Bringing slings to a wider audience

Hi again everyone. Six months seem to have elapsed since I wrote the last blog post and I can only apologise and say that life got in the way! Good news though: part of the reason for my silence during this time has been that I’ve been busy writing up the first academic article from the research that I’ve been doing on how slings can impact on people’s experiences of getting out and about with young children. And I’m very pleased to say that it has now been accepted by the academic journal Mobilities and has been published online here.

However, I know not everyone wants to read an academic journal article (I don’t blame you!) so I want to use this blog post to provide a more accessible summary of the key points and let you know why this research matters. Doing this is particularly important to me since, above all else, I want this research to be useful and relevant to a wider audience. So, with that in mind, I’ll try and share three things with you…

  1. I’m excited about this because, to my knowledge, it’s the first study which explores the use of slings on parents’ experiences of getting out and about. This matters because, at the moment, babywearing is still very much a niche activity in the UK. As a result, it’s very hard to fund research on it[1] (so huge thanks to Lancaster Environment Centre for giving me some money to do this!). This means that the studies that do exist tend to be restricted to specific scenarios such as hip health, postnatal depression and kangaroo care. However, as I’ll come onto in a moment, my research has been able to show that slings have the potential to be really useful as a regular part of normal, everyday life for parents and children. Of course, if you are a sling user then you’ll know that already. BUT, often, in order for policy makers and the wider media to take an interest, there needs to be a study that demonstrates this in a more systematic way. And that’s exactly what this new journal article does. My hope is that having this research will make it easier for babywearing professionals to argue for more support for what they do, on the basis that slings’ potential are proven by research.

    Slings can really help when you’ve got your hands full!
  2. This research was most definitely not a ‘slings Vs prams’ type of project: everyone I interviewed had also used prams at some stage of their parenting journey and found that they could be great in particular scenarios (for example, allowing baby to sleep while you strim the allotment!). However, the research does show that the design features of a sling allow for a very different experience of getting out and about in ways which can be very helpful to parents. I’ve already discussed some of these examples in more detail in previous blog posts but here are a few headline reminders:
    1. Since a sling doesn’t go along the ground, it can help deal with some of the common obstacles that you may face when travelling with a pram (steps, cobbles, mud, escalators, etc.). This means you can go to places that you would find it hard to access with a pram.
    2. Since babies often settle and sleep well in a sling (and, with a bit of practice, some mums learn to feed in one too), you are often freed up from having to go home for naptime or find somewhere to sit for feeds (some of my participants were able to feed their babies in the queue for the supermarket checkout or while taking an older child round the zoo – now that’s what I call multi-tasking!)

There are many other benefits that I could list here. However, the most  important conclusion is that mobility with a young child is not just about getting from A to B – it’s also about a multi-way relationship between you, your child, other people and the wider landscape. And slings work because their design – holding a child on the body of a caregiver at (almost) adult eye level – tends to facilitate this relationship really well. That sounds very abstract, so let me give you some examples from the research to explain what I mean:

Imagine…

  • You’re a walker and love finding space and solitude in the hills. A sling enables you to reach those places and share those landscapes and experiences with your child.
  • You’re a new parent and getting used to your new baby. What if he/she is too cold/too hot/not breathing? You go out with the pram but still feel worried and keep stopping to check on the baby. With a sling, you can just glance down, feel the baby and know they’re ok.
  • Your pre-schooler has been running around all day and is starting to get over-tired and fractious. He/she wants to continue running but there’s a busy road coming up. You pop them in the sling quickly to keep them safe and, if you’re lucky, you both enjoy a cuddle and a chat rather than an argument. (Or perhaps you get the argument anyway but maybe it’s easier to recover because you’re able to be in the storm of emotions with them.)

Notice how ‘getting somewhere’ is only part of the battle in each of these scenarios: rather, the main challenge is often about how you or your child are feeling both physically and emotionally whilst on the journey. My research shows that slings don’t just offer a practical solution to the physical barriers faced by parents (steps, cobbles, mud, escalators). They also give you new tools to manage the emotional challenges of journey-making, because having the child on your body makes it easier to cuddle, talk, rock, feed, etc. and just generally do all those things that give you a better chance of navigating the swirling emotions that are an integral part of parenting.

To be clear, I’m not saying that these things are impossible in a pram, or that a sling will always make a journey easier (parents have been successfully feeding, comforting and talking to children in prams for many years and there are some days when one or both of you needs more space!). However, hopefully you can see that a sling can offer you additional options, particularly in relation to the challenging feelings that can arise during a journey.

Slings can allow you and your child to experience the landscape in new ways
  1. A final main headline of the research is that I was able to show how mobility in early family life is constantly fluxing and changing as your child grows. I think there is often an assumption that getting out and about with a newborn will be hard and that an older child will be ‘easier’. However, this is not necessarily the case. Older children might be more capable physically but there will also be new challenges that arise (tricycles that want to be ridden – for a few minutes at least! – toys that ‘have’ to come too, fluctuating energy levels, missed nap days etc. etc.). And, of course, add a younger sibling to the mix and things get more complicated still! So a more accurate picture is that you find yourself constantly having to reinvent journeys as your family grows. Here, again, slings can be very handy – either on their own or alongside a pushchair – as they can be packed down small and then brought out to help in trickier moments. (Kind of like having a little extra something ‘up your sleeve’ – not that you’d want to keep your sling up your sleeve but hopefully the analogy is still useful!)

Anyway, I’d love to know what you think of all this. Do please get in touch if you’d like to chat more. I’m also thinking of writing a couple more articles from the research which focus on different aspects of ‘slinging’. As always, I’ll post my thoughts here to keep you up to date…

[1] If you want to know why then this excellent blog series will help you understand more about that.

Flexible friends – how slings can help balance needs in early family life

In this post, I’d like to explore another important theme from my research with sling users – and that’s the question of how slings can be used flexibly to ease some of the tensions that can develop in the family when young children are around.

Very often, our expectations about what parenting will be like don’t turn out to bear any resemblance to the reality of that experience. And that can sometimes be a bit of a shock to the system. Take sleep for example. Partially based on what I’d heard from friends and relatives (though probably also due to my own total ignorance of babies!), I think that, pre-parenthood, I assumed that my son would be sleeping through the night by 6 months old. Now, of course some babies do happily sleep through the night from a relatively young age with no persuading. But mine? Well, errr, try adding another two years onto that figure and you might be closer to the truth… And I know he was not the only one to do that!

I think similarly mistaken assumptions are made about a child’s capability to move independently. We might assume that it is easier to get out and about with an older toddler or pre-schooler since these children do not have the same intense physical needs for milk and sleep as a young baby and they can now walk independently, perhaps for some considerable distance. However, while there’s undoubtedly some truth in that, it’s not necessarily accurate to assume that an older child is always a more mobile child.

Why? Well, my research suggests a number of explanations for this. Firstly, as children grow, they naturally become more active in the journey-making process, often expressing strong feelings about when and how they travel and how much (or how little!) they feel about walking on a given day. How many of us have been seduced into going out for a walk with our seemingly independent and energetic child who is adamant that they want to walk (or scoot, or cycle) – only to discover that, 15 minutes later and a fair way from home, they suddenly announce they are tired and refuse to move from the spot? This has happened to me more times than I can remember and it’s a great example of where a sling can be helpful, since, as Anthea explained to me during the research: “I can’t carry a pram in my handbag!”.

Just been running around – but now he’s up and safe for the road!

A sling that has been clipped round your waist or discretely packed away somewhere can be a lifesaver in these kinds of situations and this is why experienced sling users will often continue to take one with them even when their child is long-past using one regularly as a means of transport. And, of course, slings aren’t just handy in cases of ‘journey refusal’: even if a child is walking reliably, there can be times when it feels more appropriate to pop them in a sling for a few minutes – for example, when there is a busy road nearby or you’re needing to get somewhere on time.

My research shows how young children’s feelings, interests and capabilities shift constantly during the early years of family life and, as a result, families are constantly having to come up with creative – and often negotiated – solutions to ensure that everyone can get where they want to as safely and easily as possible. This can mean that your mobility may go down for a period as your children grow, even with the help of a sling or a pushchair. For example, several families taking part in my research had children who went through phases of resisting pram or sling and being really intent on moving independently. James and Thirza, who enjoyed hillwalking as a family, thus found there was a period when they were restricted to shorter walks that were “a walkable distance for a fairly robust four year old”  until their daughter was able to walk longer distances of her own accord. (Interestingly, this was in complete contrast to their son, who was very happy to still be carried at this age – again, showing how individual children can be!)

In many cases, though, a sling can be a useful and flexible tool that can help balance the needs of different family members as children grow. For example, in this lovely example about the journey to preschool with her three year-old son, Abi reveals how she uses a sling to respond to the physical and emotional work of being mobile with a young child in a way which attempts to balance everyone’s needs:

“Sometimes I have the mental energy to let Arthur walk or scoot or ride his bike.  And sometimes I either don’t have that mental energy or I just want to make sure we get there quickly. And so it’s like ‘I just want to go in a straight line to get there today so you’re coming in a sling’… It’s really nice actually when he does come in a sling because we just have cuddles and chat and it’s really nice to reconnect when he’s been at pre-school all morning. We came home from pre-school today and we nipped into the new ice-cream shop… And ate ice-cream together in the sling having a chat on the way home.”

Here, a sling gives Abi some flexibility by allowing her to swap some of the emotional work of parenting (the need to keep her child safe in a busy street and get somewhere on time) for the physical work of carrying him, enabling the journey to be completed while also developing their relationship. 

Incidentally, if you’re interested in these ideas about the emotional and physical work of parenting and how slings play into this, you might also be interested in this earlier blog post on carrying older children.

When a new baby arrives

Keeping the whole family happy

This balancing of needs can also be vital for everyone during the arrival of a new baby. Again, very interestingly, some of the parents I interviewed found that the real challenge to their mobility came not with their first baby but their second – particularly if there was a relatively small age gap and number two arrived before number one was reliably walking. In this case, parents often felt very concerned about their ability to manage both practically and emotionally. Here, again, slings came into their own as a flexible tool that could be used to balance the needs of the whole family.

This example from Clare shows how using a sling was crucial in enabling her to be available – both physically and emotionally – for her older daughter and, how this was also personally important in how she felt about becoming a mum for the second time:

“With a second child, I felt really guilty before she was born that this was going to ruin my relationship with Rowan, she’s going to be jealous that I’m tied up with the baby all the time. But actually I’m not tied up with the baby all the time because I can breastfeed in the sling if I want to so it doesn’t have to slow us down.  I can be sitting down, use the sling to support her when I’m breastfeeding sitting down, so that I’ve got a hand free to read a book to Rowan. And then the rest of the time Rowan can be climbing on a climbing frame and I’ve got two hands to help her if I need to.  Hold her hands across the road… if I was trying to push a pram I’d just really struggle with a toddler that wants to walk.” (Clare)

Again, this example shows beautifully the fluid work of parenting which involves eyes, hands, hearts and minds – and how the sling enables these to be balanced from moment to moment to accommodate the necessary changes as a family grows.

 

Getting mobile after a new baby – how slings can help

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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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”

  1. 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.”

  1. 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!

Getting out and about with a new baby

Earlier this autumn, I explained about some research that I’ve been doing around sling use. Over the coming weeks and months, I’ll be sharing some of the research here on the MBS blog, as well as writing it up for academic articles in the hope that it will be interesting and helpful for some of you. As always, huge thanks to the participants, Morecambe Bay Slings and Dr Rosie Knowles of the Sheffield Sling Surgery for making this possible.

I’d also love your input. I’ll be really interested to hear if what I write on these pages resonates with your own experiences of getting out and about with your children, or if you’ve noticed other, different things. There’s so much that I could write about and my ideas are still very much developing so please let me know if there are topics that I touch on that you’d like me to discuss in more depth. My aim is for this to be as much of a two-way conversation as I can make it… 

Right, enough of the background. I thought I could start with a two-part post on a simple theme: today, we’ll look at what it is like getting out and about as a new parent. Next time, we’ll look at the impact that slings can have on this. 

Mobility has been a hot topic for social scientists for many years now but, when I looked into the published research some more, I was surprised how little there was about the experiences of mobility with very young children (there’s lots on slightly older children in relation to the school run, but very little that I could see on infants/preschoolers). The exception to this is a lovely article by Kate Boyer and Justin Spinney which looks at the experiences of new parents in London. This picks up really well on the challenges faced by new parents and does mention slings a little. However, because sling use was quite peripheral to the study (and because London is obviously, in some ways, a very different kind of environment to the Morecambe Bay and Sheffield areas), I also found that my sling using interviewees had quite different stories. If I were to characterise these differences very crudely, I’d say that, on the whole, the parents I spoke to tended to have more positive experiences of getting out and about than the London parents in the Boyer and Spinney study. 

So what did the parents in my study say about the experiences of getting out and about with a new baby? If you’re soon to become a parent, this may make interesting reading…  

Your lovely new baby. But how will you transport him/her?

 

Clearly one of the common perceptions circulating about new parenthood is that it can be difficult to get out of the house for a variety of reasons and, many (though not all) of the parents I spoke to did experience difficulties here. Let’s look in more detail at why it may be challenging to get out and about with a new baby: 

 1. Physical and emotional challenges 

Particularly (although by no means exclusively) for the mother, the physical and emotional changes associated with giving birth and being a new parent can pose a range of challenges. For example, a difficult birth or C-Section can leave you feeling stiff and sore. This may perhaps be coupled with worries about how your body looks and behaves – particularly if you are new to breastfeeding and concerned about how to manage feeding in public3. In short, the body that you may have taken for granted pre-pregnancy now looks, behaves and feels very different now that you’re a mum. This can be hard to get used to, especially when negotiating public areas like shops and cafes. And of course you also have a new body – your baby’s – to take care of, which may feel like a massive responsibility. New babies can seem very fragile and dependent and several of the parents I interviewed found themselves worrying about their babies quite a lot: are they too warm? Too cold? Breathing? Hungry or thirsty? This may be particularly problematic if your baby was premature or unwell in any way after the birth.  

In addition to the physical transition, new parenthood can also be an emotional roller coaster. Some of my interviewees reacted with joy and felt able to get out and introduce the new baby to friends and family almost immediately. However, others experienced a period of low mood or depression – often combined with an unsettled baby – which also made it difficult to get out of the house.

Figuring out the car seat can be complex (and no, this isn’t one for a newborn, but it was still a challenge!)

 

2. New stuff.  

Again, it’s well-known that babies can come with a lot of kit. Of course, over time, many parents learn to travel lighter (I didn’t end up using some of the stuff that I bought before my son was born and that’s by no means uncommon) but, at least in the early days, we may need – or are persuaded that we need – lots of new things to take with us such as clothes, nappies, muslins, changing bag, wipes, bottles and of course the pram itself. So one of the baptisms of fire faced by new parents is how to use and transport all this stuff, and this is something that lots of my interviewees struggled with in the early days: 

“Packing the car up with a pram was… like a military operation to fit it in the boot” (Hannah) 

For many interviewees, this troubled experience of getting out contrasted to pre-baby days when they would go out of the door without a second thought and with minimal preparation and packing. 

3. New timings.  

As if the new stuff wasn’t complicated enough, there are new timings to contend with. New babies feed, poo and sleep a lot. And, particularly in the early days when you may not be confident with feeding or changing while out and about, you may find it hard to find a window of opportunity for when you can go: 

“I’m just used to picking up stuff and going, you know getting in the car and going and then suddenly you realise that you know, you’ve got another person to put in a car seat… and they always do a poo like five minutes before you leave the house. So… that tended to slow you down (Nivedita) 

 It can also be tricky when you realise that your baby’s experience of time is very different to yours. As someone who was used to being punctual, I remember feeling quite stressed in the early days about how I was ever going to keep appointments – for example, at the registrar’s office and with the health visitor – when his feeding and nappy changing needs were so unpredictable. 

 4. The physical environment  

While this wasn’t something that I considered much at the time, I realised that my interviews were great for giving me a sense of the varied kinds of physical environments that new families have to contend with, as my interviewees varied in scope from those living in city centres to those in very rural locations. However, either way, it was clear that the world out there isn’t necessary that friendly to babies and the stuff that comes with them. Take Lancaster, for example: full of steps, narrow doorways and cobbles, it is not an easy environment to negotiate with a pram.  

“I’ll never forget… we had the big bassinette thing on it [the pram], parked up at the Castle, walked into town, walked back up town and going up the cobbles he [son] bounced to the bottom and it’s like “Where’s he gone?” (Andrew) 

 Public transport – either bus or tram – with a pram was also experienced as extremely difficult by a number of interviewees, partly because of the steps but more usually because of a lack of space for prams, particularly at busy times and with rules giving priority to wheelchair users. This was particularly important for those who didn’t drive or have access to a car.  

 Equally, those living in more rural areas encountered a host of obstacles from stiles, to mud, slurry and extremely narrow pavements. 

 Either way, sooner or later, most new parents find that the architecture of their local environment isn’t especially friendly to the needs of parents and children (instead, as academics have argued, the architecture of the city is geared towards the needs of maximising economic productivity and anything – or anyone – that doesn’t fit that rhetoric, can find their needs overlooked4). However, even on a very micro scale, the design of your home (a big step up to the door, for example) can make getting out very challenging. 

 What is the experience of this like for parents? Crucially, my interviews showed that these kinds of experiences are not just annoying and difficult – in some cases, they can provoke strong feelings of embarrassment and challenge your basic sense of self as capable and confident. This is a great example from Hannah of how an apparently simple daily activity turned into something much bigger: 

 “I was trying to use this buggy when my husband had just gone back to work and I was by myself and I thought, ‘I want to get out of the house, I don’t want to feel trapped’.  So I got out of the house and I went to get a coffee and I realised I couldn’t get the buggy through the door of the shops and I was sitting there like trying to get it through the ramps and things and I didn’t want to wake up the baby, it was so embarrassing people having to help me.  And I just looked like a mess…” (Hannah) 

5. The need to multitask.  

As a new parent, you have more things to think about. You’re no longer simply going somewhere. Instead, you are responsible for another (tiny) person’s needs, which can sometimes be intense and unpredictable. However, the research showed that it isn’t only the newborn phase which is difficult in this respect. Indeed, very interestingly, for some of the parents I interviewed, the real challenge to mobility came later, with the arrival of a second child – particularly if the age gap between the children was relatively small so that a second child came along before the first was reliably walking long distances independently. In many of these cases, the parents really struggled – not just with the physical task of having to transport two children but also finding ways to accommodate their very different needs and interests. This was often a key reason for these parents turning to slings, as we’ll discuss next time. 

6. Where to go? Who to meet? What to do?  

Aside from the additional practical aspects of being mobile with a baby, another factor mentioned by the parents in my study was a concern about where to go. This was particularly the case for those who had worked full-time previously and who were not used to being around during the daytime on weekdays. For example, Wendy and Dawn were keen to meet other new mums but didn’t know where to go or how to find those social networks that can be so important to new parents. Here, again, the experience of new parenthood can be quite disorienting, since the previous places where you would hang out (your workplace, your favourite café) may now no longer seem so baby friendly and, as a result, you need to find new places and people that are accepting of your changed circumstances. 

7. How are you and your baby feeling? 

When we think about people out and about, we tend to think in terms of individual people being able to negotiate particular spaces successfully. But let’s look a bit more at what is actually going on here… As many researchers have pointed out, mobility isn’t necessarily something that we do in isolation – instead, it can be an extremely sociable thing: put crudely, we maintain – and form – relationships while we are out and about with others. Particularly as parents, we care for our children emotionally and physically on the move and, crucially, how our children are doing from moment to moment also has dramatic effects on us and how we feel about things which, in turn, impacts upon everyone’s mobility. 

Let’s think about this a little more:  In the run up to new parenthood, we are often encouraged to think about the practical aspects of how we will transport our child (and this leads to a lot of car seat and travel system sales, right?). However, it is perhaps rare that anyone encourages you to consider how you and your baby might feel about those journeys, and how important that is to both of your experiences. Yet when you become a parent, even apparently ‘simple’ journeys become about relationships – not only in a physical sense (meeting your baby’s needs) but also emotionally. And this is where the expectations and realities of parenting sometimes differ dramatically. For example, Kate found that she couldn’t enjoy a relaxing walk out with other mums with her baby in the pram, because the baby would just scream in it. As Boyer and Spinney’s article points out, one of the hardest aspects of being a new parent while out and about can be managing a baby’s distress – both in terms of your own feelings about this, your concern for them and also worries about how others may react or judge you as a parent. As Clare said: 

“I would find myself getting back home because she was upset, I couldn’t calm her and I didn’t know what was wrong”  

I’m aware that these examples run the risk of painting a very negative picture of mobility in new parenthood. However, it is important to point out that this is by no means the case for everyone. Indeed, some of the parents I spoke to experienced no problems whatsoever with getting out, while others were fine until a second or subsequent child arrived. Equally, I want to emphasise that, just because I’m highlighting the potential problems here does not mean that you will be stuck with them (many of them are deeply resolvable, particularly when slings enter the picture, as we will see next time!)   

In the meantime, I’d love to know your thoughts on this: what were your early experience of getting out and about with your baby? Do any of the points here resonate with you or were your experiences different or contradictory? Let me know! 

 

Are you slinging comfortably? Then we’ll begin… Part 2

A recent MBS Facebook post generated a lot of debate around the subject of comfortable carrying. People reported very different experiences, from those comfortably and happily carrying older children to those who found carrying to be difficult or uncomfortable. We thought it might help to reflect a bit further on the topic, and as a result, we’ve written a 2 part blog post. Last week, in part 1, we tried to help those of you who are currently experiencing discomfort while carrying. Today, however, we’ll be focusing on the opposite end of the spectrum i.e. those of you who are carrying very comfortably but constantly being asked by friends/family/strangers if it hurts your back!

Hanging out together is fun!

Why might people make this assumption, and is there a way to dispel the myth that anyone who carries beyond 3 months must be a martyr enslaved to their kids? Well, I’m not going to promise any easy answers, but I have been thinking quite a lot about this and am hoping the reflections that follow may be at least vaguely useful… (Spoiler alert: some of these ponderings relate to some research I’ve been doing on sling use – I’m not quite ready to write about that yet but, invariably, what I’m learning from that project has influenced my thinking here too. More on that soon!)

Ok, back to the point: here are a few reasons why I think carrying is often misunderstood and perceived as burdensome/bad for your back…

Not having experienced comfortable carrying yourself. This is an obvious point but it’s important. If you’ve never carried before, it is perhaps not too hard to make the leap of imagination needed to understand that carrying a young baby could be a lovely, cosy thing to do. However, carrying a toddler or pre-schooler? You must be crazy, right? They weigh a ton! Well, yes and no… I recently had my 3.5 year old weighed and he was 17 kilos (he’s always been a big lad). So yes, clearly he is not weightless and, even with my well-fitting sling, it would become uncomfortable if I had to carry him all day. However, like most children of his age, he is an active little soul and, as a result, these days I only carry him for a fraction of the time that I did when he was younger. In our comfy sling, I find those short journeys are fun and practical for both of us. Having carried him since he was a baby, my body has got used to his changing weight and shape gradually, meaning that I’m able to carry him comfortably. However, for friends and relatives who haven’t carried (and remember, the UK sling world has developed considerably in recent years so the chances are that most of your friends and relatives won’t have had the opportunity to carry in a well fitting sling), it can be really hard to understand what the actual experience of carrying is like. For example, they may well assume that carrying an older child in the sling is like carrying them in arms: believe me, it’s not – in a sling, I can carry my son’s 17 kilos comfortably for a good couple of hours. In arms, I can barely make it to the end of the street. So the key point here is that regularity of carrying and the right carrier build strength and comfort levels at the same time as your child’s growing independence means he or she will, over time, reduce the amount he or she wants to be carried. So carrying has a healthy ‘lifecycle’ all of its own.

Dodging the showers on the school run!

However, I also think there’s something more interesting going on here around the body and its role in our culture. An unspoken assumption of much of modern life seems to be that any ‘excess’ physical effort/exertion is unpleasant. So why would you carry a child when you can push them? It’s worth mentioning a couple of things here. Firstly, I have pushed a pram up the massive hill that I live on many times – this is not easy either, especially with the amount of shopping that I tend to ram into it. As we explained last week, sensations of comfort and discomfort, ease and effort are very unique to individuals, so it’s wise to be wary of generalisations and avoid making too many assumptions about ‘ease’ here… But, let’s just suppose for the sake of argument that pushing an older child is physically easier than carrying. Why would anyone still want to carry under those circumstances?

When I was interviewing parents, I was struck by how many people actually enjoyed the additional opportunities for exercise that they gained from carrying. Indeed, particularly for people who had been active and ‘outdoorsy’ prior to parenthood, slings provided a way in which they could still enjoy exercise, both for its physical and emotional benefits and also for the impact this has on your sense of self. Several parents described how there was a real sense of achievement gained from a journey in a sling: ‘getting there’ on foot under your own steam without the need for the potentially cumbersome addition of prams, car seats etc. was important, and the sling created a sense of independence, self-reliance and ‘shared adventure’ that was very satisfying for many. For women in particular, carrying their children can be related to feeling strong, powerful and capable, with this being important for self-esteem and confidence. On a related note, several parents spoke about how using slings had made them more aware of their own bodies – their capabilities and limitations, and how these varied from day to day. This increased awareness led to them taking more care of themselves – resting when they needed to and enjoying the growing sensations of strength and capability on ‘good’ days. Again, all of this – the enjoyment of exercise and the increased sense of bodily awareness and capability – can be hard to describe to someone in a cultural context where it is assumed that the lower effort option of letting a pram carry your kids is always the preferred option.

Look how many children you can carry!

Let’s unpick this a little further though: what do we really mean when we talk about ‘effort’? So far, we’ve concentrated exclusively on the physical effort of carrying your kids, as this is what most people notice when they see you carrying. However, as anyone who has looked after a child knows, parenting involves physical and emotional work and sometimes it’s the latter that is the harder part, especially as the child grows. Let me explain a little more with an example. Imagine trying to navigate the journey across town with a toddler or pre-schooler on foot while he or she is walking. This is a scenario to which many parents aspire: get them walking under their own steam – great! Why would you carry them when they can walk perfectly well for themselves? Well, yes, of course they can walk. BUT whether they are happy to do so reliably and safely on any occasion is extremely unpredictable. Most adults walk to get from A to B in a particular timeframe, whereas a toddler or pre-schooler walks for enjoyment and interest, meaning he or she may well alternate between running (which can be terrifying for a parent in a crowded environment or near roads) and dawdling. There is also the possibility of him/her wanting to pick up cigarette butts, chewing gum or other undesirable items from the floor, stroke the less-than-friendly dog on the corner and go up and down the steps in the market square 50 times (yes, this has happened to me!). He or she, quite understandably, has no idea of clock time or concepts such as punctuality and may find keeping pace and focus with an adult particularly hard at the end of a long day at preschool or an afternoon in the play park. Given all these factors – and especially if you need to be somewhere on time – it can actually be much easier to swap the emotional work of preventing meltdown and trying to keep your independent child safe and on track while walking independently – for the physical work of carrying them. In which case you can likely enjoy a cuddle, conversation and some shared bus spotting at the same time. Slings are particularly useful under such circumstances as you need only bring them out when you need them – unlike a pushchair which you will still be pushing even when your child is full of energy and wanting to walk. So you can easily alternate between ‘up’ and ‘down’ time, depending on your schedule and how much mental/physical energy you both have that day.

Finally, while we’re thinking about the physical and emotional work of parenting, let’s remember what we’re talking about here. We aren’t just talking about 17 kilos of inanimate object – we are talking about a little person who loves you very much and who will give back in the best way that he or she can. Your reward for carrying their physical weight is the interaction that you get back: the cuddles and conversation are priceless, the selfies are amazing and, with a younger child, you can enjoy the peaceful feeling of them sleeping against you whilst it’s chaos on the street all around you. You are taking care of your child’s needs and your own, whilst getting stuff done. And I’d happily carry 17 kilos for that, any day…

Are you slinging comfortably? Then we’ll begin…

There’s no doubt about it, comfort is essential to carrying. This simple but obvious point was underlined by a host of responses to a recent MBS Facebook post on the subject of back pain. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this topic struck a chord with many and people’s experiences were very varied, ranging from those who were still happily carrying children of 3+ to those who found carrying uncomfortable and worried that they were doing something wrong.

Given this diversity of experience, we thought it would be helpful to say something more around the subject, so we’ve designed a 2 part blog post to answer some of the common queries that you may have. In part 1, we’ll aim to help those of you who are wanting to carry but are worried about – or currently experiencing – discomfort. Next week, in part 2, we’ll focus on some of the myths around carrying and back pain. This may help those of you who are very comfortable carrying but dealing with “isn’t he/she a bit heavy for that now?” or “that will ruin your back!” comments from friends and relatives.

Travelling in comfort and style!

So, back to today’s topic – what if carrying hurts?

Carrying should always be comfortable for you and your baby. If something is pulling, twinging or rubbing either of you, then that’s a sign that something isn’t right and it needs sorting. Thankfully, most of these issues are easily resolved and this is where your local sling library can help. Here are some things we can help you consider:

  • Wrong sling. If carrying is uncomfortable for you then it’s common to blame yourself. You might worry that you’re doing something wrong or that you can’t do it. And you might assume that every sling will feel like this. However, the truth is that different slings feel very different to different people. This means that a sling that your friend loved may feel like torture to you. Equally, a sling that was very comfortable when your baby was 3 months old may feel very uncomfortable for one or both of you by the time your baby is 6 months old. So it can be hugely helpful to try new things as your baby grows, and this is one of the major benefits of a library – why buy when you can hire?!
  • Sling not adjusted correctly. Again, this may not mean that you’re doing something drastically ‘wrong’. Sometimes even the smallest of adjustments from an experienced pair of eyes can transform the experience of a sling for you and your baby. This can be particularly true if you’ve learnt from an instruction leaflet or YouTube video. Both can be great methods of learning, and sometimes they may be all that’s available to you if you aren’t within easy reach of a library when you start to use a sling for the first time. However, learning to carry is an incredibly tactile thing and there’s really no substitute for having a trained person show you face-to-face in an environment where they can make hands on adjustments, if needed. They can then watch you do it and spot where any issues might be occurring. With a few little tips and tricks, pain issues will often vanish instantly.
  • Special circumstances. Perhaps you’re wanting to carry but struggling from discomfort as part of an existing back condition. Perhaps you’re pregnant and finding that carrying is becoming difficult. Perhaps you had a difficult birth and find your body is struggling to recover. Any or all of these factors can make you nervous about carrying, and understandably so – it’s always important to listen to your body and ignoring pain is never a good idea, but that’s particularly the case if your body is already vulnerable in some way. So the first thing to state is to go back to where we started: carrying shouldn’t be uncomfortable and you shouldn’t feel pressured into doing something that you don’t feel is right for you at that point in time. Everyone is different and it’s normal to have very different feelings about what works for you. Take carrying in pregnancy, for example. Many women experience discomfort and fatigue during this time and may want or need to stop carrying as a result. However, others find that, with the help of some ideas from a sling consultant, they can enjoy carrying comfortably quite late into their pregnancies, sometimes much to the dismay of friends and relatives who think they should be putting their feet up! In this case, learning different ways to carry which work with the changing shape and weight distribution of your body can make a world of difference to carrying easily and safely, as this excellent article on carrying in pregnancy from Rosie at the Sheffield Sling Surgery explains. So there really is no ‘normal’ or ‘right’ thing to do here.
There are many different slings out there – we can help you find the one that is most comfortable for you

 

Equally, as the responses to our Facebook page show, many people with pre-existing back issues find that they can carry perfectly comfortably: indeed, in some cases, they find their backs even improve as a result of the increased core strength and body awareness that can come from carrying. And of course, pushing a pram can also put considerable strain on the back, albeit in a different way: sometimes, people who worried that they wouldn’t be able to carry as a result of back pain are surprised to learn that the sling is more comfortable for them than a pram. So, to summarise, listen to your body and try to be open minded about what might be possible. Next, get some advice from a qualified sling professional who will take any physical conditions into account and try to find something that’s comfortable to you.

 

Next week, we’ll move on to Part 2 by exploring some of the misconceptions that you might encounter about comfort and carrying – and perhaps some creative ways to address them!

Baby on Board

A new research project on sling use – a big ‘thank you’ and a ‘watch this space’…

Beccy enjoying the Spring sunshine with her son

Hi everyone, I’m Beccy Whittle and I’m one of the peer supporters at MBS.

Today, I’d like to take the opportunity to tell you a bit more about a rather special project that I’m working on at the moment… As well as volunteering at MBS and looking after my little boy, I work part-time as a Human Geography lecturer in Lancaster Environment Centre and, earlier this spring, I started work on what I think is a very exiting research project. The project is exploring the impact that sling use has upon people’s experiences of space and place when they are out and about with their little ones. It has involved speaking to 23 wonderful people in the Morecambe Bay and Sheffield areas about their experiences of using slings in their daily life. As a result, the first thing that I have to say is a huge ‘thank you’ to everyone who has helped me with the project: most particularly to all those who spoke to me about their experiences, but also to the team at MBS and the inspirational Rosie Knowles of the Sheffield Sling Surgery who helped me recruit potential interviewees. It has been a massive privilege for me to meet so many wonderful people and hear your stories. I’m also very grateful to Lancaster Environment Centre for giving me some funding to allow this work to take place – this has made a huge difference to the scope of the project.

The second thing I have to say is ‘watch this space’: I’m currently analysing all the interview material and trying to draw out some key themes, both in relation to what we currently know about babywearing, and also in relation to the Geography literature, which tells us about how people experience space and place and how important this is in terms of our everyday lives. In addition to writing this up for academic publications (as is my job and passion), I’m determined to make the results accessible, interesting and useful for sling practitioners and users across the world (ok, that sounds ambitious, particularly as being a Mum means I don’t get out as much as I once did, even with the use of a sling(!), but I’m hoping that the internet will go some way to addressing constraints of time and distance here!). So as soon as I’ve got something that I think is relevant and useful to share, I’ll let you know here…

So why this project in the first place? The idea came to me when I was on maternity leave with my son. I rapidly discovered that being out and about with a baby or toddler is a very different experience to being out and about on your own or with other adults! Reflecting on my own experiences of using slings, prams, car seats etc., I found that these different modes of baby/toddler ‘transport’ (shall we say) all had very different implications for the things I was able to do with my son, and how I felt about these experiences also changed as a consequence. I started wondering if other parents felt the same and this, combined with what I know from the academic literature on the mobility of children and families, made me think that a project focused on slings would make for an interesting and valuable research project.

Really importantly, there is also a growing sub-field of ‘children’s geographies’ which focuses upon children’s experiences of the world around them – as slings have a massive impact on our kids, I’m hoping that the research will also contribute to this body of knowledge too…

I’ll stop there, but hope you found this post interesting – the photos throughout the article are some favourites of my son and I out and about at different stages of our ‘carrying’ journey: so the very same trips that inspired me to do this work in the first place!

 

Doorstep hires and returns – a small plea…

doorstep hires

In the three years since I’ve been coming, it’s been a pleasure to watch Morecambe Bay Slings go from strength to strength. It might seem hard to believe now but, when I first came along, with a not-quite 3 month old in my arms, we all used to fit around one table in the Cornerstone and the amount of slings available to hire would have easily packed into a small car boot. Today it’s a very different story, with over 50 slings on hire at the time of writing and a massively expanded community of folk coming to us from all walks of life – which is wonderful news for all concerned.

Unfortunately, however, this expansion comes at a cost: while the founding principles of MBS haven’t changed (we aim to offer exactly the same community spirit of any parent-to-parent group and all the money from hires goes right back into buying more slings and improving the library for everyone), the complexity of running the library has most certainly increased. And this brings me to the subject of today’s post…

Over the past few weeks, we’ve had quite a few requests from people to carry out hires and returns from the doorstep (the doorsteps of our own homes, that is, not the Cornerstone/Kerry’s!). In the light of this, we thought it important to be clear about what our stance on this is and, perhaps more importantly, to be clear about why we see things this way. Let’s take doorstep returns first. These are absolutely fine in an emergency – and, let’s face it, there are plenty of emergencies in parenting! – but this isn’t something that we want to encourage on a regular basis. And, at the very least, if you do have to do this, it’s important to make sure that your sling is returned to the doorstep before the meet at which it is due, rather than afterwards. Why is this so important? Well, Abi’s post on late slings explains it all really but, in a nutshell, it’s because many of our carriers are in high demand and we often have a waiting list of parents waiting to try them: we generally encourage those parents to come in for the meet when we know (or think we know!) that a particular sling will be coming back, so that the carrier can be passed on to its new ‘home’. So if said sling does not materialise on time, someone could have had a wasted trip to us, as we may not have anything similar to offer (indeed, this problem is becoming more acute now that we have a facility that enables you to check what’s in stock from home: you might see a particular sling and come in specially for it expecting it to be back…).

Now let’s talk about the other side of the equation: doorstep hires. Again, these really need to be the exception rather than the rule and, as a result, we can only offer these at the discretion of the doorstep owner(!) and with a charge of £5 for 10 minutes maximum. On top of this, we really need to know what you would like the Thursday before so we can bring it home with us from our library session.  After all, if we need to make a special trip to town, root through the cupboard to find it and then travel home again, then that could be taking up an hour or more of our time, not the 10 min you think you’re paying for.  If the £5 on top of our standard hire fee sounds a little steep, then it’s important to explain the context for this. Firstly, think back to the beginning of this article – remember that we have over 50 slings out at any one time and that, as a library, we are entirely run by volunteers. Now consider that each hire can take some time as we’ll need to fit it to you and your baby, show you how to use it, take payment for it and get all the admin done for the hire. So practicalities alone dictate that the most efficient way of providing this service to the maximum number of people is to have all the slings at one location (Cornerstone or Kerry’s) and do all the demos, fitting and admin when the full team is available to help. Imagine trying to do this process outside regular library times at the same time as working (almost certainly), looking after your kids (ditto), cleaning the house (maybe!) and just generally discharging all of the other responsibilities of modern life, and you can see how tricky it might become if we did this on a regular basis. Plus of course you’ll get a much better choice of slings if you come to see us during library times, rather than simply being restricted to what happens to be ‘at home’ at the time!

So, to summarise, doorstep returns are fine in an emergency but must be done before the due date for the sling. And doorstep hires can be offered in principle, but only at the discretion of the volunteer who is helping you and with a charge of £5 for a maximum of 10 minutes, but we would need to know what you wanted to hire by the previous Thursday so that we could bring it home with us ready for you to try.

Thanks for reading, everyone, and hope to see you in the library soon.

 

 

 

 

Tandem carrying adventures with twins – by Christina Cheney

The second the image came up on the screen at my first scan I could see there were two babies there. The flood of thoughts and emotions on realising I was expecting twins was pretty intense and it took a little while for the panic to die down. One of my more positive thoughts amongst it all though was ‘thank god for babywearing’.
I’ve been a huge fan of babywearing since the birth of my son 2 and a half years ago. I wore him daily from birth and have always loved not only the practicality of it as a parenting tool but also the support and camaraderie of the babywearing community.
So, once over the initial shock I set to work learning what I could about tandem carrying. I’d only tandem worn once before, my 2year old and his cousin, little did I know that at the time i was in the early weeks of twin pregnancy so in this picture I am actually carrying 4 babies!


Tandem wearing comes in many forms and, just like singleton wearing, the age of your babies is a big factor in what works well. A lot of the time tandem wearing is seen with one each on the front and back. However, unless you’re already pretty experienced at using a woven wrap, getting a newborn without head control on your back is difficult and may not be safe. So there exists a tricky few months with twins where they both need to be on the front. In this post I’m going to share the different ways I’ve tried to tandem carry my newborn twins. At the time of writing mine are 2 months old. If I survive longer then I’ll be sure to follow up with posts later on carrying older babies but for now we’ll focus on tandem carrying small babies, with them both on the front.
2 babies, 1 stretchy wrap

For me in the first few weeks this was my preferred method of carrying. A stretchy wrap is perfect for a newborn and works in just the same way for twins as it does for a singleton. It is pre-tied to the wearer and the babies are popped in and out as desired. It’s wonderfully snuggly and perfect for skin to skin, I had my girls in the stretchy in just a nappy with me topless within half an hour of birth as they needed help keeping warm and I needed help getting my milk to come in! Each baby straddles just one cross pass, rather than two as with a single baby. This means it’s not quite as secure and supportive as when carrying one and as such only really works well for a few weeks while they’re really small. For me it worked up till they were 5-6 weeks old and about 7lb.
Pros – simple, quick and can be pre tied.
Cons – less support, only works for short time, babies can slump towards each other and need adjustment.
2 babies, 2 stretchy wraps

Stretchy wraps really are great so, once using a single one is no longer supportive enough, instead of abandoning it just add another one! Again, it works just like with a single baby. Each wrap is tied on, slightly off centre so you end up with one either side, then each twin is wrapped in the two cross passes of one wrap. Then both can be covered with a single horizontal pass – from the top wrap. The end result is very supportive and comfortable but can require extra vigilance as there’s a lot of fabric around which can cover the babies faces.
Pros – easy, can be pre tied, babies can be taken in and out without disturbing each other.
Cons – lots of fabric tied on you, can get hot, cross passes can be in babies face.
Woven wraps
I’m a big fan of woven wraps and immediately started practicing with them when I found out I was pregnant with twins. Despite this it has still taken a bit of work to get the hang of wrapping 2 newborns! In the earliest days the stretchy was just easier but now they are a bit bigger (both over 8lbs at time of writing) I’m finding woven wraps my favoured method of carrying. I’ve tried a few different carries, so far using just one long woven wrap – either base size or base +1.
Tandem front wrap cross carry (fwcc)

I like this one for when I have more stuff to do – housework, bathing toddler etc. – as it has the babies a bit closer together giving me a bit more movement in my arms! On the downside getting one baby out disturbs the other and I find it harder to tighten well, although this is improving with practice.
Amanda’s tandem hip carry

This one I prefer for longer periods, out of the house, in/out of the car. It can be partially pre tied and I find it easier to tighten and get comfy. You can adjust/remove one baby without totally disturbing the other although they’re not totally independent. They are spread wider apart so have space but this does restrict the wearer’s arm movements.
Pros – versatile, can last from baby to toddler, tandem or single wearing.
Cons – takes practice to develop skills.
2 ring slings


This is a bit of a cheat as this picture is of me using a base-2 wrap in a jasmine’s carry with 2 rings. I’ve not actually tried 2 separate ring slings as this carry makes a sort of conjoined double ring sling instead. It can be pre tied and left threaded so you can take it on/off like a harness. Each side is independent of the other so babies can be taken in/out without disturbing each other. There’s a lot of fabric going through the rings so it can be fiddly to tighten and is best with a thin wrap, there’s a 4 ring variation that may combat this – I’ve yet to try it. Sometimes it pulls on the shoulders/neck a bit too but that’s always a risk with front tandems I’m learning!
Pros – can be pre tied, babies can be taken in and out without disturbing each other.
Cons – tightening can be tricky.
Buckles
I don’t have a picture of a buckle tandem as I’ve not tried it. Most tandem buckles carries are front/back and, as it’s not recommended to have a newborn in buckles on the back, this is a no-go for a while. There is one buckle option for a newborn tandem – the weego twin carrier which is designed for a tandem front carry. I’d heard about them when pregnant but decided not to bother with one – lots of people seem to like them for a short time but report them becoming uncomfortable after the first couple of months so it didn’t seem worth it to me as I’d likely prefer a stretchy anyway.
So that’s my journey so far! As suspected babywearing has been the most important parenting tool I’ve used since the twins arrived. I’d encourage any mum, twin or otherwise, to give it a go from the start. As with any new skill it takes a bit of practice but it doesn’t take long to get the hang of it – I wrap the girls 3-5 times a day at the moment so I’ve become well versed pretty quick and been rewarded with longer naps, less crying and more chance for time with my toddler. Just be prepared for a lot of attention when you’re twin slinging out and about!

Get the most from your sling this spring

Beccy enjoying the Spring sunshine with her son

With the weather getting better (mostly!) and the clocks going forward, many of us will probably be eager to get out and about a bit more. Last weekend was a classic case in point: after a seemingly endless succession of wet weekends and debilitating viruses in the house, it was wonderful to see wall to wall sunshine and to spend almost the entire weekend outside with my family.

However, when you’ve got a baby and/or toddler in tow, getting out of the house can seem a tremendous challenge and you might find yourself wondering what happened to those seemingly carefree days when you could go out for the day without a second thought. The good news is that, while a good sling won’t solve all your problems in this regard, it can certainly make life a lot easier, so, if you don’t yet have one or aren’t getting on well with the one that you do have, it’s important to think about how you might resolve this issue.

By far the quickest and easiest way to do this is to pop along and see us in the library. People often forget that we don’t just hire out slings – we can also help you with yours so, if you’re having problems, do bring your sling in to see us and we’ll do our best to troubleshoot for you.

If you and your sling aren’t getting on, then here are some of the most likely culprits:

  1. Wrong sling.

Sadly, the vast majority of carriers that you see on the high street are not the most user-friendly or comfortable for you and your baby. There are exceptions to this, of course, but the chances are that, if you’ve bought something off the shelf or been given something by a well-meaning friend, you’ll have ended up with one of these. The most common designs tend to be quite ‘rigid’ with a narrow base and maze of spaghetti straps complete with fiddly fastenings. They are perfectly safe and serviceable and some people get on well with them, although usually only for a relatively short period of time, after which they quickly become very uncomfortable. However, some people – or babies – find them very uncomfortable or difficult to use right from the start. The good news is that we can show you some tips and tricks in the library which may transform your experience of this type of sling. If it still isn’t working for you, we can direct you towards something different to try.

2. Right sling, wrong fit.

This is also quite a common problem. People often come to us thinking that they’ve got the wrong type of sling but, in many cases, it’s because they haven’t been shown how to use it properly and, as a result, the sling isn’t working for them or their baby. It can be really hard to learn how to use a sling from an instruction leaflet or even a YouTube video and, even if you have the main principles correct, it’s amazing what a difference a few tweaks from an experienced pair of eyes can make to the success of the experience for both of you (for example, most people have their carriers much too low and too loose when they first start out).

3. Wrong sling for the situation.

Your sling and your use of it may be spot on, but people and things change: perhaps it just isn’t working for your lifestyle anymore? While some people are lucky and do find a ‘workhorse’ sling for all seasons, other people find that their needs can change as their baby grows and their family circumstances develop. As a result, a sling that worked perfectly for them before is now less than great. For example, perhaps you loved a stretchy wrap but now find that your not-so-newborn is getting heavier and more wriggly? In which case, something more supportive which allows a greater range of vision for baby might be desirable. Or perhaps you and your baby were happy pottering around town in a ring sling during the winter months but, now that spring is here, you’re thinking about something that would be better for longer walks in the countryside? Again, coming to the library and having a play with some of the different types of slings that we have can be a game-changer. And the same applies to woven wraps: you might find that the carry you’ve been using up until now isn’t working as well as it was, in which case we can teach you something new that might suit your needs better.

Either way, I hope this article has provided you with a bit of inspiration and a gentle ‘prod’ to come and see us if things aren’t working out as you’d hoped with your sling. Now, let’s get out there and enjoy that spring sunshine while it lasts…