Sling Safety

One of the most frequent comments I get when wearing Attie or Dilly is “oooh, don’t they look cosy in there, I wish someone would carry me!”. The next most common is is “but what if you fall down, aren’t you worried you’ll drop them?!” – so here’s a quick guide to safety when carrying.

We know all the benefits of babywearing so what are the main risks?

The risks of carrying your baby in a sling are small, and are very similar to those of carrying your baby in your arms – dropping them, falling yourself, but there is also the added risk of blocking a baby’s airway in an incorrectly fitted sling. It’s a good idea to get to a sling library, visit a sling consultant or ask an experienced friend to support you while you get the hang of any sling or carry type.

MOST IMPORTANTLY – in any carrying position, your baby’s airway must be clear.

Babies’ heads are heavy and it takes time for their muscle strength and tone to develop enough to hold up their heads and support their own airways; until then, it is our job as parents to be as caring and careful as we can. A baby’s head should be resting against the caregiver’s chest, with the windpipe straight, not curled over. A good guide is at least two fingers being able to fit between baby’s chin and his chest. Air should be able to circulate freely and the face should not be obscured by fabric, or buried within cleavage. Baby’s cheek can rest against parent’s chest, and hands should be accessible to the mouth for sucking if needed (and not trapped down the side of the sling) – Sheffield Sling Surgery

You can achieve this by following the TICKS guidelines:

TIGHT – slings and carriers should be tight enough to hug your baby close to you as this will be most comfortable for you both. Any slack/loose fabric will allow your baby to slump down in the carrier which can hinder their breathing and pull on your back.

IN VIEW AT ALL TIMES – you should always be able to see your baby’s face by simply glancing down. The fabric of a sling or carrier should not close around them so you have to open it to check on them. In a cradle position your baby should face upwards not be turned in towards your body.

CLOSE ENOUGH TO KISS – your baby’s head should be as close to your chin as is comfortable. By tipping your head forward you should be able to kiss your baby on the head or forehead.

KEEP CHIN OFF THE CHEST – a baby should never be curled so their chin is forced onto their chest as this can restrict their breathing. Ensure there is always a space of at least a finger width under your baby’s chin.

SUPPORTED BACK – in an upright carry a baby should be held comfortably close to the wearer so their back is supported in its natural position and their tummy and chest are against you. If a sling is too loose they can slump which can partially close their airway. (This can be tested by placing a hand on your baby’s back and pressing gently – they should not uncurl or move closer to you.) A baby in a cradle carry in a pouch or ring sling should be positioned carefully with their bottom in the deepest part so the sling does not fold them in half pressing their chin to their chest. Your baby’s neck and spine are still developing so they should have their knees higher than their bottom with legs in a spread squat position and support from knee to knee although with older babies and toddlers full knee to knee support is not always possible or necessary. Look for an ergonomic carrier to achieve this.

As with anything it is vital to be familiar with the instructions and how to use the carrier. In order to be able to do this effectively it will be important to  understand optimum positioning (see blog post).

It is also of course important to maintain your sling. Follow the manufacturers guidance for washing and cleaning, check for loose stitching, cracked buckles or holes before use. When buying a secondhand sling, try to obtain orginal proof of purchase and a copy of the instructions and ask for detailed photographs before purchasing. Bag slings ARE NOT suitable for young babies and should not be used. If you are unsure about a sling, an Internet search or asking your library or sling consultant will help you.

Slings are not replacements for car seats, and should not be used while cycling, sleeping or doing any dangerous activity. Do not consume alcohol or drugs before carrying your baby and avoid shaking or fall hazards. Remember your centre of gravity will change with the added weight of a baby or toddler and it may take a little while to get used to your new shape.

A good sling should mimic the natural, in-arms upright position for carrying babies, ensuring the caregiver can see and sense the baby at all times, and thus able to be quickly aware of and rapidly responsive to any changes. – Sheffield Sling Surgery

Further reading and resources:

Baby Sling Safety from the NCT – https://www.nct.org.uk/parenting/sling-safety

TICKS guidelines in full with thanks to the UK Sling Consortium – http://babyslingsafety.co.uk/

Sling Safety with Young Babies from Sheffield Sling Surgery  – https://sheffieldslingsurgery.wordpress.com/2014/04/04/sling-safety-with-young-babies/

Why Carrying Matters

What kind of impact could babywearing have on your life? Maybe you have older children to care for, and being able to carry your smallest hands free would leave you able to play and engage more with them. Maybe you have multiples and carrying one (or more) would give you time to complete household tasks or give one-to-one attention.

Maybe you just want to keep your lovely little ones close!

Whatever your personal reasons, using a sling has so many benefits for both child and carer. Being carried offers a child a warm, comfortable safe place to be, which can reduce crying, improve sleep and support positive attachment with their caregiver (this doesn’t have to be a mother – fathers, grandparents, aunts/uncles and even siblings can enjoy the snuggles!). When a baby is so close to you, you learn to recognise their cues and wants more quickly, which leads to a more settled baby and a less stressed carer.  A happy baby is ready to receive the world, and for older children new or busy situations can be navigated with the close contact of their carer.

A baby has spent the last 9 months in a wonderful cocoon, receiving immediate nutrition, reassuring movement, a constant supply of food and the sound of their parents’ voices. Early use of a sling can help a new baby adjust to “life on the outside”, enabling them to feel swaddled (to support the regulation of their arms and legs), hear a heartbeat, enjoy soft movement and fall asleep even while their carer cannot give them 100% of their attention.

Babies who arrive early can especially benefit from skin-to-skin contact and being carried – physical closeness can support them in regulating their physical responses and some research has even shown that premature babies who are carried can gain weight and are generally healthier than those who are not.

Babywearing can also benefit a breastfeeding journey, keeping baby close and being able to immediately respond to their needs (without even necessarily needing to move them from their carrier) supports the responsive, frequent feeding that new babies need. In turn, a sling can provide cover for a mother that would prefer this when feeding in public, and a baby who is fed quickly following their cues is less likely to cry. When a baby has their needs met quickly and their carer knows and understands them, the parent can feel more confident in the knowledge their baby is happy:

A large part of confidence is the ability to read baby’s cues successfully. When a baby is held close in a sling, a parent becomes finely attuned to baby’s gestures and facial expressions….Every time a baby is able to let his parent know when he is hungry, bored, or wet without having to cry, his trust in the parent is increased, his learning is enhanced, and a parent’s confidence is reinforced. This cycle of positive interaction enhances the mutual attachment between parent and child, and it makes life more enjoyable for everyone – Laura Simeon

Carrying your children is an economical, physically beneficial (for both baby and carer), developmentally appropriate way to build relationships and encourage communication between wearer and child. Sold? Visit my Sling Library/Hire or Consultancy pages to find out more.

Hunziker UA, Garr RG. (1986) Increased carrying reduces infant crying: A random-ized controlled trial. Pediatrics 77:641-648

“Current knowledge about skin-to-skin (kangaroo) care for pre-term infants”. J Perinatol. 1991 Sep;11(3):216-26.

Tessier R, M Cristo, S Velez, M Giron, JG Ruiz-Palaez, Y Charpak and N Charpak. (1998) Kangaroo mother care and the bonding hypothesis. Pediatrics 102:e17.

The Benefits of Baby Wearing, NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 21 No. 6, November-December 2004, p. 204-208

Sears, W. and Sears, M. The Attachment Parenting Book. Boston, Massachusetts: Little Brown, 2001.

THE WOMANLY ART OF BREASTFEEDING. Schaumburg, Illinois: La Leche League International, 2004.

Simeon, Laura. Ten Reasons to Wear Your Baby, http://www.wearsthebaby.com.

Jess Williamson, Benefits of Slings and Carriers, the 7 C’s, https://babywearingwithjess.wordpress.com/2016/10/23/benefits-of-slings-and-carriers-the-7-cs/