What’s the business concept?
It isn’t really a business, more an a initiative to improve the lives of children and their families. Babies love to be, and need to be carried and held close; it is one of the most important ways of providing a child with a strong sense of being loved and protected. Children are primed from the moment of their birth to seek sustenance and closeness, and our instincts as parents or caregivers is to comfort a crying child by lifting them up and cradling them close to our bodies, murmuring and rocking and soothing them with movement. This instinct is common to many species and many of the benefits of this close contact has been borne out by scientific research – infants automatically relax deeply when they are carried, with a demonstrable reduction in crying behaviour, a decrease in heart rate, and a calming of distressed movements. Put simply, babies need to be carried, and babies thrive when they are carried. The whole family benefits, both physiologically and psychologically. However, the society we find ourselves in here in the UK is often very fast paced and stressful; it can be hard for a parent to be able to give a young child all the attention and nurture he needs, while also meeting the demands of daily life.
A soft sling can therefore be a very useful tool for parents to meet their child’s need for closeness, while giving them their hands back, and this is what I do at the Sheffield Sling Surgery; teaching and supporting parents to use carriers safely and confidently. I help them negotiate their way through the often confusing and myriad choices out there, and if there are confounding issues such as back pain, unusual body shapes, or specific medical needs I can help them find the right sling for their circumstances. This information can be accessed through the sling library sessions I run – which is just like a book library, but with slings. I have over 170 carriers which can be looked through, tried on, and hired for a small fee to be used at home and enjoyed. One size or type of sling does not fit all, especially as baby grows, and this service allows people to try a wide range of things before they buy.
I run a special bump to baby small group session called “The Fourth Trimester” in conjunction with the local BabyCalm teacher Lindsay Snow, where families can find out about how to use a sling safely with their newborn, meet other families with similar parenting perspectives, and learn about normal baby development. I also offer small group teaching in workshop format, and private consultations at my home.
I carried both my own children in simple pieces of long stretchy cloth when they were small. It meant that I was able to keep them close so I could talk to them easily (I am deaf and need to lipread) it helped them to sleep calmly, gave me my hands back and allowed me to get out of the house easily and freely without a heavy pram, get on the bus, get out into the Peaks and get on with my life. It was fantastic.. and as I did more research into the benefits of this close contact, I became convinced that many other parents would benefit enormously from it too.
When did the Sling Surgery launch?
In July 2012, four friends and I launched a Facebook group with the specific aim of raising the profile of sling use in Sheffield; encouraging parents to tell their friends about the benefits they had discovered, and very soon we had a large community meeting in small groups around the city. As this grew, demand for professional services increased, so I did my first certified consultancy training in April 2013, to become a professional. The Sling Surgery doors have been open for just over 18months and I’ve now completed three consultancy courses, to ensure my knowledge is right up to date and the best it can be. I’m constantly amazed by how much the Surgery has grown; parents telling other parents about the services and the benefits they’ve found, sharing their own knowledge and helping others themselves. I have a team of committed volunteers who help me enormously.
Where are you based?
Most of my sessions are run from my home in S11, but I also have a large drop in library session in the City Centre on alternate Thursday afternoons for those who find public transport easier. I take the library up to Stocksbridge once a month.
How can people get involved?
Many people become so convinced of the benefit of using a carrier, be it a buckled carrier or a tie-on carrier, that they then pass their newfound knowledge on to their own friends and family. Many wish to learn more and become volunteers at the local library sessions, and others decide to do some basic safety training so they can teach parents in the role of a “peer supporter”. I run these peer supporter training courses (Born to Carry) with the aim of increasing the numbers of people in Sheffield and further afield who can offer excellent advice to parents that is safe and reliable.
What has been the response so far?
It’s been amazing. The Surgery helps in excess of a hundred and fifty families a month and we have plans for further outreach around the city.
What’s next for the business?
I am a passionate advocate of education as this empowers parents to make their own informed choices about how they want to bring their children up. I’m hoping to give many more parents of Sheffield the opportunity to find out a bit more in an affordable and friendly way. I do a lot of writing about safety in slings, as well as general articles to introduce people to the whole concept. I’ve begun a partnership with Ryegate, the neurodisability children’s hospital in Sheffield, to support children and their families with good carriers to aid development.
There is a real lack of good information around on the high street and too many slings for sale in shops which don’t support babies well and rapidly become uncomfortable for parents. I’d like to see sling use becoming much more mainstream, among all walks of life, after all, the practice of carrying children transcends culture, or social class.. it is for everyone, no matter where they are, no matter what the budget.