KCON students show benefits of cloth baby carriers

GVL / Courtesy - Maureen Ryan

GVL / Courtesy – Maureen Ryan

Carly Simpson

A group of senior nursing students in Grand Valley State University’s Kirkhof College of Nursing is working with local mothers in Grand Rapids to create an alternative and affordable option for holding and traveling with their infants. Their solution, cloth carriers, is a fabric sling.

The idea came from a study abroad trip that several of the students went on last March to Ghana, Africa. A group of senior nursing students spent two weeks in Ghana as a part of their community health rotation for the semester. While there, the group visited hospitals, learned how Ghana’s health system is set up and how the system differs from the United States.

The students also worked at a maternal-infant clinic, visited traditional midwives, went to villages and homes with local community health workers, did health assessments and taught school children about staying healthy.

“The experience as a whole was unforgettable,” said Kate Bleeker, a senior nursing student. “In some ways, it was so much fun – interacting with the little kids at school, being immersed in a new culture, meeting new people and practicing our nursing skills in a completely different environment.

“In other ways it was challenging – working with a language barrier, enduring the extreme heat, being foreigners, facing diseases and health problems that are much less common in the U.S. such as malaria and other tropical diseases, and seeing and experiencing the lack of our modern medical technology and even basic supplies such as gloves.”

This semester, the community health clinical group was assigned to partner with an organization to implement a health intervention for the community and has been working with The Other Way Ministries, a family and community organization on the west side of Grand Rapids.

“We felt we wanted to plan an intervention related to something we had learned in Ghana, but were struggling because of the differences between the communities,” Bleeker said. “As we were brainstorming, we thought of how the mothers in Ghana carried their babies on their backs and how convenient that would be for any parent.”

Strollers and many cloth baby carriers can be extremely expensive, Bleeker said. However, the Ghana-style carrier is simply 2 to 3 yards of cloth that is wrapped around the baby and their parent.

“In Africa everybody uses the cloth carriers,” said Briana Hutchinson, a senior nursing student. “They’re not going to push around a stroller, and they don’t use car seats. The (cloth carriers) are affordable and they make the mom and baby closer. The mom always knows where their child is, can do other things with their hands, connects with the child more and can better anticipate their needs.”

There are also health benefits to using a cloth carrier such as developing a strong parental-child bond due to the physical closeness, promoting proper hip development of the infant and preventing “flat-head,” which can happen from the baby lying flat.

“(Cloth carriers) help the baby develop healthy relationships because they know about loving touch and being close to people,” Hutchinson said.

The KCON students will be holding two demonstrations at The Other Way Ministries on Thursday, Nov. 13 for Hispanic mothers in the neighborhood. The classes will show the mothers how to make a cloth carrier.

“I think it’s really neat how we were able to go on a study abroad trip and were able to tie in what we learned and saw with our own community,” Hutchinson said. “We didn’t go there thinking they should do it our way. We thought this is what they have and this is how they do it. We all learned from each other, and I think a big part of public health nursing is understanding different cultures and being open to trying new things.”

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