We have all heard friends, family, colleagues and even random strangers say things about using a sling or carrier which simply is not true. These myths exist usually because of lack of knowledge. This is going to attempt to be the A to Z of Sling Myths debunked. There is a mix of serious and more light-hearted ones. The term ‘sling’ will be used to refer to every type of carrier for purposes of ease. But whichever category they belong to there are 26 myths which need debunking. So let’s start with Part 1: A to M.
All the slings : It is quite common to visit sling boards and be inundated with stash shots from people who have lots of slings. You could easily believe that you are only a ‘true babywearer’ if you have a huge stash slings all neatly folded and stored. This is simply not true. Throughout life people collect different thing and you can be collector of slings if you wish. But equally valid is having one sling that meets you and your baby’s needs. It doesn’t matter if you have one or one hundred; all that matters is you are keeping your baby close.
Back carrying: There is no best before date on back carrying. If you don’t want or need to do it then you do not need to. It does not make you any less of a sling mummy or daddy than someone who back carries from day 1. It is personal preference. If you choose to start don’t worry if you give up the first few times. Make it a game and practice simply getting your baby on and off your back to begin with. When you do start make sure you and your baby are comfortable, and have a spotter or a soft mattress available.
C Shaped Spine: The spine is not straight but it takes around a year for babies spines to take on the s-shape associated with an adult spine. At birth, babies are in curled up, with their spine in a natural long gentle curve. As the muscles in baby’s neck get stronger, they begin to lift his heavy head, and a curve starts to develop in his neck (the cervical curve). When your baby starts crawl the lumbar curve (lower back) develops. People will often refer to the curled up state of a newborns spine as a C-shape. However, we all write the letter C in different ways and it can be extremely curled up. A curled up position can cause baby’s chin to touch their chest and this holds risks of positional asphyxia. Ideally we should discuss a j-shaped spine where babies head is supported to prevent chin on chest but where lower spine is curved.
Dangerous: There are dangers throughout life and using a sling is not inherently dangerous. However, like any form of equipment if you do not know what you are doing, or do not follow the instructions there is the potential for harm. The group of babies most at risk are newborn (with increased risk for low birth weight or premature) babies. To minimise risks to baby it is important to follow the TICKS guidelines (Tight, Inview, Close enough to kiss, Keep chin off chest, Supported back). Ensuring your baby is visible at all times and that there airway is kept clear will help reduce risks. This super article by Dr Rosie Knowles of Sheffield Sling Surgery is an excellent resource for what you need to consider when carrying a newborn in a sling.
Expensive: This myth I read a lot and probably is also associated with ‘Alltheslings’. Using a sling can be as cheap or as expensive as you want to make it. If you want to buy a handwoven or limited edition sling it will cost you. However, there are numerous budget makes available. Woven wraps can be purchased new for around £40-£50 from companies such as Little Frog or Lenny Lamb. This price is comparable to umbrella fold strollers for example, but unlike these wraps tend to hold their value. When buying a handwoven or handmade carrier you are buying someone’s time and skills not just the sling. You don’t however need to own a Limited Edition (where market economics mean price will often go up) or a handwoven/ handmade sling if you cannot afford it. Making your own Simple Piece of Cloth sling is often suggested but when quality fabrics cost approx. £10/metre you are not really getting a sling cheaper. The sling designed and manufactured to be used as a sling will often be more comfortable than the sling fashioned from general use fabric.
Forward Facing Out (FFO): Is not dangerous to your baby. Contrary to popular here say there is no evidence that carrying your baby forward facing out or in a high street carrier is harmful for either baby or adult. Using them cannot cause hip dysplasia, although it can increase risks for those with condition. High street carriers and the FFO position are primarily a concern because they are not always supportive for baby or wearer. There are time limits on this positon although these are regularly ignored. There are there for both of your comfort. Babies should never be left to sleep FFO as in this positon, and if carrier not adjusted correctly for baby’s chin to touch their chest. You can read more about Forward Facing Out here http://blog.norwichslinglibrary.co.uk/a-bad-reputation-deserved/.
Getting too heavy: Surely once they start walking you stop carrying them? Are they not too heavy to carry? These are phrases I hear a lot. My point is that you do not just stop using a pushchair once your little one starts to walk, so why stop carrying? If you would push them or carry them in arms then it is perfectly acceptable and possible to carry them in a sling. For most parents who have carried their children from birth they do not notice their child getting heavier as the adults body adapts to the weight, like it would with any exercise. There is a vast array of sling on the market and many have been safety tested to high amounts. Little legs, even walking legs, tire quickly and having a sling in your bag is a lot more convenient than taking a pushchair just in case you need it.
Help is required: It is often assumed that using a sling, especially a wrap or back carrying, will require two people. This is simply not the case and could actually be more dangerous than one person doing it by themselves. The reason being the person in charge of the sling knows what they are doing, they know what their next movement is going to be, where the pass or strap is going to go, they know where their baby is. A second person is either guessing what you are going to do or reliant on your instructions, and in some cases going to do their own thing. Who is in control of sling and more importantly baby now? If you need 2 people then you are doing something incorrectly.
Independent: Using a sling or carrier will not make your child clingy. Maslow’s ‘Hiearachy of Needs’ places security as a primary need for development, and this need must be met for a child to grow and thrive. By using a sling you are allowing your child to develop strong attachments to a care giver which will allow them to have the confidence to explore the world alone in long run. Attachment Theory explains how human beings respond within relationships when hurt, separated from loved ones, or perceiving a threat (Waters et al 2005). At the start of their lives babies will have the strongest attachments to those they are closest to, usually the mother, and those with strong attachments will explore more easily than those that don’t (Schacter et al 2009). Therefore do not fear creating a rod for you own back by attending to and following your child’s needs; that is simply not how their brains are designed to function.
Just a minute: We have all seen it. The video of the lady wrapping with a stretchy in super quick time (less than a minute). The problem is if you listen carefully there are voices in the background which give you a clue. It’s been filmed on time lapse. Yes it makes it look easy and quick. And yes wrapping a stretchy can be quick but it takes practice. What the video doesn’t show is whether wrap is a one or two way stretch or the key elements of tightening a stretchy to make it safe and comfortable on both baby and wearer. Take time to learn how to tie and ask for help from someone trained if you need it. Don’t worry if you don’t wrap quickly at the start. The more you do it, the quicker you will become.
Knee to Knee: The theory behind Knee to Knee is that you can create a more comfortable carry for baby by supporting their legs from their knee pit to knee pit. The proponents of Knee to Knee often suggest that you need a new carrier when your child is not supported in their knee pits but the life span by which a carrier is truly knee to knee is relatively short, and this could cause you to be regularly changing your carrier unnecessarily. Knee to knee is an issue of comfort not safety and a carrier does not become uncomfortable overnight. There are lots of other issues which should be considered when thinking of buying a new carrier. A carrier that is supporting a baby Knee to Knee is helping to support their hip joint and healthy hip development, but for babies that are able to bear their own weight and walking, the process by which their hips have turned to born is complete and any potential there was in casing in harm is removed. Why not have a read of Beyond the Knee to Knee see what other issues need to be considered.
Lifestyle: There is no one type of parent who uses a sling. Although they are often associated with Attachment Parenting you do not need to be an Attachment Parent to use a sling. Many followers of AP for example do not use or a sling, while others use a mixture of sling, walk or pram. As parents we do what makes life easier for us and our children. Using a sling can be a temporary choice for a special occasion, a day trip where it the pushchair is unsuitable, or because baby is ill and wants extra cuddles. It can also be because it makes your life easier to look after other children or go about daily routines. Anyone can use a sling if they feel they want to, it does not mean you follow a set lifestyle or parenting philosophy.
Modern Invention: I have lost count of how many times I have heard “oh that’s clever, did you invent it yourself?” The truth is that for as long as humans and our predecessors have needed to move, our offspring have needed to be carried. This is why a newborn baby will turn their feet towards each other and why they have a grasping reflex; it was to hold on. Humans are clinging young. We cannot run with our parents from birth, do not have pouches where we can be kept safe, or live in nests quiet and out of sight of predators, we needed to cling to our parents to be kept safe. The modern invention is the pram, only becoming fashionable in the 1800s during Queen Victoria’s reign. Each culture around the world has their own tradition of carrying and style of sling or carrying aid. You can read more about the different histories of sling use around the world in the beautiful book “Beloved Burden” or at Sling Babies.
Come back soon to read Part 2 A to Z of Sling Myths Debunked – N to Z.
Waters, E., Corcoran, D. & Anafarta, M. (2005) ‘Attachment, Other Relationships, and the Theory that All Good Things Go Together’ Human Development 48:80–84
Schacter, D.L. et al. (2009). Psychology, Second Edition. New York: Worth Publishers. pp.441