“I don’t want a sling – have you got any carriers?” – language and the carrying world

When I trained as  a breastfeeding peer supporter I remember reading an editorial by Diane Wiessinger, IBCLC entitled “Watch Your Language” which completely changed my outlook on communication. I’ve linked the full article below, but the main idea I took away from it was the importance of choosing our language carefully, especially when talking to new parents who are experiencing a life change of such enormity.

Much more recently a post on Facebook by Sling School caught my eye:

We’ve been thinking a lot about language this year, and how little subtleties can make a huge difference. I’ve got a blog post brewing on the language around ‘putting a baby in a sling’. For some parents, when the stretchy wrap is tied and ready for baby, they switch from cuddling baby in a great position to suddenly looking like there’s a difficult challenge ahead, holding baby away from themselves and angling the legs towards the cross passes which are then tentatively lifted to allow legs in. A simple shift in the language, encouraging parents to cuddle baby in the position they’d like them to be in, then moulding the stretchy wrap around them can lead to a big lightbulb moment and make the process seem much easier

“Once your stretchy wrap is on, do you talk about ‘putting baby into sling’ or ‘cuddling baby and fitting the sling to them’? The language we use makes a huge difference to parents’ confidence in using slings and getting their baby comfy in new carriers. – Language Matters”

All that background aside, I wanted to write this blog post focusing on an interesting phenomenon that I’ve experienced recently – the difference between a sling and a carrier. A quick Google of “sling or carrier” brings me neatly to the BabyCentre “How to buy a baby carrier guide

“The #1 pregnancy and parenting digital destination, BabyCenter reaches more than 45 million parents a month in every corner of the globe through its 11 owned and operated properties in 9 different languages.”

Despite this, their information in their how to guide bears very little resemblance to what I know from both personal experience as a parent in the world of carrying and as a carrying consultant. [If you are looking for a great resource for choosing a baby carrier I would definitely check out this from It’s A Sling Thing: Help Me Choose A Sling! ]

The information in the BabyCentre guide talks about front carriers, slings and wraps – (what I would call soft structured carriers, stretchy wraps and woven wraps) with some strange information!

One downside to front carriers is that some don’t lend themselves easily to breastfeeding while wearing your baby. Also, a front carrier may feel too big and bulky for your newborn.

Many parents would find that the majority of soft structured carriers are well-suited to breastfeeding, and there are lots of carriers (slings?) on the market that adjust easily to fit a newborn. For more on feeding in slings/carriers this is an excellent resource: Breastfeeding and Bottle Feeding Safely in Slings by Carrying Matters

And like slings, they [wraps] aren’t as comfortable for carrying bigger kids because they don’t have the padding and support that front carriers offer.

Woven wraps are the most versatile carrier, lasting from newborn well into the preschool years and beyond – so this misconception could prevent a parent from accessing a tool that would be a great option for them. These are just two examples, from one website – but they have opened my eyes to the changed I need to make to my practice to be able to help parents.

Where can parents (and sling librarians, consultants, peer supporters, health professionals, birth workers…) find easy to understand, clear and useful guidance about the types of slings available?

Babywearing UK – Choosing a Sling or Carrier  is a comprehensive guide covering advantages and disadvantages of different types of sling/carrier and this wonderful image from Ecoroos gives a visual run down of each of the different types.

This huge difference between what major parenting resources say about slings (where most people look first) and what the carrying profession says about slings (the people parents are approaching for support) can lead to communication challenges for everyone involved.  Being called the Happy Sling Lady has made me wonder if people might think I can’t help them with a “carrier”, and I have been momentarily confused when showing someone a Connecta and they tell me that they don’t want one of those, they want a sling. Many people write to me saying that they are happily using a sling in the house but they want a carrier for outside. When asking a few more questions, I find they have a stretchy wrap that they don’t feel confident in using out of the home, and they are looking for something more structured like a high street carrier (e.g. Baby Bjorn, Ergo 360 etc.).  My primary goal is to support and empower parents to feel able to safely and confidently carry their baby and being more aware of language and terms can hopefully help me achieve this.

So to answer my question in my blog image: Sling or Carrier

  • Is there a difference? – depends who you ask! I use them interchangeably or say sling/carrier to avoid confusion.
  • What is it?  – people often think a sling is a piece of fabric wrapped around the body (stretchy or otherwise) and a carrier is more structured, usually with buckles. The reality is there are many more options than just these two, and sling/carrier can be used to mean any, all or none.
  • Why does it matter? – It matters because parents come to sling consultants or libraries looking for help and the words they choose may affect how we understand their needs, and how their needs get met.

What has your experience been? Did you learn anything new from this blog?


Watch Your Language!  Diane Wiessinger, MS, IBCLC 

It’s A Sling Thing: Help Me Choose A Sling! 

Breastfeeding and Bottle Feeding Safely in Slings by Carrying Matters

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