Baby & Toddler / 30 October, 2023 / Ellie Thompson
There are some common concerns about baby carrying that come up often from parents, carers and family members. Carrying Consultant Zoe Woodman explains all.
The word “clingy” is defined as, in one respect, to cling on to and another as being too emotionally dependent. Your baby is entirely reliant on others to meet their needs. A baby cannot be too emotionally dependent as they are entirely dependent on us for everything.
Much like during pregnancy, our body is their safe space, their home. It is entirely normal for baby to want to be connected to us. 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. The science shows us how important this is for their growing brains, laying down the foundations for their physical and mental health lifelong. It is a survival mechanism, and by supporting this, baby can thrive, not just survive.
There are many biological elements as to why carrying creates a calming response in baby. It slows their heart rate so their body works less hard to maintain itself when in contact with others, and this allows the brain to develop. If we meet their needs for touch and comfort in infancy, they grow to be independent as it has supported their brain structure growth.
Forming this attachment in infancy builds independence later on. We know from trauma research that infants who do not have this have poorer outcomes, impacting their mental and physical health.
Carrying should offer you some support that in-arms carrying doesn’t, so it shouldn’t be uncomfortable. It might need a few adjustments to the fit or the way it is being used, or it may be time to try a different type or one that offers different support.
It is common to 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 differently to narrower carriers. Ultimately, the best carrier/sling is one that fits you and your child well is not going to be the same for everyone as we all have different body shapes and strengths. Wider-based carriers typically spread the weight more than narrow-based carriers, so they are often more comfortable once baby is bigger. Even if you have had back issues or shoulder issues, carrying is entirely possible as the carrier/sling is doing some of the work. Using a carrier or sling may be easier and safer than carrying in arms.
Everything we do has an 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 typically suffocation in those under 4 months old, so go through these checks:
You should always be able to see baby’s mouth and nose i.e. fabric or clothing is not obstructing their face.
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 compromise their airway and thus breathing.
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 your 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 underdeveloped. Narrow-based carriers do not cause hip issues for 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.
This is a position we have been used to seeing with narrow-based carriers. Many of 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 baby has appropriate head control (many suggest 6 months and not past 12 months) and also for limited time periods. One should always swap the child around to be parent-facing if they fall asleep.
Often, a good option to try is a hip carry (from around 4 months). This allows the child to see more of the world and engage if they choose to, but also to remain able to see our face as they use many cues from us to judge situations and also for communication, and to rest their heads on us if they get tired.
From around 6 months back, carrying with a buckle carrier is another option you can try. Baby needs to see your face for interaction and for reading the world around them, as this is important for their language and social skills. Read more on this here.
We often think carrying is only for newborns, and then they get too big and heavy to carry in a sling. This is a misconception due to using typically narrow-based carriers, which are often not comfortable once baby gains weight. Carrying older babies and children can be hugely helpful and beneficial for a number of reasons. It can be a helpful way to reconnect with your child after time apart. It can be a helpful tool for settling a child in unfamiliar situations or places.
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. Interactions are the building blocks for language. It helps them learn about social situations and how to communicate with greater interaction from those around them at eye level.
See https://www.theslingconsultancy.co.uk/carrying-your-child article on toddler carrying as 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/
Zoe also offers sessions via Zoom as well as in person in Surrey and surrounding areas.