Benefits of babywearing positive effects of carrying for baby isara grey carrier escalator

Positive Effects of Carrying for Baby

Carrying your baby is essential to their normal physical, psychological and neurological development. Human bodies are adapted to be a carrying species, it is part of our evolutionary history, however, our bodies are not as fit or as strong as our nomadic ancestors. It can be hard to carry in arms for prolonged periods of time. Nevertheless, babies need to be held, so a good, safe sling can be very useful in to help with increasing carrying frequency.

Remember, it is the relationship of closeness and loving touch that matters, as well as the position adopted in a good sling. The type of sling or the fabric that you use is just personal preference.

The benefits of babywearing- or the positive effects of carrying for baby are many;  here are a few.

The positive effects of babywearing for baby are many; here are a few.

  • It encourages bonding with the parent and helps to meets baby’s strong need for a sense of security and attachment, which will lead to greater confidence and independence later in life, as well as greater resilience and better long-term physical health.

 

  • It helps to regulate temperature, heart and respiratory rates, and emotional and physical growth. This can be especially useful for premature babies (the term “kangaroo care” and “fourth trimester” come from this concept) or children who are unwell.

 

  • It promotes and encourages the establishment of a successful breastfeeding relationship, in part due to the oxytocin release from the soft touch. Mothers who carry their children in soft slings are more likely to breastfeed beyond the early weeks.

 

 

  • Regular close skin contact is believed to help babies regulate their circadian rhythms better and distinguish the difference between night and day sleep.

 

  • Skin to Skin mattersIt reduces crying, both frequency and duration, (Hunziker and Barr 1986) and can improve sleep. It is safe for your baby to sleep in the sling, if the airway is well protected. Less crying means more time to be in “quiet absorption’, promoting learning and positive interactions with the world. The Esposito study discusses some of the mechanisms behind movement and how carrying is calming for babies.

 

  • Babies with colic can be hard to soothe, but the motion gained from being gently rocked in a sling while the parent/carer walks may help to settle them, and also the parent/carer may feel less helpless. There is no evidence to suggest that babywearing actually reduces colic itself.

 

  • Many parents of reflux babies spend a lot of time holding them upright and have tired arms and sore backs! A good sling that supports an upright position can thus reduce regurgitation and the discomfort of reflux. A spread squat position helps relax puborectalis muscle, to aid bowel elimination.

 

  • The motion experienced by a baby being held by the carer allows the vestibular balance apparatus to develop more rapidly and enhances neuromotor development and muscle strength. It improves neck and head control, but is not a true substitute for “tummy-time” (tummy-time head-lifting is against gravity from a prone position). This is more marked with dynamic in-arms carrying (where this is possible). A sling or carrier should never be used as a prolonged restraint (unless danger is present such as crossing the road). 

 

  • Children should always be encouraged to be active as much as possible (WHO 2019) and if they want to get down and it is safe and practical to do so, this is ideal. However, this doesn’t mean that a child who is otherwise very active needs to be automatically removed from the sling after a certain amount of time. Sleeping babies do not need to be disturbed, just gently adjusted to ensure safety.

 

  • It is believed to encourage sociability and language development; being able to hear the parent’s voice close up and watch their interactions with the world and other people from a higher vantage point is beneficial and also aids formation of family relationships. Studies into reduced talking in outward facing buggies highlights the importance of children being able to communicate easily with their carers.

 

  • It allows baby to retreat from an overwhelming world and snuggle into the parent’s body for respite when needed. This is harder to do with world-facing carries, so encouraging parental responsiveness with front-facing out positions is important. (The challenges of facing forwards is covered in more depth here)

 

  • Babies can learn very easily from a place of consistent safety, as their brains are not engaged with mere survival.

 

  • Good, correctly designed slings that encourage the physiological spread-squat "M shape" position (that mimics hip-perching) can help prevent hip problems later in life in those children at risk of hip dysplasia. There is currently no convincing evidence that narrower based carriers cause hip dysplasia in otherwise healthy hips.

 

  • Babies who are carried are less at risk of plagiocephaly (the flattening of the skull bones at the back of the head from prolonged periods lying on the back, more common since the “Back to Sleep” campaign). Slings are recommended as one solution (by the NHS, too!)

 

Further reading

"Why Babywearing Matters", Rosie Knowles, 2016

To have and to hold: Effects of physical contact on infants and their caregivers, Infant Behavior and Development, Volume 61, November 2020

 


If you would like to read in more depth on this subject, my book “Why Babywearing Matters” discusses much of the evidence base for the importance of carrying. It is normal behaviour for the human species to carry their infants close to their bodies; the book considers the anthropological, physiological and psychological reasons for this. Carrying really matters.


blog

Blog

The Carrying Matters blog page.. enjoy reading! If you have any topics you'd like to see covered, get in touch! I enjoy writing and am always keen to hear of new ideas, and to host guest blog posts too!

Can I carry my baby in a sling if I have epilepsy?

Guest Blog from a friend of mine about her choice to use a sling to keep her child close despite her diagnosis of epilepsy. It has worked out very well for her. Here she discusses the processes of…

Read More



Breast and Bottle Feeding Safely in a Sling

Carrying babies is a wonderful way to encourage successful and more long-lasting breastfeeding, as the frequent skin to skin contact and the building of loving relationships help to stimulate oxytocin release.

Oxytocin release (which stimulates let-down) becomes conditioned to the mother’s experience and emotions; the touch, sight, smell or cry of her baby, as well as thoughts of her baby and the natural rhythm and expectation that baby will be hungry soon.

A sling that allows ease of access to the breast encourages responsive feeding, helping the harmonious nurturing relationship to flourish.

Mothers can go about their daily tasks or care for older children while their child’s need for nurture and nourishment can continue uninterrupted. This is normal human behaviour.

If the mother is in distress, unwell, or struggling with postnatal depression or anxiety, her feelings will inhibit oxytocin release and have an impact on breastfeeding. Close physical contact with her child as well as effective emotional support can help a feeding relationship to recover.

A comfortable baby carrier can thus be an excellent solution for a breastfeeding mother and baby who have had a complex start. This can be especially valuable after a difficult labour and birth or a prolonged separation for medical reasons.

The carrier can help create a safe space for the dyad, keeping them close together, allowing them to heal each other, encouraging the hormones of love and bonding to flow. This has a positive impact on breastfeeding.

If breastfeeding comes to an end, the baby carrier can preserve the growing relationship by keeping mother and baby in close contact and help it to continue to blossom.

 

There is always more of a risk to safety when combining breastfeeding with babywearing and it must be done well. Here’s my guide to safe breast and bottle feeding in a sling!

I meet a lot of pregnant ladies in the course of my varied roles, and many new mums, and one of the questions I am most frequently asked is “Will I be able to feed my baby in a sling?”

It’s an important question to deal with, as it crops up so regularly, and for some, is one of the criteria for choosing the right sling for their needs. The simplest answer is that, “Yes, many parents are able to feed their babies in slings, from the breast or from the bottle.”

But this then leads to other vital questions…

1. “Why might you want to be able to feed in a sling?”

2. “How can you keep your baby safe while feeding?”

3. “How can you make feeding in a sling as easy as possible?”

4. “What slings can be helpful for feeding?”


1) Why might you want to feed in a sling?

Most commonly, mums of more than one child find being able to feed the baby on the go very useful. This is especially so if they are feeding responsively, as recommended by the WHO, and have an older child who needs their parent just as much. Quite often, they will have had some experience of breast or bottle feeding already, and may be very familiar with their sling, and will be “old hands” at combining the two skills.

Mums of older children who can feed quickly in a sitting upright position may also find a sling an invaluable and very convenient tool for getting on with daily life.

For mums of small babies, it may be that the sling will be useful to carry their child to a place where they can be taken out to feed in peace and comfort. For others, being able to have baby partly supported with the sling and with one arm may allow a “third hand” to work on achieving latch, and can prove very useful for facilitating feeding. For others and once feeding is established, it can allow some simple multi-tasking rather than being pinned to the sofa.

On the whole, it may help to consider each element as a separate skill to master – how to feed, and how to use the sling, and learn how to combine them safely, however, for some, the sling can actually be an aid to achieving latch. Practice will, of course, be needed, like with every new accomplishment!

2) How can you keep your baby safe while feeding?

All the basic rules of sling safety apply when carrying a baby. The TICKS guidelines and the ABC reminders are below. However, there are different considerations needed with feeding in slings (as baby may not be close enough to kiss, for example). As always, protecting the airway and ensuring breathing is unobstructed is of paramount importance.

Babies, on the whole, are obligate nasal breathers. This means that they find it much easier to breathe through their noses than their mouths, for the first few months of life, and it is essential that noses are kept clear of any obstruction. This is why babies may struggle more than older children with mild respiratory infections affecting the small nasal passages. It is also why they are able to feed for prolonged periods of time without needing to delatch for mouth breathing, and why babies with snuffly noses find it harder to feed.

Therefore, while a baby’s mouth is engaged with the process of sucking and swallowing, his only patent airway is his nose. It is important for the carer to be consciously aware of any potential obstruction, either external (from sling fabric, or breast tissue, or clothing ) or internal (neck bent over too far) and able to rectify it rapidly when required.

how do i keep my baby safe in the sling
from www. babyslingsafety.co.uk
from Babywearing International

Whether feeding upright, or slightly reclined, the safest positions are…

  • those in which the parent is actively engaged and frequently checking on their child, and able to recognise any changes

  • those that ensure a good air supply at all times with no fabric over the head and chin off the chest (check you can fit two fingers underneath if you are unsure)

  • those in which baby’s head is aligned with their spine and only turned slightly to one side if needed

  • those in which baby’s back and occiput (lower part of the back of the head) are appropriately supported

  • those in which baby’s knees are above the bottom and hips are flexed (bent upwards)

  • those that ensure that a baby who has finished feeding or has fallen asleep is returned to the most optimal upright position to keep airway supported and open.

The choice of best position will vary from person to person, depending on the individual circumstances, however, the majority of successful “on-the-go” feeding is done in the upright position.

In my opinion, the greatest risk comes from breastfeeding in positions where baby is held face inwards towards the breast, with sling fabric pulled up over the back of the head, so the face is pressed firmly into breast tissue or the child is curled over into a ball.

Please note this dangerous position is not the same typical gentle reclining in-arms “cradle” positions where the head is well supported in the crook of the elbow and the chin is not on the chest. This is the most common breastfeeding position, with a sling adding a little support, almost like a cushion or a hammock, to take some of the weight off the supporting arm and give you one hand free.

What should a feeding carry look like?

Baby’s head should be completely free of fabric, being supported by the sling up to the nape of the neck, able to latch and delatch as needed. Their lower body should be well supported from knee to knee, either by wrap fabric well and snugly tucked up between your bodies, or a well tied/securely buckled waistband. Both of baby’s arms should be positioned around the feeding breast or bottle, just as if in arms, and the head should not be at an awkward angle.  Feet should be free of fabric and baby should be comfortable and easily able to reach the nipple. If baby is able to achieve a good latch from this position, he/she should be able to feed if ready. Some practice may be needed for both of you!

Feeding in slings is more risky if you have a snuffly baby who is needing to delatch frequently for some mouth breathing, and finds herself unable to do so as her head is not free to pull backwards for a little extra air.

Babies should never be left to sleep in feeding positions as their disproportionally heavy heads can too easily droop or be folded over, with subsequent obstruction of their airways.

**Please remember that loosened slings with longer tails can present a trip hazard if you are feeding on the move.**

 

In general, it can help to think of the sling as a third hand to help support baby in position while you work on achieving a latch. Many people manage to feed happily and safely in slings, once they are armed with good information, and know what to watch out for. It usually works best with older children, too. If you feel unsure about feeding your child in your carrier, do get in touch with a professional who can give you some one-to-one help and advice.

A hip carry may work well (with a wrap/ring sling/cross strap buckle carrier/meh dai).


3) How can you make feeding in a sling as easy as possible?

For breastfeeding, think about ensuring easy access for your baby. Your choice of clothes can make things a lot easier. Loose fronted tops that can be easily moved out of the way, pulled down or lifted up, or those that open and close with zips or poppers, rather than buttons can help. Many mums swear by a combination of a loose shirt that can be lifted up/pulled down with a stretchy camisole or vest underneath that can be lifted up/pulled down. Such layering often provides good cover, if required. Bras that are easy to undo one handed (while your other hand supports baby”s head) are also helpful. Some mums find latching on more successful if they lean forwards slightly to bring the breast up to baby’s mouth, and many need to hold their breast up with one hand for the duration of the feed. Hoods can help with providing some discreet coverage, but remember that temperatures inside slings rise quickly if air cannot circulate freely, and carbon dioxide levels in rebreathed air are raised.

4) What kind of slings are good for breastfeeding in?

It is usually possible to feed a baby in most slings, with a bit of care. I don’t think there is really any such thing as hands-free feeding, as one hand or arm should always be on your baby to provide support, especially before they have excellent head control. But one hand free is better than none! Breast size, shape, flexibiliity and nipple position varies from woman to woman, and from stage to stage in the breastfeeding journey, so each dyad will need practice to work out which height works best for them. Larger breasts may prove more tricky for some.

Please remember that baby’s back and occiput should be well supported with no curling over and his chin should not be resting on his own chest, and once finished feeding, baby will need to be returned to his previous snug, upright and close position, by adjusting the sling appropriately.


Feeding in Stretchy Wraps

There are many different ways to feed in a stretchy wrap. Some methods are safer than others. On the whole, stretchy wraps are mostly used with small babies in the classic upright “hug hold” also known as the “pocket wrap cross carry”. It is these young babies from birth to four months who have the greatest risk of airway obstruction, so it is worth visiting your local babywearing consultant to get some advice and support if you can. I can’t stress enough how important it is to ensure your baby’s back and head is well supported, but still able to move freely to create an effective latch (and delatch), and that baby’s face is visible, not covered with fabric and their nose is clear. Once the feed is over, baby MUST be returned to the previous snug, close, upright seated squat position. There should NEVER be any fabric behind the back of baby’s head.

The video shows how to use a stretchy as a breastfeeding aid. You can see how baby is in the classic tummy to mummy position as the fabric is removed.

I usually advise parents to see their stretchy wrap as a breastfeeding aid. It can add a layer of extra support and spread some of the weight to the non cradling shoulder, and allow a short period of moving around while their child is feeding. It is not hands-free.


Feeding in ring slings

Ring Slings and upright feeding

From a good seated squat position, the pouch can be gently and slowly loosened by lifting the uppermost ring up carefully, so that baby is lowered slightly down your body. Ensure that the loosening is equal across the width of the sling so that baby’s upright seated squat position is maintained. Bring your child to the breast up so he is able to latch on without twisting his neck.

  • Bottle feeders may not need to lower their baby as much, but some loosening will help to ensure baby does not have to twist his head to the side too much for teat access.

 

.

Ring Slings and slightly reclined feeding

From the snug seated squat position, loosen the fabric slowly and carefully to lower baby just a little.  Lean forwards slightly and support baby’s upper body with one hand. Gently recline your baby into the waiting crook of your arm as you bring his far leg around to your front so both legs are together. Ensure the pouch of fabric is well tucked up between your baby’s side and your tummy so he is resting as if in a hammock, slightly turned towards you, bent knees above bottom, feet outside the carrier, with his head and neck resting on your arm. Adjust his location in this position so his mouth is able to reach your nipple – it should look and feel just as if you were holding him in your arms to feed. Keep the top rail of fabric under baby’s neck, do not pull it over his head.

  • Bottle feeding is similar, but baby’s head will be facing the ceiling.


Feeding in Woven Wraps

Woven wraps and upright feeding

Carries such as the Front Wrap Cross Carry and its variants can be easily adjusted for feeding. The knot at the back (or side) can be loosened just a little, with the resulting small amount of slack worked equally and evenly back along the fabric so baby is sitting in a lower pouch with mouth above nipple, but still snug and supported, and in the spread squat position. The whole carry can be moved slightly across to one side or the other, and the baby can then be brought to to the breast. It is easy to switch sides.

Hip carries (especially those with slip knots) are easy to feed from one side.

Bottle feeding is similar, but baby may not need to be lowered quite as much, and may need a little more space at the top edge for the bottle to be accessible without baby’s head having to turn too far.

feeding with a bottle in a woven wrap

Woven Wraps and slightly reclined feeding

This works best with carries that do not have cross passes under baby’s legs, so baby can be gently tilted to one side to rest on your feeding arm. The FWCC can be partially untied so the long tails are hanging down over the shoulders and baby is sitting just in the horizontal pass. He can then be carefully gathered to one side with his far leg brought round to the front, his body turned to face the parent, bent knees above bottom, feet out and head and neck resting on your arm. Adjust his location in this position so his mouth is able to reach your nipple – it should look and feel just as if you were holding him in your arms to feed. Keep the top rail of fabric under baby’s neck, do not pull it over his head. The long tails are usually best left loose as retying them will mean you are not in control of baby’s head during the process.

  • Bottle feeding is similar, but baby’s head will be facing the ceiling.



Feeding in soft structured carriers

Soft structured carriers (mei tais, half buckles, full buckles) and upright feeding

This can work well for bigger babies who have some head control. Baby should be in the carrier at the height she would normally be carried, with back and legs comfy in the seated squat position. To feed, slightly loosen the waistband gently and lower it a couple of inches and retighten, then loosen the side buckles or ties one by one to lower baby to the required position. One side may need to be loosened more than the other as baby feeds from that side. The breast can then be brought to the mouth. It is usually easy to switch sides with the straps being adjusted each time to allow baby to move. Baby’s back and occiput should be well supported with no curling over and his chin should not be resting on his own chest.

  • Bottle feeding is similar, but baby may not need to be lowered quite as much, and may need a little more space at the top edge for the bottle to be accessible without baby’s head having to turn too far.

Once finished feeding, baby will need to be returned to the previous snug, upright and close position, by adjusting the sling appropriately.

breastfeeding in a Mamaruga Zensling

So in summary.. “Can I feed my child in my sling?” The answer is a resounding YES YOU CAN, from newborn to toddler, in lots of positions, from breast and from bottle. The key to doing it well is to ask questions about how to do it safely and empower yourself with knowledge to make a choice about how you wish to feed and then practice. It’s all about the AIRWAY! Do ask your local sling professional for some support…. – and enjoy!

 

Some further reading;

Seven Reasons Why Carrying is Great for Breastfeeding Mothers (Jess Hippey for Oscha Slings)


fuss about facing out

The Fuss about Facing Out

family in spain sunnyOne of the most common “controversies” in the babywearing world is the “fuss about facing out” that is, the issue of babies being carried in facing out positions. This means babies being held with their backs to their carer, facing the world, rather than facing the person who is carrying them. Opinions vary widely among manufacturers and parents and even among professionals. Many babies do very much enjoy being held in positions where they can see the world, so why all the fuss? Is there any need for a fuss at all?

What are the advantages of world-facing?

Babies do enjoy seeing the world, especially once they are a little older and have mastered head control and wish to be more involved with their environment, rather than sleeping or snuggling in as they did when they were very little. Curiosity often coincides with increased motor co-ordination and greater periods of awake and interaction time. This is often the point at which families begin holding their babies in positions that give them greater visibility. Instinctively, they tend to support their little ones in very gentle positions that still ensure good hip and spine support; cradled in arms with chin off chest, or held in semi-seated positions with back curved against parent but hips held in flexion, as if sitting in a bowl.
These positions protect the natural anatomical curve of the immature spine and do not straighten it uncomfortably.

As babies grow, their muscle strength increases and fatiguability decreases, alongside greater coordination and gross motor skills. This allows slowly improving head and neck and upper back control (with less drooping or wild flailing) as their spines gradually begin to uncurl. Furthermore, as their focal length improves and visual acuity rises, the world becomes very interesting! There are stages in baby development when babies seem to arch away in arms a lot; this may be related to a desire to see more, but may also simply be attempts to hone upper back strength, in preparation for turning skills and rolling over. This is very common around ten to twelve weeks. Babies may also arch when they are tired, if they have reflux, if they are frustrated.

In-arms holding is responsive, which is the key issue; if baby makes a protesting movement or noise, the carer responds and moves the baby to help it to become calm again. Also, parental arms get tired and baby is easily moved to another position, this may often be on the shoulder facing parent again for a while. Such reactive carrying in-arms, with changing facing-in and facing-out positions, is of great benefit for honing development and also to encourage learning about the world from a safe and comfortable position.

This all sounds great, so what’s the problem with using a sling for this?

What are the hazards of facing out?

It is important to remember that young babies are not ready for prolonged and intense interaction with a very sensory-overloading environment; they have not yet learned how to process the bombardment of information their brains are receiving. They have not yet discovered how to “filter out” the irrelevant for a more focused look at the world, (a skill that we take for granted) so this can be very tiring. Being able to turn away from the noise and bustle and fall asleep (to process information) is important. A facing-out carrier holds a baby in a fixed position for a prolonged period of time. The duration of this time is entirely dependent on the parent; they are unable to see their baby’s face to pick up early cues of tiredness or distress or breathing difficulties, and they are less able to feel subtle shifts in baby’s body signalling discomfort or a need to change positions. Babies can easily be left in carriers for much longer than they would be held in arms.

Babies are intensely social creatures and learn to regulate and control their emotions from interaction with their parents and watching their faces. Social referencing (also known as triangulation) is very important in the first year and well into the second. A child will often decide how to react to a new experience after it has looked to its carer; it will be less likely to touch something dangerous if the carer reacts in an upset way. Potentially scary experiences can defused by turning the head to see a parent remaining calm, or to receive comfort and reassurance, and vice versa. In a structured carrier worn facing out, it isn’t as easy for a baby to twist around to see the parent’s face for reassurance or to be able to seek comfort.

Many pushchair makers now include parent-facing positions as standard, as this is believed to encourage and improve language skills and bonding. (It is worth noting that there is no formal evidence to suggest that our children are any slower at language acquisition than previous generations who did not use facing-out means of transport, however, anything that promotes bonding and communication is to be encouraged.)Sleeping

Furthermore, the world-facing positions do not provide any safe sleeping positions (all respected manufacturers say babies must be turned around to sleep; this is often missed in the small print) as there is no head support in this carry. A heavy head that is unsupported by a parent’s chest will droop forwards, putting baby’s chest under slight compression and pressing the chin downwards, potentially compromising the airway.

This is why the majority of respected sling manufacturers suggest that babies under 4months should not be carried facing out. Before this, babies simply are not developmentally ready.  Beyond this age, they should not be held in carriers facing the world for longer than twenty minutes to half an hour or so. (Some manufacturers say facing out from 3 months up, some say from 5months up). I think it depends on the child’s personal developmental stage and there should really be no rush.)

There is also the issue of hip and spine positioning in facing out positions. Most facing out in slings is done with “narrow-based” carriers, as very few high street options offer wider, more ergonomic seats that protect the gentle curve of the spine and promote healthy hip development in the world facing position. Most babies find their backs are held in straighter positions than ideal, with their legs hanging straight down from their hip sockets in this narrow shaping. While there is no formal evidence that choosing a narrow-based carrier will cause any harm to a baby who has healthy hips with normal sockets, there is a small percentage of babies who do have developmental hip dysplasia that are missed at their routine checks. These babies will benefit enormously from the ergonomic seated M shape position that allows their joints to be held in the optimum angles for healthy blood vessel growth and nutrient provision, and often this positioning is all that is needed to correct mild cases of hip dysplasia. It is worth weighing up the risks and may be better to choose a carrier that holds a baby more optimally if you decide to face baby out. Additionally, it is more comfortable for a person to be seated on a broad based hammock shaped chair rather than perched astride a narrow padded beam, and babies are no different.

Print

Carrying a baby who is sitting high up against the carer’s body with the centres of gravity closely aligned is much more comfortable than carrying one who is low down, far away, and suspended from the carer’s shoulders. The parent’s body does not form part of the support structure of the carry when facing out, so much of the work of carrying has to be done by the upper body, rather than the core postural muscles. Centres of gravity diverge further when held facing out in narrow based carriers. Put simply, carrying facing out in this style of carrier is often uncomfortable.

Ok, so what can I use to carry my curious child optimally?

It is common among parents who are considering using a sling to look for options that offer world-facing positions. This position is what is often seen in the media and is widely advertised; it may be more pleasing to see happy babies looking directly at the camera rather than away from it, which can be better for marketing purposes. As it is so visible, it becomes the “norm” and carriers that offer this option are often perceived as “better.” 

Pao

Many parents believe that babies need to be given the opportunity to face the world as much as possible for the stimulation, rather than looking at their parent all the time. Sometimes this belief can be be a marker for low self-esteem in a parent; that they just aren’t interesting enough, when in fact, for many well-attached babies, their parent is their most beloved sight. This is especially true if parent and baby are attuned and the parent is responsive and communicative and able to engage happily in play with their baby. Babies are often able to pick up on unhappy or uneasy feelings in parents and can be reflexively resistant to close contact, creating a negative spiral. Lots of in-arms carrying, skin to skin, and just time spent together can be very helpful with this.

Sometimes babies may begin to resist being carried in their parent-facing positions – they may have come to associate the sling with sleeping which they don’t want to do, and they may want to be able to see more. 

JUNOlo-16
To achieve a good view while the child remains parent-facing, and ensure access to the world, try carriers with broadly angled straps that don’t get too close to the face can be very useful, or ones that can be tied carefully for good visibility. As children grow in co-ordination, they need less head support and often enjoy having their arms out of carriers (with the panel reaching up to the armpits for safety and support.) It is surprising how far a child can turn round to see when they can move their shoulders! 
JUNOlo-38Hip carriers and ring slings will hold a child “off-centre” or laterally on the hip, for a great vantage point, and they will still be able to turn towards their parent for conversation or rest. Back carrying can be another very useful way for a curious child to see the world coming towards them. Most structured carrier makers will suggest sitting-up age to be the most appropriate time to begin to think of this option, and it is not hard to do on your own. Your local sling library or consultant (www.slingpages.co.uk) will be able to help you learn.

If you have a baby who is developmentally ready for facing out in a carrier and has stable hips, then I think it is just fine to give it a go! Your local sling library will be able to show you some options and talk you through which may be the most comfortable for you. Trying the carrier out first for a period of time at home is very useful to see if it really does work for you before you buy; advice from the internet is no substitute for real life trials.This period of “fussiness” doesn’t usually last long, as babies grow in co-ordination they are happier and many babies who once resisted facing in are very content a few months later in a carrier that is more comfortable with greater longevity.

In summary, facing out can be a great deal of fun for parent and child, if done sensitively and thoughtfully, with consideration to the child’s anatomical development and comfort; look for those carriers that take your baby’s comfort as seriously as yours. Try to pick a carrier that will hold baby optimally for most of the time, some come with specially designed bucket seats and others will widen for facing in and back carrying.

Age-appropriate facing out for those who enjoy it is great, when done safely! Your local sling library can be found at www.slingpages.co.uk.

 

ten FAQs FFO
ring sling

carrying in the postnatal period

Carrying in the Postnatal Period

lindsay 10days

Is carrying in the postnatal period (in the early weeks after a baby is born) safe?

Babies want to be held close from the very moment they enter the outside world; they crave contact and many will spend their first few days and weeks sleeping in their parents’ arms and feeding frequently, enjoying this close interaction.

Pregnancy can be tiring and uncomfortable for many, due to our changing bodies and habits. We are no longer an upright species but a sedentary one, to our great anatomical and physiological disadvantages; chronic pain is a significant problem for increasing numbers of people in our society. Symphysis Pubis Dysfunction can be debilitating for pregnant women, and there is a growing belief that many women’s bodies are frequently not in the optimal condition to carry a child and thus take much longer to recover from pregnancy than our forebears. Ligament softening and laxity (from the hormonal changes preparing a body to deliver a fetus) can take some time to resolve fully especially if there has been pre-existing back pain and poor posture, and breastfeeding may prolong the effects of relaxin.

Labour, while exhilarating and empowering for some, can be exhausting for others, especially if prolonged. The recent historical practice of lying down for delivery is in marked contrast to how most women around the world across history and cultures have given birth (upright, squatting or kneeling). The natural birth movement and the emergence of doulas to support women with their delivery choices mirrors a growing desire to get back to our ancient human roots, which may also encourage speedier recovery from labour and birth.

Women are becoming prouder of their bodies and what they have achieved; bringing forth life. As a friend of mine once said, how can you ask a butterfly to return to being a caterpilllar? Women's bodies are designed to carry and nurture children before birth and after. Here is a photo of one mum carrying her newborn in the early days after birth, proudly showing her post-partum body. martha RS

The rate of caesarean sections (both planned and as emergency) is high in Western society, currently between 20-25% of births in the UK (with some regional variation). A caesarean section is major abdominal surgery and some recovery time from this is to be expected, and varies enormously from woman to woman, depending on the reasons for the operation. Women are advised to avoid heavy lifting, “carry nothing heavier than your baby”, and not to drive for at least six weeks after birth. Scars can be uncomfortable and slow to heal for some, and some may experience abdominal pain for a while afterwards. Babies may come early and be very frail for several weeks.

Therefore it is not surprising that many mothers worry that after labour and birth, they may not be strong or well enough to carry their newborns in their arms for prolonged periods. Many will have toddlers at home needing the reassurance of their mother’s loving arms to help them cope with the newcomer’s arrival. Paternity or parental leave is often short; in a few weeks mothers are often required to manage at home alone.

Carrying your child in the postnatal period is important.

The early weeks are vital for bonding and attachment, providing continuity and security, promoting breastfeeding and helping to reduce depression. So yes, we should carry our babies somehow after birth. This doesn’t need a sling; people can hold their babies while sitting down and while reclining just as much as while they stand and walk around; it is the closeness and the contact and the skin to skin that promotes bonding and oxytocin release that matters. It helps to shape baby's brain, and also has a positive effect on yours!harriet

Carrying a newborn baby can be very healing if birth has been traumatic or there has been previous bereavement.

“"I had a tiny baby (4lb5oz) and experienced a traumatic birth, I suffered with PTSD. At times this meant I was very anxious and wanted to keep my baby close to me to be sure she was safe. I started with a stretchy wrap when P was just 3weeks old. I truly believe babywearing strengthened my attachment with her and helped me to cope every day." Anon

There are some garments of clothing that can be worn in hospital or in the early weeks after birth; mimicking the practice of putting a tiny newborn down the front of the shirt. Some of these garments (known as skin to skin tops or kangaroo care clothing) are designed for keeping baby skin to skin to the parent while reclining, and are not hands-free.

carrying in the postnatal period
Others are a little more structured (at least two layers of stretchy fabric) and provide enough support for baby that a parent can be hands-free and walk around, similar to a stretchy wrap. These can be most useful in hospital environments for their coolness and simplicity. (in the UK the Vija Design range is the most commonly used).

Please note that if your baby is premature or very small (under 6lb) it is wise to seek the advice of a specialist baby-carrying consultant; many "newborn" carriers, including some stretchy wraps will not provide enough support without guidance on how to use for these babies with special needs.

Breast and bottle-feeding can cause back, neck and shoulder pains, as can prolonged periods of one-sided carrying (which can also affect the pelvic floor and the symphysis pubis.) Being alert to the body’s signals of discomfort and acting on them to frequently redistribute the strain is of great benefit in building up tolerance and strength.

As women recover their strength and are able to do more each day, their mobile carrying abilities will grow too.  As womens’ bodies settle back down after pregnancy, with appropriate pelvic floor toning and correction of posture and alignment, carrying will become easier. Furthermore, as baby gets bigger and heavier, the parent’s muscles will adapt to the gradually increasing weight and become more toned day by day, the more often they carry.

“Much of my pre-pregnancy life was spent in the mountains, and carrying my babies after their birth helped me get back in touch with my "home". It enabled me to very gradually and gently regain some fitness away from busy streets, and felt like less strain on the scar area than pushing a double buggy uphill.” Carissa

twin stretchies

Keeping a baby’s weight high, snug and central will encourage loading across the large weight-bearing axes of the body, thereby preventing strain on muscles, ligaments and the pelvic floor, and avoiding abdominal pressure. Lifting a baby to the chest should be done carefully, with knees bent and upright posture maintained, and pelvic floor and core muscles engaged and active. Most types of carriers will be possible to use after a vaginal birth, and it will be a very individual and personal choice which. On the whole, most babies enjoy the gentle all-around pressure of carriers that can mould softly around them and be reminiscent of the uterine walls they have just left; and carriers that distribute weight widely across the parent’s upper body will be more comfortable. 

If you have a sling that makes your back ache, please visit your local sling library or consultant for a fit check (often a few tweaks make all the difference) or to try an alternative. Cheaper carriers from supermarkets/Ebay often work much less well than better designed carriers and therefore last much longer. "My baby is too heavy for a sling" is usually an issue with the sling not fitting/not being well designed.

14362622_10154509030856228_1258803144230351965_o

Carrying after a Caesarean

post CSNICUThis is also very possible, and it could be argued, perhaps more important post section than after a normal non-instrumental vaginal delivery, depending on how the individual feels after the surgery. Achieving skin to skin as soon as possible is ideal,  for promoting oxytocin release and bonding.  This is vitally important after a section, especially if it was emergency and traumatic, thereby interrupting many of the biofeedback mechanisms around bonding. It is also important if the section was planned and baby was thus delivered before the biological hormone cascades of labour and birth were able to begin. There can be a strong tendency for women who did not have the birth experience they wished for to feel robbed and deprived of an important part of their baby’s arrival. The subsequent feelings of sadness and grief, or disappointment or that they have let themselves or their baby down somehow, however untrue, can significantly hamper the forming of attachment bonds and play a part in later postnatal depression or other mood disorders.

Mothers who experience this are very likely to find that skin to skin contact and frequent close touch and carrying extremely useful; the process of initiating and mantaining contact and loving touch often acts as a catalyst for the oxytocin release; this positive feedback mechanism will encourage loving feelings to develop despite the less than “perfect” start and get bonding well under way.

As soon as surgery is safely over and a well baby can be given to its mother, skin to skin can begin; resting on the mother’s chest under a blanket, inside a shirt or with kangaroo care clothing. Women are entitled to this skin to skin and should insist upon it; baby does not need to be washed or the cord to be cut before contact is achieved; the sooner the better.

Once mother is ready to move around and carry her child in her arms she can; she is advised to carry nothing heavier than her baby. Some women will choose to use slings immediately, if they feel ready (especially if they are already familiar with slings and feel confident with their use), others will wish to wait, especially if they feel unwell or are in pain. If the mother is confined to hospital and alone for parts of the day and wishes to move around, she may find the sling will help her to feel safer than carrying her baby loose in arms while she is still a little unsteady.

“Having a sling for carrying was very useful, as much easier and less painful than carrying in arms (less stress on abdominal muscles).  It was great for bonding, especially since we were having trouble with breastfeeding.” Rebecca

The key factor is to avoid any carrier from irritating the wound or putting pressure on the abdomen. Double layer kangaroo-care shirts or other soft carriers such as stretchy or woven wraps, high-carrying waistband-less meh dais or buckle-tais and ring slings in frontal tummy to tummy carries, may be options to consider. Baby’s legs should ideally be tucked into the M shape, and this will also help to avoid feet kicking against a still tender wound. As the scar and any abdominal pain heals, carriers with more structured waistbands will become more accessible.xmas connecta

General tips about post-partum carrying (including fitness classes)

Post CS connectasarah hatBaby carrying in the post-partum period is possible, if done in a mindful, responsive way, and can actually help promote recovery.  Holding a baby close in the anatomically correct position so that their weight is well distributed through the large weightbearing axes will tone muscles and improve posture more than pushing a pram with a strong forwards lean. Being able to go for gradually longer and longer walks with your baby in a soft and comfortable sling will rebuild strength and release endorphins which are natural feel-good hormones.
Participating in postnatal recovery programmes can be useful; however combining carrying and exercise/dance is usually best done with great caution as not every provider will have adequate knowledge about postnatal recovery (pelvic floor and diastasis recti issues) or about the rate and speed of each woman’s individual recovery from birth. Many may have no specialist knowledge about safe sling use or how to protect a baby from sudden shaking movements, as well as how to avoid overloading still-recovering tissues with certain stretching or weight-bearing activities with the extra load of a child in a sling. Walking with a baby in the sling, ensuring good alignment and posture, gradually increasing the speed and duration, is usually enough exercise for most women in the early months. Please do not rush; pelvic floor dysfunction is very very common (14 million women in the UK are known to have an issue, and many many more never seek help and remain undiagnosed). Leaking is NOT normal or to be expected. If you are unsure if your pelvic floor is recovering normally, please see your GP.

Read more about babywearing fitness classes here.

Using a sling allows families to settle back into the normal rhythms of daily life.

Often, older siblings are uncertain about the new addition to the family and uneasy about their place in it; they may need extra reassurance with the birth of a new baby. They may wish to return to their mother’s arms and be close to her body, for reassurance and reinforcing of the attachment bond.walk after birth

Toddler carrying after birth

“During the intense post-birth bonding period with D I began to use a couple of wraps that had been favourites of R (the new big brother). It almost felt like a betrayal! But one afternoon, R asked if he could come up for a front carry in his favourite wrap, something he hadn't done for ages, and we twirled round the lounge together laughing while my husband cuddled the new baby. I think that was a really healing moment for us and let my eldest know he still had an important place in my arms too.’  Emma

However, toddler carrying after birth is much more of a challenge, especially if the pelvic floor is weak and there is diastasis recti (separation of the abdominal muscles from the stretching during pregnancy). Please seek help if your floor or core are weak.

tandem Many specialists would suggest it is wise to wait until any pelvic floor/diastasis recti issues have resolved and the mother is functionally strong before beginning to carry toddlers again; this will of course vary widely from woman to woman. Generally those mothers who are well used to carrying toddlers will find it easier to resume carrying than those beginning for the first time, and front carrying may be the most suitable position (rather than hip or back carries, to avoid straining still-healing tissue). Sitting down cuddles may be wise for a while!

Involving the whole family!

The post-partum period may be a great opportunity for other caregivers in the family to share the carrying and begin the bonding process.  Whole families thrive when children are kept close; it spreads the load of child care around. Partners can carry their newborns, or their older children to provide reassurance.

“Carrying our eldest son (3) enabled my wife to give her attention to our new baby. It gave us much needed daddy and son bonding, at a time when he was feeling insecure with the arrival of the new baby.” Mal

Remember, it is the closeness and contact that matters; in arms carrying is as valuable as using a sling, and the shifting of your growing baby around your body as your muscles tire will help to rebuild your strength and endurance. Sharing the carrying with other members of your family will help to strengthen relationships and reduce the strain on your own body too.

family


Carry Me Daddy!

“Dear Daddy


When you hold me I feel happy. You are strong and I am safe in your arms. The more time I spend with you the more I trust you, and the more I can let you look after me when Mummy isn’t here.

I love to hear your breathing and the sound of your voice rolling around in your chest. I can hear your heart beating and it steadies me. I can hear you best when I am close to you. I love it when you look at me with your proud eyes, it makes me feel good. I feel loved.

I love being carried on your chest where we can chat till I am ready to snuggle contentedly to sleep.
I love my rides on your shoulders and on your back. The world is so interesting from up high!

I love the games we play and the way you make me laugh till I have no more breath in my body. I love it when you hold me on your lap to read to me. I love it when you hold my hand.

Carry me Daddy, while you still can!”

In-arms carrying and all other means of close and regular contact (such as noisy physical play) is of enormous value in building bonds between fathers and their children. 1 in 4 children lack strong attachment relationships, and slowly our society is recognising the need to address this. In arms carrying can be hard work, and a good comfortable baby or child carrier can make this much easier. Babywearing dads are becoming more and more visible, which is great news for families and for our society.

There can be a common myth that is only mothers who bond with their children in depth, and that the changes in her brain with parenthood are unique to her. This isn’t the case, fathers’ brains are also deeply affected by their caring role and they form strong, lifelong connections to their children if they are closely involved with their young baby as they grow. Bonding can be encouraged in many ways, not just though feeding the baby (which is another common myth). Babywearing is one tool for developing a deep relationship.

Here are some fathers talking about babywearing, what it means to them and why they do it!

Mohamed

Babywearing! How are you faring? Are they still staring? As a father of twins who liked getting things done, there was only so far my two hands could take me when I had two babies to hold. I was hesitant at the science behind stretchy slings when I was first told you could carry more than 1 baby in them, the picture shows how quickly that evaporated into pure elation and joy. "I've got my hands back!" I remember thinking. That was the start to an awesome journey where there was nowhere I couldn't go with the twins. Beyond the physical strength which babywearing gave, I feel like it helped me show my girls that no matter what, I was able to lift them and raise them above whatever it was they were facing and give them a different view while still supporting myself. Why are you fearing if all you are doing is baby wearing?


Read more


Perinatal mood disorders

Perinatal Mood Disorders and Carrying

The prevalence of Perinatal Mood Disorders (pre and post-natal depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder) is increasing in Western society as it is increasingly fractured and isolated, with a decreased sense of local community and shared care. The birth of a baby is often an overwhelming time for both parents, especially when also faced with the expectations and demands of a fast-paced culture that often judges people by their apparent productivity and appearance. As a GP, I see many families struggling with these conditions that are often diagnosed, and keeping babies close may play a part in surviving these illness, mainly due to the closeness with your child, rather than the choice of sling.

Postnatal depression is on the rise – affecting at least 10-15% of new mothers (with many more sufferers (and fathers) never being recognised to have the condition). Anxiety and PTSD are also worryingly common. Parents are encouraged to put their babies down as much as possible and regain their old lives; babies are expected to learn independence as quickly as possible and stop relying on their parents for their every need.

This approach to caring for children is very new in human history and runs counter to attachment theory, which suggests that the human infant thrives on responsive parenting and close contact.

Read about Ruth’s experience of antenatal depression here; for the rest of this post we will focus mainly on postnatal depression (PND).

What is Postnatal Depression?

Postnatal Depression is a depressive illness which affects between 10 to 15% of new mothers. Many more are never diagnosed with this condition, which can become a very significant issue in the functioning of a family. It is often poorly managed by health care providers, and can be misunderstood by the community and dismissed as “just the baby blues” or “tiredness.” It is common for sufferers to feel very alone and unable to explain just how they feel and why it is so difficult to endure. Prenatal depression is also experienced by many new parents, and postnatal anxiety and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder are also commonly experienced pre and postnatally.

Sad woman

Why is it so common?

Western society is increasingly fractured and isolated, with a decreased sense of local community and shared care. Depression is common in our culture, for reasons not clearly understood, but partly due to the way we live. The birth of a baby is often an overwhelming time for both parents, especially when also faced with the expectations and demands of a fast-paced culture that often judges people by their apparent productivity and appearance.

Before parenthood, people’s identities are often based on their roles and responsibilities in life; work, friendship circles, hobbies and interests. After a baby arrives, this often changes dramatically, sometimes in unexpected ways, and for many, the huge change in the pace of life and the loss of control can be very difficult to deal with. “The burden of conscious responsibility with no let up and the unusual and unexpected degree of fatigue can make a mother feel desperate about whether she can survive and how she will manage.” (Kennell & Klaus) This is the role that community used to play; supporting and carrying each other’s burdens as part of a committed and close-knit group of people who lived together, an experience that few parents enjoy in the West today.

What does it feel like?

Common words used to describe PND are guilt and inadequacy.

“The worst part was the guilt I felt about crying every day when I had a beautiful new daughter.”

“It isn’t about not loving your baby but about feeling overwhelmed with responsibility and unable to cope.”

“My head can feel empty and I have no thoughts.”

“It is just so hard to face another day of feeling totally unlike myself, missing my old life, unable to enjoy this new one.”

Fathers suffer from depression after birth too.

“The first few weeks were the hardest and I would just sit and cry. I felt like this shouldn’t happen to me, I should just be taking it on the chin and getting on with it. But the truth is, I felt alone and without the support of my wife, I would’ve been a lot worse.”

Many parents with PND feel a sense of dissociation and detachment from the child they want to love so much. 

“It isn’t about not loving your baby but about feeling overwhelmed with responsibility and unable to cope.”

Caring for people with PND is hard.

“PND is the scariest and loneliest place on the planet and puts a terrible strain on the whole family.”

“My husband felt helpless because he knew something was wrong but I wouldn’t admit it and shut him out. All he could do was try to look after me and be there when I finally admitted it. It caused a lot of irrational arguments.”

perinatal mood disorders
Perinatal mood disorders

What can I do?

If you are suffering, or think you may be suffering from perinatal mood disorders, first be reassured that you are not alone and the vast majority of people with it survive with few long-term ill effects.

Here are some suggestions that may help.

Get help where you are.

Tell your nearest and dearest how you really feel.

“I found the hardest bit was to admit that I wasn’t coping, even when it looked like I was, I was fine on the outside but was a complete mess on the inside.”

Many women testify how supportive their partners and families and close friends are once they understand – ask them to help with the basic jobs of daily life; cooking, cleaning etc. Help them to see how useful you will find it when they listen to you with acceptance and without judgement, and how their understanding when things go wrong is vital. Guilt is a large part of PND and many kind people may inadvertently add to this burden.

Get help from your local health care providers.

This may be your GP, your midwife, your health visitor, your local SureStart centre. The quality of care from these resources can vary enormously. It can help to write down on paper how you feel in advance and what you think you need (validation, formal counselling, CBT or medication, for example) and take it with you to appointments. Continuity of care is great, if available; a HCP who listens and cares can make a greater difference than one who fires questions and is keen to tick boxes and prescribe medication at once.

“Guilt and lack of confidence are so typical of PND and my HCP was essentially validating those feelings even though objectively I was doing a great job!”

Be armed with information (e.g. if you wish to carry breastfeeding, sertraline is safe in these circumstances). The Breastfeeding Network is a valuable resource. If you are not satisfied with the care you are receiving, find different care.

Get help from your local non-NHS resources.

These can be very useful, such as HomeStart (a befriending service) and local PND groups. A postnatal doula may help, and there are many national helplines and resources (see below)

Get help from online social resources.

There are many forums and parenting groups full of people who know how you feel, and will listen and share. Being among people with the same values and parenting beliefs may be a source of great encouragement. Equally, avoid too much time online.

Get out!

It can be very hard to actually get out of the house when struggling with dark thoughts or hopelessness, but it is worth the effort involved. Even a walk down the road is a good start, and encourages release of endorphins (the natural feel-good hormone). Arrange to meet some friends, and ask them to encourage you to come. Try to make a plan for most days, and be kind to yourself if you decide on a pyjama day instead. Try to arrange some time to spend alone with your other half, to remember who you still are, as well as parents.

Get nourishment.

Good quality food, drink, exercise and sleep are vital to your own health and sanity, as are times to enjoy the things you used to. Dress well in bright mood-enhancing colours. You are still a person and your own needs should be met as much as your child’s. Some people make use of night-time carers to allow some much-needed uninterrupted sleep.

Get past your birth story.

For many women, recovering from birth takes a while, especially if it was not the hoped-for experience. The NHS Afterthoughts service and counselling can help if you feel a sense of grief.

Get a sling or carrier.

Keeping your baby physically close is well known to stimulate the release of oxytocin. Oxytocin is a hormone that is closely related to bonding and attachment. It is released during labour and breastfeeding, and, crucially, during skin-to-skin contact and social interaction. It has an important role in encouraging nurturing feelings and a sense of belonging, and reduces anxiety and depression by affecting cortisol release.

Babies who are in close contact with their parents have been shown to have a corresponding higher level of oxytocin than their non-carried counterparts; which subsequently helps to reduce baby’s own stress levels and improve their sense of secure attachment; their needs are met at the point of request. Calmer babies are easier to care for; win/win.

The soft touch of close skin to skin contact reduces the release of cortisol, the stress hormone, via C afferet fibres affecting receptors in the hypothalamic-pituitary-axis. Stroking has been shown to reduce pain responses.

Modern life is fast-paced and for many, constant carrying of ever-growing children can be difficult to achieve, or uncomfortable after the travails of birth. This is where the practice of using a sling, (sometimes known as babywearing) can be of great value. A soft sling that allows you to keep your child close to you, (thereby stimulating the release of oxytocin and reducing cortisol), and helps your baby to relax and sleep in secure comfort may make a huge difference to your life and your feelings and help you to feel that you can cope. Anxiety may settle a little as you know your little one is safe next to you. 

“The sling brought us back to an almost pregnant-like state, with him a part of me, listening to one another’s cues. He was calmer for being close to me, which made me feel more confident, which brightened my mood. Leaving the house felt less daunting so I got more exercise and again increased my confidence. I talked to him more, whether he was awake or not, and he became my son rather than a tiny scary stranger.”

“My favourite thing in the whole world, that never fails to calm me or lift my mood has been cuddles with my baby, particularly skin-to-skin. For me, there is no antidepressant like it.”

“When she was in her pram I felt completely removed from her and her world. I was just an accessory, she was a job to do and I was irrelevant. Using a sling finally helped me bond properly with her and made a massive difference to the PND.”

Many slings are extremely comfortable to use, and can be very practical indeed. It is possible to learn how to feed discreetly in a sling, allowing you more flexibility about being out of the house for the day with your baby.

Slings give you and your baby the freedom to be on the move together, rather than feeling stuck; to go out into the world for a walk or go shopping without struggling with the complexities of a pram. Movement and exercise are vital to wellbeing; and using a sling safely can help your body recover from birth and become stronger.

Slings can be beautiful and colour therapy can help to lift the mood. Learning a new skill can be therapeutic, and many parents find a great sense of community among other sling users both locally and online. This can help with feelings of isolation, especially if you have chosen to parent differently from your family or your peers.

help my child cries in the sling

 Get a sense of perspective.

What matters in these early months is you and your baby. It does not matter what other people think; the house does not need to be pristine, you do not need to impress people with how well you are taking to parenthood. I have heard many women describe how they “are falling apart on the inside”.

“I thought because I wasn’t suicidal or not looking after things that it couldn’t be PND so held back for a long time from accepting it and getting help.”

“I found the hardest bit was to admit that I wasn’t coping, even when it looked like I was, I looked fine on the outside but was a complete mess on the inside.”

Get confident again.

Reflect on what you have achieved so far and use that to build self-belief. Learn to trust yourself, be an instinctive parent – and you will fin that as you encourage others, you will find yourself lifted too. Some people find going back to work can be very helpful; the chance to use skills again and have adult interactions once more can be a great boost to self-confidence.


slings and prams and guilt

Slings and Prams and Guilt

“I have a confession to make. I like my pram; sometimes I choose it over my sling. Does that mean I’m not a real babywearer?”
“I feel guilty if I pick the pram for days out when I know the sling is so beneficial.”
“I feel selfish if I use the buggy, but sometimes my body needs a break.”

Slings and prams and guilt often seem to go hand in hand; as if there wasn’t enough guilt involved in being a parent in the first place.

I hear phrases like these from time to time, and while I am delighted that these families have discovered the good things that come from using a carrier, I feel sad that guilt has started to creep in, and that divisions are developing. There is more than enough guilt in the world for parents; how they choose to feed, how they choose to dress their children, and now it seems, how they choose (or don’t choose) to carry. I am really keen to prevent any “mommy wars” regarding carrying from springing into life, so here are my answers to this sort of situation.

Carrying DOES matter. Carrying your child is an important and necessary part of the “fourth trimester” early months of life, it is part of the essential bonding (imprinting) process whereby attachment is created. Secure attachments with a loving caregiver are the bedrock of future positive mental health and the springboard into healthy emotional relationships in later life. For young babies, loving touch and holding are one of the major means of providing this sense of being loved and being secure. Few of us are able to resist the urge to hold our crying children, to provide them with relief and to be their safe space, it is instinctive in us. We should all spend a lot of time holding and loving our babies and allowing them to learn to love us back.

However, modern life is demanding and society encourages us to think that early independence is desirable; that children should not “hold us back.” It is important to care for all members of the family; baby, siblings and parents equally; and this is where using a sling can help. A baby needs to be carried; a sling will allow this to happen while life can continue around them. A sling can mean the childcare can be shared with other adults, a sling will allow a parent to get out and around without the need for lots of equipment.

That said, there are many ways to keep a child close without the need to use a sling 24 hours a day. In-arms carrying, cuddly play, breastfeeding, bedsharing, piggybacks, reading stories with baby on your knee and so on are all ways to be in close contact. It is indeed vital to keep up with regular close contact well into the 2nd year and beyond as our children’s brains are still learning about love and attachment – it’s an investment in their future mental health. However, once babies begin to take control of their own bodies and learn how to move they need the freedom to do so.

Prams and buggies are a perfectly valid, convenient and useful way of transporting your child around and there is no reason to feel you are disadvantaging your child by using one instead of the sling today, or depriving her of something, especially if she can see you and remain in communication. You can meet her needs for closeness some other way later in the day. There is no reason to “ditch” the pram if you find it helps you in your parenting. A pram is (like the sling) a tool for getting around and carrying things, and may be easier in many circumstances, just as a sling can be easier in others (eg public transport, busy shops, off-road exploring). There are many ways to carry other things when your baby wants to be up; special bags that fit around the sling.. or a buggy!! Many families use and love both types of transportation, choosing what will suit the situation best.

Some children may just prefer the space of the pram; this is not a rejection of you, but may just be an expression of their personalities or their wish to explore what they can do with their limbs. It may be that your little boy feels too hot in the carrier that you have, or just fancies a change! Your toddler may also enjoy being able to see the world from a different perspective. If your baby loves the pram and doesn’t want to go in the sling today (assuming of course it is a comfortable and well fitting one – see here if your baby seems to hate the sling), that’s just fine. You are being responsive to your child; there is nothing to feel guilty about.

Sometimes YOU may just prefer the pram over the sling, especially if you are feeling a little claustrophobic or touched out, or just tired. Maybe you have two children, or more, and the buggies are the best option!

We don’t live in the same supportive communities these days and it can be hard for one (or two) people to shoulder the load of responsive parenting alone 24hours a day, we all need a break sometimes. “Villages” of old would share the carrying/ feeding/ entertainment more widely, which provided a much better balance of life than many of us are able to find today. If you want to use your buggy, use it and enjoy it, you can cuddle your baby later (or you may have already used the sling today.) Do not feel guilty that you are not being the best parent that you could be.

Do not feel guilty if you feel you just can’t carry today. There is no such thing as a perfect parent and social media sharing doesn’t present a true picture of people’s lives; it can look like others are using their carriers hour in hour out, day after day from their photos, but these don’t show the in between hours or days where the sling is not in use (and the pram is!) Sometimes prams are an expression of our personalities too, just as the carriers we choose can be…

snowsuits scarves slings and safety carrying in the cold

All safe and responsive carrying is good

; the sling you choose to use is not important, as long as it is safe and comfortable. A buckle carrier is as valuable as a mei tai or a woven wrap or stretchy or a ring sling. Even brands of buckle or wrap is irrelevant; what matters is that you and your child are together, in close contact, safe, and enjoying each other’s company, or sleeping in contentment.

If you are a sling user, this is a great opportunity to avoid creating a culture of guilt and judgement. The parents you see using a pram to quieten a crying baby may well have found this works better for sleeping than their sling. The mum you see pushing a pram in crowds may feel her baby is safer inside the pram than being bashed by passers by in a sling. A parent carrying a heavy toddler in their arms after a melt-down may well have chosen not to use their sling today. iIt is important to be kind and recognise that one moment is not a whole life, and we do each other a dis-service if we unintentionally spread the message that either prams or slings are superior, or if we stare and make comments about others that could be overheard.  All safe slings are of great value, and we should be cautious about what message we send to the new parents around us.

I’ll finish by reiterating that carrying IS important. We should all carry our babies and spend as much time in close contact with them as we can, be that in a sling, in arms, hand holding and so on. We should try to carry our children as much as possible, as there are many good reasons to do so. That does not mean that we should feel guilty if we choose to use prams or buggies as well, or if we choose to use one kind of sling over the other.

Oh, and of course it is fine to come to a sling meet/sling library session with your pram! And no, you definitely don’t need to feel embarrassed if you see me out and about and you are using your buggy!


carrying children matters, carrying matters, rosie knowles,

Why Carrying Children Matters

Why does carrying matter? There are so many reasons why holding and carrying children matters, on multiple levels (biological, developmental, psychological, sociological, long term health) that it would take a whole book to discuss, even in brief!

Carrying behaviour is normal for the human species; babies are very vulnerable at birth. They are born with great needs, there are many months and even years of maturation needed before human infants are able to control their bodies fully and become able to care for themselves independently. Babies and young children are dependent on their primary caregivers for a very long time. This prolonged childhood is thought to be one of the reasons why the human species has been so successful; allowing the human brain to develop complex skills such as language, creativity and the ability to alter the environment around them.

Mothers’ and babies’ bodies are adapted to each other; during pregnancy, during birth, and during the early years. They “fit together” and create a very special shared space, honed over the millennia of evolutionary processes. They work perfectly in harmony, when given the support and freedom to do so.

carrying matters

This is where the “4th Trimester” concept comes from; holding and carrying babies recreates in some part the intra-uterine environment of warmth and safety and containment and allows them to develop new skills from this platform of security. Our human instincts are strong (a baby’s cry tugs at our heartstrings and we feel the urge to gather them up, hold them close and rock gently while murmuring in a soothing way) and we are discovering much of the neurochemical science behind this normal, natural behaviour. Oxytocin release builds loving connection via multiple pathways. Soft touch has helpful effects on the hypothalamic-pituitary-axis and cortisol production, reducing pain and modulating the stress response. Gentle and responsive parenting builds and reinforces the neural circuitry as it develops in the child, creating a healthy positive inner thought state that affects long term mental health. Furthermore, building this resilience helps to combat the adversity that so many children experience. Early “skin to skin” contact is enormously useful for beginning this process of connection.

Children need loving nurture in the early neonatal period and long beyond this for normal, healthy development. Carrying babies close to an adult’s body, as human beings have evolved to do, is vital for normal physiological and psychological development. Research into the importance of skin to skin contact, soft touch and responsive parenting, as well as a better understanding of disability reinforces this.

I talk about the positive effects of holding, carrying and babywearing, rather than the “benefits” of these practices. The word “benefit” implies an extra thing, an advantage, something that can be added onto what is baseline… but the holding and carrying (however it is done, in arms or a sling) that builds connection is part of normal human development. It is the baseline! It isn’t something that some parents can choose to do to give their child an extra advantage in life. It is what all babies need, like nourishment, warmth, safety. The absence of these loving connections that involve gentle physical touch is harmful to children.

carry me daddy

We can agree that carrying children matters. However it is not just babies and children who need the close contact; parents and caregivers also benefit hugely from holding their offspring and interacting with them closely. The same biochemical pathways that help babies and young children to thrive are present in adults too, and families flourish when the needs of all its members are met. Adults need loving contact too; and a child who calms when comforted in arms or a sling provides positive reinforcement that parenting is manageable after all. Many parents find that babywearing can help with low mood and improve their confidence, as well as giving them freedom to get on with their lives in the societal constraints in which they live.

Carrying in arms and in a sling really does make a significant difference to the overall wellbeing and physical and mental health of all members of society, both now and for the future. A society where children’s needs and rights are taken seriously, where knowledge of how to build securely attached children and adults is put into practice, and where the most vulnerable among us are treated with love and kindness, is one in which we would all wish to live. This is why carrying matters; it can change the world around us.

To find out more, please click the links below.


do slings create clingy children

Do Slings Create Clingy Children?

Mum and baby on the beach
Only Mummy will do when overwhelmed

Do slings create clingy children?

Many parents worry that by carrying their baby in a sling, that they are going to create a “clingy child” who won’t be put down. There is a lot of pressure from society to "put your baby down", a fear that responding to the cries of a child will somehow spoil them. Many people believe that children need to be trained into early "independence" and that too much love holds a child back. This is very, very incorrect.

It is disconcerting for a babywearing mother who has carried her child frequently from birth to find that he wants to be held much more than his contemporaries, and when the time comes (if it does) for childcare from other individuals, her baby may protest very vigorously and will not allow another adult to look after him.

All too often, at this point, the words “rod for your own back” surface and the use of the sling is blamed for the child’s behaviour, labelled as “clinginess”. People can use this as a reason to reinforce fears that a child has been "ruined" by the cuddles. For a new parent,  doubt can creep in; a fear that somehow, somewhere, a wrong choice has been made and a child’s independence has been stunted by keeping them too close.

Watching parents and children struggle to separate can have an influence on bystanders; encouraging them to think that sling use is more trouble than it is worth. They are wrong.

BreastfeedingSecure Attachment Matters

It would be worth at this point, to briefly recap the value of close bonding and secure attachment. Close contact that began at birth and has continued uninterrupted will have initiated, facilitated and consolidated a positive bonding process (mediated by oxytocin).

Such children are likely to have secure, positive attachments to their primary caregivers, which is essential to their physical and psychological health. This is how to build a happy brain; responsive parenting. Children who know their own value and have a rock-solid foundational experience of having their basic needs met, will have trust and confidence in the loving adult relationships around them. This builds resilience, a vital tool to help children thrive despite adversity.

When it is biologically appropriate, they will be more able to turn to independent play as they know and trust their mother is there, even if out of sight; she will not abandon them, she has consistently always come back. As they grow older (towards their first birthday), and begin to develop more co-ordination and independence in movement under their own steam, they will have the underlying security to roam further and further freely. This takes time to develop, and individual personalities play an important part in this.

child beginning to discover movement
Beginning to discover movement

With this natural, biological change and development in their bodies, they will also demand less frequent contact, less frequent feeding, and begin to expand their horizons. This is often the point at which carried babies begin to want to be carried less; to reach for the floor where they can explore, and investigate the world around them. They may even begin to refuse the sling from time to time, often to the carrying parent’s chagrin!

Modern society expects children to become independent individuals extremely young, praising and rewarding those first shuffles forwards, first crawls and first steps, and being quick to criticise or discourage behaviour that demonstrates need. However, it is normal for babies to express their needs, such biologically appropriate behaviour should not be “trained out of them”.

If a child has been carried in arms or a sling from birth and has strong, secure bonds with his caregivers, it is entirely normal for him to expect support from these caregivers in the way he has always experienced it, whenever he asks for it. The neural connections in his growing brain have been solidly reinforced over and over again. It is also normal for him to protest when he is removed from his trusted habitat and asked to accept different caregivers he may not know. This child is not “clingy” in the sense our society means it; it simply means he is habituated to the close contact he has enjoyed all his life, just as his ancestors were; and such close contact is normal for human babies.

With the natural progression of his emotional and psychological development, as well as the growth of his physical skills and strength, his needs will change. Until that stage is reached, a child will expect continuity of care and for things to remain unchanged. The eight month to twelve month period is often when children experience separation anxiety and often coincides with things like parental return to work, introduction of new spaces and places, and of course the sling will play a part in providing reassurance, until a child is ready to move on. It is a safe space, rather than being the root of any “clinginess”.

In our society, babies are carried much less and put down a lot more than they used to be. Some fairly recent British data in 2000 (Baildam et al 2000) suggests that mothers spent an average of just 61 minutes in 24 hours simply holding their sleeping or crying six week old child. This figure was only 17 minutes when the child reached one year old.

a six week old baby
A six week old just sleeping in arms

When feeding contact was added to the data, 6 week old infants spent an average of 3hrs 27minutes out of 24hrs in contact with their mothers, and 2hrs 23minutes at one year old. Given the trends in current mainstream society, this is likely to have declined further.

For many babies, their parent’s body has never been their primary habitat, their early communication attempts were never met positively, and for some, their bonding may be less secure and demonstrate more insecure or ambivalent patterns. Earlier “separation” may have been gained, but at some cost to future mental health.

Don't be afraid to hold your unhappy baby or to use a sling if they want to be close to you (it means you can be hands-free while you meet their needs). It is always worth building secure attachment relationships. Your baby's babyhood does not last; soon they will no longer need you in the same way, build that solid foundation while you can!

Normal Independence

So, when does normal, biological independence for the human child develop fully when allowed to proceed at its own pace? Well, personality plays a part in this; a single family may have very different children who have been parented the same way and yet have different needs and develop confident independence at different times. Generally, however, anthropological studies would suggest that full independence would occur when a child has completely self-weaned from breastfeeding and bed-sharing, no longer requests frequent in-arms carrying, being able to reliably move from place to place unaided, and able to verbally communicate effectively; usually around age three for carrying (even only occasionally, in piggy back form). Breastfeeding and bed-sharing often continues much longer in more traditional societies.

back carry
Still enjoying a sling piggy back from time to time

This is much, much later than the socioeconomic model many of us live in. Children are incredibly adaptive, and as there is so much technology available and so much societal pressure to encourage this early separation, this often means that babies can and do learn to need their parent less than they normally would at their current age.

They can learn to not to raise their arms or cry for contact, they can learn to stop asking for breastmilk, and they can learn to sleep alone, however they may be missing out on much of the opportunity for emotional and psychological growth in these crucial formative years. This is the current societal norm; to put babies down rather than hold them close.

So it is no surprise when a parent chooses a more instinctive and natural means of rearing their child, that clashes develop with other parents and older generations who have simply done what the culture around them does and did before them. Why change things?

Grandparents may feel rejected if they feel their own child has chosen to parent differently from them; gentle discussion about current research and new understanding of child development and tactful understanding can go a long way in resolving such conflicts.

Many families will feel they have little chance to spend as much time with their children as they would wish due to work pressures; regret or resentment about this may manifest itself as criticism of others who are able to care for their children in a different way. They may not know there are comfy slings for older children; would it be worth visiting the local sling library?

Sleeping in Slings

People often worry that their babies will only ever sleep in a sling or resting on them. This is the natural, normal place for a child to sleep, in the haven of his parent’s secure provision. A baby falls asleep when he feels warm, safe and loved; it is no surprise that babies love to sleep in their parents’ arms; and as we have discussed, as they grow, their need for this will gradually decline.

sleeping in a sling
This little boy fell asleep in the sling… a successful transfer to bed (Risaroo Wovens)

If you have the kind of life that cannot allow a child’s sleep physiology (or accepting non-parental child-care etc) to mature at its natural pace, then it would be wise to ensure that your baby is well used to happily and easily and trustingly settling to sleep in different locations; or well used to care from other trusted adults and this will be easier if he has the underlying attachment foundations and parents who respond to his need as it arises; he will trust them that the places they lay him to sleep are secure, once he is a little older with the psychological maturity to accept this.

Summary

In summary; slings will not make clingy children; your child is demonstrating normal human infant behaviour, and has had a very positive start to life with a securely attached foundation to build on. All children eventually learn to feed themselves, settle themselves to sleep, walk unaided and accept care from other adults; some learn it sooner than others, but they do all learn it, and as parents, it is our responsibility to choose a method of childrearing that feels right to us and is going to give our children the best start in life possible in the circumstances we live in.

 

References

Baildam, E. M., Hillier, V. F., Menon, S., Bannister, R. P., Bamford, F. N., Moore, W. M. O., and Ward, B. S. (2000). Attention to infants in the first year. Child: Care, Health and Development, 26:199–216.