Baby slings and carriers can be useful for freeing up your hands and more. Here we explain why they're good, breastfeeding in them and using them safely.
What is a sling, wrap or carrier?
A sling, wrap or carrier is what you use to carry your child on your body, it's commonly called babywearing. It’s not a new phenomenon and has been practised for centuries in different cultures. We’ll use the terms sling, wrap and carrier interchangeably in the rest of this article.
There are lots of types of slings 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, wrap 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.
Slings help with transportation but they can also help parents and babies to bond and stay active while navigating the changes of new parenthood (Whittle, 2019; Williams and Turner, 2020). Younger parents’ relationships with their baby have benefited from babywearing (Williams and Turner, 2020). Parents of multiple babies may find it easier to manage if one baby is held in a sling, and some use a sling for each baby. Parents who are wheelchair users or have limited arm capacity may find it an accessible way to transport or bond with their baby. It can also be an opportunity for fathers and co-parents to share closeness and nurture their babies (Whittle, 2021).
Research has found that parents who carry their babies tend to be more responsive to their babies as they are in close contact. This promotes bonding and interactions that improve their baby’s speech, social and emotional development (Anisfeld et al, 1990; Williams and Turner, 2019; Norholt, 2020). Some studies suggest that for mothers, it can have positive mental health benefits, lowering stress and promoting breastfeeding (Norholt, 2020).
What are the risks of using slings?
Unfortunately, some babies have been injured and even died in unsafe baby slings and carriers, although this is very rare. Non-fatal injuries were mainly caused by dropping or the adult falling, while deaths were caused by positional asphyxiation (Batra et al, 2015; Rowe et al, 2022). (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 to keep babies safe.
If your baby was born with a low birth weight or has a medical condition, please discuss the safe use of a carrier or sling with a health professional. Remember to be aware of your child and check them regularly, especially if your baby is under four months old.
How can I keep my baby safe in their sling, wrap or carrier?
When it comes to using slings, 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.
Before you use the sling or carrier, check for signs of wear and tear. Don't use it if you have any concerns. The safest type of sling or carrier keeps the baby solidly against the parent’s body in an upright position and distributes the child’s weight evenly across the wearers shoulders hips and back (ROSPA, 2022).
When your baby is in the wrap, 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:
(UK Sling Consortium, 2015)
Baby positions for slings and carriers
A recommended position is known as the spread squat, jockey position or M-position. The spread squat is where the baby is facing their adult and 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.
This practice is beneficial for at least the first 6 months for correct hip development, and also encourages social development as they are facing their caregiver. It is particularly important if a baby is being held in a sling for long periods of time (International Hip Dysplasia Institute, 2022). Read more about hip dysplasia (hips growing abnormally) in our article about it.
Can I breastfeed in a sling?
Using a sling while breastfeeding is associated with a longer duration of breastfeeding, due to convenience and the increased responsiveness that comes with keeping a baby close throughout the day (Pisacane et al, 2012; Little, 2019). It’s important to know how to do it safely though. Do make sure you check the manufacturer’s instructions as some suggest you don’t breastfeed in their slings. Here are our tips:
1. Most people will stop and settle so they breastfeed while stationary. However, if you are feeding on the go then keep an eye out for trip hazards.
2. Check your baby can breathe easily. A healthy baby will never compromise their own ability to breath, but a poorly one may struggle.
3. Support your baby at all times.
4. You can breastfeed vertically or in a more laidback position. While you will still have to use your hands, the sling can give you more freedom to move. It also frees up one hand to help you get your latch sorted.
5. After feeding, ensure your baby is facing up and their head is clear of the sling and your body.
This page was last reviewed in June 2022.
Our support line offers practical and emotional support with feeding your baby and general enquiries for parents, members and volunteers: 0300 330 0700.
You might find attending one of our NCT New Baby courses 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.
Anisfeld E, Casper V, Nozyce M, Cunningham N. (1990) Does infant carrying promote attachment? An experimental study of the effects of increased physical contact on the development of attachment. Child Dev. 61(5):1617-1627. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-8624.1990.tb02888.x
Batra EK, Midgett JD, Moon RY. (2015) Hazards associated with sitting and carrying devices for children two years and younger. J Pediatr. 167(1):183-187. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jpeds.2015.03.044
International Hip Dysplasia Institute. (2022) Baby wearing. Available at: https://hipdysplasia.org/baby-wearing/ [Accessed 16th June 2022]
Little E. (2019) Culture, carrying, and communication: beliefs and behavior associated with babywearing. Infant Behav Dev. 57:101320. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.infbeh.2019.04.002
Norholt H. (2020) Revisiting the roots of attachment: A review of the biological and psychological effects of maternal skin-to-skin contact and carrying of full-term infants. Infant Behav Dev. 60:101441. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.infbeh.2020.101441
Pisacane A, Continisio P, Filosa C, Tagiamonte V, Continisio I. (2012) Use of baby carriers to increase breastfeeding duration among term infants: the effects of an educational intervention in Italy. Acta Paediatr. 101(10):e434-8. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1651-2227.2012.02758.x
Rowe, S Reeves P, McAdams R, Roberts K, Dobson N, McKenzie L. (2022) Baby wearing injuries presenting to emergency departments, 2011-2020: a dangerous fashion trend. Available at: https://publications.aap.org/pediatrics/article/149/1%20Meeting%20Abstr… [Accessed 23rd May 2022]
ROSPA. (2022) Baby slings. Available at: https://www.rospa.com/home-safety/advice/product/baby-slings [Accessed 16th June 2022]
UK Sling Consortium. (2015) The T.I.C.K.S. rule for safe babywearing. Available at: http://babyslingsafety.co.uk [Accessed 23rd May 2022]
Whittle R. (2019) Baby on board: the impact of sling use on experiences of family mobility with babies and young children. Mobilities. 14(2). Available at: https://doi.org/10.1080/17450101.2018.1533682
Whittle R. (2021) Towards interdependence: using slings to inspire a new understanding of parental care. Child Geogr. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1080/14733285.2021.1955091
Williams L, Turner P. (2020) Experiences with “babywearing”: trendy parenting gear or a developmentally attuned parenting tool? Child Youth Serv Rev. 112:104918. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.childyouth.2020.104918