How can you tell your baby is well supported and comfortable in a sling? Mostly, they’ll let you know if they’re not! However, there are some key guidelines to follow in order to check fit and comfort for parent and baby. Remember that manufacturer guidelines for carriers (especially those purchased secondhand) can quickly become out of date, or can be incorrect, as can YouTube how to videos not made by professionals. Historically we would have had the support of our “village” and plenty of experienced family members to pass on their knowledge, but in our modern lives this can be lacking. If you are unsure how to use a sling safely, try attending a sling meet or booking a consultation.
For the wearer:
When the sling is on, it should not put any strain on your back, neck or shoulders and you should feel comfortable and secure. If you don’t feel this way, it doesn’t necessarily mean that this is the “wrong” sling for you, but it may just need some tweaks on positioning or adjustment.
For the baby:
Your baby’s back should be well supported in a C shape and their head should be clear of their chest. Their legs should be supported in the M or J shape as shown at the top of this article. This upright position mimics an in arms carry and as babies often spend their first few months all tucked up, supporting this position for them is the most comfortable. Once a baby is well positioned in a sling their airways are free, fabric should not be covering their face and they often drift peacefully to sleep. Check that the sling supports the baby’s bottom to be lower than their knees, and that the fabric does not extend past their knee pits forcing their legs straight. This can often be overcome by cinching the waistband, but check with your local meet or consultant to be sure.
As mentioned in the previous article about sling safety, babies should be high, tight, in view, close enough to kiss, with their chin off their chest and their back well supported. For this reason, lying down (sometimes called “cradle” position) in a carrier is not recommended. If you’d like to feed in a sling, try to keep baby upright and if this is not possible keep a close watch and return them to the upright position when the feed is finished.
For older babies and toddlers:
Ask them! Make sure the carrier you use has been tested to support the weight of your child, and they still need to be well held across their back, bottom and legs. If they do fall asleep, ensure their head is well supported so they do not strain their neck. Many families carry comfortably through the pre-school years, it’s a case of finding the right carrier and fit.
If you are carrying on your back, make sure the sling you are using is age and weight appropriate. For example, many SSCs do not hold a smaller baby high enough to be visible and safe, conversely a stretchy wrap is not recommended for a back carry except by an experienced wearer or with the help of a professional as it is a tricky carry to get right safely.
A final thing to consider for safe and comfortable carrying is the weather! Here are two great links from Sheffield Sling Surgery about carrying in both heat and cold. The sling you use may add up to 3 extra layers on your baby and overheating can be a real risk.