right. Research is showing that children raised with low touch and more “self-soothe” are often less compassionate, less connected to others, have lower IQs, lower self-esteem, lower self-confidence, and a higher marital breakup rate. They are often more difficult to discipline with more behaviour problems.

It is no secret that humans need touch. All humans need positive loving energy from another human in order to thrive. It really is true that no man can live on an island. In fact, the babies born in hospitals during the war that had low touch frequently failed to thrive, even if properly nourished. Health and mental capacity were negatively affected.

As a species, I believe we were meant to have the baby in the womb for 9 months, and closely held for the next 9 months. Essentially 18 months of pregnancy. Some cultures do not put their babies down for the first year, holding them 24/7. If you think about it this way, it is easier to accept the responsibility of attachment parenting instead of heading the advice of detachment advocates. It is not a chore if the benefits are clear, as we will discuss.

This is where the sling comes into play. A sling is the greatest thing for a parent/caregiver and baby for both health and development of the body and of the mind.

A sling allows the freedom of still getting things accomplished around the house or out and about, while benefiting baby. As a newborn, the baby and mom/caregiver can bond while seeing each other from the sling. This bonding and close association is soothing and encourages happy feelings for both baby and caregiver. Being in a state of contentment helps neurons grow, and helps the brain and its associated chemistry to develop optimally.

For mom, “wearing” baby lessens the occurrence of postpartum depression. This may be for many reasons. For one, mom can do the things she wants to do while not being tied down. We have all heard that mom's get "cabin fever". Going outside is very important for fresh air, and for Vitamin D. Both are vital to happy neurochemistry. As well, being free to move about and do things allows for more movement and exercise. As discussed in a previous post, this has a very important roll to play in happiness and fighting depression. Then, there is the fact that mom is getting things done. This checkmark on the goals list is dopamine inducing, which keeps motivation and satisfaction up, all part and parcel for keeping depression at bay. And...we can’t forget that a baby cries much less in a sling, as the mom can easily and more readily respond to the cues given by the baby. Happy baby…happy mom. Simple.

Slings are terrific for breastfeeding. As we all know, breastfeeding is extremely important to the growing bodies and especially for the developing brain of our babies. Formulas have yet to replicate the DHA and the vital brain nutrients found in breast milk. It really is the perfect food for a growing body and brain. I realize it is not possible for everyone to breastfeed, but if you can, a sling makes it much easier wherever you go. I used to feed my little ones at the store or walking down the street and no one could see at any time. It is very discrete, not that we should need to be…

Wearing baby in a sling mimics the movement the baby felt before birth. It is soothing, has your sounds and loving energy, and allows baby to gracefully fall to sleep when tired. It is easy to continue to wear the baby as occurred in the womb, or to transfer the baby to a crib or bed. The transfer works like a charm. Just use the sling as a blanket. As a new mom (five times), I was never tired, and I never let any of my babies cry it out. They learned to sleep just fine with this transfer method. Sleep is necessary for a developing brain, and for a healthy happy mom brain. It is the time when all the clean up happens from the day’s activity. The brain rejuvenates, repairs, and revitalizes. Both mom and baby need adequate sleep. The sling just makes it so much easier.

In contrast, if a baby is left to cry it out to sleep, that baby will feel alone and abandoned, and go to sleep with negative feelings. Babies self soothe because they know no one is there for them. Is this the training your new baby needs? Are they learning trust and love? Are they learning happiness? No.

During the day, during awake times, if a baby is left to cry it out to learn independent play, energy will be wasted on crying, negative energy, and feeling alone and as though he can not communicate effectively. As we can imagine, this would be very sad and frustrating, certainly not educational.

Babies cry because they are communicating. They have needs unmet and do not yet have the capability or the know-how to meet those needs by themselves.

If you allow them to cry it out, you are essentially telling them you are not listening to them and that they do not matter. This will make them feel as though they are not valued. It sends the message that you matter more, or that being a full time parent is inconvenient. Contrary to what the “cry it out” pushers say, (or the “Restraint Parents” as Dr. William Sears, a pediatrician and father of eight, puts it in his many incredible books, such as The Baby Book), this cannot possibly be an esteem building exercise!

Crying and feeling alone with no one listening to you does not make for an optimal learning environment, hence the lower IQ and lower self-esteem.

The brain develops quite rapidly in the first few years of life. Much information is gathered at a conscious and at a subconscious level. Dr. Michael Lewis, an infant development specialist, states that the single most important influence on a child’s intellectual development is the responsiveness of the parent (or caregiver) to the cues of the baby.

I am certain that crying is a cue we should never ignore. (Even older children feel angst when a baby is crying. They intuitively know that the baby needs something).

Using your inner sensitivity scale to hone in on the cues your baby gives you and quickly respond to them will help make your child have a higher emotional IQ. They will be more kind and compassionate, a trait that is in short supply, less angry, more trusting and trustworthy, smarter (as we will discuss shortly), and more content. They will be able to develop deeper relationships with friends and loved ones because they learned to love and to receive love.

Isn’t this what real intelligence is? Having a high IQ is great, but having a high emotional IQ is even greater. Look at some of the really intelligent individuals that have a low emotional IQ. They may be “smart”, but they are missing the most important things in life like true happiness, friendships, socialization, community, and love. That is real intelligence. It is this intelligence that makes all aspects of life great.

Doesn’t it make sense that a child who cries less has more time to learn and to observe and take in the environment? Dr. William Sears, suggests that babies worn in a sling are often in a state of quiet alertness. I would equate this to a state of mindfulness, which, as we know, accelerates the brain growth and decreases stress hormones, giving rise to the underlying happiness (our default setting). Who doesn’t want this for their child?

When old enough to hold her head up positioned on the hip in a sling, a baby can see what is going on around her. She can be more involved in the day-to-day activities, thereby actively learning and storing information. She can watch and learn facial expressions, body language, voice changes, even emotions. This very important learning opportunity is potentially missed if playing with an inanimate object in a play pen. If a baby does hear voices in the distance, they are disconnected from them and may not associate it properly, or at all.

Brains need environmental stimuli for neurons to branch out and make new connections. This real life learning gets filed away in the basal ganglia and the subconscious for later retrieval, even in young babies. Babies worn in slings have an enhanced ability to learn from the environment, enhanced speech and auditory capabilities, and tend to understand patterns of behaviour better. They truly are little sponges of information.

Parents often tell me they need a break from the baby and can not possible wear them around all the time. Sure. Everyone needs a break. Just ensure that you have someone else to take on the baby holding role. Enroll family, friends, older siblings. A different way to look at it is that you are still one with the child as mentioned above. This time will pass, and, if bonded, you will miss this special time.

Enjoy and cuddle your baby and they will bring enjoyment and excellent behaviour back for years to come. Resent your baby, and they will give you a run for your money, well into adulthood.

Put your time in when they are little (and enjoy it), or you will be forced to put a lot of time in later.

Tempted to buy that high tech toy? Save your money. Go for high touch instead. Don’t listen to the detachment advice of well meaning authors, friends, and family. An enriched but alone environment does not make an enriched mind. Listen to your inner sensitivity scale. It will tell you!

Enriched parenting with high touch makes an enriched mind.

Pick up that baby and make him part of your everyday. It will go a long way towards making him (and you)…





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