Many people carry for a variety of different reasons, and it's normal from an evolutionary point of view for humans to carry their children. All cultures around the world have some form of carrying in them, many having their own styles and ways of carrying.
In this blog, we collaborated with Zoë Woodman, from The Sling Consultancy, to share more information about the biology of infant carrying, how carrying helps infants develop, plus our top tips for choosing a sling/carrier.
What is babywearing?
Babywearing is simply the practice of carrying a baby or toddler in a carrier. Babywearing is the more popular term and is used more often than the word ‘carrying', even though it is a much broader term. However, it is important to recognise that often we ‘carry' infants much longer than just the ‘baby stage.'
Watch this video with Sling Consultant Zoë who shares her experience and why she has continued to use a carrier with her youngest son who is now 5 years of age.
How to find the right carrier
There is so much choice when it comes to choosing a carrier that’s right for your needs.
A great place to start is to check out a sling library in your local area.
What is a sling library?
Like traditional (book) libraries and toy libraries, sling libraries’ main role is to loan out slings and carriers and to offer advice and information on babywearing. Each one is run by volunteers and they run in different ways, meeting anywhere from weekly to monthly in someone’s home, a children’s centre, a community venue, a play centre or a library.
When at the sling library it's helpful to try on different slings and carriers because we are all shaped differently; some people have shorter torsos, broader shoulders etc… and like trying on a pair of shoes you want to make sure it fits you perfectly so you feel comfortable.
Carrier v Sling?
It’s important to ensure your sling or carrier is well-fitted, and it’s sufficiently tightened. If the infant is slumping, you need to adjust the carrier or choose a different type of carrier.
Below you will find different types of slings and carriers available.
- A wrap: A stretchy wrap is great for newborns, it's a long piece of thin fabric that you tie it in a certain way, and the infant can slip in and out quite easily. This carrier supports skin-to-skin contact as the fabric is thin and due to its stretchy nature, it tends to fit all body types well.
- A buckle carrier: This is a square piece of fabric with buckles that can do up differently and they come in different sizes.
- Tie-on carrier: This is similar to the buckle carrier, it’s a square piece of fabric, but rather than buckling the fabric together, you “tie” this carrier together.
- Ring slings: A one-shoulder fabric carrier, with a ring you thread the fabric through.
- Frame back carrier: These carriers are metal carriers, and are typically used for an older infant as they don’t offer much support.
- Wrap carrier: This is a fabric carrier that is very flexible and it will always fit your body because you tie them yourself.
There are ways and means of adjusting the carrier you currently have if you're finding it uncomfortable. Sling Consultant Zoe speaks about the different ways you can use a carrier/sling to carry an infant to support their development.
Benefits of babywearing
There are so many benefits associated with babywearing, for both the infant and the carrier.
Benefit 1: Breastfeeding and babywearing
Even without nursing in a sling, a 2012 study found that the act of carrying infants in carriers increases breastfeeding rates in older babies.
Carrying infants makes it easier to spot when they are ready to feed and showing feeding cues, such as rooting, sucking on their hands, moving their head or opening and closing their mouths. This is because they are snuggled close and in full sight of the parent/carer.
Benefit 2: Babywearing promotes positive attachment
In western culture, parents are often encouraged to put their infants down as much as possible, with the belief that this encourages them to become more independent. However, this goes against our nature and the basic human need for a close and intimate relationship between infants and their caregivers.
Research shows that infants that were worn were more likely to have secure attachments with their mothers. Although babywearing can help, the most important thing is that the caregiver is engaged, has a soothing and positive tone of voice and is aware of the cues from their infant.
Benefit 3: Babywearing helps reduce crying in infants
A much-cited study found that baby-wearing for three hours a day reduced infant crying significantly, (43 percent overall and 51 percent at night).
Carrying also helps infants to regulate their body temperature. It helps with their breathing patterns and their heart rate. The skin-to-skin contact sends signals to the brain to release the hormone oxytocin, bringing the infant back to a state of calm.
Benefit 4: Babywearing makes it easier to do everyday tasks
Life is very busy for parents and carers, and constantly holding an infant may present a number of challenges. Many parents and carers find being “hands-free” whilst being responsive to their infant can make them feel more in control and cope better with the demands of daily life. It is especially helpful if you have other children to care for.
You can hear more from Sling Consultant Zoë in the video below, as she shares some of the positive effects carrying has on both the infant and the carrier.
Although babywearing can be very beneficial for both the infant and the parent/carer, as with other baby products, it’s important to use a carrier with safety in mind.
Most safety concerns revolve around keeping the infant's airway clear, along with supporting their back and neck.
It’s important to familiarize yourself with what the baby-wearing community calls T.I.C.K.S.:
- T: Tight. The infant should be upright and tight enough in a carrier that they’re held safely against whoever is wearing them. This helps prevent accidental falls.
- I: In view at all times. The infant’s face should be visible to you so you can monitor their breathing. You can also keep a better eye on the infant’s mood if you can see them.
- C: Close enough to kiss. Can you lower your head and kiss the top of the baby’s head? If not, you should reposition them in the carrier until they’re high enough to kiss with little effort.
- K: Keep chin off chest. You want to ensure there’s a gap of about two fingers wide under the infant's chin. If they’re in a good upright position with their spine curved and legs squatting, it’s less likely that their chin will drop.
- S: Supported back. While you want the baby to be secure, resist over-tightening the carrier over their back. You should have your carrier tight enough that there’s no gap between the infant and your body, but loose enough that you can slide your hand into the carrier.
Although babywearing has become less common as we use items such as buggies, baby swings and baby seats to hold and move around with infants on a day-to-day basis. However, there has been a resurgence in recent years, as parents and carers become more aware of the incredible benefits of carrying infants.
If you are a professional supporting parents and their infants, you can find more information in regards to caring for infants, including babywearing on our YouTube channel here.