What is a sling?
A sling is (usually) fabric item that lets you carry your baby against your torso.
If you want a way to hold your baby close to your body and keep your hands free, then a sling could be for you. For your baby, it’s one of the closest things to being back in the womb – feeling the warmth of your body, enjoying the rocking sensation as you move and hearing your heartbeat. It can be a great way to soothe your baby to sleep, or comfort him if he’s suffering from wind, colic or reflux. Plus you can get on with chores, talk on the phone, or hold a toddler’s hand – not so easy to do while pushing a buggy!
Mums who use slings a lot often call themselves ‘baby wearers’, and there are lots of babywearing websites around, such as the one for the non-profit organisation Babywearing International.
What types of slings are there?
The different choices can be confusing at first glance, but they generally fall into these five main categories:
Wrap sling – long, shaped piece of fabric that you literally wrap around you and your baby. Can take a bit of getting the hang of, but offers lot of positions.
Ring sling – similar to a wrap, but with a buckle made of two metal or plastic rings that you can slide the fabric through and adjust to fit.
Pouch sling – quick and easy to use, a pouch goes over one shoulder and around your waist, and your baby pops inside. They come in different sizes.
Soft structured – made mainly of soft fabric, with a stitched, more rigid rectangle to support your baby’s back and bottom, and straps around your shoulders and waist. A mei tai simply ties around you, while a buckle carrier has an adjustable waist strap that clicks into place.
Bag slings – these go over one shoulder, and have a ruched pouch where you can carry your baby in either a recline or sitting position. There are safety concerns over some bag-style slings, so you might want to avoid this type, and make sure you check out our guide to wearing a sling safely.
How old is your baby?
Many slings can be used from birth right up to the toddler stage, but some suit particular stages more than others.
Newborn -look for a sling that offers the option of lying down or being upright, that will support your baby’s head, and possibly can be used for breastfeeding. Good options are wraps, pouches and ring slings.
Once your baby can support her head – she’ll want to watch the world go by sometimes, and sleep at other times. A structured soft carrier or a wrap sling offers both options.
Older baby– you might want to try a hip carrier. You could also try a back carrying position some of the time, so a soft structured carrier is a good choice.
Toddler – a sling with padded shoulder straps will ease the strain. Wraps and ring slings can be used for toddlers, but some buckle carriers are specially designed with extra straps and padded waistbands for heavier children.
All ages – if you want one sling to last you from newborn to toddler stage, a wrap or a ring sling will work for all different ages.
Want a fast option, or willing to invest time in learning positions?
Some slings are incredibly easy to use – you just pop them on and go. Others need a bit of practice, learning the different ways to wear it. If you’re willing to invest the time, slings that seem more complex actually offer the most versatility, and may be a better long-term buy. Here are some tips to help you decide:
Pouch sling or hip carrier – need no practice, but have limitations in what they can do. A pouch won’t suit a toddler, while a hip carrier can’t be used for a newborn.
Soft structured carrier – takes a bit of getting used to, although with a buckle you don’t have to practice your knot tying! These have more flexibility, as most can be used on front or back, and for a baby or toddler.
Ring sling or wrap sling – needs slightly more practice, but you can use them both in different positions and for any age of child, so perseverance pays off in terms of practicality.
Whatever sling you buy, read the instructions thoroughly, and check out online instruction guides if you need extra help. Have a trial run at home, with your partner or a friend to help, before you go out and about or try it by yourself.
What will you use it for?
Your choice of sling will depend on how you’re planning to use it.
Take the time to check out all your options. Try visiting some of the babywearing websites for advice on what other mums in your situation have loved. If you’re using your sling instead of a buggy, you may feel it’s worth investing a bit more money, and buying more than one type to suit different stages and occasions.
Just to soothe at home
It will need to be comfy and secure, but not necessarily portable – try a mei tai or a buckle carrier.
Wear while doing chores
You need something supportive to leave you some energy for your jobs – a soft structured carrier or a wrap sling is good. Go for natural fibres too, so your baby doesn’t get too hot.
Go for something simple that doesn’t take lots of practice (or lots of brain space to remember), such as a buckle carrier, or something compact and easy to stash in your bag, such as a pouch sling or wrap sling.
Who will be using it?
If you’ll be sharing your sling with your partner, childminder or friends and family, then look out for slings that can be easily adjusted to fit different wearers. These include ring slings, wrap slings, soft structured carriers and hip carriers.
Bear in mind that if you’re going to be on your own with your baby, you don’t want a sling that’s difficult for you to put on by yourself. Some take a bit of getting the hang of, so make sure you have some practice sessions with someone around before you try going solo!
Some slings, particularly mei tais, are made of incredibly beautiful fabrics. But think about whether your partner will want to use something too flowery – a unisex option may be more practical!
If you have back or pelvic problems, that doesn’t mean you can’t use a sling. Ring slings and wrap slings distribute weight evenly and are better for those with these kinds of problems.
Do you know how to wear a sling safely?
Once you’ve been using your sling for a while, using it safely will become second nature. But not all come with detailed instructions, and it’s worth checking out our guides to ensure you and your baby get the best from your sling experience.
Where do you start?
Ifyou’d like to try a baby sling, check out our in-depth sling reviews before you buy anything.