So you’re considering babywearing but you don’t really know where to start. You’ve noticed sling wearing mommas in the supermarket and the playground, you’ve heard a little about the benefits, you’ve even spotted some celebs slingin’ it and you’d like in on the action. Maybe you’re still undecided about the whole business. Well, pull up a chair and read on.
As usual, I’ll pause to disclaim. I’m no expert. I’m simply a mum who found babywearing to be a lifeline. What I’d like to do is dispel some of the myths about baby-wearing and to point parents and parents-to-be in the direction of the correct information on sling types and sling safety. I’ve enlisted the help of a number of babywearing experts to answer some of the most common questions asked by parents new to the practice.
MY PERSONAL EXPERIENCE
I first started using slings with my second child in 2012. I had just entered the fog that was life with two children and was in the process of adjusting to the need to split my attention, my time and my energy in two. This was new territory. I had to make meals and snacks, keep the house in some sort of order and do more laundry than I’d ever imagined. And all while tending to the whims of a baby being fed on-demand and an insistent toddler. A baby carrier seemed like a sensible option. And it turns out, it was. My daughter was perfectly happy in her sling, napped for hours on end and allowed me to focus more attention on my two-year-old. I was a convert.
10 COMMON BABYWEARING QUESTIONS
1. IS BABYWEARING FOR ME?
It’s altogether possible that babywearing is for you if one or more of the following statements apply:
- You love the idea of having your baby close to you.
- You suffer from ‘dead arm’ regularly due to multitasking efforts.
- You’ve cursed the weight of your cumbersome buggy and privately kicked its undercarriage in frustration.
- You’ve had to decline an invite to brunch in the newest hot-spot in town because they (purposely) have no lift.
- You don’t like it when strangers reach into your pram to paw your gorgeous little cherub with their dirty mitts.
- You’re the outdoorsy type who likes nothing more than to post pictures of yourself at the top of the nearest mountain on Instagram on a Sunday morning while the rest of us haven’t managed to get dressed and ain’t no baby gonna stop you.
- You have an infant who may not be safe around well-meaning siblings who have been known to attempt to feed it Shopkins and furry cashews.
- There are a lot of steps/stairs/escalators in your life.
- You simply have a baby who wants to be close to you and who is most content against your chest.
2. WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS?
While the Western World has seen a new wave of enthusiasm for the practice, Babywearing is obviously not a new phenomenon. For thousands of years in the furthest corners of the world, mothers have been wrapping and carrying their offspring in cloths, shawls and pouches. From the Alaskans to the Aborigines, women the length and breath of the globe have long since understood the practical and physiological benefits of keeping their little ones safe and close. Time has passed, societies have evolved, the role of women has changed but two simple facts remain:
- There is nowhere a baby wants to be more than in the arms of a parent.
- Parents need two hands. At least.
As well as being extremely convenient and gorgeously cute, research shows that babies who are worn cry less. (Sold! To the lady in the back with the giant coffee, the eye baggage and the bed-hair.) A baby, in particular a newborn, has an innate need to be close to its mother. A sling is a safe place to be and babies appreciate that security. As well as promoting bonding and emotional development, babywearing also aids digestion. Slings are particularly helpful for babies suffering with the discomfort of colic and reflux. These are just some of the benefits.
I know I had you at the ‘crying less’ business but for a comprehensive list on the physical, practical, emotional and sensory benefits of babywearing (and there really are LOADS) check out Babywearing Ireland, a volunteer-run, non-profit organisation which aims to promote safe babywearing. You’ll hear more about it in a bit.
3. IS BABYWEARING SAFE?
The short answer is yes! Babywearing is entirely safe once its done properly and guidelines are adhered to. Safety in babywearing is all about positioning. Olwen Rowe, a mother of three, runs Born to be Carried, a sling consultancy in Galway. She is also a BWI volunteer and helps run the Galway Sling library with a number of other sling enthusiasts. “For a sling or carrier to be safe it is absolutely essential that a baby is well positioned and supported. It’s also vital that you continually monitor how your baby is doing. Having your baby well-supported in an upright position and ‘close enough to kiss’ gives you the best chance of making sure all is well.”
While the position of your baby in a carrier will vary slightly depending on his or her age, the general rule of thumb is that knees remain higher than baby’s bum for optimum comfort and safety.
Olwen stresses the importance of choosing the right sized carrier for your baby. “If your baby doesn’t appear to be well supported or positioned in a sling or carrier, it may be that the sling is not suitable for the age/size of your baby or you may need more information on how to get a better fit.”
The TICKS guidelines were created by the UK Consortium of Sling Manufacturers and Retailers and provide the foundation for sling safety:
Babywearing International has produced a similar safety overview – The ABC’s of Babywearing.
4. WHICH SLING SHOULD I CHOOSE?
Initially you may be overwhelmed by the array of sling types and brands available. Dundalk-based mother of three, Ina Doyle is a babywearing and breastfeeding educator and founder of Bump to Beyond – a website and online store dedicated to responsive parenting. She has a fantastic introduction to carriers on her site which includes a run-down of the five basic sling types:
- stretchy wraps
- woven wraps
- ring slings
- SSCs – soft-structured carriers or buckle carriers
I’ve often heard people compare slings to jeans or shoes in that there’s no one-type-fits-all. What suits one babywearer may not suit another. There are so many factors to consider including the age of your baby, when and where you intend to use the sling, your height/build and your personal preferences. Some prefer buckles, others prefer wrapping, etc. You may also find that your needs and preferences change as your baby grows. Many will begin their babywearing journey with a stretchy wrap and then progress to a woven wrap or SSC when baby gets a little older.
The key advice any seasoned babywearer will offer about buying a sling is ‘try before you buy’. I’ve had friends who tried a particular sling once, didn’t like it and sadly wrote off babywearing entirely based on that one negative experience. There is a sling type for everyone but you may have to spend a little time figuring out which one is right for you.
According to Ina, “it’s incredibly rare to be faced with circumstances that are totally incompatible with babywearing. Whether it’s surgeries, injuries, sore backs, dodgy hips, additional hardware or any other extra needs the wearer or little passenger may have – in most cases an experienced babywearing consultant will be able to work out a solution with you.”
5. WHERE CAN I ‘TRY BEFORE I BUY’?
You have more options than you might think:
- Contact the national sling library. Mum of four, Tania Lawlor, is a trained babywearing consultant and librarian of the Babywearing Ireland Sling Library and operates the Babywearing Ireland library from her Kerry home. Members can borrow slings, via mail, from the library to try out for two weeks before deciding on which type to invest in. Funds raised from rental fees go directly into reinvesting in slings.
- Book a session with with a babywearing consultant. Consultants have trained with one of a number of registered bodies and offer one-to-one advice on choosing and fitting all types of slings and carriers. Some slings – in particular ring slings and wraps – have a learning curve so a sling consultant will ensure that you are wearing your chosen sling correctly and comfortably. Most also operate a rental scheme. Here’s a list of qualified sling consultants in Ireland.
- Attend your local sling meet. Babywearing Ireland operates 29 of sling meets in various locations around the country. A sling meet basically allows parents with an interest in babywearing to chat over a cuppa and learn more about slings. These meets are run by volunteers and usually facilitated by a consultant who will offer demonstrations, advice and library rentals. You’ll find your nearest BWI sling meet here.
- Visit a specialist babywearing retailer. While many of the larger baby stores now stock ergonomic baby carriers, specialist retailers will usually have a bigger selection and experts on hand to help you choose and fit your sling. Here’s a list of babywearing retailers. If you don’t have a store nearby, most online retailers have good returns policies.
6. HOW LONG CAN I WEAR MY BABY FOR?
If your baby is in a carrier that supports correct positioning and is suitable for the weight of your child, you can carry your baby from the newborn stage all the way through to toddlerhood and even beyond. There are carriers specifically designed to accommodate your toddler or preschooler. Many woven wraps will also comfortably accommodate an older child. Wear your baby for as long as you both feel comfortable.
With a suitable sling and a good technique, under the guidance of a medical professional, it can also be safe (and highly beneficial) to carry babies with special needs, including pre-term or low-weight babies.
7. WON’T IT HURT MY BACK?
Ina Doyle says “using a sling should never hurt. And it should fit perfectly. Correct wearing activates your core and pelvic floor muscles, thus strengthening them, stabilising and straightening your body. A well fitting and correctly used sling spreads your baby’s weight evenly across your body, hugs them close to you and leaves you feeling hugged too, allowing your muscles to relax and you to stand up tall.”
In fact, babywearing can actually improve back and pelvic girdle issues. Wexford mother of four and Babywearing Ireland volunteer, Aisling Furlong, was wheelchair-bound on her third pregnancy due to SDP/PGP and her physiotherapist recommended using a sling. ‘Wearing improved my overall condition. I have chronic pelvic girdle pain and bulging discs in my lower back and both have improved whilst babywearing.’ Aisling managed to avoid crutches and using the wheelchair during her subsequent pregnancy and enjoyed babywearing for 35 weeks. Slings gave me my freedom back and improved my core strength. So many think they can’t wear because of back issues. But a heavy buggy is worse. My physiotherapist and osteopath were both happy for me to use an ergonomic sling.’ Aisling’s positive babywearing experience prompted her to get involved with Babywearing Ireland. She started the Wexford sling library and now runs the Wexford sling meet.
9. HOW SHOULD I DRESS MY BABY WHEN BABYWEARING?
On dressing your baby for sling use Olwen says “it’s worth knowing that babies are adapted to heat-share with you, so as few layers as possible between you and baby is a good guideline. And remember that carrying your baby skin-to-skin in a sling especially during the early weeks is hugely beneficial to both baby and yourself!”
“Generally, in gauging how much your baby needs to wear you’ll also need to think about how many layers the sling adds. For instance a stretchy wrap adds three layers on baby, whereas a ring sling adds one layer.”
In cold weather Olwen recommends wearing something over you both. “There are amazing babywearing coats, covers and panels on the market but you don’t need anything fancy – an oversized fleece or coat can work very well too”. Snowsuits are not recommended for babywearing. “Not only is it very difficult to get a baby into a safe position with snowsuit, it’s also possible for a baby to overheat.” She recommends, extra socks, booties or legwarmers for winter wearing. “I found baby leg warmers worked brilliantly as they were so easy to slide on and off as needed.” In hotter weather, similar consideration should be given to the amount of layers created by the carrier and the fabric weight.
9. CAN I BABYWEAR WHILE PREGNANT?
Nothing says earth mother quite like a pregnant babywearer! Obviously it’s important to first check with your GP or midwife if you have any concerns about babywearing in preganancy but many mothers-to-be continue using slings right through their pregnancies. Ring slings and back carries with woven wraps or SSCs are popular.
Tania Lawlor enjoyed babywearing up until 38 weeks on two of her pregnancies. Her advice is to “trust your body’s cues and use slings for as long as you are comfortable.” Slings and carriers can be easily adjusted to allow for more comfort in pregnancy.
10. WHERE CAN I FIND OUT MORE?
If you haven’t already clicked over there, I’ll advise you one last time to check out the Babywearing Ireland website which has pretty much everything you need to know.
There are some amazing Facebook groups in both Ireland and the UK that offer wonderful support and advice and are always very welcoming to new members. I have come across few online communities as friendly, passionate and helpful as the babywearing communtity.
There’s a fantastic pre-loved market for slings and carriers some of which, believe it or not, depreciate very little in value. In fact a limited edition wrap or an out-of-print fabric can often resell at a profit. A word to the wise: these people don’t generally engage in haggling so take the price or leave it! Here are some groups worth checking out:
Babywearing FSOT (UK) *FSOT = For Sale or Trade
Finally, if you spot a nice sling on a stranger when you’re out and about, don’t be afraid to ask the wearer about it. I’ve been stopped countless times for the details of a carrier, as have most babywearers I know. There’s nothing sling folk enjoy more than a little enabling!
Go forth and wear all the lovely babies! I’m pretty sure you won’t look back.
Are you a babywearer or considering babywearing? I’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments below! If you found this post helpful or know someone who might, feel free to share it.
I’m linking this post with some of these…