Hi! I’m Zoe and I am carrying consultant and I help support people to carry their child safely, confidently and comfortably. I meet families for one-to-one sessions, as well as running workshops such as Bump to Baby; these explore specific topics in depth, in small groups. I founded the Dorking NCT sling library in 2012 to help others carry their children by being able to try on a variety of different slings/carriers. In 2016, I completed consultancy training with Slingababy as I wanted to extend my learning and be able to offer parents a different level of service alongside running the sling library. My website is https://www.theslingconsultancy.co.uk/ if you want to find out more!
It is now more common to see people carrying babies and young children in slings/carriers, with the rise in the number of libraries and consultants and with many major retailers like John Lewis and Mothercare stocking many brands of slings/carriers. It is still far from “the norm” and there are often misconceptions and misunderstandings around carrying, here I explore some of these:
1. IT MAKES YOUR CHILD “CLINGY”
The word “clingy” is defined as, to cling on to and as being too emotionally dependent.
Think about this for a minute, before being born your baby experiences constant warmth, constant touch, restricted, cushioned movement, hears a constant noise; the whooshing of blood and heartbeat, muffled noises and darkness. Then they are born! This disrupts the contact they have always had. The world seems loud and bright and cold, no longer cushioned, their reflexes startle them.
Baby prefers to be in our arms, on our chest, held snug to us. Often waking as soon as we try to put them down! It is NORMAL for a baby to want a connection to us. Responding to their needs for touch, comfort, warmth, food etc, ensures that they feel safe and this builds trust and a secure attachment. This is crucial for development; it has long-term benefits on every aspect of our lives including mental and physical health, as well as fostering independence. There is no such thing as a baby being too emotionally dependent, they are entirely dependent on us for everything.
As mammals, we are meant to carry our young, in fact, we would have had long body hair for baby to cling to and many of their innate newborn reflexes support their clinging behaviour. So to cling to us is normal. The day to day demands of life can be quite difficult with a baby in your arms, even going to the toilet or making a cup of tea! Carrying in a sling allows you to meet their needs as well as being able to be hands-free so you can meet some of your own needs too.
2. BABY WILL ONLY SLEEP ON YOU
It is normal that baby will want closeness and babies sleep longer and better in slings. We give birth to our young underdeveloped, compared to other mammals, which give birth to babies with far more developed brains. In order to fit through our pelvis our baby’s brains are smaller and need to develop significantly after being born. The term “fourth trimester” refers to this period where baby is almost still in a pre-birth state, with very basic needs. Continuing to carry our young on our bodies enables their brains to develop and for them to grow optimally. It is becoming more known, with research to back it up, that it is normal for baby to need contact and to not sleep through the night. Separating parents and babies increases the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) and in cultures that co-sleep the rates of SIDS are far lower (such as Japan and Africa). The notion that we are meant to sleep through the night from a young age is a huge misconception. Baby needs to feed regularly as they have small stomachs, again a protective mechanism to survive. What is biologically normal for sleeping through is far older than society tells us, more like 2-3 years of age.
3. YOU HAVE TO SPEND A LOT OF MONEY ON A GOOD SLING/CARRIER
Slings/carriers are considerably cheaper than buggies or prams. Depending on the brand and type, the price can vary. The more expensive slings/carriers are around £130-£150 but with many costing between £50-£100. Does spending a lot mean it’s going to be comfortable and work for you? Not necessarily! It is important to try them on and think about how you are going to use the carrier/sling this will help narrow it down. There are budget-friendly brands and brands aimed at high end and the fashion aspect of the market too. Buying second hand is also a good option, ensuring they aren’t fakes and are in good condition. Many hold their value well meaning you can sell it on once you are no longer using the sling/carrier.
4. THERE IS ONE TYPE THAT IS “THE BEST”
Every person has different preferences, different body shapes, different capabilities, different tolerances and different ways of learning. There is no one single best sling/carrier, only what is best for you and your child! And this will be different to others. Of course, we want the best for our child but it isn’t about spending the most money or having the most structured carrier. It is about working out what you need and prefer and this may vary as your child grows and for different situations. A good place to start is by visiting a sling library or attending a workshop to understand the different types and try some on. Would you spend £130 on a pair of jeans or shoes without trying them on for fit?
5. IT HURTS YOUR BACK
Carrying should always be comfortable. It might be that you need a few adjustments or it may be time to try a different type or one that offers different support, but there is always a sling/carrier out there for you! We often hear people say “oh my baby got too heavy to carry” or “my sling hurt my back” and that likely means the sling/carrier wasn’t fitting well for a variety of reasons.
Changing the type or style can impact comfort. Wider based carriers spread the weight difference to narrower carriers. Ultimately, the best carrier/sling is one that fits you and your child well and this is not going to be the same for everyone as we are all different body shapes and strengths. Narrow-based carriers can be uncomfortable for the wearer as baby starts to grow and gain weight. Optimal positioning means optimal comfort, supporting a child knee to knee as we would hold them in arms.
6. IT’S A NEW FAD “we didn’t have those in my day!”
For all of human history, babies have been carried. Every culture has carrying roots. It was only in Victorian times, which is relatively recent in terms of human evolution, that prams were invented. Babies do not know it is 2018, as far as their brains and reflexes are concerned it could be the Stone Age and being left alone could have dire consequences. It is a protective mechanism. Ask yourself what would Stone Age you do?! Newborn behaviours make sense when we take out 21st century expectations. Having evolved as a carrying species, many newborn reflexes are to help aid baby to cling to us, such as the way they flex their feet and use their hands. We have lost our carrying roots due to societies separating parents and children from a young age, valuing those that work, pay taxes and spend money as contributing to the system. Starting with the industrial revolution in the UK, the Victorian era eroded this further by the rise of doctors and experts and a move away from instincts. Read more here
7. IT IS DANGEROUS
Most things we do have some element of risk; crossing the road, walking down steps etc. There are some useful guidelines to ensure we carry as safely as possible. The biggest risk is suffocation, so check;
- Can baby breathe? You should always be able to see baby’s mouth and nose i.e. fabric or clothing is not obstructing their face
- Can you lean forward and baby stays snug to your body? You may need to offer some head support but their body shouldn’t come away from you, if it does the sling/carrier needs tightening. If it is too loose it may lead to baby slumping which can impact their breathing
- Can you be hands-free? Meaning you don’t need to offer additional support using your hands, the carrier should be supporting your child, if you feel the need to use hands the sling/carrier likely needs adjusting in some way.
Hip dysplasia is also something that gets mentioned as some carriers are marketed as hip healthy. This is a hip condition which means the joint is under-developed and can pop out. Narrow-based carriers do not cause hip issues in the most part, although it will exacerbate it if there is an issue. It is possible to use slings/carriers if your child is being treated for hip issues as the harnesses or boots and bars etc hold the hips in a fixed position usually quite wide, similar to the position if using a wide-based carrier or knee to knee positioning in a woven for example.
Some worry their child will fall out of the fabric type slings and prefer to use a buckle carrier as these give a perception of being more secure however that is not the case. It is more about how it is being used that the item itself. It is important with buckle carriers that the straps are adjusted and tightened well. Following the same safety steps above, regardless of what you are using, will ensure you carry safely.
8. YOU HAVE TO FORWARD FACE CHILD IN A SLING/CARRIER
Some slings/carriers on the market do enable a forward facing position. This is a position we have been used to seeing with narrow based carriers, however, the wider position carriers do not tend to be able to offer this option other than a few specific ones. It is a position that should be used carefully in line with the manufacturer’s instructions usually once the baby has appropriate head control (many suggest 6months and not past 12m) and also for limited time periods and should always swap the child round to be parent facing if they fall asleep. Often a good option to try instead is a hip carry (from around 4m) this allows the child to see more of the world, but also to remain being able to see our face as they use many cues from us to judge situations and also for communication. It also allows them to rest their heads on us if they get tired. In this position, baby is moulded round our body rather than the spine being against our body so it typically feels more comfortable. From around 6m back carrying with a buckle carrier is another option to try.
9. YOU HAVE TO BE A CERTAIN TYPE OF PERSON TO USE SLINGS/CARRIERS
There is no one type of person that uses slings/carriers. It is a big myth that you have to be a bit “out there” or a bit of a hippy to use slings/carriers. By using a sling/carrier it doesn’t put you in a certain category. Carrying is something that transcends socio-economic groups. It doesn’t mean you have to carry your child all the time! Those that carry their children often use prams or buggies too. It is not all or nothing, you can choose when to carry or to use a different tool. Some other great articles on this are: https://www.theslingconsultancy.co.uk/single-post/Carrying-is-for-all and https://www.sheffieldslingsurgery.co.uk/2016/05/09/slings-and-guilt/
10. IT’S ONLY FOR NEWBORNS OR YOUNG BABIES
Carrying older children can be hugely helpful for a number of reasons. It can be helpful way to reconnect with your child after time apart. It can be a helpful tool using a sling/carrier to help settle a child in unfamiliar situations or places. For example my son was used to being carried and was his safe place so when he started with a childminder she used a carrier as that was familiar to him and helped him settle and bond with her really quickly. It is useful when travelling as you have hands free for suitcases, easier on and off planes and around airports etc.
It is great for language and social development as we tend to engage more with our child if they are close to us and interactions are the building blocks of language. It helps them learn about social situations and how to communicate as greater interaction from those around them as at eye level.
See https://www.theslingconsultancy.co.uk/carrying-your-child article on Toddler carrying featured in Juno Magazine
If you are unsure if it is safe or if carrying your child is no longer comfortable, find a local carrying consultant or sling library see http://www.slingpages.co.uk/
Why Babywearing Matters by Rosie Knowles published by Pinter & Martin