Expectant Mom Questions Babywearing

Hi Janet,
My partner and I are expecting our first baby in a month. I stumbled across your site when I found myself frustrated and overwhelmed by the language people are using to talk about babies and young children. It started with a woman telling me that she was ‘babywearing certified’. I tried to keep a steady heart rate while she explained to me the benefits of ‘wearing her baby’ and how important Attachment Parenting was. (Although the principles sounded lovely, I couldn’t shake this sense that all this hype was centered on giving the appearance of being baby centered when really, they just seemed to want to erase the lines of individuality between mother and child. I did very little research before realizing it [AP] wasn’t quite for me so excuse me if I seem a little misinformed.)

So there I am sitting at my laptop frustrated by the accessorizing of these little people, and I searched “against babywearing objectification”, and there you showed up. Within a few hours I had soaked up your articles, read up on Emmi Pikler and Magda Gerber and was emailing my partner (right now I’m in South Africa and he’s in Canada).

We are so relieved to have found guidelines to strengthen our own desires and beliefs on how we want our relationship with our child to develop! Thank you so much for your site!

I do have a few questions.

I’m currently relying on the internet as my only source of information and haven’t found anything on infant sleep and what to do in the first few months…

I bought a bassinet and my mother in law has gifted us a fancy crib (not a drop one)… When baby is more mobile, I want her/him to be able to move into/out of his/her sleeping space easily, but in the meantime what is the ideal sleeping situation?

Thank you and Merry Christmas!


Thank you for your letter. I’m thrilled to be able to open the door for you to discover Magda Gerber and Dr. Emmi Pikler’s approach to infant care. I laud your instinct to acknowledge your baby as a capable, unique individual worthy of respect, and I hope I can help give you all the support you need to parent a little differently from those around you.  That’s the challenge, but the benefits are huge. You will never regret treating your child as a whole person from the very beginning. You’ll be amazed and gratified by the relationship you develop with your baby.

I’m not well-informed about Attachment Parenting either, but I have learned a little from AP readers since beginning this blog. I agree that the spirit and the principles are lovely, and developing a secure attachment with our babies is vital. But as you read in my controversial post on the subject, I take issue with the term “babywearing” because, to me, it connotes a lack of respect for babies. We don’t “wear” another person.

We live in a society in which babies are often objectified, perceived as cute little things rather than whole people with a point-of-view worth considering. We love babies but don’t always think to respect them. The use of terms like “babywearing’ perpetuate this perception. Whether we believe the practice is necessary for bonding or not (Magda Gerber did not), or whether we think words matter or not (I believe they do), the term objectifies babies. No question.

Now, let’s talk about this exciting event in your life — your baby! And a very important part of your baby’s life — sleep.

The crib and the bassinet sound perfect. The bassinet will help you to have your baby near you while he or she sleeps in the first couple of months so that feeding him in the night is more convenient. The crib is good for sleeping as soon as you wish to begin (sometimes easier to start there for daytime naps), and also a safe play space for your baby in the first three months, because he has room to move. The ideal logistics are what works best for you and your partner, and that will take some figuring out as you go.

Ideal for the baby’s sleep is the development of a consistent routine, a calming sleep ritual, and a peaceful day with minimal stimulation: fresh air when possible (an outdoor crib or playpen is a wonderful investment), attentive touching and holding balanced with time free to move.

“When baby is more mobile, I want her/him to be able to move into/out of his/her sleeping space easily.”

I understand your wish to accommodate your mobile baby, but I’m going to try to talk you out of giving your baby freedom to move in and out of bed. I have heard a little about infant floor beds, but I see problems with giving babies freedom to leave their beds at night. First, the issue of safety and parental peace of mind: can parents sleep knowing the baby might be up and crawling around?

Second, Magda Gerber emphasized that there is no true freedom without boundaries. Too much freedom overwhelms babies. It’s harder for a baby to relax, feel free to drift off to sleep when he has the option of leaving the bed. Babies are capable of choices, especially in terms of play, but the decision to go to their beds and stay there is a burdensome amount of power for them. We don’t ask babies to choose whether they want to go in the car, get dressed, or change diapers, and I don’t believe it’s fair to expect babies to know when they should be in bed.

Even toddlers struggle with this power when they are moved from a crib to a toddler bed.  I recommend postponing this move as long as possible. A toddler may be capable of climbing out of the crib, but he still feels more secure, cozy and nested in this enclosed space. The ‘freedom’ of the new bed is a distraction that often keeps toddlers up at night, testing the new boundaries with their parents. Babies are calmer and ‘freer’ when they have boundaries and are clear about what’s expected.

Thank you again for your note. I’ll be counting on you to stay in touch!

Happy Holidays to you!

Warmly,                                                                                                                                                                                                   Janet



Please share your comments and questions. I read them all and respond to as many as time will allow.

  1. Christina Kessler says:

    I’d never heard of infant floor beds like you are describing. I can see how it could go along with infant-accessible eating areas like RIE recommends. It seems like a similar idea. But I can also see how it might be too much responsibility for a child. I wonder, if a child always had the choice to leave the bed would she or he go through that “transition phase” you are describing? Or would that phase never occur? The issue of worrying about the baby being out of bed while parents are sleeping could be helped by having the sleep area be in a small, safe play area.

    I’d be interested to hear from people who are trying or have tried this sleep idea. Perhaps it would work for some children and families and not others?

    I totally agree with both of you, L and Janet, about “babywearing.” It is so frustrating to hear babies talked about like accessories. I think a lot of the more extreme and disrespectful AP comes from confusing the child development definition of “attachment” with the “stick-two-things-together” definition. Being “attached” is about forming a reciprocal, respectful relationship that takes into account infant cues, not just attaching a baby to your body as much as possible!

    1. Christina, I love your open-mindedness about the floor bed. And I am interested, too. I’d like to hear more about how they work…

  2. I can see where you’re going with your objections to fetishizing baby wearing, but as a mom who did a whole lot of it, I have to say that it has nothing to do with “accessorizing” with your baby. I carried my babies in slings and other carriers because it was a practical way to balance both their need to be held close and my need to go out and get things done. My babies vastly preferred it to a stroller, and I got a lot more freedom. As with all things, moderation. My babies got a lot of independent floor time too, and around the time when I started finding it too hard on my back to carry them, they were ready to move to the stroller.

    1. Briana, thanks for sharing your thoughts. I don’t believe ‘babywearing’ is intended as accessorizing at all. But that is how it comes across…not just to those of us involved in early childhood education, but to this lovely expectant mom also. The words we use matter.

  3. I am with Briana,

    I totally understand the objection to the term ‘babywearing.’ I would be happy to adopt an other term for it, I agree language matters. But having read many blogs about AP parenting, I don’t see objectification of babies at the center of the philosophy. I don’t always agree 100% with AP parenting, but I do think it is well intentioned and focused on developing a strong bond and connection with ones child. I do think it is about respecting each baby as an individual. Where I disagree with it is more on the issue of satisfying wants versus needs and that it is not focused enough on boundaries for me. I also have trouble connecting with it because I believe babies and toddlers are a lot more capable then we give them credit for.

    But using a sling or carrier was absolutely essential to the first year of my daughters life. Yes, it was not essential for bonding, but it was essential for sanity– using carriers gave me the opportunity give my baby the comfort she needed, especially as a very young infant. And it was darn convenient.

    Sorry to go on and on. I do understand your objection is to the term and the focus on it. I just had to chime in.

    1. I’m really glad you ‘chimed in’! And I totally agree with you here: “but I do think it is well intentioned and focused on developing a strong bond and connection with ones child. I do think it is about respecting each baby as an individual.” and that is why I’ve said here and elsewhere that the term ‘babywearing’ misrepresents the Attachment Parenting philosophy as I understand it. I believe it does AP parents a disservice. Unfortunately, there has been a lot of investment (sling businesses, websites, etc.) in a term that, at the very least, is careless and thoughtless. I would love for it to go away and be replaced with something more humanizing, less objectifying, but I doubt that it will be.

  4. I loved reading this post. There was some good balance. It seemed like when we had our daughter and then our twins (3 1/2 and 2, respectively), there were vicious proponents in what I always termed the Ezzo (Babywise) and the Sears (A.P.) camps. And it seemed like there were excesses in both. My wife and I settled in to some good rhythm type of scheduling and attentiveness to our infants. We didn’t want to center our lives around them, yet we didn’t want to pretend they were sea turtles that couldn’t be touched while they tried to make their way to the water from the beach (apologies if that’s a vague metaphor).

    I concur on the sleeping arrangements. We left our daughter in her crib as long as possible. Unfortunately, our boys have started climbing out, but we still power through with the cribs because we know the toddler bed would just encourage their nap climbing into night bed-time climbing.

  5. In traditional Japanese futon-on-the-floor culture, doesn’t the baby sleep on the floor on a mattress? Can anyone weigh in on this? Japanese/Korean parents out there?

  6. From what I have read and understand on AP and “Baby Wearing” is that you have the baby attached to you pretty much ALL the time – 9/10 months in the womb and 9/10 outside the womb! Madness to me although when we go out and about we sometimes use an ergo with our daughter and since she has been able to walk she tells us when she wants out to explore. If the surrounds fit then we let her.

    On the sleeping side, I totally agree with the crib for as long as possible. My daughter climbed out of hers one morning at 20 mths and she was so freaked out because she could not get back in. My instant reaction was to get her a toddler bed because I was scared of her falling but my instinct was also telling me she wasn’t ready. I knew she would be in and out all night and I didn’t feel she was ready for that openness and freedom at night (oh, and neither was I!). She hasn’t climbed out since (she is now just 2) but at the time I also told her it wasn’t safe and if she wanted to get out she had to call for me or daddy, which she does every morning “mummy, help me”. I’m lucky she listen to that one 🙂

    1. Natalia, I think that assertion is flawed. Carrying a baby around with the aid of a carrier or wrap doesn’t mean most people who believe a baby is attached to the mother 9/10 of the time. I am a mother who wore her baby a lot (no, not like a piece of clothing or something cute to be paraded for everybody), but every child is different, and every day is different. Sometimes the child was in a carrier a lot, sometimes very little. It was about balancing our needs and taking a lot of cues from my child.

      I do not put myself in a “camp” but quite a few of my actions coincide with AP and RIE. I get a lot of heat for both, because you can’t make all adults happy. More daughter, on the other hand, is quite happy. 🙂

      Just like your daughter, most kids are obvious about wanting to be in the carrier and not wanting to be in it. Most parents are not going to force a child to stay in a wrap or carrier if they show an objection, and children do quite clearly show one if they have it, and at that point it is easy to take them out of it. My daughter also does this in her stroller as well when she wants to walk or be held.

  7. I\’m chiming in here because I initially set up my son\’s room with an infant floor bed, as described through my readings of setting-up one\’s home based on Montessori principles (from the book- \”Montessori From the Start: the child at home from birth to age three\”). I felt very attached to having this be the bed my son (now 17 months of age) would sleep in and grow to love- it would give him a place he could move in and out of on his own will (seemed very much in line with RIE principles) and he would quickly learn about boundaries, how to manage his personal space, the boarders of his bed, etc.. I thought my son would appreciate this freedom and accept the responsibility with gratitude. Well… I was up for a very important lesson. While the child-bed worked just fine for the first 5 months, as soon as he was able to roll from back to belly and start creeping, he was mobile enough to leave the bed. I stuck with my commitment to using the bed (a nice futon on the floor) for a good 6 weeks, talking to him about how he needed to stay in his bed during nap-time and sleep time, describing the difference between his sleep space and the rest of the room, even allowing him to choose to sleep elsewhere in the child-safe room if he really wanted to. But, I would often find him out of his bed and crying by the door or gently stuck somewhere else in the room (under a chair), unable to find his way back to the bed, crying for me or my husband to come get him. Despite my son being a great sleeper, I observed that he was waking up at night ONLY as a result of not being able to stay in his bed. Even when we traveled and slept in a hotel room, I still set his bed up on the floor. Again, this worked fine until he became mobile. We went on a trip when he was about 6.5 months old and, though I\’m not sure what possessed me, I recall just being at the end of my rope in terms of working with him to stay in his bed, that I resorted to a pack n\’ play travel crib. The first time he slept in it he slept through the night. And I\’m not talkin\’ 8 hours sleeping through the night! He slept 12 hours straight and to this day he not only looks forward to \”night night\” time, but sleeps 12 hours straight, never wakes up, and genuinely seems to love his crib. Needless to say, I bought I crib as soon as we returned home. It now sits next to his \”big boy bed\” which I turned into a cozy reading corner. I learned an important lesson about how children need our help in establishing safe and clear boundaries, and that these boundaries (when established with kindness, clarity and love) can actually be comforting to them. After establishing the boundary of a crib, my son was able to relax so deeply that he sleeps peacefully through naps and the night. Through my own investigation, I can personally confirm Magda\’s words about there being no true freedom without boundaries. I could have never absorbed this lesson reading it from a book; it was my real life experience that taught me and led me back to the wisdom and profoundness of the RIE principles and approach.

    I certainly hope my story sheds welcome light on this exciting discussion.

    1. Wow. Lilly, I can’t thank you enough for sharing your experience and confirming what I had only imagined. For me, one of the big challenges of parenting was knowing when and where to give autonomy and where to give boundaries. I was so grateful for Magda Gerber’s guidance in that respect!

      I would still love to hear from others who found that the floor beds worked well for them.

    2. Wish I had read this some years ago. My daughter started climbing out of her cot when she was 6 month old, so we arranged a floor bed and also got her a toddler bed with rails. But she would always prefer the floor bed. And when we removed the floor bed, she would sleep in the toddler bed but kept waking up so many times because she either banged her head or got stuck somehow. Anyways we had the feeling it was just too small. But to be honest I should have tried to keep her longer in her cot. and not go with the “Montessori” floor bed.

  8. Thanks Lilly, that is very interesting! I would have thought the same things that you did in the beginning (that the bed would be good). So I’m glad you are able to show to how this could make things more difficult for a child. It’s so nice that you were able to read your son’s cues accurately and get him the setup he needed.

    I wonder if anyone has had a positive experience with these beds, or if most people have stories like yours. Since they are a Montessori practice I would think that more people might have tried it. It sounds like maybe this is a case of a “preschool” idea getting passed down to infants, who are at a totally different developmental place and have different needs.

  9. This is an older post but I wanted to pitch in with my experience with a floor bed. My son is eight months old and has been sleeping on a floor bed since six months. His room is safe and used mainly for sleeping, changing, and nursing, with only a small selection of quiet toys, so while he is able to get in and out of bed I think that his choices are still reasonably limited. He will sometimes get out and play for 5-10 minutes at nap time, and then crawl back into the bed to go to sleep. The only real problem that I am dealing with right now is that it is too easy for me to lie down and go to sleep with him when he wakes up at 2am, and I think this habit on my part is affecting the quality of sleep he gets in the second half of the night. If he were in a crib, that would not be an option and he might have given up that late-night feed already!

    I can’t say at this point that I am pro-floor-bed in general. It is working for us, for this baby, at this time. The draw for me is the idea that he doesn’t need to cry for rescue when he wakes up; he can decide whether he wants to call for me or play alone for a few minutes first. That said, I think the question of whether it provides the baby with too much choice is really the central issue and will depend on the baby’s temperament and the set-up of the room.

  10. We also used a floor bed as a transition from bedsharing to independent sleep in separate rooms. Our room was set up to be child safe since there were not many other spaces in our small apartment that were completely safe (for various reasons). In the room, we had a dresser bolted to the wall, mounted lamps with cords secured behind the drywall, our king size bed on a low, spare frame, and our son’s memory foam mat on the floor. It was comfortable enough for me to lay on, so I felt good about letting my son sleep on that surface. He could crawl around the room at will, but with very little light at night, he quickly lost interest. We used blackout shades in the window because of direct sunlight, but they worked to keep the room dark enough that my son would also nap in there without crawling around much. In any case, before bed I cleaned up any toys and books that were about, so there wasnt much left to distract or explore. When we were ready and able to free up my husband’s office room as my son’s bedroom, we moved the floor mat into his room next to the crib where we wanted him to sleep. The floor mat was familiar to him and helped him transition to his room peacefully, then we could work on transitioning him to the crib, which did happen smoothly. The original reason we did a floor bed was because the crib would not fit into our room, and my husband needed the second room as an office until he could rent out space for his work. However, seeing how nice it was for my son to be on the ground near us, in a safe place, and seeing how he still enjoys using that floor mat as a daytime reading spot or retreat, I think I would do it again.

  11. Curiouser and curiouser says:

    Babywearing is something that POC moms from all over the world do. It just is. I doubt anyone calls it anything in particular. It’s the norm in many areas. But then white women started making it trendy and all hell’s broken loose.

  12. I think human newborns are wired to want the closeness of being wrapped against their caregivers. I have not met a newborn that did not appear to be in bliss while in a carrier.

    I hope the objection to the term does not eclipse the benefits of the practice to both babies and caregivers.

    As one user commented, this is a practice as old as humanity and probably as universal as breastfeeding itself, and only white people (or colonized cultures) seem conflicted about it.

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