mother and infant wondrous thing

The importance of soft touch for healthy infant development

A huge amount of work has been done in recent years to understand the role of soft touch in how babies' brains develop. Here I summarise the major points in one page! It has been a great privilege to visit the Affective Touch conference in Liverpool and all the ACE-Aware Nation events in Scotland (with Nadine Burke-Harris and Gabor Mate) and to see all this research coming together.

Soft touch changes the DNA and the brain

  • it switches certain genes on and off, thus affecting cortisol receptor expression and therefore modulates the stress response. This was shown by Michael Meaney and his team; rat pups who were licked and groomed frequently by their mothers became high-licking mothers themselves. The DNA methylation of these high-licking rats and their offspring were different from low-licking rats. When a pup from a low-licking mother was fostered in a high-licking nest, this pup became a high-licker, and was found to display the same DNA changes. Behaviour had altered the expression of these genes, and these epigenetic changes persisted into the offspring. 
  • Soft touch reduces anxiety and pain, thought to be via effects on the HPA axis, parasympathetic system and oxytocin release.
  • Deep pressure (as in hugs and massage) is also thought to play an important part in social touch, activating brain regions highly similar to those that respond to C-tactile stroking.
  • Neonatal studies have shown the impact of soft touch (skin to skin) on improving long term neurodevelopmental outcomes, as they are thought provide a scaffold for the developing social brain.
  • Soft touch and holding is know to help with regulating and stabilising cardiovascular parameters in premature babies and a good case for babywearing as a positive intervention has been made in a study in one NICU.
  • There are positive long- term effects of supporting early mother-baby close contact. The "Family Nurture Intervention" studies suggest that at age 4-5, the intervention arm showed more healthy autonomic regulation

 

Soft touch also affects the hormonal systems of the body.

  • Oxytocin is well known to be released by skin to skin tactile contact, as well as visual, auditory, olfactory stimuli, and works to promote further social interaction. Close contact stimulates release of this important hormone of bonding into both halves of the dyad (usually mother and baby).
  • Oxytocin reduces stress and increases a sense of wellbeing and connection, and it has been proposed that regular skin to skin contact can shift the overall balance of the neurohumoral system away from sympathetic activation (stress, flight/fight) towards the parasympathetic/oxytocinergic system (calm and connection). With what we know about the effects of prolonged stress and cortisol release on health, this is encouraging.

It is clear that there are major benefits to the frontal closeness that babywearing in the early months and years can bring!


Further reading

Skin to Skin

Epigenetic programming by maternal behavior, Nature Neuroscience volume 7, pages 847–854(2004) Meaney et al

Lick your rats!

The Dual Nature of Early-Life Experience on Somatosensory Processing in the Human Infant Brain, Current Biology Vol 27 Issue 7, P1048-1054 Maitre et al

Babywearing as an intervention in the NICU  Advances in Neonatal Care: September 29, 2020, Williams et al

Longer term effects of nurture on mother/child regulation Clin Neurophysiol Off J Int Fed Clin Neurophysiol. 2014;125(4):675-684, Welch et al

Why Oxytocin Matters, Kerstin Uvnas-Moberg, 2020

Neuroendocrine mechanisms involved in the physiological effects caused by skin-to-skin contactInfant Behavior and Development, Volume 61, November 2020, Uvnas-Moberg et al


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?


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.


Lectures and Workshops

Rosie is regularly invited to be a keynote guest speaker at conferences around the UK and Europe, where she lectures about babywearing and the role carrying plays in promoting good infant and parental mental health. She has won awards for her work in raising awareness of this topic across multidisciplinary fields.

Rosie is a practising GP with experience in public speaking and creating engaging and inspiring talks, lectures and workshops. She has many years of experience working with parents and carers and training carrying professionals, and puts her skills to good use in creating learning experiences for other professionals, challenging and equipping them to do their jobs well.

Upcoming Appearances 2020

all on hold due to coronavirus

Past Lecture/Workshop Titles

  • Babywearing to Build a Happy Brain
  • Breaking the Rules; empowering families
  • Seven Reasons Why Babywearing Matters
  • Past, Present and Future Babywearing
  • How does Babywearing Support Maternal Mental Health?
  • The Sheffield Story (how the local service develops)
  • Building Resilience through Babywearing
  • The Fourth Trimester
  • Infant Mental Health  – why it matters
  • Breaking Down the Barriers to Babywearing
  • Anthropology and Modern Babywearing
  • Why Carrying Matters from an Attachment Theory Perspective
  • Workshops on various carrier types (particularly for new parents)
  • Workshops on adapting carriers for complex situations
  • Workshops on working with special needs

Previous Engagements

A talk for parenting editors at the Ivy, London, guest of Baby Bjorn, alongside Dr Roberto Albani, gastroenterologist

Hungary, Magyar Babahordozó Konferencia és Fesztivál October 2019, launch of Why Babywearing Matters Hungarian translation and lecture, here, here and here

Sheffield NSPCC Look, Say, Sing, Play launch event, October 2019, read more here

Ireland, Wear a Hug Fair, October 2019, talk and a meeting with Babywearing Ireland, see here and here

Norway, Sept 2017 and Sept 2019 Nasjonalt Baeretreff, several workshops and lectures, see more here and here

Denmark, Slyngemessen TætPåHjertet – Babywearing Festival, Aalborg, May 2019, a lecture, see more here

Bulgaria, SlingoFest, March 2019, a talk and the launch of  Why Babywearing Matters in Bulgarian, see more here

Poland, March 2018, Launch of Why Babywearing Matters in Polish at Nicminiewisi the Festival of Wraps,  and November, 2018, Lenny Lamb’s 10 year anniversary, talk for the Babywearing and Business International Forum, November 2018

Video of the Festival with a short section from Rosie here

Sweden, lecture,  b. babywearing festival 2018

Denmark, talk February 2018, Dansk Bærefestival and here

Scotland, 2017, 2018

The Netherlands, 2018

Belgium, 2017

England, (Sheffield, London, Coventry, Bristol) 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019


Encouragement card

Encouragement and Affirmation Cards

Parenting is tough; modern society does not make it easy for families. Parents and carers are often bringing up their babies feeling isolated or uncertain and in need of support and encouragement. These little cards are designed to lift you and help you to keep going with your responsive parenting journey; it will all be worth it.

Read more about why infant mental health matters here and how babywearing can help the formation of the mother-infant-dyad here.

Scroll through the images and let us know which is your favourite, or if you have ideas for more!


Congratulations

You've been carrying your baby for one whole year!
The close contact has connected you to each other and helped your baby's brain to grow. Hopefully it has brought you many happy adventures together and been useful in many ways: sleeping, feeding, travelling...
Congratulations

There is a lot of evidence to show that babies need to be close to their primary caregivers in the early months and years of their lives. This shared space creates an intimate connection between the two individuals that builds lasting bonds; and these bonds can shape your child's future. It may well have helped you too, to survive the challenges of parenthood.

Choosing to carry your baby has been one of the most important things you could have done for your family unit. I congratulate you for that and encourage you to keep going!

If you'd like to download this for yourself or to give to a friend or someone you know, here is the link to the PDF.


Online Babywearing peer supporter training

Babywearing Theory, Safety and Peer Supporter Training

Do you want to understand more about why sling and carrier use is such an important tool for new families, and be able to be an effective advocate for their use? Do you want a good grounding in basic babywearing safety across a range of circumstances and an introduction to the major types of sling and how to use them well? Then these online babywearing training courses could be just what you need!

Online Babywearing peer supporter training

I am a Carrying Advocate and Babywearing Peer Supporter trainer, working under the Born To Carry banner. (This is a training provider of excellence in babywearing skills, bringing together some of the most experienced babywearing teachers and facilitators in the UK). I have trained hundreds of peer supporters. These range from interested parents who want to volunteer or help their own friends, massage therapists, early years providers, health care professionals (health visitors, midwives, doulas etc) and those who want to set up their own local sling libraries.

During the pandemic, much learning has had to move online, and my training courses are no exception.

There are two courses available, which are purchased separately, to give as much flexibility as possible.


Reduced cost places are available for certain priority groups, read more about that here and how to apply.


The first course is a comprehensive standalone introduction to babywearing theory and safety, which will give an excellent grounding for becoming an advocate for carrying behaviour and how slings can help promote health and wellbeing. It also provides an in-depth introduction to the major types of carrier and how to use them. This is open to everyone, and can be completed at your leisure. There are short tests of your knowledge as you proceed through the course and a final assessment to complete the course for a certificate.

  • This will suit many people who wish to enhance their knowledge and understanding, become evidence-based babywearing advocates, be able to signpost to local libraries with more confidence, and are not planning to offer in-person support to families on a regular basis.
  • This course is not timed, and can be done at your own schedule and to your own pace.
  • Please be aware that this course is not a Peer Supporter course and the certificate cannot be presented as such.
  • This course is not sufficient on its own for anyone planning to offer any form of movement classes with babies in slings.

Introduction to babywearing theory and safety – online course, £40

  • Welcome Module.
  • Why Carrying Matters Module/Fourth Trimester Module.
  • Introduction to Basic Babywearing Safety.
  • The Role of the Peer Supporter/Consultant.
  • The Different Types of Slings And How To Use Them.
  • Special Circumstances.
  • Assessment Module (to confirm learning)

Enrol onto the Theory and Safety Course (£40)

The second course (which not everyone will need) is a practical  training session, currently being delivered online in small groups, via Zoom. This practical session focuses on actively supporting new parents with hands-on-help, and is required to become a Peer Supporter offering hands-on in-person support with fitting and troubleshooting for families. Regular dates for these sessions will be available for individuals to sign up for. The theory and safety course must have been completed before doing this section if you wish to be a Peer Suppprter.

  • These sessions can also be arranged for a single group who want to focus on a particular need (such as health care professionals only, using one type of carrier) or for a group who wish to learn together. Please contact me to arrange this.
  • Satisfactory completion of this course and the assessment will generate a certificate of competence as a Babywearing Peer Supporter.

Practical Session to become a Peer Supporter (to be done in person, or via video link), £55 per person, half a day.

  • Building and assessing skills in using the main types of carrier.
  • Learning and practising how to support others and troubleshoot effectively.
  • Opportunities for discussion with Rosie and fellow students.
  • Assessment Module (via the Born to Carry website) to ensure receipt of information and ensure the high standards of training from the Born to Carry organisation are met.

Reduced cost places are available for certain priority groups, read more about that here and how to apply.

Contact me for dates for the Practical Peer Supporter Training

I’d highly recommend any enthusiast to attend this course. I found it thoroughly enjoyable and look forward to being able to use this new knowledge to help more parents discover the benefits of babywearing, as I have.
R.T.


FAQ

Do I need to do both courses?
It depends what you need from the training. If you wish to be a Peer Supporter, yes, you will need to do both.

Can I just do the online theory and safety course?
Yes, this will generate a certificate of competence in babywearing theory and safety, which may be all you need. You will have a good grounding in why babywearing is so useful, based in evidence, a solid understanding of how to keep a baby safe in the major types of sling and be able to advocate and signpost to further resources.

I want to support new parents to choose a good sling, and become confident in putting their slings on, or set up a sling library. What courses do I need?
You will need to do both the theory and practical courses, as this is what Peer Supporters do!

I want to offer classes for new parents and their babies with slings as part of the class. Is the online course enough?
No. You must do the full Peer Supporter training. This online course will not be enough on its own, as hands-on skills and careful planning of classes are needed. Adding any movement with a sling beyond walking increases the potential for harm. Babies and their caregivers’ wellbeing should be the primary concern for such classes, and they should not be placed at risk by inadequate training.

Do I need to do both the online and practical courses at the same time?
This is up to you! Some people will opt to do the theory course at their own pace, and then decide if they want to do the practical course to become a fully trained peer supporter. If you wish to do the full course, it will help to have the online theory fresh in your mind before you come to the practical session. You must have completed the theory before the practical session.

Can I have a practical session tailored to the specific need of my group (eg neonatal nurses, health visitors or for dance classes, etc?)
Absolutely, you can do the online theory and safety course and then have your own group practical session with me, please get in touch to discuss your needs. Please be aware that I am a working GP and can only offer a certain number of practical sessions per year.

The Carrying Advocacy Peer Supporter Course has several aims. One is to understand why carrying matters so much in the vital task of building a happy brain – we look at some of the neuropsychology and biochemistry behind it all. Slings can help to facilitate this. Another is to enable people to give robust, safe advice about babywearing and infuse the people they meet with excitement and confidence about using a sling, and help them use it safely and confidently. It is not a consultancy course (therefore does not cover advanced techniques such as back carrying or complex woven wrap techniques), but is designed to equip trainees with the tools they need to be able to support the parents they meet. It covers topics such as:

  • the benefits of babywearing
  • the physiological principles of baby positioning to protect airway, spine and hips
  • confidence with the most common types of sling
  • practical demonstrating skills

  • demonstrating and discussing the safe use of slings in many circumstances (eg feeding)
  • troubleshooting common difficulties
  • assessing boundaries and responsibilities
  • babywearing in a historical/sociopolitical context

Those who attend this course, complete the post-course assessment and receive their certificate of completion are eligible for insurance from three providers.

Dance and exercise classes with slings

Please read this first if you are considering setting up one of these classes. The safety of child and parent is paramount at all times and there is simply too much to cover when the class instructor is not already very familiar with slings and aware of the risks involved (this is more than just being aware of the “TICKS” guidelines). If you want to discuss whether you are suitable for entry on this course please email me before you book. I reserve the right to refuse training.


Feedback

“I really enjoyed trying different carriers. I found the trouble shooting sections particularly interesting and fun. I learnt a lot and feel more confident with all carriers and especially with how to wrap a new born.
I really loved it and now want to do the consultant training even more. Rosie was clearly very enthusiastic and dedicated and made everything so interesting. She was pretty inspiring.”


“Everything I had hoped for was met, I feel like a peer supporter now, not just someone who loves slings!”


“Hi Rosie, I couldn’t go to bed without sending you a note to say a huge thank you for the course today. I’ve never felt more included and welcome and I’m so thrilled I came along. Thank you for your hospitality and brilliant teaching, I’m raving about babywearing to my husband and cannot wait to volunteer at a meet soon.”


“I loved the content of the day, the discussions, playing with different slings, learning new ways of slinging, wrapping etc. The course was well run, well organised and I felt empowered to speak, share and question.”


“I feel much more confident in my knowledge of both the benefits of babywearing, and how to go about enabling parents.”


“I really enjoyed meeting other like minded people. I liked the theory of babywearing as it related closely to the work I do as Breastfeeding Lead in the NHS. I enjoyed trying all the different slings and carriers and understanding in what situations they would be used.”

“Rosie was born to teach people. Simply fantastic in the way information was relayed. Would highly recommend.”


“The whole day was so good! A key element was the ability to see and try so many different types of slings and to have time to go through basic principles regarding how to use them all. The role play aspects where we were able to troubleshoot carrier problems was also very useful.”


“My personal learning aims were met, it exceeded my expectations. I found the course was extremely enjoyable and covered so much subject matter but was not overwhelming. My aims were well and truly met. I now believe I could give a new babywearer good/correct advice and help in ways I was unsure about prior to the course.”


“Having someone with your experience and knowledge available all day to ask questions and watch demo was incredible. I really enjoyed the contextual and historical information about Babywearing and what led us all into that room that day. It put everything into the ‘bigger picture’ and made me feel such a part of the huge Babywearing community. Having such a massive amount of slings in the room to try and compare was utterly invaluable – such a rare opportunity. I thought the balance between practical and theory was absolutely spot on. As someone who’s very interested in the sociopolitical aspects of Babywearing I was really pleased to see this covered in the course and really appreciated that you placed Babywearing so firmly in this context during the day.”


“The course really opened my eyes to consider the needs of individuals and how essential it is to be inclusive and approachable and gave me the tools to do this confidently (especially regarding narrow base carriers). It was useful to be shown how to exaggerate movements and words when teaching and to have the opportunity to practice this. Rosie’s enthusiasm was infectious and made the whole day very engaging. The size of the group worked well and I especially enjoyed how well we all got on.”


adoptive and foster families

Slings and Adoptive and Foster Families

We all know how vitally important it is for children to build secure attachments with their primary caregivers, both for a sense of security and belonging now and in the future. It is much harder for this supportive relationship to develop when the primary caregiver has difficulties of their own, and when children need to be taken into care. The adverse experiences being endured by children in these circumstances have been shown to have a long term effect on future mental and physical health

This page collects some of the most useful writing on the topic of sling use among adoptive and foster families.

Leah Campbell's story

Adoptive and foster parents will know that their children need all the love they can give; and a sling can play an useful part in building these bridges amidst the turmoil. The biochemistry of creating a secure attachment is not a conscious process, or one that depends on ancestry; the release of oxytocin and the down-regulation of the stress response that happens with consistent, close and loving contact happens in the background.

Carry the Connection website

There are many other benefits in terms of language acquisition, socialisation, and also helping children to learn which of the adults around them are their primary caregivers.

Sue, a foster parent in the South, is a strong advocate of using slings as part of her care.

“Many of the babies who we care for have been exposed to either drugs, alcohol or domestic violence whilst in the womb. Carrying them has, without doubt, enabled them to develop into calm, sociable, happy, securely attached babies who meet (and often exceed) their developmental milestones.

Babies who have been neglected for the first few months of life can be very wary of people and situations. By carrying them they learn more about the world from a position of safety. They take cues from watching our faces and  learn to trust people and situations more more quickly.

Using carriers when introducing babies to their adoptive parents show the babies that this is someone to be trusted. Only I carry the baby in a sling whilst they stay with me although many other people hold them. However from the first day of introductions the adoptive mother wears the baby in my (the baby’s) sling. I believe this shows the baby that Mummy (or Daddy) is a special person which enables the attachment to switch between us. “

“Children with disrupted attachments are often indiscriminate in who they seek to have their needs met by. Children should always be guided back to their parents by family and friends if they are approached by the child particularly for food and nurture. This process is called funnelling and is extremely important in giving a clear message to the child about who their primary caregivers are. A sling or carrier could be helpful in this process, reducing indiscriminate attachment seeking behaviour and discouraging over-enthusiastic family and friends from picking up and nurturing the child.” Carrying the Connection

This blog post from Slings and More (based in the North East) assesses the science behind how slings can help  adoptive and foster parents to build secure attachments.

“Foster and adoptive families have an immense role in helping to form strong attachment bonds with the children they look after and to help those children who do not have strong attachment bonds to begin to form them.”

This is a personal account of a mother’s experience of using slings as she adopted a little girl.

Her father told her: “You two should have some time alone. She needs to learn your smell and the sound of her mama’s heart.”

Perinatal mental health challenges can be very real for adoptive parents too, and slings can be enormously helpful for all shapes and structures of family unit.


educational resources build a happy brain rainbow brain carrying matters

Educational Resources

This page contains various resources that may be useful for education and supporting others. Leaflets, posters and postcard packs can be purchased. Images and PDFs can be downloaded free of charge by clicking on the photos. Please ensure you credit me (Dr Rosie Knowles) if you use them.

Click on the image to download a PDF, or order a pack of high quality printed leaflets using the button below.

Buy the Carry Safe leaflets here

Click on the image to download a PDF, or order a pack of high quality printed leaflets using the button below.

Buy the Guide to Slings leaflets here

Click on the image to download a PDF, or order a pack of glossy postcards or posters using the button below.

Buy the Seven Reasons poster here

Click on the image to download a PDF, or order a pack of glossy postcards or posters using the button below.

Buy the 4th Trimester products here

Click on the image to download a PDF, or order a pack of glossy postcards or posters using the button below.

Buy the Build a Happy Brain products here

Click on the image below to download a PDF, or order A3 posters using the button below.

Buy the Skin to Skin Matters products here - coming soon!

Click on the image to download a PDF, or order A3 posters using the button below.

Buy the Bonding with your Baby posters here

Click on the image to download a PDF, or order A3 posters using the button below.

Buy the Babywearing and Mental Health (mother/father) posters here

Click on the image to download a PDF, or order A3 posters using the button below.

Buy the Babywearing and Mental Health posters (inclusive) here

Click on the image to download a PDF, or order a pack of posters using the button below.

Buy the Carrying in the Heat posters here

Click on the image to download a PDF, or order a pack of posters using the button below.

Buy the Carrying in the Cold posters here

Read Rosie’s well loved Why Babywearing Matters book here, published by Pinter and Martin.

Buy the book here

Read Rosie’s well loved Why Babywearing Matters book here, translated into Polish by Lenny Lamb.

Buy the Polish book here

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.