Expert / 28 September, 2021 / Zoe Woodman
It is becoming more common to see people carrying babies and young children using slings or carriers, with many retailers now stocking many different brands. However, staff are unlikely to have had specific babywearing training or to have much knowledge on the entire market of carriers so they are often not best placed to be used for information or advice on carrying.
There are many sling libraries and trained consultants around the country who help to support carrying. They’ll have a wide variety of types of slings and carriers to try on, hire for a fee, or to come to your home for a one to one session. The services they offer may vary so it is always worth checking their websites or social media.
Sling library sessions are typically free to attend. You’re shown a selection of carriers/slings and you can try them on with a weighted demo doll. You can hire it for a period of time to try it at home over a few weeks or so. Fees vary between libraries. You can also go along with your own sling/carrier to ask for support, and typically there will be a donation or small fee for helping you.
Many sling libraries are run as not for profit or charities, some are private businesses. Many consultants work privately as well as offering library sessions.
The sling your friend/neighbour/shop assistant/magazine recommends isn’t always going to work for you and your child. If someone told you a brand of shoes was amazing would you just go and buy them? Probably not. What about a car? Unlikely.
We all have different requirements and 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 may be different from others.
When someone tells you they loved their (insert any brand!) that’s great, but remember, it doesn’t mean you’ll know if the same product will suit you. Like shoes, it is useful to try slings on. Our bodies are all very different, and some slings are better suited to different frames. The fit of a sling is really important for your comfort, your baby’s comfort and also for safety reasons.
A sling library will have many more in stock than most shops will to look at and feel and try on. Libraries are also independent, they will not push certain brands for certain margins. Those that volunteer at libraries are often trained and have a lot of experience using a variety of carriers/slings. It’s possible that they can help with your own carrier/sling to make it more comfortable or they may suggest some alternatives based on your needs.
There are slings/carriers to suit most budgets. The more expensive ones are priced at around £130-£150, but there are many cheaper options, from around £50-£100. There is a false belief that the more a sling/carrier costs the better it is. Buying the most expensive carrier or sling doesn’t mean it is going to fit you or meet you and your child’s needs. Equally, just because a carrier is cheaper, it doesn’t necessarily mean it is of a lesser quality or fit.
Depending on the brand and type, the price can vary. 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 of course, then there’s the fashion aspect of the market too.
Consider purchasing a second hand baby sling/carrier, ensuring the product isn’t a fake and is in good condition. Many hold their value well, meaning you can sell it on once you are no longer using it.
A good way to assess the quality of a carrier/sling is to check what standards it meets. There are various standards they can be tested to ensure safety, such as EN/BS 13209-2015 or CEN/TR16512:2015. Look out for these on labels and boxes.
Typically what meets a newborn baby’s need for snug, soft and all-round gentle support, isn’t going to necessarily meet the needs of a much bigger mobile child or toddler!
Your body may need more soft support in the early weeks and months compared to further down the line. We often expect to be able to purchase a product that will last from day one through to toddlerhood, but this is difficult because they have very different developmental needs at different ages. A four-month-old baby is vastly different compared to a week old newborn.
Many buckle carriers state that they are suitable from newborn but in practice, these can be less comfy and less supportive than a stretchy wrap. A newborn baby will want contact for a lot of the day but as they grow and develop they may not need as much contact. Think about it like shoes, if I am wearing them all day I will pick a different option compared to if I am only wearing them for an hour to so.
A good option is a stretchy wrap in the early months, moving onto a more structured carrier at around four-six months.
With stretchy wraps and wovens being long pieces of fabric you tie, you can adapt how you tie it depending on the size. Buckle carriers, however, are typically designed to try and fit a range of different sizes/shapes, etc. In reality, what this means is that some just don’t fit certain people very well. They all have ways of adjusting and tweaking fit such as changing from using ruck-sack straps to cross straps.
One size fits all also means that what fits a six-month-old well may not work as well at 12-months or 18-months. It might also work brilliantly for front carrying, but less so for back carrying or hip carrying depending on the type of carrier. Exploring options is key! If it isn’t working seek support in your local sling library.
There are some common concerns that come up often from parents, carers, family members in relation to carrying. These are that baby needs to see the world, and that baby is too big to be carried
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 to this. Carrying creates a calming response in babies. It slows their heartrate, so their body works less hard to maintain itself when in contact with others 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. Through forming this attachment in infancy it builds into independence later on. We know from trauma research that infants that do not have this, experience poorer outcomes impacting their mental and physical health.
Carrying should offer you 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. It may be time to try a different type or a product 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. It’s important to remember that this is not going to be the same for everyone as we are all different body shapes and strengths.
Wider based carriers typically spread the weight more than narrow-based carriers so 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 and 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 in those under four-months-old is suffocation, so be sure to go through these checks;
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. 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.
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 six months and not past 12 months) and for limited time periods. You should always swap the child round to be parent facing if they fall asleep. Often a good option to try is a hip carry (from around four-months-old). This allows the child to see more of the world and engage if they choose to, but also to remain able to see your 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.
From around six-months-old 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: The Sling Consultancy Forward Facing Out
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 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.
A carrier is useful when travelling, as you have hands free for suitcases. It’s easier to get 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 for language. It helps them learn about social situations and how to communicate as greater interaction from those around them as at eye level.
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.
Zoe Woodman, founder of The Sling Consultancy
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