We are delighted to publish this article written by Jennifer Littlejohns, Co-director of It’s A Sling Thing. Jennifer is a Baby Carrying Consultant trained by both Slingababy and L’Ecole a Porter (JPMBB). She has been using slings since her first child was born, including whilst pregnant with her second child, who is now nearly 2 years old. Her approach to slings is that they are versatile tools that can be used in a variety of ways to support parents to meet their needs and the needs of their baby.
Please find the article below:
It’s A Sling Thing…
When asked to write a piece about babywearing for the International Forum for Wellbeing in Pregnancy I decided to focus on what I would like to tell pregnant people about slings, and how they can continue the wellbeing in the fourth trimester that IFWIP is helping to foster during pregnancy. Talking about sling benefits during pregnancy gives parents more time to research and consider options than after their baby arrives when the need is more pressing and time to make considered decisions is less readily available!
Slings have lots of benefits after this 4th trimester too, of course, and it is never too late to start using a sling with your baby or toddler, but this early period can be uniquely beneficial for both babies and parents.
Slings are tools
Slings are a tool that can be used for many different purposes. Whether you carry because you need to walk the dog across fields, or because your baby will only settle when they are held close to you, because you love the feeling of closeness, or because you are working hard at bonding and dealing with the huge change in your self-identity, many people find they have a need for a sling.
For the baby, the benefits are easy to see. Babies are used to being curled up inside you, living with the noise of your heart, the warmth of your body and the confinements that the limits of your womb places upon them. A sling is the closest way we have to recreate those conditions and ease them gently into this new world, of light and dark, of extremes of temperature, of sudden noises, tastes and smells and so much space! Babies that are supported in slings that mould around their form, supporting them in their curled up physiological position tend to be content, they tend to cry less, and this alone is beneficial to the well-being of the parents. There are few things harder than hearing your baby scream when all you need to do is grab something to eat or go to the bathroom. Slings offer you a way to meet your needs, and theirs at the same time. With your baby in a sling, on you, or a partner, family member or friend, you can enjoy a hot meal and cup of tea, you can take a shower, you can feed baby discreetly whilst out and about. The world is your oyster.
Similarly, for babies with reflux, babies who struggle with wind, and colicky babies, the upright position in a sling is often beneficial, reducing vomiting and pain, encouraging wind to be released, and, with some varying of position to ensure there is little pressure on the tummy, can reduce the distress of colic too.
Reducing the baby’s distress reduces a huge stress factor for the parents. Just like with any tool, the job you need the tool to do determines the tool that you pick for the job, so it is worth considering what you might want out of your sling use before selecting the tool: Help Me Choose , What’s the Best Sling? and What’s The Best Sling for a Newborn?
My point here is to consider what, initially at least, you think you will do with the sling and whilst carrying your baby to inform what you first borrow, hire or buy. However, be prepared for the way you use slings to develop organically as your baby grows, expresses preferences, and as your routines and habits become more settled. For example, my husband would take our sleeping newborn son downstairs in a sling from 5 am when he got up for work, to allow me a little sleep, and he found a ring sling or stretchy wrap easiest for getting him in quickly, without disturbing or waking him, whilst I often used a woven wrap or buckle carrier, for long walks with my toddler, carrying the baby, and sometimes the toddler too. The tool we picked depended on what we needed it to do.
Learning their language
The close contact that a sling offers can also help you to learn your baby’s cues for feeding, for needing a nappy change, for discomfort and many other things, before they get to the stage of crying. Being able to understand their cues can make you feel like you speak their language. When you realise they are starting to get hungry and offer them a feed before they are distressed, you can feel like an amazing baby whisperer who holds the secrets to this incredible little person’s happiness (which, of course, you are, but sometimes everything feels new and overwhelming and it is easy to forget that, mostly, you can provide all they want and need).
Hormones, bonding, and breastfeeding
Bonding can be strengthened by the soft touch involved in carrying and through gazing at your new baby. There are many possible carrying positions and some can safely facilitate looking directly into the face of the newborn baby. Early eye contact is facilitated by the sling holding baby at the ideal focusing distance of a newborn baby.
Close contact can trigger the release of the hormone Oxytocin, which helps to strengthen the bonds of attachment and contribute to a feeling of calmness and contentment around each other. Oxytocin is also a factor in the cycle of the reproduction and let-down of breastmilk, and sling use and the hormonal benefits that the closeness brings can help to foster a strong breastfeeding relationship.
Establishing breastfeeding where that is the chosen method of feeding can help to lessen the risk of Post Natal Depression. “Failing to breastfeed” is often cited as a contributing factor to the onset of Post Natal Depression, and whilst this may be more due to a lack of shared cultural knowledge and support from knowledgeable professionals, it often feels like a personal failure on the behalf of the mother.
Bonding isn’t just a Mum thing
Slings can be a fantastic tool for other parents and family members to use too. This gives dads and grandparents the chance to learn cues, and build secure attachments too, which can give mums a chance to spend time with older siblings, and to look after themselves in the postpartum period.
I carried my second child from day 1. With my first, I waited until he was 6 months old, and in the first 6 months, I felt like a spare part. With our second, I felt bonded to him instantly. He curled up on my chest and went straight to sleep, unless he was very hungry, of course, and I always felt useful and like a valuable person in his life. – A Baby-Wearing Dad.
If you would like to know more about slings then please do get in touch with us at It’s A Sling Thing, with your local sling library or carrying consultant, or one of the many vibrant groups on Facebook where people who love carrying and have found slings a useful parenting tool share their experience, passion, and techniques.