“Babywearing” is the art of carrying your baby or child in a sling or carrier. Although it is an ancient practice, in recent times it has seen quite a big revival. So, why might Babywearing be a good choice for you?
Benefits of Babywearing
First and foremost, research shows that Babywearing has many benefits:
• You can be ‘hands-free’ while caring for a newborn.
• Convenient, cheap transport – and slings can often double as a changing mat or blanket!
• Promotes bonding as the baby becomes used to your voice, heartbeat, movements and facial expressions of whoever is carrying them.
• Increases confidence – you are able to tune into your baby’s mood and needs more quickly.
• May help to reduce postnatal depression.
• Uses 20% less energy than carrying in arms and can provide good support for your body, aiding postnatal recovery.
• Promotes breastfeeding as the closeness stimulates milk production as well as baby’s natural feeding behaviours.*
• Reduces the risk of Plagio/brachycephaly (flattened head), as a well-fitted sling supports the head and neck evenly.
• Carried babies cry less, as the physical sensation of being near mum or dad has a calming effect.
• Increases sleep – you might not want your baby to get used to always sleeping on you, but a walk once a day in a sling may help to get them into a regular sleep pattern.
• Increases social interaction – babies in a sling are exposed to plenty of communication.
• Promotes physical development – it helps a baby regulate their heart-rate, temperature and breathing, and stimulates the vestibular system (which controls balance). Slings help a baby to exercise their muscles in a safe way – a bit like having ‘tummy time’ where babies are placed on their tummy so they use and strengthen their neck and back in preparation for crawling.
• Slings can be a refuge – babies and toddlers sometimes need a safe space near mum or dad when they are too tired or overstimulated.
Slings were originally adapted from scarves, shawls and blankets, but there are now several distinct types:
These are long (5m) pieces of stretchy cloth, which you usually pre-tie before placing baby inside. Generally suited to younger babies, they are often a good choice for newborns as they’re soft and comfortable.
These wraps only stretch diagonally, and range from 2-7m in length. Extremely versatile, they can be used for many positions with all sized babies and pre-schoolers. However, the wrapping techniques can take some time to master.
Worn like a sash over one shoulder and tightened using two rings. Suitable from birth, they can also be used for older babies and toddlers, although some people find the one-shoulder design less comfortable for heavier babies. They can be great for breastfeeding and the ‘tail’ of fabric can be used as a discrete cover.
Similar to ring slings, they fit over one shoulder and may have poppers, zips or velcro to adjust the size. Most can’t be easily adjusted once baby is in the sling, so may not be so good for newborns with poor head/neck control who need more support. A quick, easy ‘in-out’ option for school runs.
Asian-style carriers with a rectangular ‘body’ of fabric and two short straps which tie at the waist. Two longer straps go over the wearers’ shoulders and are tied at the front or back. They often come in different sizes and with a padded section or hood to support baby’s head when he sleeps.
Probably the most popular style of carrier, they usually have a padded waistband, contoured ‘body’ panel and buckle fastenings. Because they are padded, many can’t be adjusted enough to fit a newborn and require a separate infant insert. They are relatively simple to use and can often accommodate toddlers or pre-schoolers.
Safety and support
No matter which style you choose, good slings and carriers used correctly should keep baby safe, and both of you comfortable. The safest position is for them to be held upright, with their head, neck, back and hips well-supported. The TICKS guidelines are a useful reminder of how to use a sling safely:
T – Tight (snug against you so they can’t sink down in the sling).
I – In view at all times (no material hiding their face)
C – Close enough to kiss (baby’s head near your chin)
K – Keep chin off the chest (baby shouldn’t curl up – there should always be a finger’s width of space under his chin)
S – Supported back (ideally with their tummy and chest against you).
Ideally, a baby’s knees should be higher than his bottom, with his legs spread so that from behind he forms an ‘M’ shaped letter. This keeps the hips in their natural, ‘optimum’ position while their joints, muscles and cartilage are developing. The easiest way to create this position is to ensure the material of the sling spreads behind both knees. Newborns are sometimes more comfortable with their knees closer together, tucked up inside the sling.
Many people worry that a sling will make them ache and feel their baby is too heavy – in fact, if you have a sling correctly fitted for you, with a bit of practice it should be very comfortable.
For Muslimahs, though Babywearing may have many benefits, the big question is ‘can I Babywear and still be modest?’ Because slings need to be tight, there’s no denying that they can accentuate your body shape and also bunch up your skirt or abaya, which isn’t ideal! However, there are a few options for more modest babywearing:
Specialist Babywearing coats
These are designed to do up around both you and baby, and some can be used for both front and back carries. There are budget and high-end versions as well as light summer or warm winter options. Many sling/carrier manufacturers have their own clothing ranges.
• Oversized clothes. Simply purchasing your usual abaya, coat or jacket 2 sizes larger than usual should enable you to wear it around both you and baby.
• A blanket or scarf. You can leave your usual outer clothes undone at the front, then tuck a long blanket or scarf under baby’s bottom (or over baby, tucked under the sling straps) and let it hang down at the front to cover you.
Back carriers (a little more tricky!)
• Long blanket/scarf. Flick the blanket over your head (or pass it round your waist), to lie around baby’s back (or under their bottom) and tuck into the sling straps, allowing it to hang down and cover you. You’ll probably also need a long headscarf to cover your front.
• Poncho. Probably the easiest option, and often available in winter or summer fabrics. You could also make your own to ensure a good fit (and enough length), and even add a drawstring, elastic or zip to fasten!
For more info on local sling groups see:
*N.B. Breastfeeding and Babywearing are skills that should be mastered separately before being combined. Slings can be ideal for discreet breastfeeding. However, if nursing your baby in a cradled position, the sling should be used for cover rather than support. You can loosen the sling, rest and feed baby, then reposition them and re-tighten the sling once they’ve finished.