This week in our 'Ask The Experts' Series, we've been chatting to Madeleine from Sheen Slings about everything 'baby wearing'. Keeping your baby close during the Fourth Trimester is so important, and baby wearing is a brilliant way to do that! We're still 'Baby' Wearing our 15 month old, and we all love it! If you have any more questions for Madeleine, or are interested in attending her Sling Library or Baby Wearing Workshops you can get in touch on Instagram, Facebook or at www.sheenslings.com
What is Babywearing?
Its a bit of a weird term isn't it?!! It always seems to conjure up different meanings to different people but despite such a clunky term it simply means any/all carrying a baby in a sling or a carrier.
What's the difference between a sling and carrier?
Nothing really - they are completely interchangeable terms to mean something you use to carry a baby in.
There is so much choice - how do I know which one is best for me?
There is indeed so much choice! The first step is often figuring out what type of carrier would suit you best - seeing them in action and getting to try for yourself - and then worrying about individual brands later. Broadly speaking there are 5 main types of sling, each with their own pros and cons
- Stretchy wraps and Stretchy carriers (i.e. Caboo) Perfect for newborns and 4th trimester. Pros are - Easy to use, soft, akin to being swaddled to parent. Fit a very wide range of body types and are comfortable enough to use around the home for as long as you like. Cons - babies often grow out developmentally after a few months, roughly when they grow out of swaddling (although if this puts you off many sling libraries offer very cost effective long term loans to save you needing to buy your own).
- Ring Slings Can be used from newborn to toddler. Ring slings are a bit like marmite... some people love them, some hate them. Pros are they are very fast and easy to use and they fold up very small to fit in a change bag. Perfect for quick up and downs. Cons are they are less supportive as one shoulder carry only and have the steepest learning curve - very very easy to use once you have the knack but they are a little counter intuitive at first.
- Woven Wraps Perfect for newborn all the way until you no longer wish to carry (preschooler or even beyond). Pros are these are the most versatile of all carriers, they are the one true one sling fits all carrier. Great for bad backs as you get a perfect fit every time. No limit on what you can do with them - front, hip and back carries… only your imagination! Cons - can sweep the ground if wrapping out and about. They are not as intuitive as a buckle carrier to learn, they can be just as easy once you've done it a few times.
- Meh Dai (Mei Tai) Work best from 2-3 months old through till around 2-3 years old. Pros are - very very versatile; offering front, hip and back carries. Half way house between wovens and buckle carriers … more intuitive like a buckle carrier but with the perfect fit each time of a woven wrap. Again a good choice for bad backs. Cons - sweep the ground when putting on out and about
- Buckle carriers These are most popular type of carrier on the high street. They are very very intuitive to use, although like all of the above takes a couple of goes to really get the hang of adjusting optimally. This category has the biggest variation between brands! And the biggest fit issue, … because of how they are made, different buckle carriers will fit different bodies types better or worse. Carriers are like clothing! Just as you would try a pair of jeans on before purchasing, its very important to try any carrier on... but buckles most of all - to check you have the best fit. The ‘best’ carrier is the one that fits you the best! While some work well with newborns (i.e. Izmi, Connecta, Ergo Adapt), many don’t work well with newborns, often requiring bulky infant inserts. In general Buckle carriers work best from 5-6 months when babies really fit without the need for an infant adaptation… all the way until around 2-3 years of age.
But which ONE is best? Which ONE is the most popular?
I am asked this so often. Often by email by someone I haven't met yet. While I could answer what is popular at the library at the moment, it's not actually useful! The best carrier for anyone is the one that fits them well. Both physically but also in terms of how they want to use it. I totally understand the question though - before my son was born I did the same... asking all my friends what baby carriers they used. Before fortunately one friend said "Did you know there are sling libraries? You should see if there is one near you. "
Now having run a sling library for the last 4 years I have seen time and time again that being told what the most popular or the best carrier is doesn't always help people. The best example of this I can give you is the following experience - 18 months ago I had 2 consults within 2 days of each other. Both couples were first time parents with similar aged babies and both had started their search for a baby carrier by going to John Lewis and asking for advice. The first couple had a carrier that one of them was really struggling to use. I helped both build confidence with this carrier but ultimately while it fit the dad well, it was simply too big for the mum and all the adjusting in the world couldn’t get it any smaller. The result was the carrier gave her back pain if she used it for any length of time. This is when they told me they’d been to John Lewis in Central London and been told this carrier was their best seller and the best money could buy. They weren’t invited to try it on (despite this store having testers available for this), simply told this was the best and this correlated with experience of others they knew. It was sad to see, because I know there are other options that would work better for them as a family, but they’d already spent all that money and they simply didn’t want to buy another carrier, they were left with something that was completely useless for at least one of them, and as I said goodbye to them I knew the mum wouldn’t carry her daughter going forward. The second consult, 2 days later, was the complete opposite story. They’d been to John Lewis in Kingston while pregnant and received really excellent advice. The sales partner had talked them through the pros and cons of several carriers, got the testers out and invited them to try each of them on. That expectant couple walked out with a different carrier and when I met them they absolutely loved this carrier and used it every day – mum, dad and even granny all used this carrier. They came to me for a consult simply because they were looking for something less bulky to use around the home. They told me how much a difference babywearing had made for them and how happy they were to have been encouraged to try carriers on before they bought.
How soon after birth can I use a sling?
As soon as you feel able! I've known parents to carry right from the first day if they've felt well enough to do so. The important thing is to listen to your body - you've just given birth! So do take it easy on your body and give yourself time to heal but if you feel strong enough to give it a go. Go for it! Just ensure any carrier is high and tight so there is no pressure on your recovering pelvic floor
What if I had a cesarean birth?
Again same rules apply, when you feel strong enough give it ago! As long as the carry is high and tight and not putting any pressure on your scar and core there is no reason not to carry. I would avoid any carrier with a very heavy waist band at this point, but carriers such as the Caboo or stretchy wrap are absolutely perfect for these early days when you are still healing.
How long can I carry my baby for?
For as long as you are both comfortable! A well fitted, ergonomic carrier should hold baby in a developmentally perfect position so there's no reason not to carry for as long as you like! When my #2 was born I felt like she spent the first 3 months of her life in a sling! Coming out only for feeds, changes and the odd bit of tummy time and staring adoringly at her brother.
Won't it hurt by back?
A well adjusted well fitting carrier should not hurt your back. If you are carrying your baby and it does start to hurt your back please please do seek help from a sling librarian or sling consultant. I can't tell you how many people have struggled on with an ill fitting carrier for months before coming to the library and then being totally shocked to find that their baby could feel "almost weightless" just with a few tweaks to their existing carrier or with a carrier that gives them a better fit. So often parents are worried that their baby is "too heavy now" but those simple changes to get a better fit make all the difference and I know so many parents that thought their little one was too heavy around 6 months and have go on to carry for at least another year. Everyone is different and you need to listen to your body but most parents find they can continue carrying until at least 2 in a well fitting carrier, and many far beyond this. Once in a blue moon ... like when he's fallen over and hurt himself, or has a bad cold... I can still even carry my almost 5 year old.
But what if I already have a bad back?
Its really important that you listen to your body, but having pre exisiting back problems does not necessarily prevent you from using a baby carrier. In fact many parents in this situation have told me the carrier has been a total lifesaver as carrying in arms was so much worse. The absolute key when it comes to bad backs is getting a good fit and a fit that works for you. It can often be a case of trying a good few things with a sling consultant or sling librarian but there is always something that clicks! Its different for everyone, but I have never yet had anyone come with back problems that we haven't found a solution for.
In fact solutions can usually be found to any special circumstance - I have helped parents find a carrier that works with crutches (parent), broken leg (baby), hip dysplasia, bilateral talipes, scoliosis (parent or baby), Down's syndrome and many other special circumstances. If you can carry your baby in arms then it should be possible to use a carrier to ease your load. You might need a specific type or we might need to go slightly off manual in how we use it, but there is almost always a solution.
When can I forward face my baby?
When they have rock solid neck strength and no longer require neck support (at least when awake), and are big enough to fit while forward facing in the carrier you have for them (this varies brand to brand). I get so many different questions about forward facing that this topic definitely deserves its own article! https://sheenslings.com/2017/08/31/the-facts-about-forward-facing/
When can I put my baby on my back?
This depends on the type of carrier you have. In a woven wrap right from birth, with a buckle carrier in theory from 6 months or when they can sit unaided. I say in theory as often I find babies don't love it until they can see over their parents shoulder and this is often later when they are a bit taller. Often once baby is over a year.
Do I have to wear my baby on my back?
No of course not! But once they are over a year and over about 10 kg ... wearing them on the front can become increasingly heavy and wearing them on the back feels almost weightless again in comparison!! If you are worried about how to get your baby on your back its well worth visiting a sling library or consultant and there are several different methods and its definitely a skill best learnt with face to face support!