Ring Slings, how do I love thee, you trusty, versatile, stylish slings? You have been around for thousands of years in many traditional formats to allow parents to carry babies on their hips, from the Mexican rebozo to the Welsh babywearing shawl and the German Hockmantel.. simple, practical, incredibly useful. Here is my Ode to the Ring Sling and its many uses (updated July 2014).
Mags and I went on a treasure hunt in the South on the August Bank Holiday (2013). She refused to wear her shoes, so out came my trusty ring sling! Here we are at the start! I love ring slings. They are so versatile, can be very comfortable, and pack down small into a handbag. People are intrigued by them and frustrated by them in equal measure, as evidenced by the popularity of the Surgery ring sling workshops; ring slings are often perceived as hard to use, likely to cause strain on the shoulder or back ache, or only for small babies. Not at all! They are easy to use (if you have been shown how to), when put on well, they spread the weight across your back and over the whole of your shoulder, and can be used from birth to late toddler-hood, even pre-school age (with the best sturdy fabrics). While en route, I thought this might be a good opportunity to get some pictures of some of the many the things you can do with a ring sling… Maggie, the wearee was nearly three at the time of the first photos (she’s nearly four now! and still using ring slings!) The purple and turquoise ring sling is a Kitten Creations production with floating rings and a gathered adjustable shoulder. The fabric is a linen and cotton woven blend from Violet Chameleon‘s dye studios… (Edit, 2014 – I have added some more photos of other ring slings to help illustrate better!)
1) Standard tummy to tummy/hip carry
This can be on the front or on the hip, with child’s legs spread into a deep seated squat with knees up high, with the bottom section of the fabric tucked into the knee pits and the top edge of the fabric reaching up to the back of the shoulders (higher with a small baby). Very small babies will be better with knees tucked up, just a little apart, in line with the outer edge of the pelvis. A muslin can be used to make a neck roll for support. Here is the Slingababy ring sling video and here is another excellent one from the West Yorkshire Sling Library, both showing the hip/tummy to tummy carry.
2) Seated Sideways
Seated sideways can be very useful for little ones or for those with colic who don’t enjoy the stomach compression that can come from the standard carry. Note Maggie’s legs are both on the same side, and together, but her knees are still higher than her bottom. Both arms should be in front of her chest (this ensures that the spine is not twisted and pelvis and shoulders are well aligned).
3) Off Centre Carry
This carry is lovely for little babies as it mimics how they are held cradled in the crook of your arm. It requires head support with one arm and can be used for feeding but not for sleeping (airway can be squashed if baby’s head sinks too far forwards. Always ensure you can fit two fingers between baby’s chin and their chest and their face is visible and breathing is unobstructed.) The first photo shows this being done with a young baby (mum has removed her supportive arm for the photo. The easiest way to think of this is that baby is in the recovery position, with tummy against parent, one arm resting around the parent’s side, and knees tucked up above bottom, ideally with the uppermost leg the most bent), just as baby would be in your arms. The spine should not be twisted, both shoulders and posterior iliac crests of the pelvis should be aligned (hence the back arm being laid around the side of parent).
4) Front facing out in the Buddha position
This can be an useful carry for bigger babies who want to see the world facing out, for a short while. I’d suggest this for four months and over, with good head control, no younger. You need to make a much deeper pouch than with the inward facing carry, and the sling should not be too tight, to avoid feet and ankles being over-compressed, and to allow baby’s spine to curve a little. Care needs to be taken with positioning and pulling fabric up. In the second photo you can see the silhouette of one of M’s crossed legs and why it is called the Buddha position. Again, this position is not for sleeping in, in case the head droops forwards and compresses the airway. Here is the Sakura Bloom video of this (they call it a Kangaroo Carry!)
5) Back carry with rings on the front
You can see the simple version below, Maggie is sitting in the ring sling on my back, just as she would on the front. The top rail of the fabric ends up running diagonally down from my shoulder across her back to under my arm on the other side, so if she chose to lean over (away from the camera), she’d be able to travel some distance (this is not a problem on the front as you have your arm there to provide support if required). Also, the width of the fabric over the shoulder can be restrictive and the bottom rail provides less support upwards for the nearside knee (somewhat mitigated here with this particular style of ring sling shoulder that I have cinched in a bit with the adjustable ribbon. You could achieve a similar effect by folding the bottom rail up over your shoulder to pull the knee a little higher). Therefore, I prefer doing a back carry with a ring sling using a flip in the fabric behind the shoulder the rings sit on. This gives a bit of extra support under the knee, if needed, and keeps the top rail horizontal to avoid leaning. You can see the closed flip on my shoulder.
6) Torso carry
The fabric is wrapped around M’s back and tucked under her legs like a ruck, with the rings in the middle of my chest with the tail fed through the rings just like a normal ring sling finish. It is great for quick carries and the weight is distributed evenly. No shoulders are involved which can be very useful if you have shoulder pain. The baby will tend to sit lower on your back than in most wrap carries, but this is fine, think of all those babies happily being carried day after day on mum’s back in kangas in traditional societies.
7) Front carry with with rings on the back and flipped shoulder
This can be great if you don’t like the rings on the front, don’t like the shoulder style you have, or you find the tail gets in the way… Drape the ring sling on as usual, and then swap the rails, so the top becomes the bottom rail, feed the tail through the rings as normal. Take it off, turn it round and put it on again with the rings in the middle of your back and you have a twist at the front which serves the same purpose of keeping a horizontal upper rail for support, and brings the knee up nice and high. Tighten the rings behind you by pulling sequentially along the width of the fabric from the top to the bottom. Here is my video for how to do this.
8) Ring sling as a carrying aid, and other carries
There are often some clever things you can do with a ring sling, such as this “Japanese” style carry, with child sitting astride the fabric with a single cross pass. This works well with co-operative older children, but is more of a carrying aid for younger ones, I feel, as there is no support for determined leaning forwards babies, as you can see. It is comfortable and feels open and cool in warm weather. You can see the tutorial here.
There are many other things you can do, such as using the ring sling as a simple ruck under bum with rings for the “knot” and tightening through the rings (you need a long one for this). You can do lots of things with the tail – here is a recent workshop, the yellow ring sling tail is twisted around and into a fold at the top to make a cushion for baby’s neck, and the stripey ring sling has its tail wrapped around the rings several times. These are just two examples!
Here is a clever way to use a super long ring sling as a two shouldered back carry – by the lovely and innovative Mel at Tribal Babies – and here is how to thread a “no – sew” ring sling (with a short wrap and two loose sling rings), from Emily at Spaghetti Slings. Lastly, if you don’t have any rings, but do have a short wrap, you can do a no no no hip carry (no sew no rings no tie) – my video is here, or a simple rebozo carry (video here).
And of course, ring slings are beautiful, with so many fabrics available to choose from! They are great fun to use and bring delight – they make whirling games much safer and easier on the arms, they are great for beach trips and as “handbag slings” for those days when you might be caught short and in need of something!
Useful troubleshooting tips..
1) Ensure your child’s position is right. You are aiming for a seated squat position, with the knees above the bottom, and the lower third of the fabric well tucked up into a pouch shape in the knee pits, with fabric between your baby’s tummy and yours, and snug, to avoid leg straightening. When a baby is in the seated squat, his pelvis is tipped inwards and upwards, and you should be able to feel a “ploomph” as baby’s body settles down and relaxes once this shape has been achieved. This is why I teach the the “rope method” of putting a ring sling on, as it helps parents to “see the shape” before the fabric is pulled up. Only use just enough fabric for baby to fit into – too large a pouch and you will struggle to maintain position.
2) Make sure the rings are kept just below your collarbone. Many ring sling attempts end up with the rings in the middle of the chest, usually due to starting with too large a pouch, or due to tightening in the “wrong” direction. If you use the rope method (in the two videos above) you can easily rearrange the ring location before you pull the fabric up around baby.
3) Pull the slack around from your back and under your arm to baby’s front when you are getting ready to tighten. This will help to “fix” the rings in place and stop them from sliding down as you pull. Tighten the fabric in the same direction it has come from, ie top rail across baby’s body, and work at a diagonal, rather than tugging towards the floor.
4) Ensure the fabric is snug all around, not just at the top edge (too tight and you may create red marks on the neck and encourage too much of a C shape slumping. Think of the fabric in thirds. Top third will help to support neck and upper back. Middle third will support lower back and bottom. Bottom third will support thighs and knees – each section needs to be evenly snug.
5) Lifting your baby’s body slightly as you tighten to introduce a little looseness can help with getting it fitting well, and will help to spread the fabric across your shoulder into a wide cup, to ensure even weight distrubution and avoid digging. Pull the fabric away from your neck, and fold any excess that is over your arm up over itself towards the centre of your shoulder.
Still not convinced?
If ring slings really aren’t for you (and they don’t work for everyone) but your baby or toddler loves being on your hip, the Scootababy is well worth considering. It is a buckle carrier with a soft elasticated over-the-opposite shoulder easily adjustable section and can be a great, secure solution for hip carrying. Other carrying aids like the Suppori or the Tonga (both mesh slings) can be very useful too. Have a go – learn to love the ring sling!