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Everything you need to know about slings and carriers

Strap yourselves in. Here’s the lowdown on baby slings and carriers

What is a sling or a carrier?

A sling or carrier is what you strap your child into to carry them. It’s not a new phenomenon and has actually been practised for centuries in different cultures.

There are lots of types of slings and carriers so it’s worth finding out about the different styles, and even trying a few before you buy one. Read our article Which baby carrier or sling is best for me? to find out more.

Are there are any benefits to using a sling?

Many parents say it’s practical, whatever your lifestyle. Try tidying up or getting lunch ready for your toddler with your newborn in a baby carrier or baby sling. You’ll probably see what they mean.

It’s worth saying that there is a lack of evidence around some of the claimed benefits of using slings and carriers. It really is a personal decision so don’t worry too much if you find it’s not for you and your baby.

For example, there isn’t enough evidence yet to tell us whether carrying your baby in a sling or carrier increases bonding or not. Though we know some parents say slings do help them and their child to bond.

What are the risks of using slings?

Unfortunately, some babies have been injured and even died in baby slings and carriers. Non-fatal injuries were mainly caused by dropping, while deaths were caused by positional asphyxiation (Batra et al, 2015). (Positional asphyxiation is where the baby’s body position blocks their breathing and they suffocate if this goes unnoticed.)

These risks have led to tighter safety standards for slings and carriers. Safety guidelines can also help you keep your baby safe.

So how can I keep my baby safe in their sling or carrier?

When it comes to using slings or carriers, it’s very important to make sure you’re following a few simple guidelines. You’ll need to check the manufacturer’s instructions, following their advice for whether the size, weight and age of your baby is right for the sling.

When your baby’s in the sling or carrier, check them often, making sure nothing is blocking their nose and mouth. Also make sure you read and follow the UK Sling Consortium’s TICKS checklist:

  • T)ight: Slings and carriers should be tight enough to hug your baby close. Any loose fabric will allow your baby to slump down in the carrier, which can hinder their breathing and pull on your back.
  • (I)n view at all times: You should always be able to see your baby’s face just by glancing down. The fabric of a sling or carrier shouldn’t close around your baby so you have to open it to check on them. In a cradle position your baby should face upwards, and not turned in towards your body.
  • (C)lose enough to kiss: Your baby’s head should be as close to your chin as is comfortable. By tipping your head forward, you should be able to kiss your baby on the head or forehead.
  • (K)eep chin off the chest: A baby should never be curled so their chin is forced onto their chest as this can restrict their breathing. Make sure there is always a space of at least a finger width under your baby’s chin.
  • (S)upported back: In an upright carrier, your sling should carry you baby comfortably close to you to support their back in its natural position. Their tummy and chest should be against you. Test this by putting your hand on your baby’s back and pressing gently, they should not uncurl or move closer to you.

If your baby is in a cradle carry or pouch, their bottom must be in the deepest part of the sling. This way, the sling doesn’t fold your baby and press their chin to their chest (UK Sling Consortium, 2015).

Baby positions for slings and carriers

Baby sling and carrier positions do sound a lot like yoga moves. The spread squat is a sling and carrier technique and it’s also known as the jockey position or M-position.

The spread squat is where the baby has their thighs spread around the wearer’s torso. The baby also has their hips bent so their knees are slightly higher than their buttocks, or at buttock level with the thighs supported.

We don’t yet know whether any particular positions or carriers are good or bad for your baby’s hips. Read more about hip dysplasia (hips growing abnormally)

Can I breastfeed in a sling?

It’s definitely possible to breastfeed your baby in a sling but it does take a certain knack and practice. It’s also important to be aware of the risks. Do make sure you check the manufacturer’s instructions as some suggest you don’t breastfeed in their slings. Here are our tips.

1. Make sure you check your baby can breathe easily and that there are no trip hazards for you.

2. Support your baby at all times.

3. Change your baby’s position after feeding so that their head is facing up and is clear of the sling and your body.

4. You can do this vertically or in a more laidback position. While you will have to use your hands, it can give you more freedom to move. It also frees up one hand to help you get your latch sorted.

This page was last reviewed in February 2018

Further information

Our helpline offers practical and emotional support in many areas of pregnancy, birth and early parenthood: 0300 330 0700.

You might find attending one of our Early Days groups helpful as they give you the opportunity to explore different approaches to important parenting issues with a qualified group leader and other new parents in your area.

Make friends with other parents-to-be and new parents in your local area for support and friendship by seeing what NCT activities are happening nearby.

For more information on the slings available, find your nearest NCT sling library. Our sling libraries have a wide variety of slings and carriers to try and hire so you can find which one works best for you.