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Published on: 2016-04-20 12:00:00
Mother with sling and toddler
Photo: Jenn Gunaratne
As foster carers, we know how important attachment is for children, especially in the early years and how long lasting the effects of trauma and neglect can last. I’ve been exploring using a sling for any babies coming into care with me as my niece, Emma, mentioned they are particularly good for babies with attachment disorders or who are victims of neglect or abuse. She started explaining to me how carrying the babies close to you instead of using a pushchair or bouncer helps their development physically and emotionally.
I had heard of slings (often called wraps) and but only seen the occasional serene woman, fashionably dressed with a baby wrapped exotically around her, shopping in Waitrose or a posh health food shop. To me, it had always seemed an ‘alternative solution’ for perfect women on a raw food diet who only buy organic tofu and who wouldn’t be seen dead out with a pushchair. Emma carried both her children with a sling and doesn’t own a pushchair and I subconsciously realised I had packed her into the ‘alternative’ box.
Emma invited me to a Sling Meet in Chelmsford called Naturally Happy Families where other like minded parents meet up to buy or borrow slings and get instruction from sling experts who are available for guidance. I was intrigued and went along to find out more and learn about the benefits. I’ll hold my hands up now and admit I had pretty clear preconceived ideas of hippy mums in head scarves and I had my prejudices knocked out from under me.
Held in a church hall, it was being set up as Emma and I walked in; a young mum wearing a wrap with a sleeping baby snugly tucked in was setting up coffee facilities in the kitchen while other women, some wearing wraps, were putting up tables and displaying various types of slings and wrap materials. I was greeted warmly and the first thing I noticed was how ordinary these women were. There were no furiously organic women dressed in hessian trying to convert me, just a mixed aged group of mums and a few men looking at options for carrying their children.
Around 30 people came and went, most with babies and toddlers and a few couples turned up with new born babies. There were two fully trained consultants and several trained peer supporters there to advise people on the best type of sling for their baby and their individual needs. I listened in to a few consultations with their permission and even tried a few slings on. The sling meet (sometimes called a sling library) had a warm and friendly atmosphere and I could immediately see the social benefits to parents as well as to the accompanying toddlers. It cost £3 to attend and if you wanted to try a sling for a month to see how it fitted into your lifestyle there was a fee of £13.
There are slings for every type of occasion and as I spoke to the women and the two dads’ that came, I realised a sling can be used for entirely practical reasons or you can buy into the fashion wear and accessories available. These are some of the questions I asked: What about baby over heating? When wearing a sling, your skin is considered another layer so think about this when dressing baby. What baby age can you use a sling? From birth and it’s recommended to use a stretchy sling for new borns, premature and young babies. Can the baby be worn on the back? Yes, from approximately 6 months old. Does wearing a sling cause the baby to walk later? Not at all, there is no evidence that wearing a sling causes delay in walking - and I have seen this with Emma’s own children.
My biggest question was about the benefits? I could see the benefits to the mother and having their baby close to them was important for bonding but what about the benefits to the baby? Almost every mum I asked this question to gave me similar answers and the consultant sat down with me outlining how having the baby close to you not only gives them their hands back so they can get on their day but they find the baby is calmer and cries less in a sling. It’s great for communicating with your baby and if the sling is in the right position, you should be able to reach down and kiss the top of their head. I was told it builds confidence and you can pick up on their cues quicker.
I could see how a baby that has been neglected or has attachment difficulties would benefit from being in close contact with the care giver but it wasn’t until I was invited to try one on that it all began to make sense. The consultant provides life size dolls so you can safely practice wearing a sling. The dolls are specially weighted to give a real life feel and I was taught how to wrap and tie. It looks very complicated but after a few practice runs, I had it down perfectly with my weighted doll strapped to my chest. The baby’s head was supported and I felt confident to use my hands as I needed. I found myself absentmindedly rubbing the doll’s back and a light clicked on in my head. This would be perfect for a baby recovering from drug or alcohol withdrawal (note; some withdrawal babies can’t bear to be touched) or to a little one who had not had its basic emotional needs met.
Emma, who is also a peer supporter, talked me through the types of slings available including buckle slings which clip together and soft structured carriers (which men often prefer), slings with rings which look impressively as if they are suspended in mid air and wraps made from all sorts of material (linen, wool, cotton and jersey are popular). Stretchy slings are recommended for new born babies up to 6 months however it was stressed several times that it is very individual and you need to find the perfect wrap for you.
Wraps start at approximately £30 but like everything to do with babies you can spend a fortune if you want to. It’s best to buy from a reputable supplier or from your local sling library. I looked at Natural Connection which has a great range of cloth wraps and also Clean Green Nappies which supply more structured wraps. Victoria Slinglady also supply wraps but offer great instructional videos and guidance, however, I have found some helpful videos on YouTube which are worth watching if you want to practice at your own speed.
The women I met in Chelmsford were ordinary mums, some working, some stay at home. Most had toddlers as well as their new baby and they all said they wouldn’t know how they’d cope without the bonus of having their hands free to wipe sticky faces. Charlotte, a mother of two, said her doctor husband had a revelation on a family day trip out in London. While other parents’ struggled getting pushchairs up the stairs and over large kerb stones, he had his toddler is a soft structured carrier on his back and Charlotte had the baby in a sling on her chest. They strolled around with ease, hands free while the children were able to be sociable and make eye contact with people around them.
I didn’t want to take the wrap off at the sling meet and Emma laughed and commented that I am a convert. It’s true, I am. The next baby I care for will be carried on my chest and whilst I have decided sensibly that a basic wrap will do, I have been taking sneaky peaks at the beautifully coloured wraps and accessories available.