If you’ve read any of my blogs so far, you’ve probably realised I love slings. I think they are such a great parenting tool and I wish that everybody could be issued with a good quality sling in the first few days after birth and shown how to use it properly. I genuinely believe that they make parenting easier and babies happier. There are many good reasons to use a sling; this is a great article here, written by Dr Rosie Knowles, a GP and “babywearing consultant”, explaining some of the benefits of using a sling.
For me, using a sling helped me achieve that closeness with my daughter that I needed, when she was unable to breastfeed. I found that most of the time it was much easier to use a sling rather than a pram or pushchair (well, apart from the one time where she pulled a rack of leaflets onto the floor at the GP surgery and I tried to tidy up 1679 leaflets off the floor with a baby in a sling…). It was invaluable when we travelled (we took A LOT of flights during her first year of life). Going along to sling meets when she was a baby gave me the opportunity to meet like-minded parents and make some fantastic friends, as well as learning how to use a sling safely and comfortably.
There are three voluntary organisations in N. Ireland which run sling meets, further details can be found here, under “Sling Libraries”. Each group has a library of slings to try out or hire, although you are welcome to bring any sling that you have too, if you need help using it. Sling meets are attended by babywearing/sling consultants who volunteer their time and experience for free (well, there may be a small charge to cover room hire). Sling consultants will have attended at least one training course and most have attended several. They have hundreds of hours of experience carrying their own babies in slings as well as helping mums and dads find the perfect fitting sling for them and their baby. I intend to write more on the subject of specialist knowledge, but one of the things to note about the sling libraries is their focus. They aren’t run by parenting experts, they won’t give parenting advice, they won’t be pushing other classes or groups onto you, they won’t even try to sell you a sling, so you are getting impartial, focused advice.
The focus of the sling meet is primarily to find you a sling that fits your needs or to help you adjust a sling you already own. If you go to a high street shop that sells baby products, there will probably be a limited range of slings and carriers and a shop assistant, who knows next to nothing about using a carrier safely and comfortably, will probably give you “advice”. I think it’s really important to always seek out expert, specialist information and advice, whether it be slings, car seats, breastfeeding or birthing, and I think sling meets are a great resource for parents where you can avail of some excellent specialist advice.*
WHY SHOULD I GO TO A SLING MEET?
Perfect fit Do you wear glasses? Or have you ever been fitted for a wedding dress? I’ve done both, and the thing is, when you have someone who is skilled and knowledgeable and knows the little things to look out for, suddenly you find that you’ve got the perfect dress that fits well, or you have glasses that don’t pinch or slide down your nose. Same with slings. There is something very satisfying about sending a parent away from a sling meet in a well-fitting sling, with a baby snuggled into it, safely and comfortably. If you’ve tried a sling and found that it wasn’t comfortable, don’t give up. It was either that a) it needs a bit of adjustment to get it fitting you better or b) you need to try a different sling. Which leads me on to the next reason to come to a sling meet…
Which sling to choose? When I was pregnant I read up on the different types of slings and was completely overwhelmed. When asking others for advice, I got so many different suggestions as to what had worked for them. I got lucky in the end, because a colleague at work gave me a stretchy wrap, which turns out is a GREAT starting point with a newborn. There are dozens of types of slings out there: stretchy wraps, mei tais, soft structured carriers (or buckle carriers), half buckles, onbus, ring slings, pods, wraps… There are also slings which we probably wouldn’t recommend as some can be downright unsafe for newborn babies (like bag or pouch slings), some are uncomfortable, and some can even exacerbate existing hip problems your baby might have (a lot of high street carriers fall into this category). You could even end up with a fake carrier (it’s a HUGE market) if you don’t buy from a reputable sling retailer. So it can be a bit of a minefield.
You may have read about “ergonomic” slings – a lot of slings make this claim. Ergonomic basically means that it lessens the load that you’re carrying, making it easier and more efficient to do something (in this case, carry your baby). Even a sling that is labelled “ergonomic” can be uncomfortable and make your baby feel heavy if not adjusted correctly. Likewise, high street carriers can be optimised and made to feel much more comfortable. How do you pick the right one for you? The thing is, depending on the age of your baby, and what you want the sling for, a sling consultant will suggest a specific sling. If that one doesn’t work, we’ll show you something else. The sling libraries have a wide range of slings that you can hire and try out which is a great way of road testing a sling before you buy.
Safety Frankly, babies can, and have, died in slings, mostly newborn babies that have slumped down inside a sling and can’t breathe. This isn’t scaremongering about slings, babies can die in car seats, prams and cots if they aren’t used correctly. That’s why when you come to a sling meet with your baby, we’ll go over safe positioning in a sling and making sure that your baby can breathe properly and we’ll give you advice on temperature control for your baby too. There is also the issue of handling your baby when putting them in and taking them out of a sling. Parents are worried they might drop their baby. I’ve never seen it happen, I don’t even know anybody that it’s happened too. Obviously we don’t encourage you to take risks, so it can be done safely and we’ll show you how.
WHEN SHOULDN’T I GO TO A SLING MEET?
I still learn something new about slings every time I go to a sling meet, and that’s me as a consultant giving advice. So… I’d say if you want to use a sling, go to a sling meet! You’ll definitely learn something and you’ll probably find you end up using your sling more often. However, there are some instances when it may be advisable to get a one-to-one consult with a sling consultant, rather than going to a sling meet. Details of some consultants who do one-to-one sessions are available here. (If you are a consultant and you want your details added to the list, please let me know!) Situations where a longer, personal session would be advisable would include: mums with a physical disability, a premature baby, twins, a baby with poor muscle tone, baby with congenital hip dysplasia… If your situation is out of the ordinary and you think you might need a one-to-one, you can always contact someone at a slingmeet first and they’ll advise you on whether you need one or not.
So, to summarise… sling meets are great. You get to meet other parents, you get to try out a great parenting tool which will make your life easier and your baby will be content while you get on with doing stuff that needs to be done, or just having a cuddle on the sofa. Whether you need a sling for constant use with your baby, just for walking the dog, or for a two week holiday, we can find something that’ll work for you.
*For the sake of full disclosure, I’ll add that I currently volunteer at Babywearing NI and Sling Library NI. I don’t give midwifery or breastfeeding advice when I’m working as a consultant, and I don’t do one-to-one consults outside of the sling meets either. I do, however, do a practical session on slings and safety as part of my classes and am more than happy to look at a variety of slings with you and show you how to use one, as part of my parenting preparation.
Blog last updated on 31/8/16