elevating child care

I’d Rather Go Naked Than Wear Baby

The words we choose to express ourselves matter. Language evokes images and carries messages that leave an imprint on society. There are words most of us would never dream of using because they offend or demean others. Why doesn’t this sensitivity extend to babies? 

I suppose it’s okay to diss babies because they can’t complain, picket or sue. They have no power. They’re not a major consumer group.

‘Babywearing’ has become an acceptable, widely used term. There are babywearing conventions, babywearing instructions, and we are marketed “the latest in babywearing fashions.”

Why don’t we think to question this term? We know that children are not socks or handbags (or even fur), they are human beings. And yet we use an expression that perpetuates the objectification of babies.  Carrying babies is one thing. Wearing them is quite another.  It’s time to find another word, and to wear the sling, not the baby.

Infant expert Magda Gerber inspired us to treat infants as unique human beings (human being the operative word). She believed that infants deserve our respect from day one. She taught us to communicate with an infant as we would another person, and to take this small person’s point of view into account.

Dr. William Sears coined the term “babywearing.”  I was absolutely shocked when I read Sears proudly explain on his website that babywearing “humanizes” infants. As if babies need humanizing? What does he believe an infant is, if not human? And he’s a doctor!  Suddenly his invention of the word ‘babywearing’ makes perfect sense.

Sears:  “Sling babies get “humanized” earlier.” 

Sorry, but I have both scientific and anecdotal evidence that babies are born human. References available upon request.

Sears: “Another reason that babywearing enhances learning is that baby is intimately involved in the caregiver’s world.”

Carrying a baby as a passenger while we go about our day is not “intimately involving” the baby, in my opinion. To intimately involve a baby is to give her our full attention. It is to hold her, not only with our bodies, but with our minds and our hearts.  It is to hold her close often, but to also give her freedom to move, and respect her individuality, her “otherness.” It is to create a peaceful life geared towards a baby, and to then be responsive to her communication. Not the other way around.

Sears: “Proximity increases interaction, and baby can constantly be learning how to be human.”

Dr Sears, for the last time, we do not “teach” infants to be human. Please, take a moment to truly behold an infant — to really look, listen, and be totally present. You will realize that an infant teaches you how to be human.

“A person’s a person, no matter how small.”  -Dr. Seuss

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104 Responses to “I’d Rather Go Naked Than Wear Baby”

  1. avatar Leah says:

    In defense of Dr. Sears (and Im not even particularly a fan of his) I think you’ve grossly misinterpreted his message. I agree with previous commenters that wearing your baby as opposed to other means of transportation does humanize the baby TO THE PARENT. I very often see parents ignoring the cues of babies hidden in strollers, pushed around like nothing more than a shopping cart. When a parent wears a baby its much harder to miss cues and much easier to respect the baby’s human needs in accordance with RIE principles.

    • avatar janet says:

      But that isn’t what Dr. Sears meant by “humanize”. He said “teaches them to be human”…and was clearly referring to teaching the baby. He didn’t mean humanizing the baby in the parents’ eyes.

  2. avatar Tali says:

    I haven’t read Dr Sears in depth but from your quotes I would perhaps interpret his saying that they ‘learn how to be human’ to mean they are able to learn about the culture that they are growing up in, in a much better way than how many parents treat their babies – leaving them alone to entertain themselves with ‘active’ toys or TV or shoving them into a swing or car seat or stroller etc without really allowing them to be part of their parent’s world to learn about how things work, watch their parents’ movements and interactions and so forth, learn language…
    In a baby carrier, they are able to see the goings on of their world. And isn’t this how parents have been caring for babies for centuries? Until very recently in the modern world?

  3. avatar Kathleen says:

    What an interesting post and lots of passionate comments! I know this was awhile ago. I’ve never really identified with the term “babywearing” even though as a city Mom often on the subway, my son has spent and enjoyed his fair share of time in his. At two years old, I now ask if he wants “to ride with me.” He still loves to ride with Mommy!

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