When it comes to motherhood, Joelle Farkh isn’t messing around.
As a leader of La Leche League Lebanon and Babywearing Beirut, she’s a fairy godmother of sorts, offering parenting support and educating new moms on breastfeeding. She also happens to run Yalla! Babywear, a popular line of babywearing wraps that she designs and produces in Lebanon.
I’ll admit, I didn’t know much about babywearing (or that it was even a term) until I found out I was pregnant. With just a week or so to go before I meet my own baby, I met up with Joelle to test out her woven wraps and ask her about the practice. It took about three minutes before I was hooked.
How did Yalla! Babywear come about?
One day I found myself latching an infant twin to my breast while changing the diaper of her sibling. My twins spent days on end attached to my body, which is when I realized that I had to babywear.
I did my research and learned all about “ergonomic” carriers, but I couldn’t find anything remotely close in Lebanese stores. That’s when I met an American breastfeeding consultant who had noticed the lack of good carriers in Lebanon and started making and selling some herself. She was about to leave the country soon after I met her, so I jumped in and offered to take over Yalla! Babywear. I’ve been working on perfecting the wraps and slings and adding more products to the company ever since.
What’s the design and production process for the wraps?
I design each new carrier and work closely with several tailors to get a safe and secure final product. Every new design is tested by selected parents for at least a year before it finds its way to the online store.
When and where can someone babywear? Is there a time and a place for it, or does anything go?
One of the biggest benefits of babywearing is how convenient it can be for parents. It takes several months for a newborn to realize that his mother is a different entity – this period is sometimes referred to as the “fourth trimester.”
Many parents become extremely frustrated during this time, because they don’t understand why the baby cries when he’s laid down in the crib or car seat. The truth is that these are recent innovations, while baby carriers are believed to be one of man’s very first inventions. An infant simply feels more secure attached to the mother’s body. Her voice, the sound of her heartbeat, the smell of her breasts: it’s a haven where he’ll want to eat, relax, and sleep.
So babywearing can be practiced anywhere, really, as long as the caregiver uses common sense. You don’t want to ride a motorcycle, go to bed, or bungee jump while babywearing. But you can babywear while going about your normal, everyday activities: grocery shopping, household chores, walking.
I don’t see a lot of people babywearing in Beirut. What’s the common attitude here towards the practice?
People don’t walk enough in Lebanon. We live in a country where pedestrians aren’t respected and sidewalks more often serve as parking spots. But babywearing is becoming more and more popular among the new generation. I’m also starting to see few babywearing grandparents and siblings.
People who are new to the idea either get excited about carrying in a wrap or sling, or they fear “spoiling” the baby. But contrary to the popular belief, it was found that babies who have their cues met are the ones who feel most secure and become more independent with age. Babywearing is an excellent way to keep track of the baby’s cues and respond to them promptly.
Another thing I notice is that Lebanese people link babywearing to African culture [editor’s note: African culture often has negative connotations in Lebanon]. While the khanga is popular in Africa, babywearing is also practiced culturally in all four corners of the world. The Canadians and Inuit use their thick coats to carry their babies; Mexicans love the rebozo, Asians perfected the mei tai, the onbuhimo, and the podaegi; and Europeans mothers used a mix of pouches and clothes carriers.
I notice you post a lot about babywearing safety – the angle the baby’s legs should be at, the best ways to wrap to protect mom and dad’s backs. As an expert and co-manager of Babywearing Beirut, what do you do when you see someone in public who is wrapping incorrectly (or worse, dangerously)?
When I started educating myself and getting in contact with international babywearing instructors, I used to stop parents on the streets and in malls and talk to them about their narrow-based carriers and the inconvenience of front-face carrying. But the more I got into the science and psychology of babywearing, the more I was convinced that babywearing in a poor or overstimulating way beats leaving a baby sleeping in a cold crib away from the warmth of his caregiver’s body. 75% of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) deaths happen when the baby is sleeping alone in a room, and this is far more dangerous than anything else.
That said, babywearing is a lot more enjoyable and might be practiced for a longer period – bringing more benefits to the baby – when using an ergonomic carrier. When a baby sits in a frog-like position with the bum and knees at the same level, his spine assumes its natural curve and his head rests more securely on the caregiver’s body. By carrying this way, we prevent the baby’s hips and spine from being forced into an unnatural position. The mother also risks losing interest in carrying her baby if she suffers from back pain because of poor babywearing techniques or because of a lack of a properly fitted carrier.
That’s why the Babywearing Beirut group was born. Three incredible babywearing mothers – Iman Saade, Kaye El Sayed, and Nicolette Hutcherson – joined forces with me to start free monthly babywearing meetings. Attending parents learn more about the benefits of babywearing, the ABCs of safety, the difference between carriers, and of course they get to test different styles of carriers. Parents can also now rent a carrier on a weekly or monthly basis for a fraction of its original price. The goal is to make babywearing affordable and realistic for all parents.
What’s your favorite place in Lebanon to babywear?
Wherever my babies feel like it! Babywearing at home helps me stay tuned to my babies’ cues while doing household cores. I love to talk, sing, and bond with them while cooking, cleaning the dishes, hanging and folding the clothes. My husband and I also love hiking in nature and we find it to be twice as enjoyable with our twins on our backs. Our most cherished family memories come from babywearing hiking trips.
You’re a mom to young twins, run LLL and Babywearing Beirut meetings, and have your own growing business. What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to new moms who feel overwhelmed?
Keep your baby close. Your baby needs time to make a healthy transition from the womb to the world, and he’ll need to know you’re physically and mentally present in order to feel safe and more confident when taking the first few steps away from you. The time will come when things get easier for you, but the closer you keep him, the smoother that transition is.
Carry your baby as much as you can. Babywearing reduces an infant’s overall crying by 43% during the day and by 54% during the evening hours. Less crying means less stress for you and for your spouse. Babywearing also decreases reflux and gastrointestinal problems in your baby; keeping his head elevated above his stomach will help him digest better. The natural rocking effect he got used to while in your womb will promote longer and healthier sleep patterns, leaving you more time for yourself.
Babywearing mothers also bond easier. They experience an increase in oxytocin (the love hormone) release, and thus are more likely to successfully breastfeed. Human milk has been proven over and over again to be far more superior for the human baby than any other processed mammal or plant-based milk. So, by providing nutrition to your baby, you will also be securing him with an optimized immunity.
All the above decreases cortisol (the stress hormone) in your baby and your own body, and you’re more likely to stay safely away from postpartum depression and enjoy your motherhood to the fullest. If you feel overwhelmed, carry him, breastfeed him, talk to him – bonding with your baby will only increase love, affection, and happiness.
If you need babywearing help, join the Babywearing Beirut group. You’re likely to meet parents going through the same things as you. If you need breastfeeding help, join a La Leche League meeting group and talk to other nursing mothers. You will be amazed how much sharing experiences can help you deal better with your motherhood. You are not alone. There are ways to make it better, you just need to reach out for them.
What do you do when you want to treat yourself?
I personally love the great outdoors and I’m an avid learner. I get excited by new discoveries and new places, but I also dread being alone. So my treat of choice is a trip to a new location with my family. I love meeting exciting and inspiring people, camping and diving along the big blue, or simply taking my kids for a walk in the city, where a learning opportunity awaits us on every corner. This is where I find my happiness.
Images courtesy of Parenting View, Yalla! Babywear,dunedinbabywearinglibrary.wordpress.com, and Carry Me Slings.