carrying in special circumstances

Carrying in Special Circumstances

Sometimes there is a need for extra support with using slings; don’t be discouraged if you or your child have extra needs, there are always ways to keep carrying in special circumstances.

If your child can be held and carried in arms, there is likely to be a way to carry them safely in a sling. Twins can be carried in slings, as can a baby and a toddler at the same time (tandem carrying). There are ways to carry safely in pregnancy, to carry after birth, to carry premature babies. We will help you to carry your child if you have a disability, or if your child has special needs or physical health concerns. We are here to help you find a way to keep them close.

This page links to some useful information; personal stories about carrying in special circumstances, professional advice and useful links. Please see our Common Queries page for simpler situations.

If you have a special story, please get in touch to share them with me for the wider community!

Here is an excellent downloadable article on Potential Therapeutic Benefits of Babywearing by Robyn Reynolds-Miller.

You can find more educational resources here for downloading (such as infographics and leaflets and images)

If you need more specialised support or have a query not covered here, please do get in touch with me or find your local sling library at Sling Pages.


Common Queries

Common Queries

Families often have a lot of questions about using carriers, such as “what is a healthy hip position”, or “is it OK to face my baby out in a carrier?” “Will using a sling make my child clingy?” “What do I do in different weather conditions?”

This page links to many of the common queries around slings; information sharing to allow people to make informed choices that work for themselves and their families.

Here is a quick link to the most common FAQs too!

Slings and Exercise

more

The Fuss about Facing Out

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Carrying While Pregnant

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Tandem Babywearing

more

Do Slings Create Clingy Children?

more

Breast and Bottle Feeding Safely in a Sling

more

How Babywearing Can Help with Post-Natal Depression

more

Carrying in the Postnatal Period

more

Carrying with a weakened pelvic floor

more

Sleeping While Your Baby is Sleeping in the Sling

more

Healthy Hips; Busting Some Myths

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Keeping Your Baby Safe in the Cold

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Keeping Your Baby Safe in the Sun

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Beginning to Back Carry

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Help, My Child Cries in the Sling!

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Carrying Older Children

more

Beyond the Knee to Knee

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Slings and Prams and Guilt

more

The Last Days of Carrying

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Carry Me Daddy!

more

Don’t forget the sling safety guide is here.

If you need more specialised support or have a query not covered here, please do get in touch with me!

You can find more educational resources here for downloading (such as infographics and leaflets and images) and you can read about carrying in some special circumstances here.


The Importance of Carrying

Seven Reasons to Carry Your Baby

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Attachment, Babies and Carrying

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Secure Attachment and the Fourth Trimester

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Why Carrying Matters (for Juno Magazine) issue 44

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Positive Effects of Carrying for Society

The positive effects of carrying for society are many; making a change at an individual level can have a significant impact when lots of people do it! In-arms carrying and using slings is one way that we can change the future that we all have to live in.

Possibly one of the most important positive outcomes for carrying for a parent and the society we live in is the effect it can have on mental health, which is a society-wide issue. 

Western society is increasingly fractured and isolated, with a decreased sense of local community and shared care. The burden of mental unwellness in our society is growing, and becoming a parent with this background can be very tough indeed.

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. It is no wonder that postnatal depression is on the rise – affecting at least 10-15% of new mothers. This is likely an underestimate as parents feel ashamed to admit their feelings, with the effects of hiding their struggle having significant knock-ons for the whole family.

Fathers are often unrecognised to have the condition themselves, and this all adds to an increased risk of children coming to harm. This is a terrible indictment on our culture and its lack of care for some of the most vulnerable individuals in our communities.

The way we live now isn’t going to change overnight; funding for parental leave or greater support for mental health isn’t going to become suddenly available, and the media bombardment of products for parenting won’t vanish. But neither are the emotional needs of young children going to go away, especially if we want them to grow up well and be happy, confident mature individuals who are well integrated into society.

We need to find ways to nurture our children while still functioning as our culture expects us to, and this is where carrying children (often using a sling) can help. Carrying children encourages and protecting parent’s precious closeness with small children while helping to build the bonds that will be the foundations for a positive future. Giving children a secure and confident start in life pays dividends later for the whole of society.

  • Families who enjoy secure attachments and strong bonds are more likely to weather the early years of parenting safely and build resilient children with a secure self-esteem. This will help to counteract the growing burden of mental "un-health" especially as funding for mental health services continues to decrease. Carrying (and using slings), via oxytocin release, helps to build these bonds; and can improve resilience to the Adverse Childhood Experiences that so many children experience. Read more about ACE's here.
  • Anything that improves mental health and assists families struggling with PND is worth investing in, especially something as accessible and low cost as a carrier.
  • A very sobering review of international attachment studies done by the Sutton Trust found that infants under three years who do not form strong bonds with a parent “are more likely to suffer from aggression, defiance and hyperactivity when they get older.” They found that up to 40% of children lack this secure bond with their parents, and this is likely to lead to their own children also suffering from insecure attachment; a vicious, repeating cycle. “Parents who are insecurely attached themselves, are living in poverty or with poor mental health find it hardest to provide sensitive parenting and bond with their babies.”
  • They also found that children with weak attachment were more likely to be obese later in childhood (with subsequent effects on their long term adult health).
  • Communities are the normal social structures of the human species; finding common ground and sharing the strains of life together keeps us going. Many families find community among like-minded parents; most sling users make strong supportive friendships within the sling community.
  • Carrying keeps us active; movement is essential for health and fitness. Dynamic carrying in arms (if possible) helps children to hone their growing neuromotor skills, and carrying young children (or those with tired legs) is good for adults too; bone remodelling, muscle health and posture.
  • As the rates of breastfeeding are higher in carried babies, the health benefits of breastfeeding will be more marked in societies who carry a lot (reduced breast cancer risk, reduced osteoporosis, increased transfer of antibodies, to name just some.)
  • Babies who are carried are more content and cry less. Crying is very stressful; and successful calming of a distressed baby will build a parent’s confidence in their ability to care for their child and also reduce the feelings of tension in social gatherings or in large public open spaces.
  • Carried babies may have had less ear infections, less corrective treatment for plagiocephaly, and thus have been less in need of the NHS budget.

I believe that health care professionals should therefore promote frequent carrying of infants to achieve the best possible outcomes for families, and for the long term benefit of the societies they live in. It is a low cost intervention that can have far-reaching effects.


positive effects of carrying for parents

Positive Effects of Carrying for Parents and Carers

In-arms carrying and using slings doesn’t just bring good things to babies – they can make a real difference to parents and other caregivers too. Read more about the benefits of babywearing for adults here.

  • It encourages bonding and deepening of a loving relationship via the release of the hormone oxytocin; having baby close heightens the parent’s awareness and can increase their responsiveness to their baby’s needs. You can read more about the effects of oxytocin here.
  • It can increase parental confidence. The parent may be more “in tune” with their baby, as the carried child is part of the parent’s personal space, and the parent will be more aware of changes in a child’s mood, and thus be more able to respond to the child’s facial expressions, gestures and vocalised needs sooner. This will build mutual trust and contentment.
  • There is evidence to suggest that sling use can help with perinatal mood disorders such as postnatal depression, in part due to oxytocin release and in part due to increased bonding.
  • Fathers and other care-givers will be able to use a sling as well, increasing family connections and helping baby recognise more people by their voices and scent. Sling use can be very valuable in giving family members “cuddle time” and can be an useful tool for childminders as well.
  • Slings can provide “hands-free” parenting, which can be very useful, such as making a quick snack, interacting with an older child, doing the housework or other chores. A “fussy” baby may calm and settle in a sling, allowing the parent more choice about how to use their time.
  • Slings can provide opportunities for physical exercise and mental stimulation; a new skill to learn and a new social circle (social sling meets, for example!) Many people find that carrying their children on walks helps to lose weight and tone muscles. Dynamic (in arms carrying) is also a good workout!
  • Slings can provide greater access to the world – in a good sling the only limitations are where your feet can take you. Onto the beach, off the beaten path, up a tower, onto crowded public transport, around busy airports, the world is your oyster!
  • Slings can provide comfort and nurturing for older children as well.

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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.


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.

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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

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?


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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.

Carrying multiples, carrying twins, carrying toddler and baby, babywearing
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.


The unhelpful "rules" of babywearing

There are so many unhelpful rules of babywearing. I'm not talking about basic safety guidelines, but about the unspoken rules about how things must be done.

This needs addressing. I love babywearing. I love how special it is. I love how empowering and enabling it can be and what a difference it can make to children and their carers and the society around them.

I also love that it just makes life work for so many people on a practical level, regardless of all the benefits and reasons about why it is an activity that matters. Babywearing may be magical for many, and has so many positive effects on a physiological and neurological level, but really, for some, it’s just about getting stuff done, keeping the cogwheels of daily life turning, or helping to survive very tough situations.

I have watched thousands of people carrying their children all around the world and I love that I am part of a tradition of child rearing that goes back beyond the history books into our anthropological origins. I love it so much that I wrote a book all about it!

Carrying children is normal human behaviour, and it isn’t, and shouldn’t be, complicated or difficult. It shouldn’t be scary, inaccessible or expensive. It does not belong to groups of people to “own” or to build tall walls around to make things secret or elitist. Babywearing (the use of a sling or carrier to keep a child safe and close to a parent) is for everyone, every gender, every colour, every ability, every size, every shape. Babywearing should bring us together, not divide us. It should not alienate or exclude entire groups of people.

However, as the practice becomes more mainstream and the industry grows, this alienation is unfortunately happening more and more often. Marketing campaigns and the general make-up of many babywearing groups suggests that this is an activity for relatively well-off middle class “standard sized” white women in nuclear families, carrying able-bodied and healthy children. This is a direction that needs to be arrested before it becomes too entrenched. I’ll say it again, babywearing is for everyone and can be done in so many ways.

the unhelpful rules of babywearing
carry me daddy
the unhelpful rules of babywearing
Smiling Carrying Woman carrying baby - credit Steph Oliver-Beech benefits of babywearing

One way that babywearing can become elitist is in the development of complex rules, and I’d like to have a discussion about some of these “rules” and “guides” of babywearing that I am seeing shared around. I understand that it can feel reassuring to have black and white lists of what you can and can’t do, and schedules for certain types of carrying. These can act as a framework for where to begin with using a sling. This is valuable, especially as many of us have lost the shared collective wisdom that comes from living in communities and no longer learn how to parent from the people living around us. Many of us turn to books and to the internet and ask for guidance.

However, I think these “rules” often end up making things harder and disempowering the very people who need the most support. Here are some common examples.

Some commonly stated "Rules"

  • Do not use a stretchy wrap beyond three months
  • Do not back carry with a stretchy wrap
  • Do not use a soft structured carrier for a newborn
  • Do not do any form of sideways cradle carry
  • Do not use a narrow based carrier
  • Do not face your child out in a carrier
  • Do not back carry a baby before they can sit unaided
  • Do not back carry a newborn in a ring sling
  • Low back carries are dangerous, high back carries are much better
  • Once your baby is walking you must begin to use a toddler-size carrier
  • Bigger children must be carried on the back
  • Do not use footed pyjamas for babies in slings

I could go on…

These rules can be useful, but often they exclude significant proportions of the population. You can use a stretchy wrap to carry an older child, if they are safe and comfy. You can use your stretchy wrap in many ways, including on the back, if your child is safe and comfy. You can use a soft structured carrier for a newborn, if it fits them and is safe and comfy. You can carry a child in a sideways seated position or even a cradle carry, and facing out, if they are safe and comfy. You can use a narrow based carrier for a baby or a baby sized carrier for a toddler, if they are safe and comfy. You can carry a baby on your back in any form of carrier if they are safe and comfy. You can carry any age baby on your back or your front if they are safe and comfy. You can carry your child who is wearing footed pyjamas if the child is safe and comfy (ie their toes have room to wiggle). You can carry your child whatever size you are. In fact, you can do pretty much anything you want to do, if your baby is safe and comfy.

Do you get the theme?

I think the only “rules” when it comes to carrying a child in any form of sling are

  1. Can they breathe safely and without any obstruction at all times?
  2. Are they being held safely and securely in a carrier that fits (to ensure they are able to breathe easily and cannot slump into a position that would obstruct their airway)?
  3. Are they as comfortable as the circumstances allow?

How do you check if a child is breathing safely in the carrier?

  • Look at them, listen to them, be aware of them.
  • Check their airways are free of any fabric and they are not slumping or folded over with their ribcage compressed and chin on the chest.

How do you ensure they are safe and snug in the carrier and that it fits?

  • A well fitting carrier holds a child close to the parent, close enough that if the parent leans forwards, the child does not swing free. This helps to avoid slumping over in the carrier.
  • If a child’s body can slump, the carrier does not fit or is not tight enough.
  • The “knee to knee” rule is often overstated in its importance for older children (the M shape can be protective for children at risk of hip dysplasia in the early months.)

How do you ensure they are comfortable in the carrier?

  • This is all about being responsive and connected to the child being carried.
  • They should fit inside the carrier, be able to breathe safely, and should not be too hot (overheated babies are more likely to stop breathing).
  • Check on your child, be aware of their experience and how they are behaving in the carrier. The more you interact with your child the more you will know that they are OK (or not!)

If your baby is safe, able to breathe and is comfortable, and you feel confident that all is well, then it probably is well. Carry right on! And if you would like some encouragement, find a friendly educator and help them learn how to support you in a way that builds you up and keeps you carrying happily.

It is important to remember that every child and every parent has different needs. Parents of twins may need to be able to back carry one twin from a very early age, to be able to cope with family life. They may choose to use a buckle carrier on the back, and if the child is able to breathe safely and is not uncomfortable then that makes their lives work. Telling them this is forbidden creates needless barriers and makes life harder. A stretchy wrap for a one year old may not be as comfortable as a woven wrap, but for a parent on a budget who now has a less-unhappy toddler held close while the baby can be cleaned, this is a win-win situation. A four month old who will will only tolerate facing out in a narrow based carrier can be happily transported on a school run. Millions of women around the world have carried young babies in low torso carries with simple pieces of cloth.  A disabled child who cannot sit unaided can be held safely and securely on the back in several types of carrier which will definitely make everything much easier. Do be aware of how your language and how you educate can affect others and significantly disempower people.

Oh, but these rules are for normal people!” This is a common dismissal of any criticism of “rules” and is unbelievably inappropriate. Our society is made up of people of all abilities and all skills. More than one billion people in today’s world have a disability; that’s 15% of the population. This ratio may not be reflected in the proportion of children who are brought to babywearing groups, just like people of colour are missing from these gatherings. The fault is not theirs; it is ours. We must be more inclusive and we must make efforts to reach out to people. Just imagine how different things could be, if some of these walls of prejudice were pulled down from the inside.

Grainne and Tessa are a great example of how babywearing can actually empower beyond the “rules.” Little Tessa was born without a nose (arhinia) and had to have a tracheostomy when she was very young. Her family were told that she was safest to be sleeping in a separate room with various wires and monitors attached to her for any alerts in a change of breathing. In fact, Grainne decided to wear Tessa in a sling, keeping her close and safe and visible at all times; if Tessa stopped breathing, Grainne would see it and feel it as it happened, thanks to the sling (read more about them here.) The sling made life work for them, and also made it much happier during some very tough times. Common sense, knowledge of safety and a willingness to bend the rules worked together to enhance their lives, when they could so easily have missed out.

carrying in special circumstances

This is a superb blog for further reading; all about ableism in the babywearing community and I urge you to read it.

http://bindungtraegt.de/ableismback-wearing/


Ergobaby Front Carry Ruck Straps Photo Tutorial

Ergobaby front carry ruck straps photo tutorial with pre-clipped straps

Ergobaby front carry ruck straps photo tutorial. A step by step guide to give you confidence! This method clips the chest belt at the start so it is preclipped into the optimal position.

Many parents find it hard to do up the chest belt of rucksack strapped carriers. This may be due to how flexible they are (or aren’t!) and how easy they are able to reach behind their neck. Some find this pre-clipped method easier.

Top tip: don’t forget you can move the chest belt up and down on the webbing that runs along the shoulder straps. Everyone will have a particular preference for the chest belt location. As you tighten the shoulder straps, the chest belt will move down your back. If it still feels too high behind your neck once the shoulder straps are tightened, move it down the webbing for the next time. Check you can still reach it to undo it when ready. If it is too low, move it up the webbing for the next time. A few practices and you’ll soon find the right combination for your comfort and convenience.

You can see the clip behind your neck method here.