(Used with kind permission from Nicola at the West Yorkshire sling library)
Newborns and Young Babies: (Birth – 6 months)
“He just won’t be put down!” – It’s a common plea from many a new mother across the world. A newborn baby comes into this big, bright scary world with his eyesight perfectly tuned to be able to seehis mother clearly from the safety of her arms and breast. He comes from a warm, cocooned place of safety into a land of huge spaces, where even the tiniest Moses Basket seems like an acreage of blanket. He is lulled always by his mother’s heartbeat and movement before birth, then comes into a world where lying still in a quiet place is the expected norm to induce sleep. In essence, our newborn is an alien – yet to understand the nuances of the world around him, and yet to develop enough to see or understand anything other than the safety of caring arms. Of course he won’t be put down! But what can you do? You have a life to lead, a house to run, other children to care for. Common wisdom would have us train our babies from birth to settle themselves and allow us to put them down – because the skills we have to soothe our babies and also continue our adult lives have been lost. Regaining those skills; using a sling with your newborn gives him the contact, the movement, the womb-like space he needs. It gives you peace of mind, warm cuddles with your little one, less crying to deal with; and most importantly, it gives you your freedom. Your arms have other uses after all! Tending to older children adjusting to a new baby is made much easier, continuing their lives and outings unburdened and still able to hold a parental hand. Slinging with a newborn is a very special pleasure, and often makes more sense than using a pram more than several times the weight of the baby in question. Carrying at this age is hugely beneficial to the mother, who needs time to recover both mentally and physically from the strains of pregnancy and birth. Using a carrier for your baby spreads the weight of your new little one and eases the strain on your healing body. Keeping your little one close can be hugely beneficial in a breastfeeding relationship and help to reduce incidences of post-natal depression. Easing the transition from womb to world for your newborn makes life a lot easier in those hectic early days – and giving your baby the close physical contact he craves makes those times when you do have to put him down much easier on you both.
Older Baby/Mobile Baby: (6-12months)
If you’ve not carried your baby as a newborn or small baby, don’t think it’s too late! Carrying older babies is just as useful and beneficial to your relationship. As your baby has gotten older and much more interested in what is going on around him, carrying him can come into its own. Not only can you get on with your life and get around with ease and comfort, everything you do and everywhere you go is a great learning experience for your baby. Being on high and able to see around him when out and about, but still in the safety of his mother’s ‘arms’! You can go where you will – walk the dog, hop over stiles, crunch through the snow, dredge through the sand, keep you both dry under an umbrella, use escalators and stairs, weave easily through a crowd – a sling is a truly all-terrain vehicle. He is likely to interact with those around him much more, being on an adult eye level and able to watch and learn from the faces he sees around him. As you walk through the park, he’s only to reach out as you do and touch the leaves. As you shop, he watches you select items as you talk away to him, he watches you pay for them and pulls faces at the shop assistant, who smiles back at him. As you cook or clean, he satisfies his natural curiosity by learning from everything you do. There is no need for a supermarket trolley seat, or balancing a shopping basket atop a pushchair. There is no need to worry about if there will be space for a pushchair on the bus or train, or having to push a chair and hold a squirming baby. At this age, seperation anxiety can come into play as a baby can understand when his mother has left the room, but not that she still exists if he can’t see her, which is a terrifying prospect. Using a carrier provides security and helps keep your child close to avoid this distressing problem. Of course, no-one can or should use a sling 24 hours a day, both the parent and the baby need space and time to stretch and play. If a baby has had his fix of carrying/close time, his willingness to play or amuse himself grows, allowing you to get on with things without a limpet on your leg. Clinginess is common not only due to seperation anxiety but also due to teething pain at this age. Comforting your little one in a sling when they are in pain is a wonderful feeling – the closeness of a constant cuddle, on the go. When your older baby becomes mobile, crawling or walking, is another time a sling comes into its own. Instead of enclosing your baby in a pen when it is not safe for him to crawl about, you can keep him with you in safety and comfort until you are ready to keep an eye on him again and make sure he doesn’t eat the houseplants!
Mobile Baby to Toddler (12-24 months)
So, now your baby is growing up fast! There are a huge range of slings on the market that are suitable for older babies, toddlers and young children. In the second year of carrying, most people like to have their children on the back – though front and hip carries are still popular, and back carries can be done at any age if you feel comfortable doing so and have practised well.
The continued learning benefits for the very curious baby are immeasurable as he views your everyday life from the comfort of his sling. When your baby starts walking, having a carrier that you can pop into the changing bag becomes a lifeline. Your baby can explore the world on his own two feet, and you have two hands to guide him and catch him when he falls. There is no need to push an empty pushchair with one hand for when he gets tired, your trusty sling is on standby for spent legs or naps. Your toddler is desperate for knowledge and experience – everything you do he wants and needs to join in. When it’s not an appropiate toddler activity, a tantrum is easily averted by using your carrier – he feels included, and you keep busy hands safely out of harms way. A toddler is growing fast and can still find the world a busy and scary place, despite the bravado on the exterior. Knowing he still has his safe place in the sling wherever you go is priceless, and gives him a continuing sense of security as he ventures out into the world.
- Toddler – Child (2 years – whenever you want to stop!)
None of the benefits of baby carrying wane with time, and everything I have said above still applies when wearing an older child. Using a sling is a tool that can be employed to school age and beyond, should you wish. Many people find that their carrying comes to a natural cessation with time just as using a pushchair or a buggy might – slowly but surely your child needs it less, but it’s always useful to have about just in case. Slinging an older toddler or a child is a special treat for the wearer – having a toddler-view of the world muttered into your ear as you walk is enlightening and hilarious. Wearing a toddler gives you a whole new outlook on the world as you walk, pointing out everything as you go. The convenience of a sling is undimmed – allowing you to travel stress-free and unburdened. Going on holidays becomes distinctly easier, all types of transport without worries. Dragging a tantrumming toddler home is no longer such a trial when you can put them into their calming sling. Containing an overtired toddler in danger of meltdown with close songs and cuddles is a happy diversion and afulfilling end to a precarious situation. And, best of all, your older toddler can tell you just how much they love their sling, and the closeness it brings.
- After the baby carrying years:
When your baby carrying has come to an end, many slings still have a variety of uses as blankets, hammocks, or swings. They have great resale value or can be passed down to your children to carry theirs as a legacy. Alternatively, pass it on to someone you know who is expecting a baby, and pass on one of the most versatile parenting tools, and some of the greatest parenting knowledge a parent can have….
Nicola Lawson (2009), ‘Babywearing to Toddlerwearing; Why a sling is invaluable at every stage’. Written for Natural Mamas forums [http://www.naturalmamas.co.uk/category/articles/] and edited by the author for use at the West Yorkshire Sling Library [http://wyslinglibrary.com/wy-sling/] 2011.
Reproduction only by permission.