Welcome to the wonderful world of slings!
You may be new to slings and a bit overwhelmed about the choices available.
You may be just starting out with your carrier and not sure if it’s the best or most comfortable option and wonder what else there may be.
Read on for more information about how to make babywearing work for you, your baby and your friends.
New to slings?
Not sure where to start when it comes to using a sling? This is a common concern among parents who have become convinced of the benefits of carrying their baby but feel a bit all at sea about the huge variety of slings and the confusing jargon in the sling community.
- There are many benefits to using a sling with a very young baby; there is much evidence to suggest that skin to skin contact between mother and newborn (especially premature) babies can confer great advantages to both. The baby gains assistance with their physiological regulation of breathing and heart rates, temperature control is improved, and the contact helps to establish breastfeeding and promote more rapid growth compared to babies who are not held as close for as long. Furthermore, the baby will feel more secure in his developing relationship with his caregiver, due to the time spent in close contact.
- The caregiver benefits too; he/she may find themselves more able to bond with their baby, due to the increased release of oxytocin, and post-natal depression may be reduced. Being able to be “hands-free” can really make a difference to a family’s ability to get around with their new baby, keeping them active and engaging with normal life.
Firstly, make sure you choose a sling that allows you to carry safely
This is especially important with young babies who are still small and in need of “fourth trimester” nurturing. In summary, a baby’s airway should be supported with their heads well aligned with their spine, thereby avoiding curled-up into ball positions that could impair their breathing. The safest place for a baby is upright, facing his parent, just as they are in arms. His head should be resting against his parent’s upper chest, close enough to kiss, and supported snugly all around to avoid any slumping. Babies naturally adopt a squat position with a slightly curved lower back (you can see this in action when you lay your baby down to change his nappy). Ergonomic slings will respect this and carry a baby in a seated position, with his knees above his bottom. By bringing knees up, babies’ hips are rotated and do not need to be spread very wide to be resting comfortably, as the photo to the side shows. Narrow-based carriers (sold by high-street shops and on eBay) are not unsafe, but they are less ideal and may not be as comfortable for a baby to rest in as one that has a wider seat and encourages the knees to be raised.
Such hip-healthy positioning also helps to stabilise a baby’s back and protects the airway as well, as it reduces the amount of backward head lolling and uncomfortable straightening of a baby’s curved spine.
Secondly, choose a sling that is comfortable
Many parents find their high-street carriers can be less comfortable than they hoped, especially as their baby grows, and may stop using a sling at all.
Good slings have been designed to mimic in-arms comfortable carrying as much as possible, and many people find they are able to enjoy long walks with their children, up to pre-school age, with such an ergonomic carrier. Broad weight distribution across the parent’s body matters; a child who is able to snuggle in and shift their weight closer to their parent’s centre of gravity will feel a lot lighter than one who is held in a stiff pocket, or held lower down and facing out (thus pulling away from the parent). This applies in front, hip and back carries, equally. Positioning makes a great deal of difference to your child’s and your experience of the sling, and is the most important factor in how comfortable it is.
There are things you can do to make your high street carrier more comfortable, by ensuring your baby is higher up, and using a scarf to redistribute the weight. Here is a video for how to do it.
Features like the type of shoulder strap (wide or narrow, those that cross over on the back versus those that are more like rucksack straps), the shape and sturdiness of the waistband, and the type of fabric used can also make a considerable difference. It is always worth trying before you buy, and there are many sling libraries around the country that can help you do this. The Sling Pages has a full list for you to check your local resources.
Thirdly, think about what kind of sling might suit you and your family best
If you have a newborn or a baby under six months, most people will start with a stretchy wrap. This is usually a long piece of jersey style elastic fabric that is between 4 and 5 metres long, and can be wrapped around your body to create a snug pocket your baby can nestle into. One size (usually) fits all, and it can be tied on and left on all day for convenience, popping baby in and out with ease without needing to take the sling off each time. Well known brands include Moby, Boba, Hana Baby and Je Porte Mon Bebe. You can find a full list at the Sling Pages here. It is possible to use the stretchy wrap as a breastfeeding aid, with care and attention to baby’s airway. Depending on the quality of the fabric, the stretchy wrap is usually used up to six months.
CLOSE CABOO CARRIER
This is a slightly more structured and less stretchy variant of a stretchy wrap. It is put on, adjusted and then baby is popped into each of the cross passes on the front. The fabric can be tightened through the rings to achieve a snug fit. The Close Carrier can be used as a breastfeeding aid if required, with care and attention to baby’s airway, and most people will find it supportive up to three to four months.
You can read more about stretchy wraps here.
Some people like to use woven wraps, if they are more familiar with sling use, and want great comfort and longevity. They can be used from birth to toddlerhood and beyond. Woven wraps are long parallelogram shaped pieces of fabric, anything from 2 to 7m long, They are woven in a particular way to provide gentle all-around pressure, supportive but still soft and mouldable. Most woven wraps are made of cotton, some may contain other fibres like linen or hemp, for extra support, and come in many many different colours and designs. They feel very different from the fabrics you might find in a haberdashery shop. They allow a great degree of adjustability and weight distribution around the body. There are numerous ways to tie the same wrap, so they can be used on the front, hip and back, at the appropriate ages. This “Wearing Wiki” is a useful resource of carries that can be done with different lengths of wrap, but if this seems too much, your local sling and carrier consultant or sling library will be able to get you started!
Many people begin with a 4.6m wrap (known as a size 6) and learn a carry known as the Front Wrap Cross Carry. Some well known brands include Girasol, Lenny Lamb, Little Frog, Storchenwiege, Hoppediz, Didymos and Oscha, there are many more (see here!) Woven wraps can take a little practice, and long wraps can be a little fiddly to put on in wet or windy weather. Upright breastfeeding is possible, if done safely with the appropriate attention paid to airway protection.
This is a piece of woven fabric usually about 2m long and 60cm wide that has one end sewn securely into two strong rings. They are worn on one shoulder with the child sitting in a pouch on the opposite side of the parent’s body, with the loose end of the fabric threaded through the rings in such a way that the tension holds the fabric firmly and the weight is distributed across the shoulder and back. They have the advantage of being lightweight and (once the knack is gained), quick to put on and take off. They can be very useful for those who need to be able to carry their baby slightly off centre (eg another child to care for), or need something that offers the child a good viewpoint in all directions. Ring slings made of woven fabric and with no padded rails are usually the best option, and shoulder style (pleated or gathered) is a very personal choice. They can be used from birth to toddlerhood, and it can be easy to breastfeed in a ring sling, with the appropriate attention paid to airway and positioning. Pouches are another kind of hip carrier which can be very simple, but need to be fitted to size.
This is a buckled hip carrier with a waistband which can be used from approximately four months and up into toddlerhood.
You can read more about ring slings and hip carriers here and your local sling resources will be able to help too.
MEI TAI CARRIERS and variants (half buckles, onbuhimos, etc)
These are Asian inspired carriers made of soft fabric, and are popular with those who appreciate the mouldability and support of woven wraps but need something with more structure, or speed of use. They consist of a fabric panel that has two straps at the base that are tied or buckled securely around the waist, and two straps from the top of the panel that can be wrapped around the parent and baby to ensure a snug and comfortable fit. Baby sits in the pouch created by the panel, and the long straps allow a great degree of adjustability to all shapes and sizes.
Some mei tais are made of wrap fabric and have wide straps that can add an extra level of comfort and support. Some can be used from birth to toddlerhood. Some popular brands include Babyhawk, Hop-Tye, Didytai, Diva Essenza, Melkaj, Dotty Moo Moo, Snugiwraps and many more! There are talented seamstresses who will make a Mei Tai for you from your chosen fabric. They can be worn on the front, hip and back at the appropriate ages, and upright breastfeeding is often possible, if done safely with the relevant attention paid to airway protection.
Your local sling library should have a few of these to try out.
- FULL BUCKLE CARRIERS
If you’re not sure about tying fabric, a good option is a full buckle carrier, which has a buckle on the waistband, and the shoulder straps buckle into the panel at the sides. Baby is seated facing the parent, inside a supportive pouch that supports them widely across the base from one knee to the other. Waistband types vary, to the minimal to the heavily padded, and people’s preferences vary enormously. Some shoulder straps cross over on the back when baby is on the front, others are fixed into a rucksack style, and again, the shape of parent and baby together is very individual and what suits one pairing will not suit another. Most good full buckles fit well from three months upwards; some can be adapted for younger babies by rolling the panel or by using inserts to keep baby snug, high up and visible. Many carriers will last into early toddlerhood, and some beyond that, depending on design. There are many, many brands, some better known than others, including the Beco and Boba ranges, the Connecta, the Tula, the Ergo, the Manduca, the Sleepy Nico, the Lillebaby, the Rose and Rebellion, to name just a handful.
Buckle carriers can be very quick and simple to use. Often, a little practice to get the straps and positioning optimally adjusted is well worth it. Many mums find that breastfeeding in the buckle carrier is possible, if done safely with the relevant attention paid to airway protection. Most can be used on the back once babies have grown.
Some buckle carriers will allow baby to face out. This is recommended only from four months upwards, not for sleeping in to protect the airway, and only for short periods of time. This is due to the reduced opportunity baby has to see and interact with his parent and learn about the world based on his parent’s response to it – this known as social referencing – as well as the reduced hip support from the narrow base. Some carriers like the Beco Gemini, the Ergobaby 360 and the Lillebaby all provide more hip healthy positions facing out.
Fourthly, be aware of the changing needs of your baby
As your baby grows, her own needs will change. She may want to sleep less and look around more. She may prefer hip carries, or even back carries, so she can see into the world into which she is being carried. As she gets heavier, the carrier you began with may begin to feel less supportive for you and for her; for many this marks a move towards “toddler-worthy” carriers. This may be different ways of tying your woven wrap, learning how to adjust the straps on your mei tai to ensure knee to knee support, or moving up to a bigger, toddler-sized (or even preschooler!) carrier when you need to. Your “baby” sized carrier will often last a lot longer than you think!
You will not spoil your baby by carrying him as he grows. Big kids need cuddles too – loving contact is vital to our emotional health and security, from cradle to grave. You can read more here, and your local sling library or consultant should be able to help you make the most of your carrier.
Fifthly, enjoy your sling and let the world see it!
Why not share your enjoyment with the parents you meet so they can discover slings too? We all carry our babies, some in arms, some in high street carriers, some in wraps, some in ring slings, some in mei tais, some in buckles. We all learn from each other; encouragement is always more productive than criticism!