Slings and carriers are becoming more and more popular; why do so many parents love them?
Whether you are an expectant parent, have just had a baby, or have been thinking about using carriers with your little one for a while, this post will take you through the many benefits of carrying your baby in a sling.
Tiny babies expect to be carried
Newborn humans are surprisingly underdeveloped compared with other species. They can do nothing for themselves, cannot regulate their own body temperature, and require very frequent feeding. They therefore have a biologically-programmed expectation to be held close to their caregiver. This is the reason that so many tiny babies can go from fast asleep to indignant rage just by being placed in what you thought was a warm, snuggly moses basket! The first few months of a baby’s life see such an enormous amount of development that they are frequently described as the ‘fourth trimester of pregnancy’. You can help your baby through it by replicating the closeness, warmth and movement of the womb, making a sling an invaluable tool.
Babies who are carried cry less
As well as the general need for closeness during the fourth trimester, babies go through all sorts of things that can be soothed by carrying them close. Just as you are emerging from the fourth trimester, you hurtle headlong into the four-month sleep regression, and nothing seems to make your baby nap. Slings to the rescue! If your baby has colic you will hear an awful lot of crying, but slings can help comfort them. Babies with reflux (of the sicky or silent variety) can be helped enormously by being held upright, and a sling can save your arms from a lot of strain. In fact, research shows that babies who are carried for an extra 3 hours per day cry and fuss 43% less1. That’s a lot more blissful silence.
It’s so convenient
Life with a small child can be complicated. Getting chores done, feeding yourself and playing with an older child can be difficult when you’re trying to soothe a baby, or have finally soothed them but are left trapped on the sofa when they fall asleep on you. Slings can give you back the use of your arms. They are also a great alternative to buggies and prams in all sorts of situations. You will never have to fold them up to get on a bus or train. Little shops with narrow aisles are a breeze, and you can saunter up and down stairs and escalators rather than waiting for the lift or a helpful stranger to assist you in lugging buggy and child to where you need to go. When your little baby becomes a big baby and wants to walk with you, you will find an empty sling much easier to transport than an empty pushchair. In fact the only practical disadvantage that I can think of is that you have to carry your own stuff rather than rely on the buggy. You’ll have to do that eventually anyway, and it really is possible to travel light with a small child. Buggies can be helpful, but slings often more so.
It’s weight bearing exercise!
A well-fitting sling that holds your baby in an optimal position should not feel really heavy. It is adding weight to your body though, and when your only physical exercise consists of walking to the corner shop to buy nappies and biscuits, that’s a workout in my book! If you have the energy to actually get out for a walk at the weekend, that little extra weight will be building bone density and burning calories. In addition to all this, carrying your baby in an ergonomic position is a great way to help your body return to its pre-pregnancy state. It can tone your core muscles and doesn’t put too much strain on your pelvic floor, unlike pushing a buggy or carrying a car seat. It is much kinder on your back too. Remember though, if something hurts, the positioning is probably off. Don’t give up, get help (see below).
Babies who are carried can experience more interaction
Babies learn through interaction with their caregiver. Hearing your speech and watching your facial expressions is the best teaching your baby can receive. It is more useful stimulation than any baby gym can provide, with added cuddles. Slings can help you give them this interaction more often. Experts are beginning to warn of the disadvantages of prolonged time spent being carried in car seats or sitting in forward facing buggies, swings, and gyms, because it reduces these opportunities for interaction2.
There’s something for everyone
Every family has different requirements from their carrier. Whether you need something simple and quick to keep in the car to nip into the shops, something you can wear for hours while you walk the dog but which won’t drag in the mud when you take it off, or something you can use to carry either your newborn or your toddler, there is something out there for you. Stretchy wraps are wonderfully snug for tiny newborns and much easier to use than you’d expect. Buckle carriers are great for convenience and simplicity. Mei Tais can be shared easily between different-sized wearers and kids. Ring slings and pouches are a minimalist’s dream and pack up small. Woven wraps are the ultimate in versatility and can allow you to carry a pre-schooler comfortably, or your tiny baby if you prefer. The world is your slingy oyster, but don’t be daunted; there are heaps of resources out there to help you decide what you want.
A note on safety
Slings are very safe, but as with all things, you need to know how to use them correctly. The most important aspect of keeping small babies safe in slings is ensuring that they can breathe freely. This means making sure that they cannot slump in the sling and end up with their chin curled into their chest. Follow the TICKS guidelines and avoid any carrier which doesn’t allow you to achieve this safe position. Bag slings (pictured) are an example of a sling which is never safe with a small baby.
Find out more…
There is a wealth of information and support available online to help you choose and use slings. Sling Guide is a fantastic online resource where you can learn more about different types of carrier and where you can buy them from. There are also plenty of online forums on Facebook and at TheBabywearer (a US site) and Natural Mamas, devoted to discussing the choosing and using of slings.
If you’re more of a book person, ‘Babywearing: The Benefits and Beauty of This Ancient Tradition’ by Maria Blois is an in depth guide to the benefits of carrying your baby.
Probably the best way you can learn about the different types of sling available, and what might best suit your needs, is to visit a Sling Meet. There you will find other parents willing to share their experiences, and often a qualified person who can offer some free help there or book you in for a more detailed consultation. If there is a Sling Library attached, you can even try out a sling before you buy. There is a map here which you can use to locate your nearest.
Charlotte Filcek is a trainee Babywearing Consultant. Email her
She also runs Redhill, Reigate and Horley NCT Sling Library. http://www.facebook.com/NCTRedhillReigateAndHorleySlingLibrary
Hunziker & Barr. Increased carrying reduces infant crying: a randomized controlled trial. Pediatrics1986 May;77(5):641-8.