Slings of the Quarter… Stretch your legs with a stretchy

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Off the beaten track – babys face is visible if I look down (Karime)

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I am a big fan of stretchy wraps. They come in all shapes and sizes, and are usually to be found cuddling a gorgeous tiny baby close to someone’s chest, often on a walk – a great way to stretch your legs, sometimes on rugged terrain, while keeping your baby close. For many parents, they are the first slings they own, for good reasons!

“I loved how snugly it is, closest thing to having my bump back! I loved the way it moulded to him. For a winter baby it was perfect as it was so warm.”

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Keeping warm in the chilly wind (Moby)

“The stretchy is a brilliant hands free kit. I’ve been out and about, carseat to wrap, quite a lot. There’s an ever so gentle bounce that quickly settles Erin whilst walking around and yet when alert she’s still able to have a nosey around. I love babywearing already and find the stretchy very comfortable to carry her 12lb weight. Cuddles whilst doing household chores.”

“I’d go out in the morning and T would sleep in the wrap pretty much all day. I’d meet up with other mums or just go and have a coffee and read the paper by myself, without having to worry about manoeuvring a pram.”

“I loved the security of it and having my baby skin to skin on many occasions. It really helped me bond with him.”

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Snuggly cuddles for bigger kids too (Baby Buddha)

Safety

Like all carriers, stretchy wraps need to be used safely and the TICKS  guidelines should always be followed. The most important consideration is to protect baby’s airway; a baby’s neck should never be folded in half and two fingers should fit between their chin and their chest. The most frequently adopted position for carrying is upright and facing in, with legs slightly spread apart and head well supported, as this will also protect growing hips and spine. The stretchy wrap will provide gentle mouldable support and can be adjusted to provide head support. Many cradle style slings and carries are no longer recommended. Most people will think twice before doing a back carry in most stretchies – there are many safety factors to consider and there are other, simpler options out there for back carrying.

What is a stretchy wrap?

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Stretchy wraps are suitable from birth as they provide head control (Cot2Tot)

A stretchy wrap is a length of fabric, usually made of soft and stretchy machine knitted cotton, that is between 4 and 5m long (usually) and about half a metre wide. Some have bamboo blended in with the cotton, which adds to the softness and comfort, and some have a small proportion of spandex, which adds to their elasticity and stretch

They are suitable from birth, and in fact are often used for kangaroo care in hospitals with premature babies, and most people will find their stretchy wraps will be suitable for at least six months and often many more.

Not all stretchy wraps are the same (here is a comprehensive article about this very topic by Rachel of the North East Sling Library) but by and large, they have the same purpose – to be a comfortable one-size-fits-most sling that a parent can put on and tie off before putting baby in. This means that the sling can stay on all day and baby can be tucked into it easily and quickly when needed, and taken out again very simply.

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Feeding in a sling

Babies often sleep in stretchy wraps, when well positioned, as the closeness and snuggliness of the layers of fabric (always at least two layers of fabric with a stretchy!) mimic the close conditions of the womb during pregnancy, and being in contact with a parent’s skin and near a parent’s heartbeat and able to hear a parent’s voice is extremely reassuring for babies. The stretchy wraps will allow healthy hip and spine position, which is vital in small babies whose skeletons are still soft and growing, and will, on the whole, if used correctly, not force them into uncomfortable or potentially harmful positions. The most common style of carries are the front double hammock carry (where the baby’s legs are kept on the same side of the fabric throughout and it is seated in two hammocks) and a pocket wrap cross carry (where baby’s legs are on either side of two cross passes).

It’s possible to breastfeed in a stretchy, once feeding is well established and you are confident with your use of the sling. No breastfeeding is hands free, and it is usually a good idea to get some help and advice from people who are familiar with how to do it.

Of course, some babies may take a little getting used to a new experience, just like being in a car seat, or in a new place. It’s often a good idea, when using a sling for the first time, once they are secure and safe, to go for a short stroll. The bounce and movement of the walk will often soothe a baby, and I remember helping settle my small son to sleep in one during a few tricky patches of his early life.

Some people feel daunted by the complexities of manoeuvring long lengths of fabric, but it is really not as difficult as it may seem, and is easy to learn. Once you have the hang of it, it is quick and easy. Any muddy tails can easily be washed. If you prefer less fabric, but like the bounce and snuggliness of the stretchy fabric, a hybrid carrier such as a Close Parent carrier may help. Your local sling meet will be able to provide support, and there are always instructions provided with each purchase.

How do I put one on?

Many people worry that it looks fiddly, complicated or that there is too much fabric. But really, it is simple – you just tie it on the same way each time and pop baby carefully into the cross passes on your chest. Here is a video.

With premature or especially small babies, other techniques (still using the same tie method) may be more suitable; your local sling consultant can help. This is what I do at the 4th Trimester meets.

How do I know what stretchy wrap will suit me?

All stretchies are different. The best way to get a feel for them is to try several out (your local sling meet or library or consultant should have a good stock).

  • One way stretch. Older-style stretchies tend to have what is known as a “one way stretch” (ie they stretch in one direction, usually lengthways), and some tend to be thicker and heavier (such as the Moby, the Sa-Be for example), whereas others are thinner and narrower (such as the Victoria Sling Lady). They are comfortable, but may be harder to get really snug and will be more tricky to manoeuvre the passes over tiny feet and short legs. They may also tend to sag a little more after a period of wear and with heavier babies, due to less elasticity (the spring-back after being stretched out).

    Sleeping in a Cot2Tot stretchy wrap

    Sleeping in a Cot2Tot stretchy wrap

  • Two way stretch. Other stretchies, such as the JPMBB, the Karime, the Boba wrap, the Hana Baby Wrap or the Cot2Tot, have varying degrees of “two way stretch” ie they stretch both widthways and lengthways. This often adds a greater degree of manoeuvrability of the passes, and may well add a little more elasticity (how easily the wrap will spring back into place after being stretched out to make a pass). They all feel very different, especially the JPMBB original, which is a hybrid wrap, dense, elastic and very strong, and will certainly support your baby well into toddlerhood. The JPMBB basic and Boba are lighter with one smooth side and one rougher side, which helps with identifying any twisting in the process of putting it on, and the Hana Baby wrap is superbly soft and lightweight (due to the bamboo). Due to their lightness and stretchiness, these two will need to be well adjusted for tightness before putting on, a skill that comes with practice. The Snugiwraps stretchy is thinner and lighter still, making it a good option for the summer or with small newborns.

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    A few days old in a Close Parent carrier

  • Close Parent Carrier. This is a semi-structured stretchy wrap that has the two cross passes sewn into position, and is tightened once baby is in by pulling any excess fabric through two rings at the side. There is less fabric than the typical stretchy, which some people find useful.
  • Pouch slings (such as the Tricotti and Baby Buddha). These are some examples of “tube” slings -the parent wears two cylinders, with one on each shoulder, making two crossed pockets for a baby to sit in, one leg on either side of each tube. They are very simple to put on, but as they come in different sizes, they will need to be chosen for the correct fit.

Can I carry my baby facing outwards in my stretchy wrap?

Forward facing out in a stretchy is not recommended for several reasons, even though the practice remains common and some instruction manuals show how to do it.

  • No head support can be created in this position, and babies have heavy heads in proportion to their bodies. A sleepy head lolling forwards may compress the airway and impede breathing, just as the cradle carry may do.
  • A baby facing out has no support for the hips (see this article for more).
  • The spine is artificially straightened in the forward facing out position when it should be curved.
  • Babies need to be able to switch off from a world that may be overwhelmingly loud or intrusive, and this is impossible to achieve facing out.

How long will I be able to use my stretchy wrap?

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Toddler carrying in a Je Porte Mon Bebe (JPMBB)

That depends on the stretchy. Many people find that as babies get bigger and want to be able to see the world ahead of them rather than facing in, they begin to resist facing inwards. This is the point to investigate hip carries with your stretchy wrap, and later on, begin to consider other carriers that will allow sideways positioning, such as hip carriers like ring slings or the Scootababy, or back carrying with an appropriate sling. Most people will find the stretchy wrap works very well for the first six to nine months of age (a few will last into toddlerhood), and is just the start of a happy babywearing journey as their baby grows bigger.

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