The practice of ‘babywearing’ hit the news this week, with several mums appearing in the national press to talk about why they choose to continue carrying their pre-school children in slings. Although you may balk at carrying 3 stones of 4-year old around on your person, you will doubtless want to carry baby around as safely as possible for the first months or years of his/her life. Read on to discover more about the concept of babywearing, the benefits and risks and tips to consider when purchasing carrying equipment.
What is ‘babywearing?
Babywearing is the practice of keeping a baby or small child close to their mother’s body a key part of the ‘attachment parenting’. This holds that a child’s development is helped by the security of being as close to its parents as possible for as much time as possible.
Just a fad?
There has been a fair bit of publicity about ‘babywearing’ recently not least because popular celebrities including Holly Willoughby and Jools Oliver have been photographed wearing their babies on their bodies. This, however is no celeb fad. Slings have been used by parents in cultures across the globe for thousands of years as they soothe the baby while keeping the adult’s hands free.
What are the benefits?
Besides, allowing you to carry baby with you while retaining the use of your hands for other activities, there are many physical and psychological benefits associated with babywearing. In the Western world we are often told that holding your baby for too long can lead to clingy, demanding behaviour later in life. In fact, carrying baby promotes an intimate connection between parent and baby, helps you read their signals and leads to secure, content and calm babies. It has been shown to stimulate brain development and promote good digestion, easing symptoms of reflux and colic.
Are there any risks?
In recent years a number of infant deaths have occurred through use of baby slings. These happen when the baby slumps, chin-to-chest inside the sling, obstructing the airways or when the fabric of the sling covers the baby’s face, causing suffocation. In 2010, the US the Infantino brand recalled a million of their slings, due to a troubling number of fatalities, but similar style slings remain on sale in the UK. The National Childbirth Trust (NCT) now advises parents to avoid using bag-like slings where baby is curled in a C-shaped position so their chin is forced onto their chest. Front-facing carriers also pose a risk to baby’s posture and health as they force baby’s back straight against your chest and cause their legs to dangle in an unnatural position. The NCT advises that a baby should always be worn facing into your body, rather than outwards and be in the upright position, preferably with the legs in a frog like ‘M’ position (knees higher than their bottom).
Which should I buy?
There are many fantastic brands to choose from but to ensure safety avoid the bag style and front facing slings discussed in the previous paragraph.
The British Association of Babywearing Instructors and Consortium of UK Sling Manufacturers and Retailers both advise parents to follow the T.I.C.K.S. acronym to keep baby safe and healthy in a sling:
Tight – the carrier should be tight enough to hug baby close to you and ensure they don’t slump.
In view – You should be able to see baby’s face at all times by glancing down.
Close enough to kiss – Baby’s head should be so close that you can easily kiss the top.
Keep chin off chest – never carry baby curled so their chin is forced on their chest. There should always be a finger’s width of space under baby’s chin.
Supported back – In an upright carrier, baby should be positioned with tummy and chest against you and with legs in a frog position.
‘Parents using slings should check their babies frequently, particularly if they show signs of distress, suddenly stop crying, or make any unusual sounds.’
Victoria Ward, of Babywearing UK