Benefits of Carrying your Baby in a Sling
The benefits of using a sling or carrier with your baby are numerous and can be equally positive for all the members of the family, not just baby and parents, but older brothers and sisters, grandparents, and other relations too. Here are some of the many advantages:
With your baby in a sling you have two hands available while giving your baby the closeness and attention he needs. You’re able to play with older siblings, fix yourself food and drink, and get everyday tasks done without putting down a baby who wants to be cuddled.
Getting out and about with your baby in a sling is so much simpler. Anywhere your feet can take you your baby can go too, happy and content to view the world from the safety of your body. There’s no need to wait for lifts, or avoid stairs and escalators, rough terrain or stiles.
Public transport becomes much easier to navigate. There’s no more waiting in the rain because the buggy spaces on the bus are already full. Trips to the supermarket are unencumbered by carrying a car seat or a pushing a buggy, and there’s plenty of room to cram shopping in the boot when you don’t have to find room for the pushchair.
If you use a sling for an older, walking baby, you are able to have both hands free to guide him. A sling in your bag is the perfect solution for toddlers with tired legs or in need of a nap, and you have no need to take out an empty pushchair ‘just in case’.
Everyday activities at home and away are easier using a sling or carrier.
Bonding, development and close contact
All babies crave close contact with their carers. Using a sling or carrier is a way to give that closeness and security to your baby. Babies in slings have been shown regularly to cry up to 40% less, making life easier for you and much less stressful for them. Instead of crying, they spend more time in a ‘quiet alert’ state, which is the best time for babies to learn, and sleeping, which is the best time for them to grow.
Using a sling or carrier helps your baby to develop and can soothe her effortlessly when she is sick, teething or tired. As your baby grows, using a sling can provide excellent stimulation and learning opportunities purely by giving her the opportunity to observe your day to day activities. Allowing your baby to be close to you much of the time can make it much easier on both of you when you do need to put her down because you have already fulfilled her need for security.
Physical benefits for the parent
For the parent who uses a sling, the need to hold the baby one-handed or balanced on the hip while getting on with everyday tasks is vastly reduced. The weight of the baby is spread over your torso, reducing the strain caused by lopsided carrying in arms. Constant lifting of a baby in order for him to see is not necessary as they already have a view from near your eye-level.
Piggybacks and carrying the baby on your shoulders can cause strain and injury. Using a sling gives the same effect but allows for proper weight distribution.
Breastfeeding mothers find the close physical contact with their baby can stimulate milk production and a sling can allow for easier, discreet breastfeeding. Bottle feeding is also simpler when out and about, as you can hold your baby close to you without straining your arms.
Physical benefits for the baby
Using a sling helps babies learn to regulate their own temperature and breathing as they are stimulated by the parent’s own body cycles. Using a sling in an upright posture can help babies’ digestion, and enable them to bring up wind. The massaging effect of being tummy to tummy with a parent can help with cases of reflux, colic, trapped wind and constipation.
Time spent upright in a sling has the same effect on a baby’s muscles as ‘tummy time’, encouraging them to develop the core strength they need to achieve physical milestones, from holding up the head to walking. It also acts as a preventative measure against ‘flat-head syndrome’ as the head is not lying on anything flat, and hip dysplasia, if the sling is positioned correctly.
Types of Slings – A Brief Guide
A sling should be on every new parent’s wish list. It is the closest thing to an extra pair of hands you are likely to come across. They are infallible for soothing a grizzly or colicky infant, keep the baby happy while letting you get on with essential chores, and are invaluable while out and about, whether travelling on public transport, negotiating steps, escalators and busy shops, or on country walks.
So many slings are available today we are spoilt for choice, but the selection is so wide it can be bewildering. When choosing a sling it is best to consider when and how you plan to use it, who else will be using it, and whether you have the patience to master one of the trickier types. Or you could buy more than one for different purposes. But be warned, they are addictive and you might find yourself building up a collection!
Wraps are very long lengths of material which are wrapped around the wearer and baby, and tied. They are very versatile, allowing a complete range of carries on one or both of the wearer’s shoulders, can be used by different sized adults and are very comfortable for long periods.
Stretchy wraps are generally pre-tied which makes them very easy to use for those new to slings. Due to their stretch most users find that they want to move on to another carrier around 6 months.
German Style Woven / Woven wraps
These wraps have a diagonal weave which many people find adds to the comfort when carrying a child. They are called German Style Woven or GSW because they first became popular in Germany. Nowadays they do not necessarily come from a German company.
Gauze wraps have a straight weave which usually makes them cheaper. Often they are thinner as well making them ideal for summer.
SPOC stands for Simple Piece Of Cloth. This indicates that the piece of cloth used was not woven with the specific purpose of being a baby carrier. It is possible to make a SPOC yourself by hemming a long piece of material.
Some wraps have qualities of both a stretchy and a woven wrap which is why they are referred to as Hybrid wraps. It may for example be possible to back carry with a hybrid wrap which has a large amount of stretch.
Soft Structured Carriers
Soft structured carriers fasten with straps and buckles and often have a padded or structured waist. In design they are based on Asian Style Carriers like the Mei Tai. They can be used on the wearer’s front or back, and, as the weight is distributed across both shoulders, they are very comfortable for long periods.
They are quick and easy to put on, but if the carrier is to be shared with a different sized adult you will have to learn to adjust the fitting of the buckles. Many models come with sleep hoods. They are suitable for babies from about three-months-old until well into toddlerhood although some makes have the ability to adapt to use with a smaller baby.
Some makes come in a beautiful range of fabrics, while others are more utilitarian in style.
Mei Tais are a traditional type of Asian baby carrier. They consist of a shaped piece of fabric to fit around the baby’s body with long straps at the base and the top. The lower pair of straps tie around the wearer’s waist and the top pair are crossed over the wearer’s body, brought forward to cross over the baby’s bottom and then tied around the wearer’s waist.
Mei tais can be used on the wearer’s front or back, and, as the weight is spread across both shoulders, they are very comfortable for long periods and with heavier babies. They can be used by different sized adults without any adjustments, and are suitable for babies with good head control until well into toddlerhood.
Most mei tais come in a sumptuous range of fabric designs but plainer ones are available if that is what you prefer. They are very easy to use and often it is possible to order a custom design with a fabric of your choice.
Mei tai pricing depends on many factors. From the very popular widely available brands with a reasonable price tag to the full custom designs using luxury fabrics and individual finishes with a price tag to match.
A ring sling is a length of fabric with two rings sewn in at one end. The other end of the material is threaded through the rings like a belt to form a pocket for the baby with a tail of fabric hanging down. Ring slings are worn over the shoulder like pouch slings and have the same variety of carries, but the rings allow for adjust-ability in different positions and for different wearers.
The baby can be carried easily on your hip or on your front.
They come in a range of fabrics, can be padded or unpadded, and some are frankly stunning for special occasions. Learning to adjust the rings for a comfortable fit can take a bit of practice – the rings are meant to sit just below your collarbone. And, like the pouch slings, they place all the weight on one shoulder.
Ring Slings have a variety of different shoulders. Finding out which shoulder style works for you can be key in finding a comfortable ring sling.
A pouch sling is a simple tube of fabric with one half folded inside the other to form a pocket which is worn across the body like a sash. It allows a baby to be carried in a variety of positions, lying across the body in a cradle position, upright facing in, and sitting on the parent’s hip. It can be used from birth to toddlerhood by altering the carry position, and allows an older baby to have arms and legs outside the sling.
Pouches are made in a variety of materials from cuddly fleece to cool linen and are quite cheap in comparison to other types of sling. They are also quick to master, easy to put on in a hurry, and pack up small to carry in a change bag. Unfolded, they can be used as car seat or buggy blankets, especially the fleece types. They place all the weight on one shoulder, which can get tiring for long periods with an older baby.
As pouches are sized it may not be possible to share one pouch with someone else.
Warning About Bag-Style Baby Slings
Bag-style slings, as their name suggests, resemble large shoulder bags with a deep pocket for the baby to lie or sit in, an elasticated opening and a strap designed to be worn over the sling user’s shoulder, or across the body.
We recommend you stay well clear of such products!
These slings have been implicated in far too many infant deaths by suffocation. They have been directly linked to three deaths of very young babies across the USA in the past two decades, and 11 more infant deaths are under investigation. The sling using community, alerted by the pioneering research work of sling safety campaigner M’liss Stelzer, has been actively warning against their use for some time.
The warning has now been heeded in the USA, where the US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has raised the alarm about the safety of bag-style slings. One brand is now the subject of a product recall and it is to be hoped other manufacturers producing this type will be encouraged to withdraw them from sale in the future.
While bag-style slings may appear at first sight similar to pouches and ring slings, the pocket for the baby to sit or lie in is far deeper. The shape of the bag makes it very easy to place the baby in a curved position with his chin tucked against his chest, constricting his airways and giving rise to the risk of positional asphyxia.
The risk is heightened by the depth of the pocket as the fabric may cover the baby’s face, and the design may compress his face against the sling wearer’s body, further increasing the likelihood of suffocation. As the pocket is so deep, and the sling is designed to be worn low on the body, the sling user may not be aware of any distress signals from the baby until it is too late.
In a true pouch or ring sling the pocket formed by the fabric is far shallower, the sling is positioned high on the user’s body, and the baby’s face should be visible and close to the sling wearer’s face at all times.
If you have or are given a bag-style sling we urge you not to use it, sell it or even give it away, unless it be to be for the purpose of demonstrating its dangers. Much the best thing you could do would be to destroy it by cutting it up to ensure it can never be used to carry a baby.
Sadly, the announcement by the US CSPC has caused confusion in some quarters, with some reports believing the warning extends to all slings. This is not so, and traditional pouches, ring slings, wraps, mei tais and soft structured carriers are, and always have been safe for use with your baby so long as you follow the guidelines on correct positioning.
Broadly speaking, you should keep your baby snug to you, close enough to kiss her head, with her chin clear of her chest to avoid any constriction of her airways, and her back fully supported. Her nose and mouth should be free of any obstruction.
Baby Sling Resources
As with everything you buy for your baby a sling is something that you need to consider very carefully. Research is especially important with a product which is going to bear the weight of a child. Here are a few important points to bear in mind when deciding what and where to buy:
When buying second hand, make sure you ask about the condition of the item, and where possible, buy a brand that you have heard recommended before.
- When something appears to be too good to be true it often is. Make sure you are not buying an inferior quality counterfeit item by purchasing from a reputable retailer.
- A good seller will never mind you asking questions about the safety of a product or their liability insurance.
- Before using a sling make sure that it looks secure. It should have no holes, loose threads or stitching coming undone.
- If you have a sling and you are unsure of its safety ask someone else to check it over before using it. Your child is precious, and although most slings are safe and made by people who know what they are doing, as with any products you use for your child, you need to be certain. It is better to be safe than sorry.
Internet retailers selling a variety of slings and sling accessories:
Sling makers retailing their own brand of slings:
- Calin Bleu
Woven wraps, stretchy wraps.
- Kari Me Baby Carriers
- Lifft Slings
- Oscha Slings
Woven Wraps, made in Scotland
In stock ring slings, custom pouches and ring slings, custom wrap to ring sling conversions.
- Rose and Rebellion
Soft structured carriers.
- Sa-Be Babywear
Before you start using a sling you are almost certain to have some questions. They may be worries about your baby’s ability to breathe in a carrier, or doubts about everyday practicalities, such as coping with the weather.
Below are questions that crop up repeatedly, together with a selection of answers and advice from a group of experienced sling users.