Weaving the cloth of support through a woman’s life, part 2: Why every parent supporter should know about slings

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As a parent supporter, why should YOU know about slings? I feel that this is an essential part of reclaiming ancient wisdom about gentle parenting-for both parents and baby. That wearing a baby in a sling not only allows the parent to meet the needs of their baby effortlessly whilst getting their hands back, but that it also helps parents to bond naturally with their babies, to get in tune with them, and in turn, to learn to trust into their instincts.

Have you heard many parents complain that they can’t put their baby down? That their baby is only happy in their arms, and that when they try and put them down, even when deeply asleep, they wake up and cry? Have you had parents desperately ask for a solution to this “problem”? Are you fed up of hearing so many desperate cries for help and you don’t know what to say?

There is a wonderful solution to empower new parents to feel both competent and confident, and it’s to use a sling (Please note, I use the word sling to describe any type of baby carrier (not just a soft fabric carrier).

As a doula I wouldn’t be without my sling! I find it invaluable to be able to help parents choose a carrier for their baby, to see the joy on their faces when their baby contentedly falls asleep in the sling and they can meet their baby’s needs effortlessly whilst still being able to look after themselves. Postnatally I am usually found giving a new mama her hands back by showing her how to safely tuck their newborn into a carrier. You’ll also find me with a sleeping baby tucked inside a stretchy wrap whilst mama is enjoying a nap or a long, uninterrupted bath. I can then get on with a bit of tidying up/folding some laundry etc, safe in the knowledge that mama and baby are both cared for and happy 🙂

I get it, believe me, my first child was a velcro baby-he point blank refused to be put down, and screamed blue murder if I as much as tried to lower him down into a bouncy chair or play mat).Today I am so glad he made me learn about slings, but it was bloody hard at the time! (mostly because I kept on trying to fight it instead of just doing what he needed)

Why is using a sling so important and helpful? The answer resides in our biology. We are primates. Where do you see primate babies? On their parents. That’s right. We aren’t caching or nesting mammals. We don’t put our young in nests or burrows. Yet our society seems to think that we are meant to do that (and this abnormal expectation creates a lot of unnecessary stress in new parents-but this is a topic for another blog post altogether!).

So what are the advantages for parents when they use a sling? You’ll be surprised to hear there is some actual science behind it. There is the obvious: it gives you your hands back! In our nuclear family culture, most partners return to work within 2 weeks of the birth, leaving the new mum alone at home with the new baby and no social circle. This is an absolutely essential survival kit. With a sling, new parents can get on with household tasks, make themselves a snack or a meal, play with older siblings, socialise, and generally get on with the things they want to do whilst caring for their baby at the same time. It is easier to get around in places like town centres and shops, or for a walk in the countryside. No need to lug around a heavy car seat, or battle getting a pushchair into your car, on rough terrain, in public transport or up stairs.

But the advantages do not stop there. Did you know in particular that carried babies cry 40% less? that being carried in a sling can help babies sleep for longer stretches at night? That carrying your baby stimulates milk production and so helps breastfeeding? That it helps to promote attachment with your baby and there is some science to prove that? And that it can also help parents with postnatal depression?

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Using a sling is also great for baby’s mental development. Close to his carer, baby’s needs for physical contact are met effortlessly. Babies spend more time in a “quiet, alert state” when carried – the ideal state for learning. When carried, your baby sees the world from where you do, instead of the ceiling above his crib or people’s knees from a stroller (there is a brilliant Norwegian video showing this at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zga_mW9vqnE)

Using a sling is great for baby’s emotional development. Your heartbeat, breathing, voice and warmth are all familiar. Babies are quickly able to develop a sense of security and trust when they are carried.

Using a sling is great for baby’s physical development. Contact with an adult helps newborns regulate their temperature, breathing, and heartbeat. Being carried also stimulates the baby’s balance and muscular strength and help his back and hips develop more harmoniously than when being left to lie flat. Being carried in a sling also counts as “tummy time” and can help avoid plagiocephaly (flat head syndrome).

So why do you need to learn about it? It’s an ancient practise, it’s easy, it is just using a piece of cloth to put your baby in, right? Wrong! In the UK today there are hundreds of different carriers available. The parents you support will turn to you for advice, and slings are a bit like jeans or shoes-one style doesn’t not fit all, so you need to know your wraps from your meitais, and your ring slings from your soft structured carriers. You need to know how to use them comfortably and safely, and to ensure that you do not pass on your own biases about carriers to new parents-because what worked for you may not work for them. It is all about unconditional support
In my course you will learn how to use all kinds of slings available, and the theory behind using them (both anatomy and safety), as well as how to do it in a way that is gentle and supportive, and empowering to each parent. You will feel confident to tackle pretty much any situation new parents throw at you. That’s priceless. If you want to find out more about my babywearing peer supporter courses, please go to https://sophiemessager.com/peer-supporter-courses/

 

And for the science geeks like me-here are some references

Antunovic E. strollers, baby carriers and infant stress. 2010 [ONLINE] available from http://www.bobafamily.com/research/strollers-baby-carriers-and-infant-stress/ [accessed 3rd of February 2013]

Hunziker UA, Barr RG. Increased carrying reduces infant crying: a randomized controlled trial. Pediatrics 1986;77(5):641-8.

Taylor T. Slings and arrows. New Humanist 2010 [ONLINE] available from http://newhumanist.org.uk/2330/slings-arrows [accessed 3rd of February 2013]

Schön RA. Natural Parenting ― Back to Basics in Infant Care. Evolutionary Psychology 2007. 5(1): 102-183

Sears W. Benefits of babywearing. no date. [ONLINE] available from http://www.askdrsears.com/topics/fussy-baby/baby-wearing/benefits-babywearing [accessed 3rd of February 2013]

Anisfeld E, Casper V, Nozyce M, et al. Does infant carrying promote attachment? An experimental study of the effects of increased physical contact on the development of attachment. Child Dev. 1990;61(5):1617-27.

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