Skin to skin Skin to skin pic soft touch babywearing

Skin to skin contact brings long lasting benefits

Skin to skin contact, also known as "kangaroo care", is one of the simplest yet most effective practices to help babies and their carers make the transition to life as a new family, supporting the development of essential bonds.

Skin to skin kangaroo Care carrying matters

It is a major part of helping the baby to adjust to life outside the womb; the “fourth trimester” concept, and is highly important for supporting mothers to initiate breastfeeding and for carers to develop a close, loving relationship with their baby.

What exactly is skin to skin?

Here is the Unicef definition.

It is usually referred to as the practice where a baby is dried and laid directly on their mother’s bare chest after birth, both of them covered in a warm blanket and left for at least an hour or until after the first feed. Skin-to-skin contact can also take place any time a baby needs comforting or calming and to help boost a mother’s milk supply. Skin-to-skin contact is also vital in neonatal units, where it is often known as ‘kangaroo care’, helping parents to bond with their baby, as well as supporting better physical and developmental outcomes for the baby.

Why does it matter?

Outcomes for babies and their parents are better when kangaroo care is offered, especially with premature or low birthweight infants. A collection of studies examined outcomes for mothers and healthy newborns and concluded that there were clear benefits for physiological development, breastfeeding outcomes, emotional wellbeing. Other studies are helpfully summarised here, showing enhanced bonding and attachment, and likely a direct impact on infant development by contributing to neurophysiological organisation and an indirect effect by improving parental mood, perceptions, and interactive behaviour.

skin to skin
skin to skin

The major benefits of skin to skin care can be summarised in these images (thanks to Vija UK).

How is this thought to happen?

At birth, the neonatal brain has two critical sensory needs; smell and contact that is warm and soft. (Dr. Nils Bergman). Frequent skin to skin contact meets these needs in abundance, allowing the brain and the body to begin the process of adjusting to the outside world optimally, forging a pathway from  the baby’s amygdala to its frontal lobe. This connects the newborn’s emotional and social brain circuits. Mothers also need early uninterrupted contact with their babies to fire up their hormonal response; that is, the release of oxytocin that helps breastfeeding and bonding to get going. Oxytocin and soft touch build connection and empathy, helping people to connect and care about each other. Studies suggest that an hour a day of skin to skin in the first 14 days is enough to derive long lasting benefits.

The mother’s body remains the baby’s natural home for many months after birth, and a policy of zero separation at birth is ideal for creating the conditions that allow new families to thrive. Fathers (and other primary caregivers) also benefit from skin to skin contact and this should be encouraged.

Kangaroo care

The impacts of this early contact are long lasting. Feldman et al in 2014 showed that kangaroo care “increased autonomic functioning  and maternal attachment behaviour in the postpartum period, reduced maternal anxiety, and enhanced child cognitive development and executive functions from 6 months to 10 years.”

Skin to skin is clearly a fantastic thing; and the best thing about it is that the close contact in the early hours, weeks and months is normal human instinctive behaviour. It is free and effective; and should be available to all new families.

Simple wraps or specialised “kangaroo care” shirts can offer a more prolonged time skin to skin, and allow a parent/carer to move around, however it is the close contact itself, not the tool, that matters here!

What if I couldn’t do skin to skin with my child?

Not every parent/carer has the opportunity to experience skin to skin, for a wide range of reasons. This can be a source of sadness and concern, however, there are many ways to bond with your baby and help them to form secure attachments. Skin to skin is one very helpful practice, but it is not essential for relationship forming.

Your ability to bond with your baby is not determined by your birth experience, whether or not you were able to offer kangaroo care at birth or later, how you feed your child or where they sleep. It doesn’t depend on your gender or your family set-up. Relationships form by experiencing a sense of connection and love. Children learn how to love by being loved. Playing, talking, cuddling, snuggles, reading to your baby, bathing them, being responsive and present are the things that matter.


Using a newborn insert with a buckle carrier tutorial

Some buckle carriers require an insert for use with newborns, as the panel is too tall and wide for a small baby. The insert raises baby up inside the panel to ensure they remain close enough to kiss with an unobstructed airway. It also creates a narrower seat for baby to rest on, while preserving the M shape and hip health.

Follow the steps to ensure a safe and snug carry; the time spent preparing really pays off when baby is put in, meaning it will feel more secure right away, and less fiddling and adjustments will be needed later.


Bonding with your big kid

Bonding with your big kid is just as important as bonding with your baby. Older children need love and secure attachment relationships too, as their brains are still growing and their foundations still being laid down.

“I wish I had known about slings when I had my first child!”

“My son suddenly wants to be carried all the time suddenly and he’s so heavy now, I feel like we missed the boat.”

“My big girl is finding it hard with our new baby and seems to be much more clingy than usual. I wish I could carry her somehow..”

Do any of these comments seem familiar to you? I hear this kind of thing almost daily, and while part of me rejoices that now, at least, these parents do know how fantastic slings can be for family life, I appreciate their sadness.

But did you know, big kids like to be carried too? How many of us have hoiked our hefty toddlers onto our hips when their legs get tired of trundling along, or felt little arms wound around our necks when they are tearful? How many of our huge preschoolers still appreciate long hugs and piggyback rides? All children need closeness, long beyond the baby stage, long after they take their first steps, long after they start school… and so do grown ups! Loving contact is vital to our emotional health, from cradle to grave.

bonding with your big kid

A sling is, at its most basic, a tool for enabling close contact, almost like another pair of enfolding arms around your child, while your real arms can be used for other things. A good sling, when used well, provides a feeling of all-around gentle pressure, as if being hugged all over. This can be very valuable for children struggling with sadness, with sensory overload, with tiredness, or fear from loud noises, for example. Being close to a parent’s body is reassuring and sends a valuable message to a child that “You are loved. I will look after when you are unhappy, I will keep you close when you need it. I am always here for you.” There are many other advantages to slings beyond this opportunity for connection; not least that they can be very comfortable and help to distribute the weight of a child around your body evenly, making it much easier and much less tiring than in-arms carrying. They can help to provide nourishment –  breastfeeding or bottle feeding on the go, they can make school runs easier, allow greater freedom in exploration, enable naps, and keep exuberant runners out of danger in crowded areas or near roads etc.

Slings with Big Kids

You can use pretty much any kind of sling with a bigger child, even a stretchy, if it is a high quality hybrid one like the JPMBB or the Ergo wrap. I’ve helped a couple of parents with toddlers find the stretchy love, as there’s nothing quite like the enveloping gentle bounce you get with these. They do tend to work best and most easily in front carries.

Ring slings can be fantastic, if you have the shoulder style that suits you best (pleated vs gathered), and made of a fabric that is supportive enough. People often suggest linen or hemp or silk to add strength to the softness of cotton, which indeed they do, but many 100% cottons are more than sturdy enough for heavy children, who can become easier to carry as they develop more core strength and become more compliant and easier to carry than the “bowling ball stage” – it’s worth trying a few out!

Woven wraps are the most versatile, as they can be tied in different ways, in different positions and with different levels of support. As with ring slings, the fabric used can make a difference to how a wrap feels – fibres with extra support can be helpful but may not be necessary, and as above, understanding tightening techniques and how to get a good position can really help you make the most of your current wrap

You can get toddler size meh dais, half buckles and full buckle carriers, even some up to preschool size. Again, it is worth trying a few out at your local sling library as one size does not fit all, and the body size and shape of the carrying parent plays a part too (some preschooler carriers will just be too big for petite mums, for example). Waistbands may need to be worn lower (around the hips) for front carries, and some creative methods for getting a good seat in a back carry may need to be employed! Please do take advantage of your local sling professionals about whether you need a bigger carrier for your child; it may be that your current carrier just needs a few tweaks in technique to get the most out of it. Many people upgrade to toddler carriers earlier than really necessary, and too big a carrier may be more problematic than one thats just a touch small (see my “beyond the knee to knee” article for more information).

worth

What about the inevitable comments “he’s too big to be carried like that, he should be walking!” or “You’ll just make that child clingy, you know”? Well, I think a sling is as valid a means of transport as a pushchair, and far more comfortable than achingly weary in-arms carrying. Don’t be afraid to carry your toddler – for every comment you get, you may well have planted an idea in someone else’s head. Ensure that your child doesn’t feel hurt by any comments, sometimes talking about any incidents together afterwards can be helpful. Using a sling for your bigger child from time to time will not harm them, nor will it make them babies again, any more than a hug or a hip carry would do.

My own experience

My big girl, who was nearly 4 at the time of writing, is much less often carried these days; much to my chagrin.. but she is vocal about it when she does want to be carried, climbing up me and wrapping her legs around my waist. I am happy to oblige as I’m never sure how many more carrying days we have left to enjoy. She has moods, and disappointments that the world doesn’t revolve around her, and sometimes she finds it hard to wind down. Often, at these moments, a sling has been our saviour, holding her close so she can relax, feel safe, and  listen to my reassuring murmurs, while I can still get on with some of the things that just can’t wait, or save my back and arms from her lopsided weight! We use all sorts of carriers –  ring slings for quick up and downs, woven wraps for sleepy cuddles, preschooler buckle carriers for rainy school runs, warm snuggly half buckles for winter walks.

 

Even my (then) six year old found a wrap carry a great reassurance one day when he got separated from us at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park; he was very distressed when found half an hour later and just wanted to be holding onto me. My husband’s shoulders got pretty tired after a few minutes; but I was able to carry F on my back for well over half an hour, due to the support and the weight distribution, enough time for him to feel reassured and connected again. I found it really helpful too – it was a pretty horrible forty minutes and having him in close contact was very valuable for my own feelings and allowed me to breathe and absorb, and move on.

end of babywearing

A local story of re-connecting with a sling

I’ve got to know one family with a preschooler pretty well, they hadn’t used a sling for over a year, but started again, almost from scratch. Here’s what they have to say about their experience of carrying a bigger child.

After starting nursery, H became anxious and disconnected. She chewed her fingernails to a painful point, and became difficult to communicate with, as well as regressing in toileting. Instead of adopting behavioural control techniques, I drew on my experience from other parts of our lives and adopted a regression tactic. A big part of this was returning to carrying her in a sling. We had used our high-street carrier rather than a pram on our dog walks, but had given this up over a year before as she had outgrown it.  We wondered if a ring sling would be a solution for short snuggles for reconnecting. H was too heavy to attempt this from online videos, so we booked a workshop with a local sling consultant, who reassured us that she wasn’t too big, and showed us how to ensure we were all comfortable. The ring sling has been perfect for our needs and has really helped us all. More often than not, it has doubled up as a dramatic scarf for the 80% of the time H wanted to walk!

H is now almost 5. Our new buckled carrier is the perfect tool for winding down for bedtime on a camping trip, resting tired little legs whilst hiking (without the bulk of a framed carrier), and elevating her out of danger in busy, crowded areas. I really believe there is no such thing as “too big to sling!”

Slings with Two Kids

Another situation where carrying a bigger child can really help is with sibling jealousy.  The other day I spoke to a family who hadn’t used their sling with their toddler for some time, and now have a new baby. Big sister has been feeling a bit jealous of the new arrival and has wanted to begin breastfeeding again. They asked for some advice, and I suggested that their daughter would really appreciate the contact that would come from using their ring sling and buckle carrier again… and so it seems to have proved. It’s not so much the desire to be a baby again, but more of a chance for communication – “you still belong to me, don’t you?”

I’m working with another lady whose older child is struggling to accept their brand new baby. She asked me to show her how to breastfeed her baby in a sling, in the hope that this would allow her to be hands free to play with her toddler. She’d never carried her first child but was loving the slings with the little one. Successful breastfeeding in a sling is a challenge that requires care to do well and safely, and in my opinion is never fully hands-free. However, one hand available can make a big difference – you can hold a book to read, help with a jigsaw at the table, stir a mixture, hold a hand, for example. Amongst other things, we looked at a ring sling, which can be used for little babies as well as bigger children who love to sit on the hip and look around, so it is a carrier that can be used for children of multiple sizes. Hopefully, carrying the bigger child from time to time while the baby is sleeping, or in a pram or carried by Dad will be helpful for dealing with big feelings and the need to know that his Mum is still Mum and will always be there to meet his needs, even with the new addition taking up so much of her time.

There are some carriers that can be used with small babies and bigger children; which means the same carrier can be used for both children when needed. The ultra- versatile ring sling and woven wraps are good examples, which mould around the parent-child dyad and can be used from birth to preschool age and beyond.

Some mei tais with adjustable width can work well for families with children born with a small age gap. The buckle-waist equivalent half-buckles can be useful, or those with wide wrap straps that can be tied in such a way that bigger children will be supported knee to knee. Some full buckle carriers can be used from birth and their panels can be adjusted to the size of the child. Some come with inbuilt adaptations for using with babies, and some have separately purchased inserts for small babies to rest on until they grow big.

Do visit your local sling library or get in touch with a sling consultant for some help navigating all these options; there will be something to suit nearly every situation!

safe sling position
about rosie

Slings during Pregnancy

During pregnancy, carrying an older child can be an opportunity to help deepen relationships and prepare for the new arrival, being reassuring that things really are going to be all right after all. Carrying while pregnant has its own challenges too; ensuring the bump isn’t compressed, that weight is well distributed, that any symphysis pubis discomfort is not exacerbated. Do see your local sling consultant or chiropractor or physio for help if you need (bearing in mind that many health care professionals may not be up to date with ergonomic, safe carriers.) There is more reading here about carrying while pregnant.

In summary, older children do not stop needing the love and support of their caregivers for a surprisingly long time. Our society seems to believe that we should encourage separation of children and caregivers as young as possible, to breed “independence”, when actually, neurophysiology suggests that children will learn independence at their own pace, as their cognitive and emotional capacities develop.


Secure Attachment and the "Fourth Trimester"

Secure attachment is the deep and enduring emotional bond that connects one person to another across time and space; a "lasting psychological connectedness between human beings" (Bowlby/Ainsworth).

wrap hugSecure attachment to other people is vital to human health and wellness; we thrive on relationship, on belonging. Such healthy attachments are the bedrock to future positive mental health and enjoyable relationships. However, Sutton Trust research shows that 40% of children lack secure attachments; instead they display insecure-ambivalent, insecure-avoidant or disorganized/disoriented attachment, and are significantly disadvantaged, especially those growing up in poverty.

Research shows that one of the strongest predictors for insecure attachments in children is to have a parent who lacks secure attachment themselves.

 

So, how do you build a secure attachment relationship with your child?

Secure attachment is created by loving responsiveness to your child's needs. It is not about your parenting style. Your baby may sleep in a crib or your bed, be fed from a breast or a bottle, be held in arms or a sling, be weaned in any style, be brought up by any combination of carer and still have secure attachments. It is not about subscribing to a particular parenting philosophy. You do not have to sacrifice everything - your identity, your sanity, your relationship, your job, your money or anything else at the "altar of childhood".

Building secure attachment is about having respect for a child's personhood, building their sense of self-worth within a consistent, loving and responsible relationship, regardless of their age or understanding.

Your child's humanity is as valuable as your own; neither more nor less. You are your child's advocate in the world and their greatest defender. You can provide for their every need, and they depend entirely on you and your surrounding network. They will learn whether or not they matter from how they are treated and how their requests for support are met. Securely attached children are confident that they will be cared for, and that any distress will be met by love. They are easily soothed by their caregiver when upset, are more able to be self-reliant, form positive relationships and generally have smoother paths through life.

However, their needs need to be balanced with that of the family, as a crumbling family dynamic will ultimately not be in anyone's best interests.

The "fourth trimester" is where attachments begin to form.

What is the Fourth Trimester?

Kay and AlexTheories regarding the size of the infant cranium, the shape of the upright human maternal pelvis, and the limits of the mother's metabolic energy provision for growth all discuss why human babies are born at a stage where they are still very vulnerable. This is in contrast to many other species where a young animal will be able to walk after its mother within hours of birth, or sleep in a hidden nest. To survive, a human baby needs to be held and carried around by his carers, fed and kept warm or he will die. To thrive, a baby also needs love and secure attachment.

The ‘fourth trimester" is the period immediately after birth, a few more months of intense nurturing to allow a baby to continue with their essential development from a place of security and safety.

A baby who has spent all their life growing peacefully in the womb, gently compressed by uterine walls at the end of the third trimester, will find the sensation being born, followed by freedom and open space in the outside world enormously different. Limbs that have been limited are suddenly free to stretch wide, darkness has turned to light, the muffled gentle rhythmic sounds of the mother's body have been replaced by loud, unfamiliar noises or deep silence. Constant gentle motion has turned into complete stillness or sudden movements. No wonder that when babies are held close, rocked and soothed, contained in soft boundaries once more, that they settle; this feels right and familiar.

 

The "fourth trimester” is all about gentle transitioning from the peace and stability of the womb towards active involvement in a new world.

A newborn needs to be supported to gain skills and strength at a steady, individual pace from the security of an unshakeable foundation and place of comfort and familiarity. Being held, close to familiar noises and scents is essential to development and positive learning; the infant brain is growing rapidly and forming new connections all the time. Connections that are reinforced frequently will persist into later life, whereas those that are rarely used will wither away. It is worth taking the time to ensure that these unconsciously forming connections are positive ones. Young infants do not have the cognitive development to behave in "manipulative" ways; but they do learn to trust someone who proves reliable time and again as these pathways are reinforced. They will be startled and upset when this love is withdrawn.

The importance of responsiveness

If you are sensitive and responsive to your baby as they begin to communicate their needs with you (by crying, wriggling, yawning etc) they will learn that they matter to someone. If they are uncomfortable, the people they are learning to trust will soothe them. When they are hungry, they will be fed, when they are tired, they will feel secure enough to sink into sleep. They will not be frequently left alone unattended for long periods of time, and will not be left to exhaust themselves in calling for someone who never comes. When they cry, loving arms will be there to comfort and keep them safe. These same arms will show them the world and provide a safe place that facilitates learning. Carrying matters; babies need it. It does not make them clingy, rather, the solid foundation of secure attachment relationships will be the springboard to confident independence later in life.

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How does babywearing help?

One tool that can help you meet your child's need for loving contact in these early months is a soft carrier that holds them in a comfortable, safe and anatomically respectful position. Such carriers will help you to meet their needs to be close to you while allowing you to be hands-free for daily life. There are many other positive reasons to carry a child; such as reduced crying, reduced plagiocephaly and more. Parents benefit too, for example carrying can be helpful for those with postnatal depression, and increase overall activity levels. This idea is not new; most of the world’s families across history and cultures have used some form of sling to make life work.

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You can find out more from your local sling library or consultant; there are hundreds across the UK. They will help you to find the right type of carrier for your needs. 

What about my older child?

Attachment relationships continue to form beyond the early months and children's brains are very "plastic". Warm, responsive, emotionally available parenting will help to build a child's sense of self-worth at any age. There is evidence that "mind-minded" parents (ie those who treat their children as intelligent, relational individuals with feelings, and speaking to them in such a way) seem to have children with more secure attachments. Active play and laughter, as well as consistent loving boundaries help to reinforce neural connections that the primary caregivers are a reliable source of security; forming strong foundations for the future. Read more about how carrying can help the learning brain.

carrying matters

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References

Bowlby J. (1969). Attachment. Attachment and loss: Vol. 1. Loss. New York: Basic Books

Ainsworth, M. D. S. (1973). The development of infant-mother attachment. In B. Cardwell & H. Ricciuti (Eds.), Review of child development research (Vol. 3, pp. 1-94) Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Ainsworth, M. D. S., Blehar, M. C., Waters, E., & Wall, S. (1978). Patterns of attachment: A psychological study of the strange situation. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Sutton Trust; Baby Bonds Parenting, attachment and a secure base for children. March 2014 Research by Sophie Moullin, Jane Waldfogel and Elizabeth Washbrook

http://www.parentingscience.com/attachment-parenting.html

Rethinking Maternal Sensitivity: Mothers’ Comments on Infants’ Mental Processes Predict Security of Attachment at 12 Months; J. Child Psychol. Psychiat. Vol. 42, No. 5, pp. 637–648, 2001


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.

Slings and Exercise

more

The Fuss about Facing Out

more

Carrying While Pregnant

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

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.


Welcome to Slings

Welcome to the wonderful world of slings! You may be new to carrying and a bit overwhelmed about the choices available. You may be just starting out with your carrier and not sure if it’s the best or most comfortable option and wonder what else there may be. Read on for more information about how to make babywearing work for you, your baby and your family.


New to slings?

Not sure where to start when it comes to using a sling? This is a common concern among parents who have become convinced of the benefits of carrying their baby but feel a bit all at sea about the huge variety of slings and the confusing jargon in the sling community.

  • There are many positive effects of using a sling with a very young baby; there is much evidence to suggest that skin to skin contact between mother and newborn (especially premature) babies can confer great advantages on both. The baby gains assistance with their physiological regulation of breathing and heart rate, temperature control is improved, and the contact helps to establish breastfeeding and promote more rapid growth compared to babies who are not held as close for as long. Furthermore, the baby will feel more secure in his developing relationship with his caregiver, due to the time spent in close contact.
  • The caregiver enjoys positive effects too; he/she may find themselves more able to bond with their baby, due to the increased release of oxytocin, and post-natal depression may be reduced. Being able to be “hands-free” can really make a difference to a family’s ability to get around with their new baby, keeping them active and engaging with normal life.
  • There are also many positive effects for society; such as a reduced burden of mental health and greater fitness.

Firstly, make sure you choose a sling that allows you to carry safely.

This is especially important with young babies who are still small and in need of “fourth trimester” nurturing. In summary, a baby’s airway should be supported with the head well aligned with the spine, thereby avoiding curled-up into ball positions that could impair breathing.

The safest place for a baby is upright, facing his parent, just as they are when carried in arms. His head should be resting against his parent’s upper chest, close enough to kiss, and supported snugly all around to avoid any slumping. Babies naturally adopt a squat position with a slightly curved lower back (you can see this in action when you lay your baby down to change his nappy).

Ergonomic slings will respect this and carry a baby in a seated position, with his knees above his bottom. By bringing knees up, babies’ hips are rotated and do not need to be spread very wide to be resting comfortably, as the image shows. Narrow-based carriers (sold by high-street shops and online) are not unsafe, but they are less ideal and may not be as comfortable for a baby to rest in as one that has a wider seat and encourages the knees to be raised.

Such hip-healthy positioning also helps to stabilise a baby’s back and protects the airway, as it reduces the amount of backward head lolling and uncomfortable straightening of a baby’s curved spine.

Click the link to read more about safe positioning in a sling and click here for information about healthy hip positioning.

This baby has just had her stretchy wrap removed; the sling has held her in the natural "in- arms" position

Safe, anatomically correct and comfortable positioning in arms and in a carrier


Secondly, choose a sling that is comfortable

Many parents find their high-street carriers can be less comfortable than they hoped, especially as their baby grows, and may stop using a sling at all.

Good slings have been designed to mimic in-arms comfortable carrying as much as possible, and many people find they are able to enjoy long walks with their children, up to pre-school age, with such an ergonomic carrier.

Broad weight distribution across the parent’s body matters; a child who is able to snuggle in and shift their weight closer to their parent’s centre of gravity will feel a lot lighter than one who is held in a stiff pocket, or held lower down and facing out (thus pulling away from the parent).

This applies in front, hip and back carries equally. Positioning makes a great deal of difference to your child’s and your experience of the sling, and is the most important factor in how comfortable it is.

You can make your high street carrier more comfortable in a variety of ways, for example by ensuring your baby is higher up on your chest, held snugly, and using a scarf to redistribute the weight. Your baby should be held snugly enough not to swing free when you lean forwards.

Features like the type of shoulder strap (wide or narrow, those that cross over on the back versus those that are more like rucksack straps), the shape and sturdiness of the waistband, and the type of fabric used can also make a considerable difference. It is always worth trying before you buy, and there are many sling libraries around the country that can help you do this. The Sling Pages has a full list for you to check your local resources.

"Scarf hack" for narrow based carriers


Thirdly, think about what kind of sling may suit you and your family best


Stretchy Wrap

If you have a newborn or a baby under six months, most people will start with a stretchy wrap. This is usually a long piece of jersey style elastic fabric that is between 4 and 5 metres long, and can be wrapped around your body to create a snug pocket your baby can nestle into. Depending on the quality of the fabric, the stretchy wrap is usually used up to six months. It is often worth investing a little more for higher quality.

One size (usually) fits all, and it can be tied on and left on all day for convenience, popping baby in and out with ease without needing to take the sling off each time, many parents don’t realise this. It is possible to use the stretchy wrap as a breastfeeding aid, with care and attention to baby’s airway.

You can read more about stretchy wraps here, including how to use it well.

Close Caboo Carrier

This is a slightly more structured and less stretchy variant of a stretchy wrap, with a little less flexibility. It is put on, adjusted carefully, and then baby is popped into each of the cross passes on the front. The fabric can be tightened through the rings to achieve a snug fit. The Close Carrier can be used as a breastfeeding aid if required, with care and attention to baby’s airway, and most people will find it supportive up to three to four months.

Ring Slings

This is a piece of woven fabric which has one end sewn securely into two strong rings. They are worn cuppring one shoulder with the child sitting in a pouch on the opposite side of the parent’s body, with the loose end of the fabric threaded through the rings in such a way that the tension holds the fabric firmly and the weight is distributed across the shoulder and back.
They have the advantage of being lightweight and (once the knack is gained), quick to put on and take off. They can be very useful for those who need to be able to carry their child on the hip, or need something that offers the child a good viewpoint in all directions.

Ring slings made of woven fabric and with no padded rails are usually the best option, and shoulder style (pleated or gathered) is a very personal choice. They can be used from birth to toddlerhood, and it can be easy to breastfeed in a ring sling, with the appropriate attention paid to airway and positioning.

Hip carriers

Pouches are another kind of hip carrier which can be very simple, but need to be fitted to size; they can be a risk for babies under 3months if used badly.

The Scootababy is a buckled hip carrier with a waistband which can be used from approximately four months and up into toddlerhood.

Carrying aids and hip seats can make hip carrying easier but are not hands-free.

You can read more about ring slings and hip carriers here and your local sling library will be able to help too.

Woven Wraps

Woven wraps are excellent choices if you want great comfort and longevity. They can be used from birth to toddlerhood and beyond. Woven wraps are long parallelogram shaped pieces of fabric, anything from 2 to 7m long.

They are woven in a particular way to provide gentle all-around pressure, supportive but still soft and mouldable. Most woven wraps are made of cotton, some may contain other fibres such as linen or hemp, for extra support, and come in many different colours and designs.

Many women around the world use local woven cloths for many purposes as well as for child-carrying. These cloths and woven wraps feel very different from the fabrics you might find in a haberdashery shop; these are more likely to fray and tear.

Many people begin with a 4.6m wrap (known as a size 6) and learn a carry known as the Front Wrap Cross Carry. They can take a little practice but they allow a great degree of adjustability and weight distribution around the body. There are numerous ways to tie the same wrap, so they can be used on the front, hip or back at the appropriate ages. Your local sling and carrier consultant or sling library will be able to get you started!

Upright breastfeeding is possible, if done safely with the appropriate attention paid to airway protection.

You can read more about woven wraps here.

Meh Dai/Bei Dai (formerly known as Mei Tai) Carriers and variants (half buckles, onbuhimos, etc)

These are Asian inspired carriers made of soft fabric, and are popular with those who appreciate the mouldability and support of woven wraps but need something with more structure, or speed of use.

They consist of a fabric panel that has two straps at the base which are tied or buckled securely around the waist, and two straps from the top of the panel which can be wrapped around the parent and baby to ensure a snug and comfortable fit. Baby sits in the pouch created by the panel, and the long straps allow a great degree of adjustability to all shapes and sizes. They can be worn on the front, hip and back at the appropriate ages, and upright breastfeeding is often possible, if done safely with the relevant attention paid to airway protection.

Your local sling library should have a few of these to try out.

You can read more about meh dais and their variants here.

Full Buckle Carriers

If you’re not sure about tying fabric, a good option is a full buckle carrier, which has a buckle on the waistband, and the shoulder straps buckle into the panel at the sides. Baby is seated facing the parent, inside a supportive pouch that supports them widely across the base from one knee to the other.

Waistband types vary, from the minimal to the heavily padded, and people’s preferences vary enormously. Some shoulder straps cross over on the back when baby is on the front, others are fixed into a rucksack style. The shape of adult and baby together is very individual, as is the health of the adult’s back, so what suits one pairing will not suit another. More padding does not automatically mean “better” or more comfortable, and those with back pain will not always need heavily structured slings. Good posture and general back health are important – read more about this here.

Buckle carriers can be very quick and simple to use. Often, a little practice to get the straps and positioning optimally adjusted is well worth it. Most good full buckles fit well from three months upwards; some can be adapted for younger babies by rolling the panel or by using inserts to keep baby snug, high up and visible. Many carriers will last into early toddlerhood, and some beyond that, depending on design.

Many mums find that breastfeeding in the buckle carrier is possible, if done safely with the relevant attention paid to airway protection. Most can be used on the back once babies have grown.

Some buckle carriers will allow baby to face the world. This can be great, when done safely and responsively. It is recommended only from four months upwards, not for sleeping in to protect the airway, and only for short periods of time. This is due to the reduced opportunity baby has to see and interact with his parent and learn about the world based on his parent’s response to it – this is known as social referencing. There is also reduced hip and leg support from the narrow base which can be an issue in some circumstances, as well as less comfortable for child and parent. Carriers that provide hip healthy positions facing out are generally preferred. (read more about facing out here.)

You can read more about buckle carriers here.


Fifthly, enjoy your sling and let the world see it!

Why not share your enjoyment with the parents you meet so they can discover slings too? We all carry our babies, some in arms, some in high street carriers, some in wraps, some in ring slings, some in meh dais, some in buckles. We all learn from each other; encouragement is always more productive than criticism!

 

Here is a lovely article from Ellie at Peekaboo Slings about the importance of no judgment; “We want to normalise babywearing and promote carrying your children close – put bluntly, we don’t care about the rest”.

Fourthly, be aware of the changing needs of your baby

The weather conditions may change how you carry your baby; being aware of the heat and the sun, or the cold and the rain may affect your choice of sling and your clothing.

As your baby grows, her own needs will change. She may want to sleep less and look around more. She may prefer hip carries, or even back carries, so she can see into the world into which she is being carried. As she gets heavier, the carrier you began with may begin to feel less supportive for you and for her; for many this marks a move towards “toddler-worthy” carriers. This may be different ways of tying your woven wrap, learning how to adjust the straps on your meh dai to ensure knee to knee support, or moving up to a bigger, toddler-sized (or even preschooler!) carrier when you need to. Your “baby” sized carrier will often last a lot longer than you think.

You will not spoil your baby or make him clingy by carrying him as he grows. Big kids need cuddles too – loving contact is vital to our emotional health and security, from cradle to grave. You can read more about carrying older children here, and your local sling library or consultant should be able to help you make the most of your carrier.