After part one of my A to Z of Sling Myths Debunked blog was so well received, as promised here is Part 2 N to Z. Do you have any suggestions for an alternative alphabet of Sling Myths?
New means safe: Buying a sling new does not automatically make it safe. Discrepancies in manufacturing processes, cheap imitations, counterfeited carriers and simple errors in the fabric can make flaws exist in the sling. It is important to check your new sling over when it arrives in the same way you would with a preloved sling. If the price seems too good to be true be careful with your purchase. Cheap imitation and counterfeit carriers do not have any warranty or guarantees. Many new carriers and slings now come with a warranty card which allows you to register your purchase to be notified of any safety recalls. This is primarily associated with slings sold in the USA but it is becoming increasingly more common with UK slings too. Remember to always check for latest instructions for the sling you are using as manufacturers will occasionally change these in accordance with latest safety guidance and best practise. If you bought a sling for older children and intend to use for a new baby take time to double check latest version of instructions from manufacturer.
Overheat: Babies are worn in slings in societies and cultures across the globe. These range from the freezing Arctic north to sub-Saharan Africa so the issue of temperature control is an important one. Your baby is not going to overheat in a sling and there are some simple measures you can follow to ensure you both stay as comfortable as possible. Firstly ensure you both stay hydrated. Breastfed babies are likely to want to feed more frequently in hot weather, therefore keeping Mum hydrated is very important to maintain milk supply. If your baby is bottle fed ensure you offer liquids regularly. Clothing is an important factor to consider too. Layers provide an excellent way of keeping warm in cold weather and in hot weather fewer layers is key. Remember, the sling you are using can often be counted as several layers of clothing. Could you opt for a breathable fabric or lightweight sling? Finally make sure exposed skin is protected from sun and wind burn. Did you know that if you wear your baby skin to skin that it is possible for thermoregulation to occur. This is perfect if your baby has a temperature and is feeling poorly.
Premature babies need a stretchy wrap: Stretchy wraps are often a parents first introduction to slings and are often suggested as ideal for parents of premature babies. Kangaroo Mother Care has been identified as helping premature babies to develop and grow and one element of this is skin to skin contact. Skin to skin can be facilitated by a wrap, whether stretchy or woven and in fact does not require a sling at all. Many stretchy wraps are suitable for very small babies (Hana Baby, Boba Wrap, Victoriaslinglady for example) and there are an increasing number of Kangaroo Mother Care tops available. However, although relatively simple to use there are occasions when a stretchy wrap would not be suitable for a premature baby. Those born with low muscle tone for example may benefit from the support of a woven wrap for example. Therefore it should not be a blanket ‘premature babies need a stretchy’ but more ‘contact a sling consultant for advice on your specific circumstances’.
Quit (don’t): The two most common reasons I find why people want to give up are 1) They are finding it tricky and 2) something is uncomfortable or hurts. For the first, the easiest way of getting better is by practise and asking for help. Once you have mastered the basics it does get easier. The second reason is more tricky. People often assume that if it hurts then you need to quit. Although this may be the case, it may also be your body getting used to a new form of exercise. If you have never carried your baby in a sling before don’t expect to be able to have the stamina to carry them straight away for hours at a time. If you have only ever front carried then your body will need to readjust if you start back carries. Like with any exercise the more you do it, the easier it becomes. Consider a different sling; more or less padding, rucksack or crossed straps. Again ask for help and someone can work with you to find a solution. It is important though never to ignore your doctors advice if they tell you to stop carrying and do not expect a babywearing consultant to just carry on; that would mean we were giving medical advice something we simply aren’t qualified to do. Could another adult carry baby? Or have you considered taking your sling to show your doctor and let them see it in use before making a blanket ban?
Ruin your back: “You must have a back of steel” or “oh I couldn’t do that with my back” are phrases I have heard a lot. However, no one ever says it to parents who are using a buggy, yet in 2009 83% of mums surveyed for a survey for pushchair manufacturer Maclaren admitted to back pain caused by using a buggy. By carrying baby it also eliminates the need to keep bending down and picking them up. Using a sling could also be more forgiving on your body than trying to carry a cumbersome infant car seat.
Support: It is quite a common myth that you need slings, especially with woven wraps that you need them to be made from blends to be supportive. Firstly, you could have the most “supportive wrap” in the world but it will not be supportive or comfortable if you haven’t tightened it fully as it will leave slack in the carry. For example in a Front Wrap Cross Carry the passes are not needed to be spread for the carry to be classed as a FWCC and if tightened the passes are not needed. They may be useful for warmth or to provide a little head support for a sleeping babe, but if needed to stop it feeling like they are pulling away from you then there is slack that needs removing. Secondly, the term ‘supportive’ is often confused with comfortable and not being diggy on shoulders. Twisting rucksack shoulders for example can be painful. Have you considered sandwiching shoulders or trying a ruckless carry. A 100% cotton wrap is tested to be able to carry much heavier weights than the baby or toddler that will be carried in it. If needed it could carry an adult. If it was truly unsupportive it would break. The terminology which we use is important.
Toddlers: The trend for toddler size carriers is an extremely new phenomenon and do you know something? Toddlers do not need a toddler carrier. The issue here again is terminology and often people wanting to ‘get the best value for money’. We tend to refer to a baby as a toddler once they start, well toddling. But babies all start toddling at different ages. My own children started walking at 16 months, my godson 9 months for example. The trend for toddler size carriers has come with the emphasis put on a carrier being knee to knee but as we discussed in A to Z of Sling Myths Part One Knee to Knee is not as important once a baby can bear weight and thus once they have started to walk. Issues of body height and width of the toddler carriers can have a massive impact on your toddler. Is the panel so high that they are no longer visible? Do they like arms out and now can’t do so? Have they had to widen their legs more than they are comfortable with because of width of the carrier? These are all as important as whether the carrier is still knee to knee. Buying a carrier that is simply just too big for your child isn’t value for money but a waste of money while you sit waiting for them to grow into it. Remember most slings hold their value so if you buy one and then need to sell it on to help fund your next carrier that is ok. Most carriers have been tested to huge weight limits so they are not going to break under the weight of your toddler and finally, once a toddler starts toddling they will often want to practise this skill. Your carrying time will often reduce and your carrying needs may change as they want to be up and down a lot. Having a sling which simply fits in your change bag for that ‘up’ moment may be preferable.
Universal: One size does not fit all when it comes to slings. Every individual baby and adult that comes through my door has an individual carrying need. The vast array of slings on the market (at last count my library had 212) shows that one carrier will not suit everyone. What works for your friend may not work for you and your baby. Our body shapes are different, we have different preferences for shoulder styles, levels of padding, direction of tightening for example. There are ‘fashionable’ carriers available but just with clothing, fashions change. Don’t just assume because it works for your neighbour/friend/partner/a person on the internet it will work for you. Visit your local sling library or baby consultant. If you don’t have one near you hire one from those that do postal hire and try a few until you find the one for you and your baby now.
Vast amounts of fabric: It can be quite daunting when someone unfolds 5m of fabric. However, it is often halved very quickly once wrapped around you once, for example with a Front Wrap Cross Carry. The part of the sling where baby sits is quite small and the tails are used to tie. Pre-tying a sling can help reduce the need to tackle the fabric while out and about. There are also different lengths of wraps available, so spending time finding a wrap suited to your size and build can help. The more you practise the less fabric you will need to use too, so be careful not to buy a wrap that is too long.
Wrapping is complicated: Learning to use a sling is a skill. Learning to wrap is no different to any skill we have needed to learn. All wrap carries are made up of the same limited number of passes. It is learning these individual passes which will help you learn to wrap, as once you know the individual passes it is possible to do any carry. They will take practise, but any skill worth learning takes time to master. Don’t worry if your wrap job isn’t perfect. Perfect wrap jobs are few and far between and often found in instruction manuals only. If you feel like giving up after the first few attempts at wrapping, remember how difficult you found installing the carseat or folding the pushchair the first few times you did it. After a bit of practice, they become second nature and muscle memory takes over. Soon it will be second nature.
Xtras: A common concern by people using a sling is how do you carry all the ‘xtra’ stuff you need to take with baby and they assume it is not possible. The first thing to consider is are you front or back carrying? If front carrying a rucksack works well as it sits on your shoulders. There are special bags available on the market too. Any bag with a long messenger style strap work if you can get it to go over you and baby. I personally just use a large handbag as it is designed to sit on my shoulders so I rest if on top of the sling I am using. It is also worth considering do you need everything you have in your bag? I have been known on one night out to shove a nappy in one pocket, wipes in another and my phone, purse and keys in another. For longer day trips shopping trolleys can be filled to the brim and pulled behind you.
Y pull: If you look at lots of YouTube videos and even some instructions you will see them demonstrating a Y pull (or L pull) to tighten their sling. Both a Y pull and L pull provide a generic all over method of tightening a sling when you treat the sling like a rope holding full width of fabric in each hand. They are most frequently seen used when wrapping. However, woven wraps are made from hundreds of individual threads which all act independently of each other. It is therefore preferable to tighten each thread by using a strand by strand tightening method to remove the slack. By using a strand by strand tightening method you also avoid putting extra pressure on baby’s spine by over tightening and focus exactly on where needs tightening.
Zzzzzzzz: We all want our babies to sleep well. Society has told us that we should separate our baby from us and encourage them to self soothe. Unfortunately babies do not always want to be put down. How many of us have got a baby to sleep at the breast, bottle or in our arms, only for them to wake the instant we put them in their cot or Moses basket (Oakwell-Smith). The calming impact of your breathing and heartbeat has gone, the warmth of your body isn’t there. It’s normal behaviour. Using a sling lets baby have their daytime rest with you, it lets them feel secure. Use of skin to skin contact has been shown to help baby fall asleep quicker and lead to longer periods of more restful sleep (Ferber et al 2004), using a sling can facilitate this. One study found an 86% decrease in quiet sleep when infants were removed from their mothers for sleep (Morgan et all 2011). Using a sling can make daytime naps easier, simply as you don’t have to be set to strict routines at home, baby can nap while you shop, walk dog etc. The ‘Back to sleep’ has seen a reduction in SIDS deaths but the majority of deaths still occur when baby is in a room by themselves (Blair et al 2006). By carrying them for their sleep you can stay alert to their breathing and spot signs of distress early. Remember always keep them visible in the sling. You can read more about baby slings and sleep on the ISIS online website.
Ferber et al., “The Effect of Skin-to-Skin Contact (Kangaroo Care) Shortly After Birth on the Neurobehavioral Responses of the Term
Newborn: A Randomized, Controlled Trial. Pediatrics 113 2004:858-865.
Morgan et al., “Should neonate sleep alone?”, Biol Psychiatry. 2011 Nov 1;70(9):817-25.