Carrying in the cold, snowsuits

Snowsuits, Scarves, Slings and Safety - Carrying in the Cold

Autumn and winter can be a wonderful time of year, with frosty mornings and chilly walks, the first snowfall, and a little child nestled cosily up to you. Fresh air is good for the soul, and exercise and changes of scenery can make a big difference to family life. You don't need to be afraid of wintry weather, in fact, a baby carrier can help you go places!

It is important to consider safety in all things, and dressing warmly for winter while using a sling/carrier is no exception. Snowsuits may be cute and warm but they need to be used carefully.

When the weather turns chilly, or even icy, every caring parent’s mind turns to how to keep their baby warm in the cold air. Out come the snuggly snowsuits and the hooded jackets, out come the warm cosy scarves and thick cardigans, all aimed to keep you and baby toasty warm. At sling library sessions I can often be found encouraging parents to undress their babies, and often themselves! But why? Surely warmth is important?

Indeed it is, and it is good to be aware of your child’s needs. But there is often still a question about the best way to keep warm when you are using a sling… are the snuggly snowsuits really the best option? Are they safe to use, especially with the current advice about avoiding thick coats in car seats? (see the link at the bottom).

snowsuits scarves slings and safety carrying in the cold

I see a lot of parents with small babies (under four months) in snowsuits or thick jackets who are then settled into a carrier, be it a stretchy or woven wrap or a meh dai or a buckle carrier. Problems can arise at this point; baby is often too warm, and may be rather sleepy as a result, or irritable, and the parent may be finding the carrier uncomfortable. Babies under 4 months are at greatest risk of difficulties due to their relative smallness weakness; they do not have strong and sustained head, back and torso control, so are more likely to run into problems. Older babies and toddlers are very different!

Let’s look at some of the major factors to consider when using a carrier in the cold.

1) Be aware of OVERHEATING 

Too many thick snuggly layers can be a risk of overheating. Babies are by nature warm little creatures (carrying them can feel like having a delightful wriggly hot water bottle on your front) and it is their extremities and their heads that need protecting much more than their middles. They are not yet able to regulate their own temperatures in the way that adults can (which is why skin to skin contact from an adult for a feverish or cold child can be so very useful) so being close to your body will rapidly warm a child up anyway. As you walk you will warm up, and your extra heat will warm up the child on your front even more.

Being too hot is not good for babies; it makes them sleepy and overbundling a sleeping baby is a risk for SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome). It makes sense to avoid this overheating in slings just as much when baby is sleeping in a bed or a car seat. Furthermore, being too bundled up reduces their ability to sweat (the drops of sweat need to be able to evaporate to carry heat away) which means even older children who can regulate their temperature better will also struggle with being too hot. Hot babies are at significant risk; it is relatively easy to add extra layers for warmth if you misjudge slightly and to remove them when you come in out of the cold.

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 2) Be aware of AIRWAY

Sometimes the weight of baby inside the snowsuit can mean they sink down inside it, due to gravity, and end up with their faces buried inside the body of the snowsuit. This may pose a risk to airway and breathing; the same goes for hooded jackets or thick cardigans that can “ride up” the back of the carrier.

Too much fabric around the chest and upper body will also make it hard to achieve a fully supported back and a tight carry. This may increase the risk of too much space between baby’s head and your chest, allowing his chest to curl and compress and his heavy head to slump forwards, potentially compressing his airway, or burying his face into fluffy fabric, reducing airflow. Thick snowsuits really can be a significant risk.

Always ensure good airflow. Be aware of your own clothing too; a cowl or a scarf may prove problematic if your baby snuggles his face into the fabric, reducing free airflow. This is more of a risk with smaller babies than in those who have head control and are able to move themselves independently.

Make sure your baby’s face is not obscured by scarves or fabric that could be problematic if they fall asleep.

snowsuits scarves slings and safety carrying in the cold

This little boy is too small for his snowsuit; if he was placed inside a sling his face would disappear into the fluffiness.

 3) Be aware of POSITION

Increased bulk can affect positioning considerably. It is hard for joints to bend easily in thick, stiff trousers or multiple layers of clothing, so the M shape with bent knees higher than bottom that encourages healthy hips and protects the natural curve of the spine into a J shape can be hard to achieve. Baby may end up being “starfished” into a carrier with a hyperextended posture, rather than being comfortably seated.

This will affect how his pelvis and spine are positioned and may mean that his neck is not naturally supported by the J shaping that is achieved by ergonomic carriers.  (This is why many narrow-based high-street carriers need prominent neck support or headrests, as baby is held straight and the head can more easily fall back).

Baby will feel heavier as he is not resting against the parent/carer’s body in the same way, and the weight distribution will change.

Too much bulk around the top may also affect the support to baby’s upper body, meaning that baby’s weight is pulling back away from your shoulders, rather than resting on your chest, and may be more uncomfortable.

Too much padding around the nappy region (especially in those babies wearing cloth nappies) could cause a reduction of blood flow to the lower limbs.

snowsuits scarves slings and safety carrying in the cold

Baby above, has been straightened into a starfishing shape as the snowsuit is preventing his hips and knees from bending. however baby below is in the M shape.

snowsuits scarves slings and safety carrying in the cold

OK, so this is good to know. But it’s cold out there! My baby needs to be warm, what can I do?!

Here are some suggestions how to ensure your chilly weather carrying is safe and still snuggly warm.

If you need to go out in windy and cold conditions, or snow storms, your small baby will be warmest and best protected close to you on your front, here you can shield them from the wind and horizontal snow flurries easily.

Back carries for older children may be easier for you to see your feet as you go but be alert to their experience and ensure they are well protected. Carriers that keep children close to your body will be warmer and less likely to make you feel off balance as you walk, compared to framed backpack carriers worn high on the back; these will also be very cold for children as they are held away from body heat and more exposed to wind chill.


1) LAYER LAYER LAYER – carrying under coats

This is key to virtually all carrying, as the sling is in itself a layer of clothing, and sometimes more than one, depending on its type. A stretchy wrap is three layers, and some are thicker than others. Some buckle carriers are double layer panels, some are three. Every parent/child combination have their own micro-climate too, so what feels right for one family may be different for another.

In hot weather, you need as few as you can manage safely, whereas in cold weather you need more layers. Layers trap air in between them, so can often be more effective at providing warmth than one or two thick items of clothing, while still allowing flexibility.

Thin light all-in-one fleece suits are warm, while still being breathable and allowing good joint movement for positioning. It may be worth considering a size up to protect little toes with the riding up you get with a sling, however, too large a fleece could mean too much fabric around the face and neck. Layer up with vests and onesies and cardigans and leggings and so on, rather than using a very padded or furry inflexible snowsuit, you will be surprised how warm babies can get!

It is best, if possible, to keep baby as close to you as you can, and add layers on over the top. These layers can be undone/removed easily if baby is getting too hot (flushed, very warm chest skin, sweating, unexpectedly sleeping, for example), or if you go inside into a warm shop from a cold outside.

Wearing a large (maternity or oversized) coat which you can then wrap around your baby on the front will add warmth, as will a mac in rainy weather.

If you are creative, you could knit yourself a panel insert which would button onto your favourite button coat, making it wider to fit your baby and the sling inside. You can do the same with a zip insert (check before you buy that the zip insert fits onto your own zip). If you are innovative, you can use a large oversize hoodie or cardigan with a very big neck or a zip that can be undone to go over both of you, or wear an oversized coat backwards if you can get someone else to do up the zip. Others may use a large shawl to wrap around themselves, or a home-made fleece poncho.

There are many babywearing coats or ponchos or vests and other items of clothing on the market which have been specifically designed for this, such as the Mamalila, Lenny Lamb, Zoli, Wombat, Momawo, Liliputi coat ranges (among many others), Boba/Lenny Lamb/Angelwings hoodies/fleece vests, to name just a few, and many are suitable for back carrying.

Some can be expensive; for many they are invaluable especially if they are used frequently for back carrying (many maternity coats or extender panels do not allow back carrying) and some are stylish enough to be worn as normal coats to make them worth the outlay. Some will have hoods for both parent and baby, some won’t – it is worth doing your homework and trying a few before you splash out.

There are also some babywearing covers, similar to pushchair covers, that can just go over baby and sling but not parent, which may be useful if the parent prefers less warmth (such as Bundle Bean or Isara).

In rainy weather, some will use large anoraks over both baby and parent. There are several waterproof ponchos or covers on the market which can go over the sling on the top and umbrellas are very useful. Some creative folks have even threaded the arms of cross strap buckle carriers through a child’s waterproof anorak to cover over the panel!

snowsuits scarves slings and safety carrying in the cold
snowsuits scarves slings and safety carrying in the cold
snowsuits scarves slings and safety carrying in the cold
snowsuits scarves slings and safety carrying in the cold
snowsuits scarves slings and safety carrying in the cold
snowsuits scarves slings and safety carrying in the cold

2) PROTECT EXTREMITIES

So if your baby’s body is nice and warm, heads and limbs need to be kept warm too.

This is where things like baby leggings, tights and socks can be very useful indeed, layering up over the feet. Some people find boots helpful as well, such as Stonz or Thinsulate boots (varying price ranges) or wooly booties that can be tied gently on to avoid falling off. Some fleece onesies have feet that can be folded over to make a closed foot. Feet can get much colder than hands as they are harder to tuck in near the warm central core.

Heads can be kept warm with hats…(of which there are many gorgeous options). Some opt for balaclavas with neck covers and various hoods to keep necks warm and prevent removal!

Hands can be kept warm with gloves with ribbons sewn in to stop them from falling off, or socks worn on the hands. Many fleece onesies have sleeves that can be folded over hands.

10 FAQs carrying in the cold
snowsuits scarves slings and safety carrying in the cold
snowsuits scarves slings and safety carrying in the cold

3) MANAGING CARRYING OVER COATS

This tends to work better for older babies or toddlers who want to be up and down all the time, and can work well in some circumstances, depending on the coat, the carrier and if you have anyone to help you. It can be hard to get a sling snug over the top of a bulky or slippery coat, and hard to get a snug fit on the back without help, but for many this works well.

Taking some care when planning the coat  you use will make a big difference, (one that is thin and grippy, for example may be easier to work with, and hoods may get in the way of unobstructed breathing). Selecting the sling you use matters too; what you choose for normal use for maximum comfort may prove too complex over a coat. Pick one that is easily adjustable, and easy to get on and off.

This style of carrying over coats on the back may be much more convenient for toddlers who prefer to be able to get up and down again in quick succession. They are more likely to get cold on your back as they cannot snuggle into your body heat in the same way, so will need to be much more warmly dressed than a smaller baby on the front. This is especially true for framed carriers that hold children high up and separate. These children are not at the same risk of slumping over inside over-large suits and ending up with an obstructed airway, and as they are outside your coat, they will get cold. Snowsuits (that fit and are still flexible) can be an excellent solution here, as can waterproofs over coats and snuggly trousers.

Hands and feet will get a lot colder with this type of carrying, so make sure you are prepared.

snowsuits scarves slings and safety carrying in the cold
snowsuits scarves slings and safety carrying in the cold tandem babywearing
snowsuits scarves slings and safety carrying in the cold

CARRYING IN SLIPPERY WEATHER

It is fantastic to be able to explore in freedom with your child in all weathers. But what about, even if you have the choice of sling and clothing right, the ground is icy and slippery?

CHOOSE SENSIBLE FOOTWEAR!

If carrying in the snow and ice, slip-on ice gripping covers (eg Yaktrax or other brands) that can go over shoes and boots can be enormously useful to prevent slipping… and if you do slip, your baby will be much safer in the sling than she would be loose in arms. Some metal grippers may not work well on mixed ground, as they may slide on smooth surfaces and can be hard to remove quickly, so have a good look at a few types and where you will need to use them before you pick one. It can be hard to remove them with a baby on your front, so plan ahead!

Good boots with grippy soles designed for all terrains may be worth investing in. Some families have used very large knitted socks over their shoes for grippiness over snow and ice when they know there are also stone stairs etc on the school run and they don’t want to go flying.

Some people recommend front carrying more in slippery weather, as if you do fall, you can use your hands to break your fall and protect your child more easily than if you fall backwards.  Some people prefer not to carry at all and to use a buggy! Use whatever tool works best for your circumstances.

Carrying in the cold, snowsuits

Here is some more information about cold weather carrying from other sources

http://southlondonslings.co.uk/2013/11/12/carrying-in-the-cold/ and

http://stroudslingmeet.wordpress.com/2014/09/20/slinging-in-the-rain-and-cold-and-wind-and-snow/

Here is the link discussing winter coats and car seats..

http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/news/2012/12/winter-coats-and-car-seats-keeping-your-child-safe-and-warm/index.htm

Blog post originally written 2014, updated Dec 2017


carrying in special circumstances

Carrying in Special Circumstances

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Common Queries

Common Queries

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

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

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

Slings and Exercise

more

The Fuss about Facing Out

more

Carrying While Pregnant

more

Tandem Babywearing

more

Do Slings Create Clingy Children?

more

Breast and Bottle Feeding Safely in a Sling

more

How Babywearing Can Help with Post-Natal Depression

more

Carrying in the Postnatal Period

more

Carrying with a weakened pelvic floor

more

Sleeping While Your Baby is Sleeping in the Sling

more

Healthy Hips; Busting Some Myths

more

Keeping Your Baby Safe in the Cold

more

Keeping Your Baby Safe in the Sun

more

Beginning to Back Carry

more

Help, My Child Cries in the Sling!

more

Carrying Older Children

more

Beyond the Knee to Knee

more

Slings and Prams and Guilt

more

The Last Days of Carrying

more

Carry Me Daddy!

more

Don’t forget the sling safety guide is here.

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

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


The Importance of Carrying

Seven Reasons to Carry Your Baby

Read more

Attachment, Babies and Carrying

Read more

Secure Attachment and the Fourth Trimester

Read more

Why Carrying Matters (for Juno Magazine) issue 44

Read more

Stretchy Wraps and Close Caboo

I am a big fan of stretchy wraps and their variants (like the Close Caboo). They come in all shapes and sizes, and are usually to be found cuddling a tiny baby close to someone’s chest. Many babies adore the security and safety of the wrap and fall quickly to sleep. For many parents, they are the first slings they own, for good reason.

Like all carriers, stretchy slings need to be used safely and the TICKS guidelines should always be followed. The most important consideration is to protect baby’s airway; a baby’s neck should never be folded in half and two fingers should fit between their chin and their chest.

The most frequently adopted position for carrying is upright and facing in, with legs slightly spread apart (the M position) and head well supported, as this will also protect growing hips and spine. The stretchy wrap will provide gentle mouldable support and can be adjusted to provide head support.

Babies often sleep in stretchy wraps/Close Caboos, when well positioned, as the closeness and snuggliness of the layers of fabric (always at least two layers of fabric with a stretchy!) mimic the close conditions of the womb during pregnancy, and being in contact with a parent’s skin and near a parent’s heartbeat and able to hear a parent’s voice is extremely reassuring for babies.

The most common style of carry is the pocket wrap cross carry (where baby’s legs are on either side of two cross passes). Once you have the hang of it, it is quick and easy, and the wrap can be left on all day and baby popped in and out.

carrying in the postnatal period

What is a Stretchy Wrap? (see further below for the Close Caboo)

A stretchy wrap is a length of fabric, usually made of soft and stretchy machine knitted cotton, that is usually between 4 and 5m long and about half a meter wide. Some have bamboo blended in with the cotton, which adds to the softness and comfort, and some have a small proportion of spandex, which adds to their elasticity and stretch.

They are suitable from birth, and in fact are often used for kangaroo care in hospitals with premature babies, and most people will find their stretchy wraps will be suitable for at least six months and often many more, especially for the days when active babies are sad and need all-over-cuddles or need some sleep. The gentle all-round pressure helps to reduce excessive stimuli and allow a baby to switch off and sleep.

Not all stretchy slings are the same (varying in stretchiness and ease of use) but by and large, they have the same purpose – to be a comfortable one-size-fits-most sling that a parent can pre tie before putting baby in. This means that the sling can stay on all day and baby can be tucked into it easily and quickly when needed, and taken out again very simply. There is no need to retie a stretchy over and over again during the day. The stretchy does not need to be removed for breastfeeding (see below for how to do this safely).

How do I put my stretchy on?

The key to success is in preparation; getting the tension of the passes right before baby goes in, and ensuring their position is correct. I always recommend that each pass is in place in baby’s kneepits to ensure baby is in the M shape and held chest to chest before the fabric is then spread across their body, one side at a time. These images show optimal positioning for a young baby in the wrap – each kneepit is supported in the M shape and baby is chest to chest in the gentle J shape.

Here is a quick subtitled video showing how a young baby can be positioned well.

Many people worry that it looks fiddly, complicated or that there is too much fabric. But really, it is simple – you just tie it on the same way each time and pop baby carefully into the cross passes on your chest. The videos here all show just how simple it can be. I work with “two-way” stretchy wraps (they stretch lengthways and widthways and are easy to maneouvre).

With premature or especially small babies who still have their feet held very close to their bodies, other techniques (still using the same tie method) may be more suitable, such as this one (video link). Please get in touch with your local sling educator (www.slingpages.co.uk) for extra help.

Please note that horizontal cradle style carries are no longer recommended due to airway risk. Some older instructions unfortunately still contain this position.

Here is another video of the pocket wrap cross carry from Noah’s Arc Sling Library

And here is an audio described version of the above

A step by step stretchy wrap photo tutorial guide; this is a two-way stretchy wrap. Two-way stretchy wraps stretch along their width and their length.

The key to success is in preparation; getting the tension right before baby goes in, and ensuring their position is right before spreading any fabric. Quick link to this tutorial here.

Video of the Pocket Wrap Cross Carry with a two way stretchy wrap  (Hana, Boba, JPMBB), showing how to avoid slumping. This is the same technique as the photo tutorial.

A more detailed, slower video with doll can be seen on this YouTube link

How to take a baby out of a stretchy wrap without untying  – this allows the wrap to stay on all day and baby can be popped in and out, rather than retying over and over again.

A short video for how to do the pre-flipped shoulder to keep fabric away from baby’s face. This is important to ensure there is no airway obstruction.


The pelvic tuck with stretchy wraps (and all carriers) is important, for baby’s airway support and also for comfort.

pelvic tuck

Passes in knee-pits and good M shape position

Top Tips!

  • Make sure the fabric is snug. Slack fabric leads to slumping later. Take time to make sure all the passes are tight and when stretched out, are no looser than the volume of your baby's body.
  • It will be much easier if you hold your baby in the secure M and J shape positions onto your chest before you put the carrier on.
  • Put both baby's legs into each cross pass and ensure he is sitting down with the passes in his kneepits, and then straighten him up and check his position. His ribcage should be snug against your chest and his chin up.
  • Then spread each pass one by one, kneepit to kneepit (this avoids sideways slump).
  • Ensure there is no fabric over your baby's face; fold the fabric out of the way, ensuring each pass still comes up to the neck.
  • Pull up the third pass to the back of baby's neck. Some people will fold the top edge over a rolled up muslin to provide a little extra neck support for active babies.
  • You should feel like you can lean forwards (with one hand on baby's head) and baby should not swing free.

Post-natal stretchy use

Dads use stretchies too

reduce crying

Common Queries about Stretchies

Breastfeeding in Stretchies

It’s possible to breastfeed in a stretchy, once feeding is well established and you are confident with your use of the sling. The video below shows you how you can use your stretchy as an aid for feeding without needing to unwrap each time. Please note that baby’s head is not covered by fabric and her neck is supported throughout. When baby has finished feeding, she must be returned to her safe upright position and not left to sleep in the horizontal position.

No breastfeeding is hands free, and it is usually a good idea to get some help and advice from people who are familiar with how to do it.

Can I face my baby outwards with the stretchy?

Forward facing out in a stretchy is not recommended for several reasons, even though some older instruction manuals show how to do it. Newer companies do not have this carry in their instructions. Why not?

  • No head support can be created in this position, and babies have heavy heads in proportion to their bodies. A sleepy head lolling forwards may compress the airway and impede breathing, just as the cradle carry may do.
  • A baby facing out has no support for the hips and legs (see this article for more)
  • The spine is artificially straightened in the forward facing out position when it should be curved.
  • Babies do not have the ability to “zone out” from all the conflicting sensory streams that comes from being held facing out. They need to be able to switch off and rest against a reassuring parent; this is hard to achieve facing out.

 

Read more here about facing out carriers; this can work well with older children.

How long will I be able to use my stretchy wrap?

That depends on the stretchy. Many people find that as babies get bigger and want to be able to see the world around them, they can find the all-over cuddle of the wrap a little restrictive for seeing. At this point, opening the shoulders out can help with visibility, but do keep a hand near any wobbly heads. Stretchies are great for older babies who are sad or uncomfortable and want a cuddle, or are ready for a sleep.

Most people will find the stretchy wrap works very well for the first six to nine months of age (a few will last into toddlerhood), and is just the start of a happy babywearing journey as their baby grows bigger. At this point, parents may begin to consider other carriers that have a wider vantage point. Some will allow more open shoulder strap angles, some will allow hip carrying, (such as ring slings or the Scootababy) and back carrying may not be far off!

 


Troubleshooting your Stretchy Wrap

  • Feeling too tight? Baby should be close enough to kiss, able to rest his head on your upper chest just under your chin. You should feel able to take a deep breath without feeling constricted (one hand's breadth between your baby's ribcage and your chest.) Any looser and baby may begin to slump. You can often lower your baby by putting your hands inside the carrier under her bum and bringing her down a little. Many stretchy wraps will have a little give in them and as you walk, baby is likely to settle down a little lower naturally.
  • Too loose or too low? Your stretchy is likely not tight enough; retie or see the video for how to tighten.
  • Baby slumping to one side? This can be avoided by putting baby's legs into each cross pass in turn, just into the knee pits, and ensuring he is positioned right before you then spread each pass.
  • Baby seems to be too curled up or folded inside the stretchy? This is likely due to the fabric not being snug enough, see the video for how to "unfurl" a slumping baby to keep their chest cavity well supported.
  • Baby's face buried in fabric? Ensure stretchy is snug (looseness leads to slumping over. You can fold or flip the shoulder passes (see photo below) for airflow and visibility, and use the other side as a hood if tolerated.
  • Baby wants to lean back and look at you? You can use a rolled up muslin folded into the top section to provide some neck support.

Unfurling a slumped baby

Stretchy too loose or too low and don’t want to re-wrap? Here is how to tighten it up to get baby back into a safe position.

Folded shoulders for airflow and a hood

A rolled muslin forming a neck support


More videos (for one way stretchy wraps like the Moby) or the pocket double hammock carry for babies who prefer to be legs in can be found here on the videos page.


Carrying twins in a stretchy wrap

Many parents of twins will use a good, supportive stretchy wrap to carry their small twins, with one twin in each cross pass. It can take a little practice, do come and get some help!

Babywearing twins

Putting twins in a stretchy wrap

There are many other ways to carry twins as they grow; get in touch with us to get some one to one help or visit our twin support group Peas in a Pod with one of our peer supporters for some simple advice and guidance.


Close Caboo Carrier

This is a semi-structured carrier made of one-way stretchy fabric that has the two cross passes sewn into position, and is tightened once baby is in by pulling any excess fabric through two rings at the side. There is less fabric than the typical stretchy, and it can seem simpler to put on at the beginning, which some people find useful. See the video for how to do it well and safely; the key is to prepare it properly, to fit your baby’s body right at the start. It is popular with those who find the tying and wrapping of a stretchy less to their liking but still wish for the cuddly wrap feel.

Common issues

  • Each pass needs to be untwisted and pre-tightened into a hammock shape before putting baby in; too-loose passes at the beginning will mean that baby sinks and slumps.
  • Ensure you have the cross piece on the back pulled down to the middle of your back, not resting by your neck.
  • Try to get the passes the right snugness for your baby’s body before you put them in.
  • Each cross pass must be tightened (or loosened) in strands across the full width of each pass to be effective and avoid slumping.
  • The third part must be tied on to ensure good head and neck support.

Some people can find it harder to fold the shoulders out for good airflow and visibility, due to the fixed hem (this is easier with a good two way stretchy wrap). The preflip in the photo tutorial is an excellent solution to this!

Much of the advice and top tips for the stretchy wrap will apply to the Caboo too, see above.

Close Caboo

Click on the image for the photo tutorial

front carry with a close caboo

Putting on a Close Carrier

Vija Kangaroo Care Tops

These special items of clothing are designed to hold a small baby close to parent’s chest inside some clever built-in pouches. They are very simple to use, and even come in twin form! More information here

Kangaroo Care shirt

carrying in the postnatal period

If you need some more support, your local sling educator can be found listed on the Sling Pages.


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.


sleeping while your baby is sleeping in a sling

Sleeping while your baby is sleeping in a sling

Sleeping while your baby is sleeping in a sling - is this safe?

Imagine the scenario, familiar to all of us.... you are a very tired parent, with a new baby who doesn't seem able to settle down in their Moses basket or cot, and will only sleep when held and rocked. Your baby cries when he is laid down again, no matter how deeply he seemed to be asleep on your chest or your partner's shoulder just a moment ago. This is where you might turn to a baby carrier (typically a stretchy wrap, or a ring sling, sometimes a buckle carrier  or a meh dai), which keeps your baby close, in the supported position she loves, able to hear your heartbeat and breathing, everything smells right, it is warm, she is surrounded snugly with gentle pressure all over and not flailing freely in open space. (See here for more information on the "fourth trimester" theory of meeting baby's needs.)

So far so good,  your baby is positioned well in the sling, airway is protected, breathing is unobstructed, spine and head are well aligned with a supported upper back and a gentle curve into a tilted pelvis. You can see that your baby's face is visible and he is close enough to kiss, there is no slumping, your rocking movements (swaying, walking) and precious closeness and feeling safe in your arms has worked its magic, and your baby is at last, peacefully and contentedly asleep.

Baby falling asleep upright in a sling, airway is safe
Baby falling asleep upright in a sling, airway is safe

At this point, I remember it well, the relief is enormous. The temptation is very, very strong, to just sit down in a cosy armchair and close your eyes, or a have a little lie down on the bed well propped up with pillows. Soon sleep starts to overwhelm you. Just a a short nap.. a few minutes won't hurt, surely, a chance to recharge my batteries for the next parenting challenge.. sleep is so restorative!

The trouble is, one of the central tenets of safe babywearing is to be aware of your baby at all times.

  • The TICKS rules and the ABC guidelines are all aimed at protecting your baby's airway and breathing, and the only way you can monitor this is by being alert.
  • It doesn't take long for a baby's breathing to become compromised, and the risk is greatest under four months, when their heads are disproportionately large and heavy and they have not yet developed the cervical stability needed to support themselves.This takes time - the vertebral bodies need to become strong enough to support the head, then the joints, ligaments, muscles, tendons and other soft tissues in the neck need to develop the required strength, and then the back muscles need to be strong enough to pull the heavy head backwards to avoid forwards or sideways slump. This is an active process, and it is easy for a sleeping baby's head to roll forwards onto their chest. This is why head support is so vital, and why a baby's face must be visible at all times.
  • This is the same reason why children should not sleep in car seats if possible. We've all seen children with their heads hanging forwards at awkward angles. Studies have shown that this forward lolling of the head can cause desaturation (reduced levels of oxygen in the blood). In contrast, another study has shown that a baby asleep in the optimal upright position with chin up and the head well supported on parent's chest does not show such desaturations. It is safe for a baby to sleep upright in a well fitting and supportive sling if the appropriate guidelines are followed.
  • It is also is why bag slings and near-horizontal cradle carries can cause such problems. The enclosing fabric behind the head is dangerous; Babies have heavy heads, more prominent occiputs, and do not yet have the strength to pull their heads up or push against the fabric. The chin ends up resting on their the chest, causing a potential airway compromise.
  • It is also why feeding in a sling needs to be undertaken with caution and a good understanding of safety.
  • It is why there are so many guidelines about safe sleeping while responsible for a child (whether or not you are using a sling).

A sleeping parent will not be able to check their baby's position often, and correct any breathing difficulties quickly. Grunting or snoring or other unusual noises should always prompt a check on your baby's position and it will be very hard to be aware of such changes while you are almost, or fully asleep.

Your body position will change as your muscles relax in sleep. Your arms may move if you are just holding your baby, and if baby is in a sling, it may no longer remain tight and supportive, possibly allowing him to slump over or curl up into a ball with his chin on his chest, or roll to one side. We've all seen this with babies in car seats.  You yourself may roll over as you relax and unwittingly place too much pressure on parts of your baby's body, or encourage him to roll with you.

In short, while you are asleep, you are unaware of what you or your baby are doing. This is why there are so many guidelines about providing a safe sleeping environment for babies, keeping them safe when there is nobody awake.

If you have had something alcoholic to drink, are a smoker, are on medications that could make you drowsy, or have a medical condition that could impair your ability to be aware of your child at all times, you may wish to reconsider how you are caring for your baby when you are tired.

There are of course some ways that a short nap could be done safely with your baby asleep in your arms or  in a carrier. For example, if your partner remains in the room with you and alert while you and baby enjoy a rest together, in a slightly-reclined, well supported position that ensures baby is still upright.  You may be in hospital with your premature baby and are encouraged to share skin-to-skin contact inside a simple stretchy wrap or boob tube or under a blanket.  You and your baby will be very closely monitored throughout if you do nod off in the chair (which often recline at special angles to make it easy for a baby to rest on their tummies, chest to chest with heads well supported.)

If you wish to sleep with your baby close to you, with or without a sling, all the principles for safe co-sleeping apply. The links below explain safe bed-sharing very well.

KellyMom summary - http://kellymom.com/parenting/nighttime/cosleeping/

Mother-Baby Behavioural Sleep Laboratory - http://cosleeping.nd.edu/safe-co-sleeping-guidelines/

BASIS Online - https://www.dur.ac.uk/resources/isis.online/pdfs/ISISPDFbed-sharingJuly2013.pdf

UNICEF Caring For Your Baby at Night http://www.unicef.org.uk/Documents/Baby_Friendly/Leaflets/caringatnight_web.pdf

If you feel at the end of your tether with your unhappy sleepless little baby, this link  "How to calm crying infants and get a little more sleep" is an excellent article from Sarah Ockwell-Smith.

Understanding your child's normal sleep habits and modulating your expectations accordingly can be really helpful.


So, is it safe for you to be sleeping while your baby is sleeping in a sling? My answer is, that's your call to make, depending on your circumstances. On the whole, I think the risks vastly outweigh the benefits.

Is it safe for a parent to sleep with their child loose in their arms? Again, my answer is, that's your call to make, depending on your circumstances. On the whole, I think the risks vastly outweigh the benefits.

I would always recommend reading the safe bed-sharing guidelines above to ensure both you and your baby gets the safest night's sleep possible.


carrying in the heat

Summer Slings and Keeping Safe in The Sun - Carrying in the Heat

Summer slings and keeping safe while carrying in the heat is a hot topic among regular sling users. Carrying in warm weather can be hot and bothersome!

“Can I carry my baby in this heat? We are getting way too hot with our sling!” is a question I am asked many times in the few warmer months we get in the UK. Babies are warm little creatures, and in the summer humidity, they can feel like hot-water bottles on your chest. Many parents worry and stop using their slings in the summer as they don’t enjoy the sweatiness and stickiness that can come with hot-weather babywearing, and then miss the closeness. Sometimes children insist on being carried, so you get hot anyway, or pushchairs aren’t an option.. so what is a parent to do?

First of all, don’t worry. You won’t overheat your baby by carrying him.  Women have been carrying in the heat for generations, in far hotter climes than the UK, they carry their children daily and come to no harm. The body is able to thermoregulate appropriately. However, there are a few things you can do to make the experience more pleasant for you both.

carrying in the heat, summer babywearing

1) You and your baby need to be safe in the increased temperatures.

  • Keep well hydrated. Baby needs to replace all the fluid she is sweating out – don’t underestimate her need to drink or breastfeed in warm weather. Take frequent breaks from your summer activity to check on your child and allow this re-hydration. Breastfeeding mums will need to increase their own fluid intake to compensate for the higher milk demand (breast milk becomes more watery and thirst-quenching in hot weather, amazing!) and everyone will need to drink more. Exclusively breastfed babies can get all their fluid requirements by frequent feeding and are unlikely to need any other fluids if they are feeding well. Bottle fed babies may well need some cool boiled water in addition to their formula. Sweating actually helps to cool the body down, by using the heat beneath the skin to evaporate the moisture. The better hydrated you are, the easier it will be to provide sweat. Adults are better able to thermoregulate than small children, so you can actually help to cool your hot child down by skin to skin.
  • Think about the clothing you’re both wearing. Layers of clothes trap air, and therefore can keep heat in in cold weather.. so in hot weather, wear less layers on yourself, and reduce your child’s clothing too. Natural fabrics tend to be cooler – pure cotton, linen, bamboo allow breathability more than man-made fabrics and tend to cause less stickiness. The sling counts as layers of clothing, so take that into account.
  • Protect your child from sunburn and windburn. Muslins can be draped over exposed legs or heads – but they are very thin and babies may still burn through them if not careful. UV protection covers from Snooze Shade can help for buggies. Hoods can be a mixed blessing in hot weather, as they can trap warm air when closed, thus increasing the temperature inside the carrier and reducing the flow of air around. A light, tie-on broad brimmed hat with neck coverage is often a better option. Clothing can help – lightweight long sleeves can add protection. Some slings provide mechanical protection from the sun, and some have UV protection features as well. Suncreams are an important part of caring for your child’s health (especially if they fall asleep and you are distracted.) Please check your sun cream is appropriate for your baby’s age and skin. Parasols can provide some shade.
  • Cooling aids can be helpful. Some people will place a cool, damp muslin between their bare skin and baby’s, for coolness (others will use dry muslins to wick away sweat). Handheld fans can be very useful to blow cool air around. Sometimes people will use cool-packs to lay against skin every now and again, for brief periods. (I think this is safer than using freezer blocks in carrier pockets next to baby skin. Frozen peas against an ankle begin to hurt after a few moments, and babies may not be able to communicate the source of their discomfort well enough.) Splashing cool water can provide some relief… and regular breaks from the sling in the shade should be part and parcel of ensuring everyone is comfortable.
  • Choose the time of day you use your carrier and consider other means of transport.  It may be useful to just use your carrier in the cool of the morning or for evening strolls rather than carrying in the heat of the midday sun. Parasols may offer some shade as you walk along. Some parents and children may dislike the sweatiness that comes from close contact in slings and may therefore feel cooler with in arms carrying, or in a pushchair. If you use a buggy do make sure that the seat itself isn’t hot from the sun and that you allow plenty of fresh air inside the chair as temperatures can rise very quickly indeed. The sun cover may indeed keep the sun off but can also trap heat and carbon dioxide due to the reduced air circulation, which can be dangerous for children. The Snooze Shade offers a safe way to protect babies in buggies

Such measures may go a long way to making you and your baby feel a lot happier in the sling that you have.

hot weather babywearing and feeding
carrying in the heat warm weather
carrying in the heat

2) Use your current carrier in a way that is more appropriate in hot weather

Please note that each suggestion may not work for every situation. If you are unsure and would appreciate some more help, do get in touch with your local sling consultant/library for some support! The Sling Pages has a comprehensive list of such resources.

Stretchy Wraps

  • When stretchy wraps are used with the classic pre-tied Pocket Wrap Cross Carry, it is best to have three layers across baby. This is because the elastic nature of the sling does not provide enough support with only one layer, and two cross layers can be easily divided by a baby pushing away or arching backwards. If you want to use your pre-tied stretchy in the PWCC or a hybrid stretchy carrier with just two layers, ensure the cross passes are well distributed from knee pit to knee pit and up to the neck on both sides, be well aware of the risks and be vigilant of your baby’s movements, especially if you are likely to be distracted.
  • You could try using a thin gauze scarf in place of the third layer of hybrid stretchy carriers.
  • Front double hammock carries and hip carries (two-layers) are an option. They can be harder to master.
  • Seated sideways carries may reduce the body surface contact.
  • If you are using an old-style stretchy wrap folded in half (six layers), try using it unfolded (three layers).

Woven Wraps

  • Try single layer front carries to reduce the number of layers over baby, such as a kangaroo carry which can have open sides.
  • Try hip carries to reduce the amount of fabric around your body.
  • Try high back carries (this may reduce surface area contact).

Ring Slings/Mesh slings

  • These are often cool anyway. Try a seated sideways position to reduce the amount of surface contact.
  • Try a back carry or a torso carry which may feel cooler.
  • Fold the shoulder fabric that is cupping your shoulder over itself a little to reduce the coverage across your upper back. Flipped shoulders can also help with this.

Meh Dais/Half Buckles

  • Try using your meh dai with the passes unspread across baby’s back (ensure the bunched up passes are not too tight and rubbing into his knee pits) to allow some airflow at the sides.
  • Try a hip or back carry.

Buckle Carriers

  • Try a hip carry, if your carrier has this functionality.
  • Try a back carry if your baby is able to sit unaided (enough upper body strength).

carrying in the heat
carrying in the heat

3) Try a carrier that is more suited to the weather

Your local Sling Library may have a few options you can try out for carrying in the heat – it is always worth investigating to see what works for you and your baby comfort-wise. Sometimes hiring for a holiday may be cheaper than buying a new sling!

Stretchy Wraps

There are several lighter weight stretchy wraps available which will feel cooler than the heavier, thicker brands. Bamboo is breathable and cooler, and look at how thick the fabric is before you buy. Stretchies are wonderful for little babies but need a minimum of two, ideally three layers. Some hybrid carriers have mesh panels which can reduce warmth.

Woven Wraps

Lightweight wraps (usually those with a lower density (the g/m2) are cooler and lighter than thicker and heavier ones) can be very useful. Gauze wraps are thin and cool and good with smaller children. Thin cotton wraps are also an option – but may not be as sturdy for bigger children. There are many supportive, lightweight , breathable cotton wraps around and some brands make special lightweight cotton blends with special fibre types for strength (eg “ice cotton”).

ice cotton wrap

 

There are thick and thin versions of almost every combined blend of woven wrap available,  so it is worth doing some research into the thickness and density. Traditionally, linen, hemp and silk are used to add strength and sturdiness to the softness of cotton, and can be lovely lightweight toddlerworthy wraps, but some blends can be thick and warm. 100% linens are often cool and supportive, and loose weaves can be airier than dense ones. Some people find merino blend wraps cool in warm weather, as the breathable wool wicks moisture to the surface to be carried away.

Learning how to use a shorter wrap may be another way of reducing the amount of fabric wrapped around your body.

There are a few mesh wraps around, such as the Fil’Up, which can be very cool to use.

Ring Slings/Mesh Slings

Ring slings or mesh slings like the MiniSling are a great option in warmer weather, as they can be quick to take on and off and only cover half of your body. They are single layer slings, too. Again, like any woven wrap , the fabric involved can make a difference to its warmth. Lightweight muslin ring slings, 100% linens or thin but strong cotton/blends  are a good option here.  Be cautious about buying thin ring slings from eBay or from non-recognised retailers. There are mesh water ring slings which can be useful in the water, but can also be a little sweaty in dry, hot conditions due to the fabric used. Simple pouches can be a good option as well, if used safely in an upright position, and there are several mesh carrying aids like the Suppori and the Tonga which can help take some of your child’s weight and remain cool. Carrying aids are not hands free, however.

Meh Dais/Half Buckles

Sometimes these can feel warm, if there are multiple layers of fabric in the panel or if the fabric used is thick and dense. Sometimes lighter weight meh dais/half buckles can work well, tied in ways that allow airflow at the sides or with straps not spread across the whole of the parent’s back.

Buckle Carriers

Some buckle carriers are designed for hot weather use, either in the lightness of the fabric they use, the lack of padding, or their design (mesh panels etc). Some people will find rucksack style carriers less warm than cross strap carriers, as there is less padding across the back (when used in front carries). Solarweave fabric is useful and some carriers make a feature of their UV resistant fabric too. Some carriers have lightweight mesh panels or less padded straps, or thin waterproof fabric . Those with thick padded waists may feel just as hot to wear as their standard counterparts.

     

In summary, yes you can carry your baby in hot weather, there are many things you can do to make it more enjoyable for both of you. Be mindful of your baby’s comfort and be careful of both your needs, and you won’t go far wrong!


fuss about facing out

The Fuss about Facing Out

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

What are the advantages of world-facing?

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

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

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

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

What are the hazards of facing out?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pao

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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