Choosing a baby sling – babywearing information
Using a baby sling - or babywearing - can be very practical for parents. It frees your hands to get on with tasks, such as household chores, making or a meal or playing with an older sibling, all while caring for your baby and keeping them close.
It can also be easier to get around in places like town centres and shops, or go for a walk in the countryside, without battling through crowds, muddy fields, onto buses or up stairs with a buggy.
Many parents find their babies are happier and more settled with the close contact of being in a sling and it is something that mums and dads can enjoy.
Supporting your baby in a sling
When a baby is born, their spine and hips are still fairly soft and flexible. The spine is naturally rounded, in a c-shape, and not designed to be straight. A good sling should:
- Allow your baby’s back to remain in its natural rounded position, and the fabric should be snug enough so that they don’t slump in a slouched position, especially when asleep.
- Support their hips and allow your baby to assume a position known as spread squat, or M position, where their bottom sits lower than their knees, and the fabric should support your baby’s legs from knee pit to knee pit. This allows for the balls of their hips to sit adequately in their sockets.
- Ensure the fabric is high and snug enough to support the back of your baby’s head (it should also be adjustable so it comes no higher than this). This is especially important for newborn babies.
The sling should support and protect your baby’s developing spine, hips and back of the head in all of the ways described above.
Different types of baby slings
The range of baby carriers available in the UK fall into four categories: wraps, mei tais, soft structured carriers, and ring slings or pouches. Read more about each type in our article here.
Slings are very much like jeans or shoes – one style doesn’t fit all. Different body shapes and sizes mean that one person’s dream sling could be the next parent’s nightmare. Try different ones to see what suits you and your child best.
Baby sling safety
The British Association of Babywearing Instructors offers guidelines about safe babywearing. It recommends the ‘TICKS’ checklist:
- Tight for adequate support
- In view at all times (this refers to your baby’s face)
- Close enough to kiss (your baby’s forehead or head)
- Keep baby’s chin off their chest to ensure breathing isn’t restricted
- Supported back so the baby can’t slump and restrict their airway.
Bag slings are unsafe for small babies as they put babies in a dangerous position (chin-to-chest) and cover their faces with fabric, creating the risk of suffocation. The Infantino brand was recalled in 2010 due to deaths in the US, but similar shaped brands are still sold in the UK.
Read more about sling safety.
Front-facing baby carriers
Carrying a baby facing out in a sling is not recommended, as it forces your baby’s back straight against your chest, and causes their legs to dangle in a harness like position. This can mean the baby’s weight rests on his crotch rather than being spread from his bottom and thighs.
This type of sling also places the baby too low, with their head at mid-chest level. The design of this type of carrier and the low position of the baby are not always comfortable for the carrying adult either.
Unfortunately, few of the major carrier brands sold on the high street meet the criteria highlighted above so it is important to look make sure the sling you choose meets recommended safety guidelines and supports your baby’s development.
Breastfeeding in a baby sling
Many women ask whether it is possible to breastfeed in a sling, especially second-time mums who want to look after their older child while feeding their new baby. It is possible to breastfeed in a sling, but one hand is needed to support your baby’s neck. However, it can take weight away from a mum’s arms. Breastfeeding is a skill - as is babywearing - so it is probably helpful to feel confident and comfortable with breastfeeding first before trying to do it in a sling.
If you do breastfeed in a sling, avoid the chin-to-chest position and make sure that your baby’s face is not pushed into the breast. It is probably safer and easier to wait until your baby is a few weeks old and can hold his head.
This article is based on ‘Babywearing: A guide’ by NCT antenatal teacher and babywearing consultant Sophie Messager, originally published in Perspective, NCT’s journal for practitioners in June 2013
Slingmeets are free informal drop-in sessions run by volunteers where you can find out more about slings. Find your local one here.
Sling libraries are drop-in sling lending sessions run by volunteers. A fee and deposit are required to hire a sling but they can be useful when trying different slings out before you buy.
Many NCT branches hold slingmeets and libraries, find your closest one here.
You can also buy slings at NCT Nearly New Sales.
The Sling Guide site is a useful resource.
Read about sling safety guidelines.
1. Glover R. Research overview: is there evidence to support the use of soft slings? Perspective 2012; (16):18-20.
3. International Hip Dysplasia Institute. Baby carriers, seats & other equipment. IHDI Educational Statement: hip health in baby carriers, car seats, swings, walkers, and other equipment.
4. The Sling School. Three ways to learn the art of babywearing.