My friend Jen had her little girl a couple of years ago and opened my eyes to the world of babywearing. I was naive, married but not-yet-pregnant and wide eyed listening to her tell me about slings, carriers, buckles and wraps. It seemed to be a bit of a secret members’ club – a bit like the nappy thing. But the foundations of the whole idea make a lot of sense, after all parents have been carrying their babies in slings for centuries – millenia in fact.
It’s become rather trendy to sport your little one on your front or back in a funky wrap, and as well as seeing an increasing number of mamas and papas ‘babywearing’ in public (even spotted someone in Dungloe, Co. Donegal) I’ve found that there is a thriving online community on Facebook as well as countless blogs, brands and other related information. It’s not just for hippies (but you could be forgiven for thinking it at first glance) and it’s sweeping the UK. Your common or garden Baby Bjorn is no longer the only thing you’ll see a baby in. You’re just as likely to see a bairn in an african style papoose thingy – especially if you happen to visit Stockbridge on a sunday around lunchtime :-)
The benefits of babywearing are many – babies who are ‘worn’ regularly cry less, sleep more, are calmer and have calmer parents (less prone to postnatal depression) and attachment between a baby and their caregiver is more secure. The practicalities are also pretty big advantages, especially if you’re on mat leave and feel like you can’t get anything done. Babywearing allows you to keep your baby close (and often asleep in the early months) while still allowing you free hands to do laundry, make yourself some lunch or even (eek) go for a wee without disturbing them.
During my pregnancy I did very little ‘housework’ nesting – in fact most of my nesting instinct was channeled into online shopping for dreadfully important things, and gumtree bargain hunting for other terribly important things. I added a ‘stretchy wrap’ to my list as a matter of course, not knowing that it would become one of my treasured items from Adam’s first few weeks.
Here I am in post-caesarean hobbling phase, carrying the almost weightless Adam in the wrap. You can’t see the cool design panel that’s part of it but you can see how it’s designed – it keeps the baby’s body pressed close to the parent, and keeps their head supported. This type of wrap is made from stretchy ‘jersey’ fabric and is really good for newborns. It’s just one big 5 metre piece of fabric that you can wrap in any number of ways to carry a baby:
Here is some more information about wraps like this. They come in a neverending array of fabrics, colours, designs and styles in sizes to suit any frame. Some are breathable for hot weather; some are ‘woven’ wraps – made from thick cotton, linen or hemp materials that will last for many many years. These are more expensive but much sturdier, taking a lot more weight and suitable for a wider range of ‘carries’ (ways to carry the baby).
As we used a stretchy one Adam grew out of it fairly quickly. I wanted to get something that would last longer and that Jamie could use too – the ‘soft structured carrier‘ seemed a good choice and my eagle eye got me the Ergo on Gumtree. It’s got straps and buckles – you can wear the baba on the front, the back or the hip. Some other structured carriers also allow you to face the baby outwards, but that’s becoming less common as it’s recommended that their wee legs are kept facing in and in a froggy sort of ‘M’ shape up against the wearer. I personally feel if you’re not wearing your baby every day then it doesn’t matter, but if you’ve ditched the pram and wear full time then you should probably go for something ergonomically designed. Here’s Jamie up a hill with the wee man. I love their bobble hats. We also loved being able to take Adam everywhere we went and not feel constrained by the pram:
Along with a number of benefits, babywearing has one amazing advantage over just using a pram – the ultimate ability to calm a baby down. Not every baby loves being worn but a great many are almost instantly calmed when popped into a carrier of any sort. Think about it – they’re right up against mum or dad’s chest, they’re comfortably supported, they’re moving around – the rocking motion of your walking will be similar to what they felt when in the womb, and they’re cosy with you body heat keeping them warm. What’s not to love? It’s like a mobile hammock up against the people you love most in the world.
The ultimate weapon against tantrum-tastic meltdowns is the ring sling. My friend Katy converted me, as I always thought they looked ‘faffy’ – in fact they are one of the simplest types of baby carrier. They still come in loads of fabrics, patterns, colours and sizes but the main feature is the use of two rings, usually metal, to fasten, tighten and adjust the fabric. Again you can carry your baby in a variety of positions but it’s easy to keep it simple. Pop the baby in, tighten the sling so they’re snug against you, always with their face pointing up and chin off their chest, sort their legs out so their knees are higher than their bum and off you pop. I bought one on a facebook group, preloved (a fancy word for ‘used’) and it has become my favourite of the lot. Not just because of its lovely earthy rainbow colours (it looks well hippy) but its magical sleepy dust abilities. Adam can go from screaming rage to flat-out unconscious in about 2 minutes once he’s in this. We recently used it at some friends’ wedding and Adam was able to join us, asleep, as we got on the dancefloor for the couple’s first dance. Here he is having a snooze in it:
You can see the two rings and how they act like a 70′s belt to keep the sling fastened. As you can imagine, Jamie is less inclined to wear Adam in this article but I love it, and feel like a proper earth mama when I wear it, even though its usually just to the post office or tesco. There are lots of times when its easier to leave the pram at home, and I often stick this in the changing bag anyway in case of aforementioned meltdowns. The Ergo will also be coming with us to the beach this summer, and it came to Skye with us instead of the pram too – saving valuable car boot space for the vast number of cloth nappies I insisted on bringing!
I’m definitely not a full time babywearer but lots of mums and dads have ditched their buggy in favour of carrying their babes everywhere they go. Like many products there are different options (like the three types I’ve experimented with) and different things suit different folk. These carriers can be expensive so you can try them out for free or for a small cost by using a ‘sling library’. You’ll probably have one in your local area – Facebook is a good way to check (just search the word ‘sling’ for a number of options) or do a wee bit of googling. If you don’t have a library near you then you can get lots of advice online and either try from a library by post or just buy preloved, and sell on if it doesn’t work for you. I’m not about to ditch my pram just yet but I absolutely love carrying Adam in the Ergo and the ring sling – and he loves it too.
Finally, there are some simple safety principles with babywearing that I feel I ought to share because they’re important: here’s a handy picture to save me typing them out: