My second baby, Noah, has spent the majority of his first four months being carried. And I’ll tell you what, having an amazing baby carrier has made such a difference. For me and my husband it’s been a wonderful way to bond with Noah whilst looking after our 3-year-old daughter. Being hands free rocks and enables you to get so much done, plus having your own cuddly hot water bottle sleeping on you is pretty lovely too.
Many of my clients use slings or carriers, or they know when they come to my classes that they want to. So I thought I’d ask the expert – plus I wanted some tips too!
Emily Edwards is a Babywearing Consultant who works with many parents, carers and healthcare professionals.
I caught up with Emily to find out more:
What does your role involve?
As a Babywearing Consultant my role predominantly involves educating expectant and new parents/carers about the benefits of carrying their baby in a sling/carrier and how to do it safely.
I am passionate about sharing best practice and always ensure that the information and advice I give is grounded in evidence. When working with parents/carers 1-2-1 and in group settings I enable them to make a choice about which type of sling or carrier might meet their baby carrying needs best (not one type suits all!). This often involves talking through the differences between each type of carrier and giving demonstrations, before providing tuition for the one they like best.
My role sees me working in various settings, including clients’ homes, sling libraries, local baby groups, hospitals and more. My work varies depending on the setting. I help when a sling/carrier doesn’t feel comfortable or fit well. I help to alleviate some people’s fears that carrying their baby will spoil them. Sometimes I simply sit and talk with a new parent who is having a bad day and enjoy a cup of tea and signposting to other professionals – e.g. cranial osteopath, tongue tie practitioner, lactation consultant when necessary.
How did you discover babywearing?
I discovered babywearing through carrying my daughter Izzy (now 3.5 years) in a sling. The first time I carried her was when she was just a few days old. Still exhausted and sore after a difficult birth experience I had to find a way to get to a friend’s daughter’s second birthday party, a promise I had made before Izzy arrived.
Determined to leave the house (and I think, to prove a point) off I went wearing my Close Caboo which had been highly recommended to me. It was like magic! Izzy, my then tiny baby girl slept for the whole thing, not even the raucousness of toddlers disturbed her deep and peaceful sleep. Tucked away, she was protected from prying hands and people cooing over her.
I continued to use my Close Caboo intermittently but felt something wasn’t quite right. Despite being comfortable (and oh my god isn’t it amazing to have your hands free!?) Izzy always ended up slipping down. Quite by chance in Shrewsbury one sunny summer day I spotted a woman in Paperchase using a sling with her daughter (I later discovered it was an ErgoBaby). She pointed me in the direction of Shropshire Sling Library, a place she’d found extremely helpful, and as they say, the rest is history!
My local sling library quickly became my parenting haven: breastfeeding mums, women willing to talk about their experiences, slings galore; finally I was in my element. Having found my local sling library, carrying Izzy quickly became my lifeline and I took the opportunity to try lots of different types of slings. I learnt so much more about babywearing from Shropshire Sling Library and became a regular visitor.
Can you tell us a bit about opitmum positioning and safety?
Absolutely! Carrying a baby in sling/carrier should always mimic their natural position: there are 3 key things I look to achieve in any type of sling/carrier, whether carrying on the front, hip or back:
1) Hips supported
Most, if not all babies will flex their legs (i.e. bring their knees up to their tummy) when picked up, most parents/carers also observe that their baby adopts this position when they change their baby’s nappy.
If you think about the time spent in utero baby would have been in a tightly tucked position with their knees higher than their bottom. This is exactly the position that you should look to achieve in a sling/carrier – it is the healthiest for baby’s hips and what I would describe as most optimum.
2) Spine supported
Any sling/carrier should have enough fabric to support the full length of your baby’s back, right from their bottom to the back of their neck. Getting spinal support right can be quite tricky, ensuring that a sling/carrier is tight enough to support a J shaped spine is key. If a baby looks C shaped (slumped) in a sling/carrier it is a cause for concern as it can indicate that the fabric is too loose.
3) Neck supported/protected airway
Supporting a baby’s neck is essential, when carrying a baby in arms we do this naturally by placing a hand to the back of their head as we move. This is especially true for a newborn baby that cannot yet support their own head. Most parents/carers look to use a sling/carrier so they can be active (e.g. walking the dog, doing chores in the house, caring for another child), this type of movement means that baby’s head moves too so keeping it steady and supported is vital to prevent jerky movements.
By supporting baby’s head you also protect their airway, carrying baby in an upright position high enough so you can kiss the top of their head as your dip your head and on the boney part of your chest (not between the breasts where there is soft tissue) is the safest place for them to be.
These 3 things should be achievable regardless of the type of sling or carrier being used, you can see these in action in this photo of me wearing a stretchy wrap.
When’s the best time for parents-to-be to see you?
Parents/carers can see me at anytime they feel is best for them. I have worked with families who are in their early stages of pregnancy, latter stages of pregnancy (although this can sometimes cause a sling with a weighted doll not to fit very well due to bump being big) and also with many parents who have just had their baby. I also get a lot of repeat clients and work with families who have more than one child and need to be able to carry a toddler as well as their newborn.
Every family is unique and has different needs. Some people love to be prepared and have the knowledge, skills and confidence in advance of baby’s arrival, where as others are happy to wait until baby has arrived and they’ve got to know their new addition.
What benefits does babywearing bring?
There are so many wonderful benefits that babywearing offers for both baby and adult. Many people choose to use a sling/carrier because it can offer so much ease in terms of practicality but not many know the more about the physiological and emotional benefits. Babywearing facilitates:
♥ the regulation of heart rate, temperature and respiration
♥ the release of oxytocin which reduces stress
♥ reduced crying
♥ the alleviation of acid reflux and symptoms of colic
♥ opportunity for attachment and bonding
♥ successful and longer breastfeeding
♥ cognitive (e.g. neural pathways) and physical development (e.g. weight gain) for baby
♥ emotional wellbeing for parent
♥ symptom reduction of anxiety and PND
How long can you wear your baby for?
You can choose to carry your baby for as long or as little as you wish, there are no hard and fast rules. Some people will carry their baby for the first 6 months and others (like me!) continue to carry their baby through toddlerhood and into the pre-school years.
Big kids love being carried too! Little legs still get tired and who doesn’t love a cuddle when they’re feeling poorly? There are of course slings/carriers that are suitable for older children and toddlers. Essentially these are just bigger versions of the ‘standard’ sized slings/carriers on the market but as with them all trying them on ensures you get the best fit for your and your child.
Best ways to look after your own posture/back etc?
One of the best ways to look after your own posture/back when using a sling/carrier to carry your baby or toddler is to ensure that you are carrying in an optimum position (as described above) and to also ensure you have the sling/carrier fitted correctly and securely.
Often, the main problem many parents/carers face is discomfort as a result of not tightening the sling/carrier enough. When a sling/carrier is loose, your baby/toddler feels much heavier as they are not likely to be supported well and their weight is not distributed as efficiently and evenly as it could be.
The most common presentation of this problem is aching shoulders/neck pain/upper back niggles from the wearer experiencing fabric digging in where it shouldn’t, ill fitting straps, twisted fabric, straps pulling the shoulders forward and into a rounded position due to the weight of baby pulling down.
These problems can usually be easily rectified by getting advice and practical support about the fit and/or type of the sling/carrier being used. Sometimes however, these aches, pains and niggles can become problematic (or may be there constantly for someone who has a back problem, an old injury and/or a disability which means they experience a certain level of discomfort usually and/or have limited mobility). It is still possible to use a sling/carrier in these circumstances, but this is where the wearer accessing babywearing support is extremely beneficial (and in some cases necessary).
A person knowing their own body is in an important factor in terms of taking care of their posture/back; I often recommend that people listen to their body when they notice something doesn’t feel quite ‘right’ or is not comfortable. Any post-natal woman carrying any weight needs to be mindful that her body is still adjusting to life after birth, part of her posture/back care might be taking the advice of her medical professional (e.g. Midwife, Consultant) and Babywearing Consultant where special circumstances exist (e.g. C-section delivery, diastasis recti, SPD) to consider the most supportive and appropriate solution.
What do you love about your job/fave memories?
There is so much I love about my job, although what I’d say I love the most is the satisfaction on a parent/carers face when they experience that lightbulb moment of understanding of how to use the sling/carrier they have chosen and seeing them get their baby/toddler in it for the first time. This is usually a very magical moment, watching them melt with their little one is just so wonderful and heartwarming!
I feel an enormous sense of gratitude being welcomed into people’s homes, sometimes very soon after their baby has been born to share my knowledge and skills, this is especially the case when a parent/carer/baby is having a really tricky time (e.g. reflux, colic, post c-section) and enabling them to find their carrying solution is life-changing. I also love sharing the benefits (science) of babywearing and helping to normalise carrying (whether it be skin-to-skin, in arms or in a sling/carrier). Close contact and loving touch are so vital to the care giver and baby bond and their emotional wellbeing, helping to raise awareness of this is really important to me.
One of my favourite memories is my first ever ‘proper’ consultation, this was with a friend in 2013 when her second son was born. She had just arrived home after a c-section and had agreed to help me out as a ‘pilot’ before I launched my business.
I remember so clearly how well I had planned and prepared for our time together and I also remember with so much fondness that magical moment when she got him in the sling (a woven wrap) and they experienced that blissful moment of calm. Funnily enough my friend didn’t go on to use a woven wrap much at all, choosing other options instead, but it was the fact she knew how, was confident and safe that counted. That experience set a precedent for what I wanted to achieve with future consultations… and here I am today!
Also working with healthcare professionals from the NICU at the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford has to be up there as one of my more recent favourite memories. Such an inspirational group of people so willing and eager to learn, a day I’ll never forget.
There’s so much choice out there in terms of slings -any top tips or advice for parents who feel overwhelmed?
My top tip has got to be always try before you buy. So many parents/carers buy a sling/carrier they don’t know anything about in haste because they think they ought to have one, or they know they want to carry their baby and are so overwhelmed they just buy one without thinking (or knowing where to go to get impartial advice on which might suit them best). Sling libraries are such a valuable resource in these circumstances, they offer a safe, supportive place (often with tea and cake) to explore the options and to try on and hire before buying.
This is such a helpful and cost effective way to learn about slings and carriers before making any investment. The same can be said for making an appointment with a Babywearing Consultant, the difference being you’d be seen 1-2-1, receive bespoke support and have the slings and carriers brought to you. In this way when it does come to buying something, you know what you want, or at least you know what type of sling/carrier you’re looking for and what features might suit you best and is likely to save you a lot of money.
My second tip is don’t ask on social media for other’s opinions and recommendations on which type of sling or carrier might be best for you and your baby (and that includes your friends and family). With the best will in the world, asking this question in a public space is likely to get so many unhelpful responses and can result in even more overwhelm vs the clarity you are seeking. Always bear in mind that slings and carriers are a personal choice and very much depend on yours and your baby’s carrying needs, one size does not fit all.
What worked for your friend, your neighbour, your sister and your brother may not be right for you. I’ve been meaning to write my own blog post about this for months as its an issue that comes up so frequently!
www.tinyurl.com/slingmap is an amazing map where you can locate your nearest sling library and/or Babywearing Consultant; this would always be my first port of call for anyone looking for good quality advice and support.