Monday, November 27, 2006

Getting round with baby

One of the secrets to a comfortable life as a parent in Japan is to "wear" your baby, much like local parents do. While in our home countries we expect to always put our babies into prams or buggies, pushchairs, strollers or other vehicles, there are so many places, especially in big cities like Tokyo and Osaka, which are just down-right unfriendly for wheels, whether they be wheels for babies or disabled people. Subway stairs are one of the biggest challenges. Not every station has escalators and elevators or lifts all the way to the platform or up to the street. As many experienced parents can vouch, it is not part of the culture here for people to offer to help carry buggies and strollers down the stairs for you, so it becomes necessary to be very self-sufficient, especially for mothers out with the baby by themselves. (Alternatively you could become very proficient in a Japanese phrase along the lines of "Hey mate, give me a hand with this stroller would you?"...)

The other thing is, even if you manage to get down onto the platform, getting on a crowded train with a Rolls Royce of a stroller is quite challenging. At least if your baby is being held close to you, you can protect him with your arms, and cover him from commuter germs with the sling fabric or a light blanket or cloth.

If you find yourself suffering through varying degrees of frustration and anger at the facilities when you go out with your baby in a stroller, it is time to consider baby-wearing. You may have found that, inadvertently, you have begun to limit your social life to days when both parents can go out together, or you only go to local activities which you can get to on foot...and only if it's not raining. Yet if both parents begin wearing your baby as soon as possible after birth, when baby is still relatively light, you will develop the strength and stamina to wear your baby for longer periods of time, and you will begin to find babywearing quite natural, convenient and easy.

Of course it is never too late to start wearing your baby, but if you haven't been doing it from the start, you may find you need to practice, just round the house, for a few minutes each day, so you and your baby can get used to the idea, and your strength will build up.

Depending on the sort of carrier or sling you buy, they can also be used for convenient and dicreet breastfeeding in public, which is particularly helpful for new mothers who are not yet comfortable with that idea. Practicing babywearing and breastfeeding at home means it will feel quite normal for both baby and you to use the sling like that while you are out.

There is a plethora of slings and baby carriers on the market, ranging from very simple structures to things with so many buckles and straps you need a degree in technology to get the thing on. Prices also vary enormously...don't be persuaded to buy slngs which are the same price as a small vehicle...remember they are just pieces of fabric!!! Many economical and attractive options are available, both in Japan and over the internet. There is an excellent babywearing site which has product reviews and user comments, as well as good information about the added benefits of babywearing: babies who are worn are more settled and content, grow better, develop good muscle tone responding to the body movements of the wearer, cry less and learn more rapidly.

Dr William Sears, a well-known pediatrician and author, popularized the baby sling idea with Western parents in the 70's, and has since found in his practice that babies who are worn do better in so many respects. Read more here and you will be amazed.

Of course all over the world babies have been worn in all kind of carriers and slings for centuries. But for some people, baby-wearing has a bit of stigma attached to it: once someone told me that babies were carried in slings only by poor people in her country. There are so many beautiful fabrics and fashionable slings available these days, that I am sure you can bring yourself to overcome this sort of thinking! Babies are important human beings, who need closeness and nurturing, no matter which socio-economic group you are from! And the convenience in Japan is indisputable!

Baby wearing is not only for babies. Toddlers also benefit, and it can help keep them safe in crowded streets or busy shops or even airports. Even if you decide to use a stroller, having a sling tucked in your bag for emergencies is also a good idea, because there will be days when your child simply refuses to stay in the stroller, or is very upset in the stroller, and with the sling on stand-by you don't feel so reluctant to pick them up and carry them. A quiet, content baby or toddler in a parent's arms is always preferable to a thrashing, screaming or tantrum-throwing one, especially when you are trying to rush for a train or plane!!