With a suitcase stocked with a rainbow of woven wraps and other baby-carrying gear, Morse showed the moms and dads how they could keep their hands free and their babies close. This practice is a given in many parts of the world where strollers are rare.
Many people in the United States think “closeness is equated to neediness,” Morse said. But for a growing number of American parents, the kind of closeness that comes from carrying their babies for many or even most of their waking hours is essential to creating a healthy and lasting bond.
“If you meet a need, it will go away. If you ignore it, it will reappear,” she said.
Morse — along with her husband, Kyle, and 1-year-old son, Zephyr — traveled to the District last weekend for the 2012 International Babywearing Conference at Catholic University, joining more than 200 other parents for whom infant carriers are more than an item on a baby registry. They are a symbol of parenting philosophy as well.
The term “babywearing” was coined by William Sears, a California-based pediatrician who in 1992 wrote “The Baby Book,” which popularized the concept of “attachment parenting.”
Along with co-sleeping and extended breast-feeding, baby carrying is a core tenet of that parenting approach, which is supposed to nurture a closer attachment between parent and baby and, ultimately, a healthier child.
Sears, who was recently featured in a Time magazine cover article, says on his Web site that he encourages parents to “wear rather than wheel” their children.
At the conference, which ended Monday, speakers projected over the high whine, hiccups and babble of babies to teach about the latest styles and safety requirements for baby wraps, slings and carriers.
Parents learned strategies for carrying babies in extreme temperatures, and back-to-basics skills such as cloth diapering and sewing their own slings. Moms — and some dads — learned how to do yoga, belly dance and defend themselves from an attacker while keeping their babies close.
They also talked about how to extend the principles of attachment parenting into the school years and how to spread the word about babywearing.
Over the past decade, many of Sears’s ideas have influenced mainstream parenting habits, and baby carriers, made by companies such as Baby Bjorn and Ergobaby, have became a rapidly growing part of the $2.8 billion industry for products catering to babies and preschoolers.
From a handful of baby-carrier vendors 20 years ago, hundreds now exist, including dozens that sell their products at big-box baby stores, said Vesta Garcia, executive director of the Baby Carrier Industry Alliance.