Top FAQS

These are the most common questions about babywearing I am asked, in a single helpful list!

Just click on the links to read the relevant blog posts, some are kindly shared from others

Firstly; some of my most popular articles:

Do the babywearing “rules” really matter?

Babywearing and infant mental health

Babywearing and the mother-baby dyad

Where can I get some training about slings and why they matter?

Secondly, I get this query daily. “Can I use your infographics to support families?” ABSOLUTELY! Everything on this website was created to help families with children to feel close and connected. Please credit me appropriately and link back to my website/social media (facebook, instagram)

Here is the link to the infographics (eg the Fourth Trimester/Build a Happy Brain/Why Carrying Matters/Skin to Skin posters and much more)

Carrying in different circumstances

Can I sleep while my baby sleeps in their carrier?

How do I carry more than one child at a time?

How can I carry safely in hot weather?

How do I keep my baby warm while carrying in the cold?  (ie can I put them in a snowsuit?)

How do I keep myself and baby dry when babywearing in the rain? (Coming soon)

Carrying adopted or foster children

What if my child has a disability? See this link for a stories from families living with a range of specific conditions.

What if babywearing just isn’t working for me?


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

more

Carrying While Pregnant

more

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

more

Keeping Your Baby Safe in the Cold

more

Keeping Your Baby Safe in the Sun

more

Beginning to Back Carry

more

Help, My Child Cries in the Sling!

more

Carrying Older Children

more

Beyond the Knee to Knee

more

Slings and Prams and Guilt

more

The Last Days of Carrying

more

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

Read more

Attachment, Babies and Carrying

Read more

Secure Attachment and the Fourth Trimester

Read more

Why Carrying Matters (for Juno Magazine) issue 44

Read more

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.

Read more


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.


sling safety matters sling safely

Sling Safety Matters - How to Use a Sling Safely

Sling safety matters. Carrying our children in a sling safely can be one of the most precious experiences we ever have as parents or caregivers. There really is something very special about the bond that builds from keeping your child close.

However fantastic it may be, it must be done safely, for your baby’s health and your own. As parents of small babies and bigger ones, one of our greatest priorities is to keep our children safe. A good, correctly fitting sling can be a very helpful tool for this; keeping a child safe while daily life continues.


Sling use for very young babies (birth to four months)

This is becoming increasingly popular around the more developed world; a practice that has in fact been universal for thousands of years. Families that live in extended communities or “villages” are usually able to share well-honed, tried and tested knowledge down the generations and provide easily accessible advice and support. This kind of local support is much harder to come by in our more fragmented societies, which means we often turn to books or the internet to fill the gaps in our knowledge and provide us with reassurance we are doing it right. Unfortunately, sometimes these sources of information are out-of-date, incorrect or even dangerous, and can lead to problems with the use of any kind of baby equipment. Manufacturer instructions can be slow to be updated with new “best-practice” guidelines and YouTube videos not made by professionals can often be misleading and miss out important information.

Many carriers on the market hold babies very low down and loose, which will allow young bodies with little muscle tone (especially during sleep) to slump and end up with nose and mouth pressed against fabric. They often talk about “head support” but use rigid high backed panels that tip baby’s large head and chin forwards onto their chest. This is not wise or responsible.

Very few manufacturers advise about monitoring baby’s temperature in baby carriers; which is important, as overheating is risky.


Why bother with a sling at all if there are any risks?

There are many benefits to using a sling with a very young baby; in fact. many hospitals use them in the practice known as “Kangaroo Care”, and there is much evidence to suggest this skin to skin contact between mother and newborn (especially premature babies) can confer great benefits to both.

The baby gains assistance with their physiological regulation of breathing and heart rates, temperature control is improved, and the contact helps to establish breastfeeding and promote more rapid growth compared to babies who are not held as close for as long. Furthermore, the baby will feel more secure in their developing relationship with his caregiver, due to the time spent in close contact.

The caregiver may find that he/she is able to bond with her baby, due to the increased release of oxytocin, and post-natal depression may be reduced. Being able to be “hands-free” can really make a difference to a family’s ability to get around with their new baby, keeping them active and engaging with normal life.

The key is to know how to use the sling in a safe and secure way, just as you may practise learning to ride a bicycle, or drive a car. Familiarity and practice make perfect. All baby equipment should be used safely, and it is an unfortunate fact that sometimes things are not fit for purpose, or the instructions that come with equipment are inadequate. Babies should be able to breathe easily, be at a comfortable temperature, and held in positions that are healthy and beneficial for them.


How can I ensure I am using my sling safely?

A good sling should mimic the natural, in-arms upright position for carrying babies, ensuring the caregiver can see and sense the baby at all times, and thus able to be quickly aware of and rapidly responsive to any changes.

I see a lot of parents with newborn babies wanting to learn how to use a sling, and the photos and the position diagrams here are the first thing we look at.

in arms M and J shape

Babies grow in tucked positions, and after birth, they tend to maintain this gentle curve to their spines for several months due their lack of muscle tone or strength to their head and neck and upper torso. It is not till they are older that they have the strength to hold their spine in a straightened posture. It is not till they can crawl and stand and are  beginning to walk that their muscles and ligaments hold the spine in the more adult S shape. While babies are young, holding them in their naturally adopted tucked positions is both comfortable for them and also more comfortable for you. As they grow and begin to develop their strength and clinging ability, their needs will change.

Young babies who are seated in the “squat” position or the M shape (looks like a J shape from the side) will have a broader, more stable base to rest on than a narrow perch. This position, with the curve mainly at the base also helps to keep the chest flat against the parent’s body and thus in an expanded position for good airflow.

babywearing safety
10 FAQs

Babies under 3 to 4 months are most at risk of airway compromise when chin can sink onto their chests; so a good carrier will hold baby’s chest snugly against yours to keep the chest cavity uncurled and the chin off the chest. It is important to ensure no slumping and that there is no fabric over the face and there is a good air supply. Babies have a disproportionately large occiput (the back of the skull) and a short neck, along with lower muscle strength and co-ordination compared to adults. Rigid surfaces behind the back of their heads tend to push the skull forwards so chin sinks onto chest and can obstruct airway. This is is why upper back and neck support (no further up than the earlobes) is so important, rather than using headrests which can be risky.

Stabilising a child’s body with a broad base and good upper back and neck support is key in the early months.

This also applies to car seat usage; rigid shells with a hard back holding babies at 40 degree angles can also push a baby’s chin onto their chest and is why it is not recommended for newborns to sleep for long periods in car seats.

Babies should be dressed appropriately to ensure they do not get too warm; people are often surprised how quickly everyone can warm up when in close contact. Please do not use thick, furry or padded snowsuits and dress down. You can always add more layers over the top.

Respectful, anatomically appropriate positioning


ABC is the basic first-aid mnemonic, which can be adapted for safe sling use.

AIRWAY is vital. Babies’ heads are heavy and it takes time for their muscle strength and tone to develop enough to hold up their heads and support their own airways; until then, it is our job as parents to be as caring and careful as we can. A baby’s head should be resting against the caregiver’s chest, with the windpipe straight, not curled over. A good guide is at least two fingers being able to fit between baby’s chin and his chest. Air should be able to circulate freely and the face should not be obscured by fabric, or buried within cleavage. Baby’s cheek can rest against parent’s chest, and hands should be accessible to the mouth for sucking if needed (and not trapped down the side of the sling)

BODY POSITION is important to protect the airway as well. The upper body should be supported against parent’s chest, to ensure no slumping (this is why carriers should be tight, to make sure that babies do not roll up into a ball). The pelvic tuck into the M shape with knees higher than bottom will help support baby’s back as well as being very comfortable. The neck should be supported where possible to avoid backwards lolling but the back of the head should never be tilted forwards (see the image above – babies have a larger occiput, shorter neck and less-strong neck muscles than adults). The pelvic tilt and using a rolled muslin cushion (to rest below the earlobes) can be helpful if babies resist head support. See the diagrams above for the correct shaping.

COMFORT comes last – I would rather see a child in an uncomfortable carrier that was safe, than fast asleep slumped into a tight ball or folded over in a cradle carry, however comfortable it is. However, you and your child are likely to enjoy and appreciate a carrier that is pleasant to use, fits well and does not cause back pain. Here is some advice about how to choose a carrier. Comfort also covers the baby’s temperature; too hot is a problem, so please layer your baby carefully and do not over-dress them.

In summary, the safest position is an upright one that meets the TICKS guidelines – Tight, In View, Close enough to Kiss, Keep Chin off the Chest, Supported Back.

from Babywearing International
from www. babyslingsafety.co.uk

I would never recommend any kind of lying- down position in a carrier, especially where the back of the head is bent forwards to compress the airway and a child is thus not able move its head freely to clear any blockage. Bag slings, ill-fitting pouch slings and other slings used badly can be risky.

Breastfeeding is usually safest done in upright positions for this reason, and a child who falls asleep feeding in a sling should always, always be brought back into this safe upright position, to protect the airway. Babies should never be left to sleep in a cradled position inside a sling; this can be dangerous.

sling safety matters sling safely

What about older babies beyond the early weeks and months when they are developing more control over their bodies?

As babies grow, their needs and abilities change. A baby who can maintain their own airway independently will expect more freedom and will show you this with wriggling and turning. Their wild jerky movements are how they practice muscle control and learn coordination. Movement is important, babies should be given the opportunity to explore their bodies whenever possible. Parents and carers will need to find a happy balance between the need for safe and comfortable transportation, a place to sleep or feed, and their baby’s need to move. It’s worth being aware that prolonged, unchanged positioning isn’t good for anyone and even adults are being encouraged to move every 45 minutes. Children’s bodies are still growing!

Try to change positions, try in arms carrying, swap with other carers, use a buggy, to give children a variety of experiences and positions.

Top Tips

Position matters

  • Your child must be able to breathe safely in the sling. Their chin should not be touching their chest (a good guide is a space two finger-widths or more) or lolling back too far. (Try it yourself! Can you swallow your saliva with your chin too close to your chest or lolling all the way back?)
  • To ensure no slumping, position your child correctly against your body, chest well against yours, and bring the carrier over your baby as you hold them. This video will help you to ensure no slump.
  • A child whose bottom and legs are well supported from knee to knee in a “spread squat” or “M position” is in a more stable position and will be less likely to fold up or slump over.

Know your sling and know your baby

  • Always familiarise yourself with your carrier before you use it for the first time. Ensure you have a good idea how to use it. Some people like to practice with a teddy bear near a bed and with a mirror to see what is happening.
  • Always check your carrier before use for any wear and tear, that all component parts are present and fit for purpose (eg is the chest belt in place? Are any buckles in the right places and not broken, are the seams are intact?)
  • Check your baby is willing to be carried. The only “unsafe” carry is one with an unwilling baby. If baby seems unkeen, can you establish why? For example, is he hungry? Is she wet or dirty? Does he have reflux or does he find certain positions uncomfortable? Does she want to do something else? Is he too hot or cold? Is she in pain? If he or she cries in a sling, read here about some of the many other reasons a baby may express distress.

Dress appropriately

  • Ensure appropriate clothing – the sling may add additional warmth, so layering is a good idea.
  • In cold weather there is a temptation to wrap up extra warm but this needs to be done with care. Too-warm babies are less likely to wake if their breathing slows. Don't be tempted to over-dress!! You can always add more layers over the top if babies really are cold.
  • Many people find baby leggings, gloves on strings, well fitting hats and tie-on warm booties to be especially helpful in the chill. Thin layering is key.
  • Read more about the risks of snowsuits here.
  • Don’t forget to ensure your baby doesn’t get too hot in the summer; protect your baby from sunburn and to keep well hydrated in warm weather.
  • An useful tip, if you dress your baby in a bodysuit with feet, is to choose a larger size than for ordinary wear, as the fabric will ride up a little with the sling and may squash tiny toes.

Keeping Safe in the ColdKeeping Safe in the Sun

Be alert at all times

  • It is important to be aware of your child at all times; if you feel something is different, check! Some people like to carry a small pocket mirror so they can check on children riding on the back.
  • It is wise to consider what physical activity you wish to do while babywearing; will it hinder your awareness of your child in the sling or hamper your ability to deal with any problems? Your baby will be at a height in the sling and may be able to reach for unexpected items – awareness and attention is vital.
  • Be very cautious when engaging in any form of exercise or dance with your baby in the carrier; many manufacturers do not recommend this, and there are risks with young babies and untrained class leaders. Read more about slings and exercise here.
  • Your sling is NOT a substitute for a car seat, and you should not sleep while carrying your baby.
  • Do not carry your baby facing out in a carrier before 3-4months, and avoid letting them sleep facing out. Be responsive to their needs and turn them back to face you when showing signs of weariness. Choose a carrier that will be comfortable for their spines.


Get help and support

There are many, many sling communities in the UK, sling consultants like myself who offer one to one sessions where you can look through the options and practice using a carrier safely, sling libraries with trained peer supporters where you can try out slings and get some advice, and sociable sling meets that will serve a “village” purpose for parents to share their growing knowledge/personal journeys and offer support. Don’t rely on books/pamphlets/the internet – be armed with education and take advantage of the experience you will find in your local resources.
If you are unsure, do find your local sling professional at the Sling Pages – we are always happy to help.


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.

 

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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)


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


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/