Marni Matyus – Babywearing and Kangaroo Care

Carrie: You’re back with Carrie at Natural Moms Talk Radio and I’m joined this week by Marni Matyus from The Sling Station and Peppermint.com.  Good morning, Marni. 

Marni: Good morning! 

Carrie: How are you today? 

Marni: I’m great!  How are you? 

Carrie: Very good.  I think it’s finally cleared up here.  We’ve had a couple days of sort of pseudo rain, which is kind of good, but we need so much more.  We’re having a bad drought right now.  It’s nice to see the sun, but I wish it would just really drench and give us some rain.  Well, we’re going to talk about kangaroo care.  Now, you’re obviously a baby-wearing expert with your website and your business.  First of all, for those who aren’t familiar with you and what you offer on your website, tell us about The Sling Station and Peppermint.com. 

Marni: Okay.  With both websites, we offer a wide variety of baby carriers.  We represent many of the major manufacturers and in addition to all the different types of carriers, we also have people on our staff who are baby sling experts, who have used the carriers with their own children and they are available by phone and by live chat or email to help moms design which carrier is best for their needs and also to use the carriers if they’re having trouble using their carrier after they received it. 

Carrie: And I’m sure that’s an issue because I know I’ve heard that from many moms, “Oh, my baby doesn’t like it,” or “I can’t get it to work.” 

Marni: Right, right, and that’s what we really try, to provide the service to those moms because when you first get it out of the package, it can be a little intimidating, but if you’ll just step through it and give it a chance and look at our videos on our website and we also have some printable instructions in addition to what’s provided by the manufacturers.  Most people, once they give it a try or give us a call and we can give you help based on your baby’s age and your particular situation what carrying position might be best for you or some tips to help you use your carrier. 

Carrie: Oh, that’s great.  Okay, so on the topic of kangaroo care and I’m sure most of our listeners are familiar with that, but if you want to just explain briefly what kangaroo care refers to. 

Marni: Absolutely.  Kangaroo care really is skin to skin. What happened is in the 1970s in Columbia, they didn’t have the money to buy incubators and they were having a lot of premature babies that were dying. So they tried using the mother as an incubator, so when these babies were born, they literally put the baby on the mother’s chest, skin to skin, the baby’s only wearing a diaper and actually inside the mother’s gown or shirt and the mothers wore the babies 7 x 24 and they actually slept in a semi-upright position with the babies tied to their chest. 

They found that those babies did better than the babies that were in the incubator and the hospital on the top of the hill, they did have money for incubators.  Surprisingly, first of all, these babies were surviving and then as we did more and more research and in other countries, kangaroo care is really implemented much the same as it was in Columbia back when it first started where the babies are held for most of the day on the mother’s chest. 

So, what we found out is their heart rates are more stable, their breathing is more stable, their cortisol levels and their stress hormone are at the 10x lower than a baby who is in an Isolette or an incubator.  The babies that are held skin to skin and held close to their mother were getting out of the hospital faster, they were nursing better, they were gaining weight better, and they have actually a higher survival rate. 

Carrie: Wow.  You know, I had read about the benefits of kangaroo care before, but listening to you tell that story, it occurred to me I wasn’t aware of the fact that they actually encourage the mothers to have the baby sleep on their chest. It made me think that kind of decries the whole “co-sleeping is unsafe” thing and I wonder how many women have done this.  Is it a large enough group of women that we could use those statistics to disprove some of the co-sleeping detractors? 

Marni: You know, I’m really not sure.  I do know that Niles Bergman who provided most of the information that I know of, they’re very specific on the way that the babies are tied onto the mother when they are sleeping, especially that they want to make sure particularly that the baby’s airway is protected.  That is a big concern to them, especially with premature babies. 

Carrie: That would be kind of an interesting thing to investigate just as a side point. 

Marni: Absolutely. 

Carrie: Well, you mentioned some of the benefits to the baby, but what about the moms and dads too?  Dads participate in kangaroo care as well, don’t they? 

Marni: Absolutely.  I mean it’s often focused on the mother because she’s obviously there.  She’s nursing the baby in a lot of cases, but when the mother cannot hold the baby or kangaroo the baby, obviously the dad is the natural choice.  For the mother particularly — for the mother, for me, it was getting my life back when I’m dealing with a newborn — when I had my first baby it was difficult to even get a bite to eat and with the baby held tight to my body, I could now fix myself a meal, I could actually eat using two hands, walk around, things that were difficult with a newborn that wanted to be held constantly. 

Now, with kangaroo care, we’ve actually found out that some mothers have a lower incidence of postpartum depression.  Bonding is easier and they are able to get to know their baby’s needs faster to understand what the baby is needing and obviously respond to their cries faster and then obviously just to be able to do some things that they might not be able to do otherwise. 

Carrie: Yeah.  I know I always felt sorry for moms with preemies and one of the biggest reasons why is because when you see these pictures or footage of babies in these little incubators and the mommies cannot touch them and hold them, it always made me feel so sad for the mom because it’s just an instinct to want to just be close to that infant and protect them and everything and I thought, “Oh, that’s got to have some kind of emotional repercussions.”  So, that makes total sense to me that it would impact postpartum depression rate. 

Marni: Absolutely.  I think we have a physiological need to be with our babies because they have a need to be with us.  It’s a very natural phenomenon and it’s so much easier for the moms even in hospital setting if they can use a carrier to kangaroo their babies, they’re more likely to hold them longer to give them more skin to skin time, which the babies really need if they can sit there and read a book or if they can walk around the hospital a little bit.  Even if the babies have to be connected to breathing machines or IVs, the mom still has a little bit more freedom with physically having to hold the baby with her arm, so that babies tend to get more mom time, more skin to skin time.  Kangaroo care is not just for premature babies.  They’re also for newborns.  They experience the same benefits for newborn babies, which also have a need to be close to their mother.  They actually have the same benefits to a full-term baby as to a premature baby. 

Carrie: Right.  Well, back to that thing that we were talking about earlier about moms who say, “Oh, well, you know, I tried that (babywearing).  My baby just screamed.  They didn’t like the sling.  They didn’t like the carrier…” What suggestions do you have? 

Marni: First of all, starting early.  A lot of times, if you carry a baby from their very early weeks, they don’t know any different.  It’s very natural to them.  That’s a very natural place for the baby to be, so obviously it’s what they are used to. 

A lot of babies also are particular about the positioning.  So, with the newborn, the best position we found is upright on the mother’s chest.  So, with the baby’s head above in between the breasts you want to hold the baby high so that you can reach down to kiss the top of their head.  A lot of babies don’t like to have their heads covered and a lot of babies don’t like to be in a reclining position, especially if you have a baby who’s colicky or reflux, it may hurt them to be in a reclining position.  They do much better sitting upright and you want the baby to be facing you, so they’re leaning against the mother.  That way, they’re not having to support their own weight or their own spine. 

You want to fully support them so they’re leaning against you and then usually there’s fabric behind the baby’s back.  Now, when you have a little bit older baby and you’re just getting into baby wearing, you may need to show them that the sling is a nice place to be.  So, obviously, put them in a carrier and, again, for most babies, we still recommend almost at any age when you’re just starting to wear your baby upright, leaning against the mother, facing the mom.  Put the baby in the carrier, make sure they’re comfortable and walk around. 

So, the first thing you should do when you get the baby in the sling is take a walk, if the weather is nice preferably outside.  I found that just walking around and patting the baby, often they’ll calm down because for an older child that’s not used to being in a sling, it might be just something different, something they’re not used to.  So, they may be a little apprehensive.  If you can calm them down, they’ll soon learn that that’s exactly where they want to be is in mom’s arms.  So, the sling is a way for them to get what they want basically. 

Obviously, the other thing to think about is if the baby just is not happy in the sling, put it away and try it another day.  The other thing you can do to make the baby more comfortable is to make sure you’re comfortable with the sling before you put the baby in.  So, practice with a doll or even with a sack of rice and make sure you understand how the sling works before you actually try it with your baby.  That way, they’re not picking up on your apprehension or any insecurities you may have with the sling because they do pick up on our emotions. 

Carrie: That’s right.  You know, my oldest was a very high need baby and I picked up a sling when he was about 5 weeks old at a consignment shop and it was the worst sling for my body that I could have chosen.  That was one thing.  It was the wrong kind of sling for me because he was tiny and I’m kind of petite and I got a NoJo at a consignment shop.  I didn’t know that there was a difference among all the slings and it just so happened that the NoJo is about the worst possible sling for my frame.  I needed a Maya or something that I could adjust the tail independently to get him nice and tight, so that was one thing.  Secondly, for me, what worked with him was I had to put him in it and immediately start moving, almost be bouncing while I’m adjusting it and take off walking. 

Marni: Absolutely. 

Carrie: And that really helped us, but it was a lifesaver for me.  I always say that I was blessed with a high need child first because everything after that seems easier.  It was trial by fire. 

Marni: That’s absolutely correct. 

Carrie: Oh boy.  The sack of rice thing, I’ve not heard that.  I’ve heard of using a Cabbage Patch doll, but I think a sack of rice is better because it’s heavier and fluffier. 

Marni: Absolutely and if you’re afraid of your baby falling out of a sling, when you put a sack of rice in there, it’s slippery and it’s heavy and it has no arms and legs and if you can keep the rice in there, it probably is not going to be an issue to keep your baby in a sling or a wrap. 

Carrie: Right, yeah.  The thing about going outside is great.  Sometimes I would have to do that too.  I can immediately walk outside because most babies tend to calm down the moment they get outside in the fresh air.  Yeah, that was a great tip too. 

Marni: Absolutely. 

Carrie: Well, you actually had an opportunity to educate some folks in Dallas, medical staff, about kangaroo care.  Tell us about that. 

Marni: I did and it was a fantastic opportunity actually and we had nurses, physical therapists, midwifes, like patient consultants and a few doctors that actually came to our workshop.  Obviously, most of them know about kangaroo care in general because they have lots of workshops.  They understand the value of kangaroo care for the baby, so we were able to show them how to use a carrier to implement kangaroo in there in a hospital setting and they are working with not only premature babies, but also special needs children. 

So, in the child life centers, they’re dealing with children that may have cancer, may have breathing difficulties, may have brain damage or brain trauma, and they found that the carriers are very calming to the babies that when they’re held, when they’re carried they’re much happier.  It’s sometimes easier to work with them with certain physical therapy activities or when they undergoing medical treatment.  We have had a great response.  The staff was very encouraged about what we had to show them and made it easier for them and easier for some of the parents and they are able to now go and teach the parents how to use baby carriers and to encourage them to do more kangaroo care with their babies. 

Carrie: That’s great!  You know, I’ve never thought about that, babies with special needs and how they could also benefit from baby wearing.  That’s great.  Well, what kind of slings or carriers do you recommend for that? 

Marni: Well, I showed them all of the carriers and my suggestion is typically a wrap and without fail, that’s always their first choice to use once they see the benefits and learn how to use it.  Some people are a little bit intimidated by a wrap at first, but really we find that the easiest carrier for moms to get the babies in comfortably and securely is also the most versatile when dealing with babies with special needs because you can position the baby exactly where you need them and then tighten the wrap around them.  You can also vary the carrying positions depending on the baby’s needs. 

Carrie: Well, that’s really interesting.  That’s good to know.  Well, Marni, thank you so much for coming on the show and sharing that with us.  I know I’ve seen your banners from Peppermint.com, especially all over the Internet, especially the blogosphere, and you’ve got just a wonderful variety and great articles and stuff on your site, so I encourage our listeners to check you out and see what you have to offer.  Thank you so much for sharing this information with us today. 

Marni: Thank you for having me.

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