In my last blog post, I explored some of the challenges that new parents can face when getting out and about with a new baby. This time I want to look at the good news! Based on my research with parents, here are some of the many ways in which using a sling could help you and your child to overcome these challenges and get mobile.
As always, I’d love to hear your experiences, so please get in touch if you’d like to share your story.
- Helping bodies (yours and theirs)
Especially if you had a difficult birth, you might imagine that the last thing you need is to carry the extra weight of your baby around or return to the feelings of heaviness and tiredness that many of us experience during the latter stages of pregnancy. And of course, in the very early days, rest may be exactly what your body needs. However, when you do feel ready to leave the house (and some of us find that cabin fever sets in sooner than we expected!) you might find that the gentle weight bearing and toning that comes from a sling can actually help your body recover from the challenges of pregnancy and birth as core strength is recovered. This was certainly the case for several parents that I spoke to, who emphasised that using a sling helped promote better posture and body awareness. For example, Mair who had a pre-existing joint condition, found a sling worked better than a pram for these very reasons:
“I feel like I can actually do more, I can get out and about more because with the, with just the pram I am really worried that I am going to push myself too far and not recognise it. Whereas with the sling I can tell.”
For more information on carrying soon after birth there is a fantastic article from Dr Rosie Knowles that you can read here.
However, my interviews also showed that slings gave parents a greater sense of confidence in their baby’s wellbeing from moment to moment. For example, Nivedita, who had found herself stopping every few meters to check on her baby in a pram, found that having her daughter in a sling enabled her to have a greater sense of reassurance as she could easily and seamlessly tell what her daughter was ‘up to’ and alert herself to any potential problems. As Claire described, with a sling:
“You can just sense so much can’t you? When they are right here, how they are and how they are feeling and everything.”
In this way, you might find that using a sling and keeping your baby close develops your confidence in their wellbeing and helps you manage any anxieties you may have around this.
2. What, feeding/sleeping time again?!
Aside from being concerned about your baby’s wellbeing, you may well, of course, have to deal with your baby needing to feed or sleep at the most inappropriate times and places. (During a particularly early trip into town with my son in the pram I remember having to perch on a cold car park wall behind a shrub while it started to rain as I needed to sit and feed him!) Here, again, a sling can be tremendously helpful. While there are important safety considerations to get right, learning to feed in the sling can transform your experience of getting out and about with your baby. My interviews showed this was particularly important for parents with older children to care for since life doesn’t need to stop when baby needs to eat. (The mums in my study had experienced many proud moments of feeding in this way, with locations including at the zoo, on the bus, at a food festival and – my own personal favourite – in the queue at the supermarket checkout!)
The same process can be used to manage naps, since a tired baby will often drop off to sleep easily and quickly in a sling, especially if some movement is involved, as Abi described:
“with [older son] I just remember hours and hours of pounding the streets to try and get him to go to sleep by pushing the pram around. And it was like, actually, I already have a child, I need to be able to leave the house to do school run at regular times irrespective of what’s going on with his nap. It’s like, ‘quick we need to go’. I need to be able to move from room to room to play with my child I already have. So in the early days it was definitely ‘I am using a sling because I have a sleepy little baby who doesn’t need much from me at all apart from cuddles and milk and nappies. And I have a responsibility to my [older] child that is still here that I want to be there and do stuff’.”
Indeed, crucially, several parents described how using a sling had, they felt, been vital in enabling them to maintain their bond with their older child, since a sling enabled their minds and hands to stay free for their older child, while their new baby was kept safe and happy by physical closeness to mum or dad.
- Keeping calm and happy
One of the biggest challenges new parents sometimes face in ‘getting out’ is the experience of being out in public with a distressed baby. This is an issue that previous research has picked up on and I suspect that many of us will have had that experience of being in a bus, café or waiting room with a screaming child – feeling that everyone is looking at (and perhaps judging) you while worrying about your baby’s unhappiness too. Again, a number of my interviewees had found slings to be vital here in enabling baby to settle. Even if this wasn’t possible and baby couldn’t be calmed, slings helped parents feel more connected – and less helpless – despite the distress. As Christina describes:
“[Son] was a really unsettled baby, he wouldn’t be put down ever, he was always screaming, he had terrible reflux, he didn’t sleep and things were just really difficult and I just really struggled with becoming a mum and having to deal with him and I was really depressed and I just found it really awful. So I needed sling wearing as a necessity so that I could, you know, calm him and keep him calm and keep myself calm and just manage to cope really”
- Coping with obstacles (kerbs, cobbles, indie shop doorways, steps, mud, stiles, narrow pavements [insert your own personal urban or rural landscape nemesis here!])
As we discussed last time, while prams can be great for carrying shopping and having somewhere to ‘put’ a young baby while you eat lunch or dig the allotment (in my case!), they are often distinctly incompatible with many features of the urban and rural environment, including any of the items in the above list. They can also be particularly problematic if you are reliant on public transport. While it can sometimes take time and courage to work up to leaving the pram at home, several of the parents in the study found that being able to do this was ultimately very liberating:
“I remember the first time I took him out… and people actually said to me “You’re brave coming out without a pram or anything, just a baby”. And I was like, “But I’ve got everything here”… He’s here, I’ve got me, I don’t need to bring any bottles because I’m breastfeeding, you know, a change of clothes, a nappy, we’re sorted. And so it was actually, at that point, people were thinking it was brave but I actually thought it was easier.” (Sharon)
Crucially, however, I also discovered that slings often enabled parents to continue to visit places and engage in activities that were personally very important to them, and which they wanted to share with their children. In this way, they were often able to maintain a valued connection with what can sometimes seem like a previous life, pre children, as Claire described:
“I suppose for me and my husband… [with the sling] we can continue with bits of the life we had before, in terms of getting out… It’s enabled us to get to places like the Peak District that we wouldn’t have been able to do. We would have been on the most boring walks where you’re on a relayed path, I think for my kind of mental state of mind, I like, I grew up in a rural area, I’m not a city girl, I find it, I don’t mind living in the city but it’s not ideal… [With the sling] I feel like I can still get out and get space, I’m not surrounded by lots of other people.”
- Sometimes it’s the small things…
Very finally, I think it’s important to reflect on the difference that a sling can make to even very small scale kinds of mobility. Through interviews with parents – and indeed thinking about my own experiences as a parent – even the smallest things can sometimes make a huge difference to your day. In this way, we can miss a trick if we think about mobility – or slings – as being solely about ‘getting out’ since sometimes enabling you to survive in the house is the most important thing. As Hannah described:
“initially [the sling] was used a lot in the house. I was like, I just need to go and make a sandwich or a drink or I need to eat without her getting irate. So it has been an absolute Godsend”
Equally Karen discovered that the sling worked really well for ‘transfers’ – enabling her to move her sleeping son from the car to his bed in the house without him waking. This was especially important as she had no parking immediately outside the house.
I hope this has been an interesting insight into some of the main themes resulting from my research so far. I’m currently trying to put all this together into an academic article so I’ll let you know when it’s published. And, in the meantime, I hope to be back soon with some more themes from the research!