Photo courtesy of Becky - Portealo Bien

When Baby-Wearing Becomes Toddler-Wearing

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Like so many parents, Gaila Rearick of Nevada, Iowa, knows how helpful a baby wrap can be in the middle of a meltdown. However, at 4 years old, her son is a bit bigger than the typical image of baby-wearing. “Wrapping over 40 pounds of screaming drunken octopus on my back as he’s wailing ‘I don’t NEED a wrap snuggle! I don’t NEED a wrap snuggle,’” can certainly be a workout, Rearick tells Romper of her penchant for toddler-wearing, but it ultimately ends in relief for both mother and son: “As soon as I get the knot tied off, he just kind of melts in and calms down in about three seconds flat.”

Increasingly, parents like Rearick are recognizing that the benefits of baby-wearing don’t stop at the baby years — and they’re willing to their wrangle octopus-like preschoolers in order to access those positive effects.

Wearing babies gets all the attention — and for good reason. The peach-fuzzy head poking out of a stretchy wrap, the skin-to-skin oxytocin boost, the froggy legs curled up on either side of your torso: baby-wearing is all kinds of delightful. But wearing toddlers, preschoolers, and even bigger kids can also have amazing benefits for both parent and child. Anyone with a child of walking age will know that the beauty of the toddler-wearing bride is matched only by the pure practicality of it.

“I hated carrying my oldest in my arms or on my shoulders. It was hard on my body, and I definitely injured myself a few times,” says Calgary, Alta. mother Trish Romanchuk. “It's so convenient to be able to just toss my [4-year-old] up on my back if he's tired or grumpy. The Lillebaby that we have distributes his weight perfectly so I'm comfy and able to walk long distances.”

The importance of pleasant touch doesn’t stop with age, and wearing bigger kids can be a perfect way to continue this original form of communication.

Parenting can be physically taxing, but also psychologically exhausting; Gaila Rearick’s 4-year-old gets distracted easily, so she often puts both her kids up in tandem to navigate these places with safety and ease. For parents of more than one, it can be infinitely valuable to know one child is safe against your back, while you help the other off the potty, across the road, or up an escalator.

Photo courtesy of Cheryl Fong

The advantages of vaulting 45 pounds of preschooler onto your back don’t end at the practical. Stanford Children’s Health says that physical touch is the only language that babies really register from their caregivers after birth, and has innumerable benefits for both adults and newborns. But the importance of pleasant touch doesn’t stop with age, and wearing bigger kids can be a perfect way to continue this original form of communication. Of course, for caregivers who are not physically able to baby-wear, there are so many other options for continued bonding — this is just one.

“Many health care professionals are unaware that baby-wearing has significant potential as an adjunct to traditional therapies,” registered nurse and clinical education consultant Robyn L. Reynolds-Miller says. “Children with sensory-processing disorders, visual deficits, or developmental delays often seek calming self-stimulatory behaviors… by rocking or swaying themselves. When we hold children, we instinctively sway, bounce, or rock them,” she says, noting that this can be supportive to both child and caregiver.

Reynolds-Millar adds that baby-wearing can support bonding in blended or adopted families. Norah Lambert* of Boston, Mass. is the mother of a 9-year-old with a traumatic history, ADHD, and sensory processing disorder, and knows this through experience. Lambert and her husband adopted their son at 6 months, and started baby-wearing right away: “He’d been neglected and not picked up as a baby, so being held and snuggled was what he needed.”

Even at 9, he “still fits in his Ergo carrier and needs to feel attached to me sometimes to calm down,” she says, explaining that “close, tight holding feels really grounding and stabilizing.”

[Kids] have opinions about carriers and carrier styles and it’s good to let them have input.

Even if you’ve never gone down the baby-wearing rabbit hole, there’s no time like the present. “Even if you didn’t try or didn’t like it earlier, give it a chance,” certified baby-wearing educator Hedwych Veeman tells Romper.

Veeman is the face behind the incredibly popular “Wrap You In Love” baby-wearing videos; having trained in both the United States and across Europe, she also has four wrapees of her own. “The weight can be challenging,” Veeman concedes, “but wearing a child in your arms (without a carrier) is heavier. Similar to sports training I would suggest to build up the time and intensity. Starting with lifting 20 kilograms for a 3-hour nap might be a bit too much; listen to your body.”

Photo courtesy of Becky - Portealo Bien

What’s the best carrier for a bigger kid? Woven wraps, fly tais, meh dais, oh my! Veeman recommends a buckle carrier or a woven wrap, and finds back-carrying most comfortable. If you go with a buckle carrier, Gaila Rearick recommends to size up as they grow. “The extra comfort from the bigger panel fitting kiddo knee-to-knee and all the way up their back is totally worth the extra investment, and even the preschool size can regularly be found pre-loved at a manageable price.”

Woven wraps are a magical world unto themselves, but help can be found online, through a local baby-wearing group or educator, or at a specialized store near you.

“Communication is key with big kids,” says Laura Gates of Pueblo, Colo., adding an important consideration, “[Kids] have opinions about carriers and carrier styles and it’s good to let them have input so they get to be an active part of the process.”

Studies have shown that hugging and pleasant touch can have “stress-buffering” effects and can result in lower blood pressure even in adults. Add to that all the ways big-kid-wearing can make parenting easier, and our kids happier, and it’s no wonder parents want to just keep wearing their kids.

Trish Romanchuk says of her rapidly growing carrier buddy, “I know our time baby-wearing is dwindling, so I cherish every moment of it. The way he sinks into my back, and plays with my hair is precious, and I wouldn't trade it for the world.”

*Not their actual name.