Baby slings are comfortable, versatile baby carriers. They're a classic baby carrier that's simple to use and offers a chance for discreet breastfeeding.
Here's some basic information and how you can choose the one that's right for you.
Rings and Ties
Baby slings are very simple carriers. Ring slings are simply a length of fabric with rings on one end.
You loop the fabric around your body and wear it over one shoulder like a messenger bag. The rings sit high on your body, just over where a name badge would go. The end of the fabric is threaded through the rings to close the loop. Baby sits in the “pouch” made by the fabric.
Tie slings are also available, and these are very similar to baby carriers used in traditional cultures. Unlike ring slings, tie slings have no rings and they simply tie near the shoulder.
The Rebozo is an example of a tie sling. Tie slings are basically short wraps.
To Pad or Not to Pad?
You can buy slings with any type of padding you want. Parents like padded slings because they give baby's head some support when he's in the sling. Most babies like to be looking out of the sling until they fall asleep, and the padding gives them some support.
The main complaint about padded slings is the padding keeps them from being adjusted very tightly because the padding won't move through the rings.
Un-padded slings have no padding in the shoulders or along the rails. They can fit very easily into the diaper bag and are thin enough to wear in the car between errands.
Though thin, un-padded slings are very strong (for example, the Maya Wrap is made of a sturdy cotton weave). The Maya Wrap is my personal favorite. My beautiful Maya has gone through four babies and I still love to use it with my toddler!
Whether you choose a tie sling like a Rebozo or a ring sling like the Maya Wrap, you can carry your baby in many different positions.
Your favorite positions will probably change as your baby grows older. That brings up another benefit of the sling – you can use it even as your baby grows into a toddler!
The Cradle-style Position
Newborns like the cradle-style position because it's a reclining position. You use this position to nurse your young baby in the sling.
Start by putting on the sling and opening up the pouch. Bring your baby down into the pouch – most babies like to have their head away from the rings.
Be sure that your baby is up high on your body. If your baby is drooping down low it's uncomfortable for you and your baby feels insecure.
If you're using an un-padded sling, pull on the middle of the tail fabric to make the “pocket” shallower if your baby seems lost in the fabric.
Don't worry if takes you several tries to get the hang of putting your baby in and out of the sling. Practice with a doll or stuffed animal, with your baby over the bed, or have someone to help you at first.
If your baby seems to fuss in the sling, try walking. She may settle down as soon as you get into a good walking rhythm. This is true for any position or for any type of baby carrier. Babies love to be moving.
Some babies don't like the cradle position and prefer an upright position. Carry your tiny baby upright facing you. This is a wonderful, snuggly position. It's the “kangaroo” position used with premature babies.
Put your sling on the same way as you would for the cradle hold. Open the pocket and put your baby inside. You can put baby in with his legs in a fetal position, out of the sling, or crossed up under him.
Choose whichever you and your baby like best. Many tiny babies want their legs in the sling for security and warmth.
Pull the top rail up high on baby's back so he's snuggled securely up next to you. As with the cradle position, you want baby to be high on your body.
I occasionally face my baby out in the sling while we're at the house. In general, though small babies should be facing in, rather than “going first into the world” ahead of you. They want to be in a protected cocoon-like environment. As your baby gets older, more curious, and heavier switch to a hip position.
Wear your baby on your hip as soon as you're comfortable carrying him on your hip without the sling. Usually this is when your baby has great head control and is starting to develop good back strength – around 4 months.
Put the sling on as you do with the other positions. In this carry, your baby won't be in the pocket. Slide your baby in and allow the bottom rail to catch just under her knees. Situate her on your hip and let her knees be a little higher than her waist.
The fabric should be under her knees and her bottom resting down in a little shelf of sling fabric. Pull the top rail up high behind her shoulders and tighten her up. Remember that the rings should be just over your shoulder, slightly higher than where a name badge would sit.
Some older children want to have their arms out of the sling when you do the hip carry. This is fine – just make sure that the sling rail is pulled up behind their shoulder blades.
Behind your Back
All of the above positions (except the forward facing kangaroo) work on your back as well. Back carries are nice. They let you work both hands free and nothing in front of you.
If you baby falls asleep in the cradle position, just slide him around to your back and keep on working. Be sure to tuck his head down into the sling fabric first. Bend slightly and lift up on the sling, then “hop” your baby around to the back in small movements.
Don't let the sling rings push into your breast tissue. Adjust so that they are either above or below your breasts. If your baby starts to stir, do something that involves some movement for a few minutes.
If you want to put your baby on your back in an upright position there are several ways to start. You can put your baby on the carrier propped on a couch or chair. Then slip into the carrier and tighten. Stand and bend over to get baby properly adjusted.
You can also have someone help you. Or you can “roll” your baby over your should and onto your back, where you then slide him into the carrier and adjust. You can also transfer your baby from a hip carry to a back carry.
If you just want baby on your back for a moment or two, simply bring your arm around in front of your baby. Then when you are done, put it back around her. If you want her to be all the way on your back, the slide her around and bend over a bit. Adjust the sling to your liking and tighten.
When you have your baby on your back in an upright position, make sure the fabric is behind his knees and that his hips, legs, and knees are flexed upwards a bit. This ensures that he is very securely in the sling. Have the top rail pulled up high to his shoulders, or behind the shoulder blades for an older baby.
Nursing in the Sling
You can nurse in your sling. Nursing a baby in a sling is a useful skill – the sling lets you to nurse discreetly.
If this is important to you, choose a sling with an open tail design. An open tail means that the fabric is not gathered – Maya Wrap slings have open tails. The open tail lets you flip the tail up over the baby while he or she nurses.
Discreet nursing no matter where you are is a great advantage of nursing in the sling. The sling lets you to nurse while you are moving around. This is ideal if you must be doing something and your baby is inconsolable. Dr. William Sears also recommends nursing while moving for a very fussy baby who is unable to settle down.
As you practice with your sling and use it in daily life you'll find it's indispensable. You want to have one to keep in the diaper bag or your car!
Slings are a great first baby carrier and one of the most versatile. You and your baby both enjoy the sling. Your baby is close and connected to you, and you're able to get out and about, or just around the house! Look over the awesome array of sling fabrics, colors, and designs and choose the sling that works for you – it will fit your style and keep your baby happy!
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Photo by alleexm