Hold me close: The whats, whys and hows of babywearing
Babywearing is becoming an increasingly popular way to carry your baby around. Andrea Mara reports
When my first baby was two months old, I stumbled across "babywearing" - we had a brief relationship that was sadly doomed from the start. With high hopes of carrying my baby around the house while finally getting some housework done, I bought a sling online. But I couldn't figure out exactly how to use it, and sadly, I listened to people who said I was "spoiling" my baby by carrying her. I stopped trying. It took two more babies and five years before I rediscovered the joy of slings. So what exactly is babywearing, and why is it so great?
"It means holding your baby or child close to your body with a piece of material," explains babywearing consultant Ina Doyle. "It means responding to baby's innate need for close physical contact, which supports normal development. And it means parents can 'get on with life' while baby is part of it, safe and secure."
Indeed, my eyes were opened when I finally bought my first proper sling. It was for my third baby, who was already six months old, and carrying him was an incredible bonding experience - he was always happiest in my arms anyway, but now I had a sling to help me to hold him.
There's a perception that babywearing is something outside of mainstream parenting in Ireland; that it's only for people practising attachment parenting, or mothers who lean towards the hippie-ish end of the scale. However, that seems to be changing - looking around the streets on any given day, there's a sense that slings are becoming a basic purchase for many new parents.
Doyle agrees. "It's been changing hugely since I've become involved in babywearing here in Ireland eight years ago. More and more parents and grandparents realise that using a baby sling is compatible with all sorts of parenting and lifestyle choices. And I do believe that with information being more easily accessible, and a growing number of sling libraries, babywearing consultants and Irish sling retailers, babywearing will be a normal part of parenting again one day."
Even with this kind of information, getting started can be a daunting prospect. This is where sling libraries come in. Babywearing consultant Tracy Slattery, owner of slingtogether.com, explains how they work.
"A sling library is a voluntary group of experienced babywearing mums and dads who meet regularly. They generally have a range of different types of ergonomic slings and carriers for parents and caregivers to try. At a sling meet you can expect to explore and try different slings, as well as getting advice, and carrying tips. To find a sling meet that is local to you, log onto babywearingireland.ie."
If going to a sling meet is beyond your comfort zone, a one-to-one consultation might suit better. This may take place in your home, or at the consultant's workspace. "The consultation will usually start with an overview of sling safety, baby physiology, and why we choose to use ergonomic slings," explains Slattery. "You are then introduced to a range of different types of slings. A consultant will help you to choose a sling type that best matches your and baby's needs, and you then concentrate on how to put baby correctly and safely into the sling."
Another option is to go to the Wear A Hug fair on September 27 in the Glenroyal Hotel, Maynooth - it's Babywearing Ireland's annual fundraiser, entirely organised by volunteers, and a chance to see babywearing in action.
And of course, learning about safety is key. A consultant can show you how to ensure your child's airway remains open while babywearing, by keeping him in an upright position, and making sure the chin is off the chest. You'll also learn how to make sure that there's good support for your baby's neck and back, usually in a squat position with support knee to knee. And if buying a second hand sling or carrier, it's important to check that it's in good condition before using it.
There are some common myths and fears about babywearing - one of the most frequent questions I was asked was, "But doesn't it hurt your back?"
If the sling is a suitable fit and the baby is properly positioned, it shouldn't hurt at all - I was surprised at how comfortable I found it.
People worry too about falling, but Ina Doyle dispels that fear: "You're less likely to fall with a well-fitting and correctly adjusted sling than with a baby in arms, as your posture is much better and your body steadier."
And does babywearing mean getting rid of the buggy? "There's a place for both, and which one parents use depends very much on the situation," says Doyle. "When they go places that are non-accessible or harder to navigate with wheels; like busy shops or public transport; they often opt for sling only."
And as for the so-called spoiling? Holding a baby close to you, responding to his needs, giving him the security that this close contact brings - critical for building self-confidence - all of this can only do good. I missed that memo the first time around, but made up for it with my smallest boy. When it comes to babywearing, it's better late than never.
For the uninitiated, what kinds of slings are available? Ina Doyle of bumptobeyond.com, has the lowdown:
STRETCHY WRAP: A long piece of knitted fabric that you wrap around your body
WOVEN WRAP: A piece of woven fabric in varying lengths, that you wrap around your body
RING SLING: A piece of fabric threaded through two metal rings
MEI TAI: A shaped panel of fabric, tied onto the wearer with shoulder and waist straps
BUCKLE CARRIER: A shaped, often padded, panel of fabric secured onto the wearer with buckled straps