Pick ’em up or Put ’em down?

So a while ago (quite a while ago, this post idea has been in the drafts folder for a while) I read a blog post on Phd in Parenting about babywearing, called “Babywearing gave me mothering wings”. As I was reading it I was nodding.

Nodding about how using a sling or wrap or other baby carrying device can really help. Particularly in that newborn phase where it is so important for them to be close to you. Freeing up your arms does make a big difference.

I really nodded when Annie said: “But I am also concerned with government advisories and regulatory practices that go so far that they discourage and marginalize safe and healthy parenting practices and bankrupt companies that make products that support those practices.” Yeah, totally.

I totally respect and admire Annie, but I just can’t stop thinking about that post and I want to express what got me thinking. There were two things that tweaked my overly sensitive- not always a fan of everything attachment parenting-senses.  One: Annie spoke about physically touching her newborn 22 out of 24 hours each day. And two: near the end of the article she said this: “Babies should not and cannot simply be put down every time their parents need their arms. Putting babies in car seats, swings, or bouncers for much of the day is unsafe and deprives them of the much needed warmth and bonding with their parents. Leaving them to scream in a crib or bassinet while their parents get things done or have a much needed break is neglectful.” And I went WHOA.

It is not that I totally disagree. I don’t think that baby swings, car seats and bouncers are the ideal locations for your baby, at least for long stretches of time. But I don’t begrudge the parent who discovers one of these things is the mystery cure for endless bouts of screaming. Essentially, if it makes baby happy and saves your sanity, then I am all for it. But, in theory, my preference would not be for baby to be in a car seat, swing or bouncer for most of the day.

I also agree that putting a baby down, who is upset and screaming, in order to get stuff done, is not the ideal response. I get really bothered by the word neglectful, mostly because the word is applied to so many many things in parenting that may not be great, but are not the same as true neglect. Like, the kind of neglect that would get children taken away from their parents. You know? I digress. Anyway, that being said, putting a baby down who has been screaming for hours and giving yourself a 10 minute break to save your sanity? Totally reasonable, in my opinion. Especially if you are at the breaking point.

I think what really bothered me about the ending of this post is the portraying the opposite to the extreme. For example, there are lots of parents who don’t hold their babies 22 hours a day and who do put them down, in part to get stuff done, without leaving their child wailing in a crib while they clean the bathroom. And there are lots of places to put baby down that don’t involve strapping them into a car seat. Get what I am saying?

In the first few weeks of Audrey’s life she spent no where near 22 hours a day physically touching me. Well, I take that back, I did spend A LOT of time breastfeeding, which was fine. So that was probably a good 12 hours of the day. And we probably had her in a wrap or sling a good 4 or 5 hours of the day. So, lets call it 16 hours. The other 8 hours? When she feel asleep we put her down in a bassinet, which we wheeled around to whatever room we were in. We didn’t put her down screaming, but we got that space and time to ‘get stuff done’. As she got older, that 16 hours probably went down to 14 and then 12 and then 10 and so on.

When she was older (probably around 4 months), she spent quite a bit of time on the floor on a big blanket. She loved listening to music and trying to reach for stuff and learning to roll over. By 5 month or so she was crawling. I valued this time, as it was amazing to watch her explore her world. She knew I was close by, so she was happy. And I got to ‘get stuff done’. By 9 months she was cruising, and being held by mama was not her idea of a good time. She still was happy in a sling while out and about, but at home she wanted to explore.

What I am saying is there is a balance. And I know there are babies out there that respond very well to constant contact and get very upset if they are ever put down. Maybe 22 hours a day is reasonable and appropriate for those babies. But I also know there are babies who are perfectly happy to observe the world a meter or two away from their parents. More over, there are babies who scream at the top of their lungs if you don’t put them down sometimes. You gotta do what is best for your kid.

Babywearing is awesome. AWESOME. But so is putting your baby down to let them explore the world. And so is getting some personal space for yourself.

I think it is unfortunate that a lot of supporters of babywearing present it in such a way that the average person, who may want to put their baby down sometimes, can’t quite relate. If someone had tried to sell me a sling when I was pregnant with the line that ‘you can hold your baby 22 hours of the day with this thing’ I would have run for the hills. I know Annie was just sharing her experience and what worked for her kids, but it still seemed to imply that that was the ideal. And the statement afterward, about depriving our babies from bonding with us, reinforced that.

Furthermore, I really believe that giving baby time to explore her/his world is important. As a baby gets older, it makes sense that they spend more and more time not physically touching their parents and that parents allow opportunities for the baby to reach out and interact with the world. I think each parent needs to find a balance between both wonderful, beneficial things for baby: physical closeness to their parents and that ability to branch out and have the space to explore their world.


18 responses to “Pick ’em up or Put ’em down?

  1. kelly @kellynaturally November 16, 2010 at 5:47 pm

    I *think* what she was referring to with regards to the term neglectful, was not as much WHERE baby was, but the state in which baby and mom/caregiver was IN while put in those places, and the length of time which baby was there (read without all the stuff in between): “Babies should not…be put down… for much of the day” and “Leaving them to scream … is neglectful.”

    As a mother who experienced MONTHS of a colicky infant, who did put my baby down for a brief periods to regain my sense of peace so I could parent more effectively and empathetically, and who found solace in the baby bucket seat when baby would sleep nowhere else, I DO understand sometimes you just NEED. to put. the screaming. baby. down.

    But to do so routinely, and for extended lengths of time, speaks lack-of-attachment-and-empathy to me.

    If, in order to cope, mom needs baby to be away from her for extended lengths of time, then mom needs to consider there may be a problem, and that it could have detrimental effects on the baby – physically and psychologically.

    It isn’t healthy for baby to be out of the loving arms of a caregiver for hours at a time – babies regulate body temperature and breathing by their adult caregivers – it’s a natural and a built-in safety mechanism. They learn to read faces and body language and vocal intonation & thus, emotions, by being close to mom’s (or alternate caregiver’s) face. There is a very deep down sense of feeling “right” with the world comes from being with someone who loves you and is protecting you – instead of viewing the action from afar. I believe the more time spent in arms in infancy = the stronger the bond = the deeper the sense of well-being and self-esteem over the long-term.

    • amoment2think November 17, 2010 at 7:12 am


      Yes, I understand that the issue is more about the state the caregiver is in, rather then where the baby was being put down. I kinda jumbled two points together, let me clarify. 1: there are more options then a) have baby in a sling or in arms or b) strap baby into a carseat. 2: there are more options then a) hold baby 22 hours a day and b) leave baby screaming.

      I think overall what I am trying to say is that I think we need to value both physical closeness being in loving arms of a caregiver and space and opportunity to explore the world. Both are important to infant development. Valuing and allowing for baby to have time not physically attached does not mean leaving them alone for hours a day to scream and cry. Do you see what my point is? I agree with Annie that babies need closeness and to be held, but putting them down when they are happy and content is not depriving them from that closeness and attachment.

      I agree with you that time spend in arms is good for bonding and can have a positive impact on well being and self esteem, but I don’t think independent play or physical separation when sleeping (ie. putting baby in a crib or bassinet) is detrimental to those things. That being said, I do think it depends on the baby…. Audrey’s temperament was not conducive to always being held or co-sleeping, but if and when we have baby #2, if they should more of a need for those things I would certainly oblige, while still trying to encourage having time for independent play. But I believe in following the lead of baby.

    • Lisa Sunbury November 20, 2010 at 6:47 pm

      I am arriving late to this conversation, partly because I have been thinking about what Kathleen wrote and the ensuing discussion for days. I find myself coming back to and feeling very irritated by the tone of both Annie’s and Kelly’s comments.

      It’s not just because we have different views of the same issue (we do) but it’s the fact that there is such a tone of judgment in some of the comments. It’s one thing to parent in a way that feels very natural to you and works well for your family. It’s even acceptable to be passionate about sharing your experiences and views with others, but it’s a whole different ball game when someone begins judging others before having walked a mile in their shoes.

      Starting with-“But to do so routinely, and for extended lengths of time, speaks lack-of-attachment-and-empathy to me. ” – Where are these mothers who are supposedly putting their babies down, and leaving them to scream for hours so they can get things done? I’ve worked with hundreds and hundreds of families over the years, and haven’t ever known a mother who did this. I have known mothers who have been exhausted, stressed, and in need of guidance and support about ways to take good care of their babies and themselves, and this in no way means they are not attached or empathetic.

      In fact, when I was working with teenage mothers in a program meant to teach parenting skills and prevent child abuse, we taught young mothers to routinely take breaks, and put their babies down, in order to take care of their own needs, so they could then be more in tune, and responsive to their baby’s needs. There are many ways to “connect” with and nurture a baby (even a crying baby) that don’t involve carrying them constantly.

      Babies are vulnerable, and need holding and affection, but they are capable as well. Unless they are premature, they are born being able to regulate their body temperature and breathing and they don’t need an adult to hold them 22- 24 hours a day to accomplish this, nor do they need to be held constantly to become attached, and develop healthy emotional ties. I worry when I read statements like Kelly’s that are presented as “facts”, because most mothers I’ve come into contact with worry, and feel enough guilt, without being made to feel they aren’t good enough mothers or their babies might suffer because they might not be able to, or choose not to, “wear” their babies, or hold them for most of the day.

      I agree with what Katherine has said below, and would just like to add that to me it can also be less than respectful for a mother, no matter how loving her intention is, to hold a baby constantly, because that happens to be what she thinks is best or “needed” for baby.

      Any time we take any practice to extremes, we risk missing out on taking the baby’s needs and preferences into account, and to me that seems to be at the crux of this discussion. We all seem to agree that we want our babies and other people’s babies to cared for with love and respect.

  2. janetlansbury November 16, 2010 at 11:12 pm

    Babies are brilliant and will always tell us what they need if we are open to hearing it. They also get used to whatever we do with them. I respectfully disagree with Kelly that an infant can’t be trusted to spend an hour — or even more — exploring freely in a safe place. Even young infants can “have a life” independent of their mothers periodically, if they are allowed to do so. Yes, some babies have digestive issues and some personalities need more holding and cuddling, and holding a baby (attentively) is a wonderful thing. But generally, infants can do what we believe they can do. They are ready to participate actively in life, but our trust and belief has to come first.

    The fact (supported by numerous recent studies) that free movement is vital to infant brain development is ignored by those who scare and guilt parents into believing that their babies need constant physical contact. Letting babies move, make choices and initiate activities is not neglect. Keeping them strapped on all day is.

    I still have an aversion to the term ‘babywearing’ and the impersonal, total dependency it connotes. Honestly, can you respect someone’s individuality, believe her to be a capable being with a unique point-of-view, and ‘wear’ her at the same time?

    • kelly @kellynaturally November 17, 2010 at 5:44 am

      Janet, I think you misunderstood me. I actually didn’t say this: “I respectfully disagree with Kelly that an infant can’t be trusted to spend an hour — or even more — exploring freely in a safe place. ”
      What I was agreeing with, in defense of what I believed Annie to be saying, was that “Leaving them to scream in a crib or bassinet …is neglectful.”
      Leaving a screaming baby alone for hours is neglectful.
      This is NOT the same thing as free exploration.
      I’m also speaking more of a very young infant – one who MUST be carried because she hasn’t the ability to move on her own, NOT one who has freedom of motion.
      I absolutely agree with you that infants can do what we believe them to do – THAT is one reason why I did not use a crib and preferred instead a floor bed (Montessori-style), and did not use playpens, but rather allowed my crawling babies freedom of motion.
      Additionally, “keeping our them strapped on all day” isn’t something that EITHER of my children would ever have allowed. I always kept in tune to my babies. If they wanted up, they were picked up. If they wanted down, they were put down.
      But I do NOT believe that enforced separation, in an attempt to sleep train or force independence is ever a necessary component of infant care.

      • amoment2think November 17, 2010 at 7:21 am

        Kelly, respectfully, my post was not about sleep training or forced independence. That is a whole different issue. I see your point that that was Annie’s point. My point is there are lots of things in between the extremes.

      • janetlansbury November 23, 2010 at 10:47 pm

        Kelly, what do you believe constitutes an infant’s “ability to move on her own”? How do you define infant movement? Does an baby have to be able to walk or crawl for you to let her move freely — consider her capable of moving? Sorry, but this statement of yours is totally bizarre to me… “I’m also speaking more of a very young infant – one who MUST be carried because she hasn’t the ability to move on her own, NOT one who has freedom of motion.”

        No, our babies can’t run along next to us , but they still deserve freedom of motion! They need to move their limbs, discover their hands, hold their toes, peacefully explore their bodies and their world. WE give our babies this freedom.

        Babies are BORN ready and able to move, whether it looks like much to you or not. Binding them in a carrier until their mobility impresses us is disrespectful of their needs.

    • amoment2think November 17, 2010 at 7:20 am

      Janet, you know I agree with most of what you are saying. But I still have to bristle a little bit at the word neglect. Sorry, but that word just really bothers me and I think it is over applied in parenting. I am very very supportive of giving babies space, but I do think there are some babies, especially when they are very very young, that really do respond to being carried most of the day. I think as long as the parent is being responsive and aware of their babies needs and try to encourage free exploration when baby is happy and content, then there is nothing wrong with it. Again, I believe in following baby’s lead. In time, with trust and believing in them, they will calm down and do better with being given that time to explore. To me, attentive caring parent trying to their best = zero neglect.

      In terms of babywearing- I know, the term is not the best. I don’t think the implication is at all intentional– but I do think words matter (as you can tell from my issues with the neglect term 🙂 ). I would be all for adopting an other term if I could think of one.

  3. Annie @ PhD in Parenting November 17, 2010 at 7:47 am

    I don’t think we disagree at all.

    You mentioned in one of the comments above that you are not talking about sleep training or forced independence, but that *is* part of what I was talking about when I mentioned it being neglectful to leave a screaming child in a crib. Sure, if a parent needs a momentary sanity break, that is fine. But there are parents, who either don’t know about, don’t want to, or can’t babywear, who routinely do not respond to their baby’s cries because they feel like that is the only way they can get anything done. Especially if they have other young children and don’t get much help from their partner, then they probably feel like they have no choice but to do that. I think it is too bad when parents feel like they have no choice but to neglect their baby’s needs. I think that babywearing is an excellent way to meet the baby’s needs and the parent’s needs at the same time.

    With regards to me physically touching my daughter for 22 out of 24 hours of the day, that is what worked for us, but it doesn’t mean that everyone has to do that. Some babies are happy to be put down on the floor for a bit or in a bassinet. Reasonable use of things like swings and so on is okay too (we used a swing with our son, partly out of necessity because I hadn’t “found” babywearing yet and party because he liked it). In my post, I said that those devices shouldn’t be used for “much of the day”, not that they shouldn’t be used at all.

    I think perhaps you are interpreting my words differently than they were intended. Perhaps I should have bolded things like “much of the day” and “every time” to make it clearer what my intention was.

    • amoment2think November 17, 2010 at 9:02 am

      Thanks for your comment Annie. I agree, I don’t think we totally disagree. I certainly understand that what you were talking about was parents who feel they have no other option but to put down screaming baby to get stuff done. And I certainly agree that using a sling or carrier is a great alternative. I also recognize (as I did in my post) that you were using the 22 hour example to explain what worked for your family. And that you were not saying that parents shouldn’t use a swing, but rather that it shouldn’t be used ‘much of the day’.

      Again, my post was exploring my thoughts on your post, much of which I very much agree with. The main thing I disagree with is that the way the ‘opposite’ of ‘babywearing’ is presented. There are lots of parents who put their kids down regularly that doesn’t involve leaving them in their crib to cry. I guess part of what I am responding to is how we see each other as parents. I know there are not so good parents out there, but I don’t think there are a ton of parents scrubbing the floors well they listen to their babies screaming in the other room. You know? I think the issue isn’t that black and white. And I disagree with the ‘ideal’ parent being represented as one who spends as much time as possible with baby in their arms/a carrier. Again, I know you didn’t out right say that that was the definition of an ideal parent, I respect that. But I do think that the cumulative effect of many many dialogues like this do represent this as the ideal.

      • Annie @ PhD in Parenting November 17, 2010 at 9:28 am

        I wasn’t trying to portray the opposite of babywearing. I was trying to portray the potential consequence of not having babywearing as an option, especially if you have a high needs baby and other small children to take care of.

        I’m not trying to set up or portray an ideal. I’m trying to ensure that parents have options and tools, so that they don’t feel they have to be torn between meeting their baby’s needs and doing everything else they need to do.

      • amoment2think November 17, 2010 at 10:22 am

        I understand that wasn’t the intention and as I said, I think babywearing is a great tool. This was just my thoughts in reaction to your post. Again, I think we agree more then we disagree. But I often find myself thinking about and questioning how we present parenthood.

  4. amoment2think November 17, 2010 at 9:05 am

    What does everyone else think? Do you strive to balance ‘pick em up’ and ‘put em down’? Do you put more value or focus on one or an other? What are your challenges in achieving that balance? What determines which you do when?

  5. Perpetua November 17, 2010 at 11:33 am

    I practiced babywearing for a good 14 months or so. Until E really, really wanted to be on his own and to walk everywhere we went, I carried him in a Bjorn and later in an Ergo. He loved it. I loved it.

    But here’s the less-laudable truth: I loved it in no small part because it did give me freedom to do what I needed to do, like wash dishes or shop for groceries or put stuff away or go for a walk. Indeed our kids do tell us what they want, and my baby told me, through his cries, that he didn’t want the bouncer/jumper/stroller/car seat. He wanted to be against my chest. And so the bjorn allowed me to save my sanity simply by giving him what he needed without requiring me to give up everything in my day.

    I realize that sounds selfish, but it’s really not. I believe it helped to build a strong bond between us. I also believe I was following my child’s lead. He still loves cuddles at night and in the morning, but other than that he likes to be on his own. I believe the bjorn helped foster that sense of independence, too.

    To this day I haven’t met a parent who would just let her child scream in a crib for hours, but maybe I’m just lucky. Like everyone else, I’ve had those moments where I just had to put the screaming baby down. In those cases whatever works, even if it’s a ride in the carseat, is acceptable, I think.

    • amoment2think November 17, 2010 at 1:10 pm

      That doesn’t sound selfish to me at all. I am a big believer in the importance of both mama and baby being happy and that a big part of baby being happy is mama being happy.

      I, like you, have never met a parent who would let their infant scream in order to get stuff done. That is part of why I couldn’t stop thinking about Annie’s post– portraying parents like that bothers me. I am sure it does exist, but, as I said, I believe the majority of parents are caring, attentive and trying to do their best. They may not use the same parenting methods or tools or place as much value on physical closeness, but I don’t think that means the alternative is letting baby scream.

    • Ginger November 17, 2010 at 2:47 pm

      You know, to Perpetua’s point–I wore Jackson some as a baby, but not often because HE didn’t want to. He was never a “sleep in my arms” kind of baby, and almost always slept better in his bassinet than in my lap, better in his crib than in my arms. He didn’t always want to be held.

      I held him a lot but I also put him down a lot. Sometimes, I put him down when he was crying, yes. It usually wasn’t to get stuff done though (unless by “get stuff done” you mean “go to the bathroom”), and more to give me a physical break –especially in the 6-8 weeks after my c-section, I literally couldn’t hold him all day. Many people would be surprised by how often he would calm down when I put him down–we grew to find that even as an infant, he wanted his own space at times.

      We used a carrier, we used a swing, we used a bouncer, we used a blanket on the floor, we used my bed, we used his crib. We used whatever worked on any given day for us. Sometimes he was crying, but more often than not, he was just…chillin. I’m glad ALL of those options were available to us. And I don’t think that it’s neglect to use those options as necessary as a loving, caring, involved and attentive parent.

      • amoment2think November 18, 2010 at 3:10 pm

        It sounds like Audrey and Jackson have similar personalities. Very early on Audrey taught us that she really preferred some space to herself sometimes. We still held her a lot and loved things like carriers and the big blanket on the floors. She wasn’t a big fan of the swing or bouncer, but we did have this little vibrating baby papisan chair that she liked until she could sit on her own. I am also glad we had all those options.

        And totally, I just don’t think neglect is the appropriate term for any loving, caring, involved, attentive parent. And I really do believe there are babies that like more space then others and even ones that prefer to be put down sometimes when they are upset (particularly once they are older then 4-5 months).

  6. SlackerInc November 21, 2010 at 11:15 pm

    I got to this a tad late, but I just wanted to point out that it seems the post is conflating newborns and older babies. I’d agree that carrying a four month old 22 hours a day would be too much, and that babies that old and older benefit from playing on a blanket or wherever. But you can’t put a newborn down to play on a blanket.

    I’d also underline what others have said: it is leaving a baby to scream that is neglectful, not leaving a baby to nap happily or whatever (though I do think that conditioning a baby to be comforted by a swing is a bit sad, just not nearly as bad as leaving them to scream somewhere). And there are certainly people who do it. I see examples on Facebook and Twitter all the time, not to mention hearing about it from trusted sources IRL (don’t want to get more specific than that just in case).

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