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Sling article and How-To

When I was pregnant with my daughter, I planned on buying a snuggli carrier, which was what my mom had used briefly with my sister when she was tiny. I mentioned the fact that I was looking for one to my midwife. She told me that most moms she'd talked to had not gotten a lot of use out of snuggli carriers, because their babies grew out of them too fast, and that there were a number of other ways of carrying a baby. She put me in touch with the owner of Baby Bundler, who set me up with my first baby-wearing device.... The six yards of cloth seemed daunting at first, but with a bit of practice, I was soon grocery shopping while nursing my daughter bundled to my chest.

Kailea got very heavy, very fast, putting on 14 pounds in her first six months on my milk alone. I held or carried her all the time, but did not use the bundler much past that first three months, simply becuase it was too hard getting her in and out, and I didn't like having to re-wrap it all the time. It was comfortable wearing, but not super easy to get on and off. (note: for better instructions on using a stretchy wrap, see www.mamatoto.org. If I'd known then what I know now, I would have gotten a lot more use out of that Bundler!)

When Kailea was about 10 months old, I saw an ad for the New Native baby carrier. It looked easy and comfortable, and they had a low-income program to donate slings to moms who didn't have a lot of resources. Since I was on welfare at the time, I qualified, and my arms were relieved from their constant duty of holding a 25 pound child on my hip.... It was a very easy carrier to wear, and comfortable. It was even easier to make another one out of a different kind of fabric, and from that point, I "paid forward" (instead of paying back) the gift of my sling by making slings for other low income women.

I started becoming interested in other "native" wraps.... I knew intellectually that many, many cultures had a variety of ways of tying on a baby, but I had no intuitive understanding of exactly how they did it. The Bundler was a complicated wrap, and it seemed like an awful lot of fabric... The New Native involved sewing, which didn't seem like the simplest procedure. And the other slings I'd seen, the padded, buckled kind, were even more "constructed". I had the opportunity to use one at a postpartum client's house, and the NoJo was comfortable for me, but too big for the petite mother who'd bought it. Even so, I was able to hold one of her twins in the sling, while holding the other on my shoulder, and it did leave a hand free.... It was comfortable, but a bit bulky, and not something I could "make anywhere".

Then one day I was helping a young woman with her newborn, cleaning for her, and listening to her talk about her birth story and her postpartum. She said it was difficult for her because her baby wanted to be held all the time, and she couldn't make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with one hand. So she'd been subsisting on Ramen, which she *could* make with one hand.... She told me she'd had a dream where she'd tied her baby to her with a sheet, and she described how she'd done it. Without even thinking, I said, "You know, you could make a sling out of a sheet, but you wouldn't tie it like that, you'd tie it like...."

Then we got out a sheet and I folded it and tied it to her, and we slid the baby into the sling we'd made, and suddenly she looked relieved! Her baby was snuggled close between her breasts, and her hands were free. She looked at me and said "I can make a peanut butter sandwich!" We laughed, and the relief she felt had me almost dancing out to my car when I left.

I thought about that for a long time, and the more I thought about it, the more frustrated I was that I hadn't known any traditional ways of wearing a baby when my daughter was a newborn. It should not be complicated, and little children should know how to tie a baby wrap as soon as they're old enough to play with dolls.

Soon after that, I attended the Midwifery Today Eugene 1996 conference. At the Tricks of the Trade circle, I demonstrated my "sling-from-a-sheet". After I was done, Fusako Sei, a Japanese midwife, came forward and used my sheet to demonstrate a traditional Japanese carry using a "volunteer" baby from the audience. Then the Inuit midwives came forward and showed a variation of that carry that covered the baby more. And finally came the Mexican midwives, with their rebozos, to show us a number of different ways of carrying a baby in a shawl. This was an amazing time for me, I soaked in the information eagerly. It was like a thirst being quenched, this desire I'd had to understand the many ways of carrying an infant. (for fantastic instructions on using wraps and traditional carriers of all kinds, including photographs and videos, see MamaToto.)

Since then I've shared these patterns and methods online, and one mom started sewing slings for her friends, and then her friends' friends. She e-mailed me to tell of the slings she'd made, polar fleece ones for winter, denim for older babies, buttery soft cotton interlock for newborns. I mentioned an idea I'd had of a cotton mesh sling to wear with a baby while swimming (well, wading, really). Another mom told me about the sling she'd rigged together with safety pins for her newborn. Another mom told me that she'd done the sling from a sheet, but now her baby was not happy there, so we talked about alternative positions for the baby, and I told her how to put her alert baby on her back while she attended to her toddler's needs.

I've also made a number of slings for my clients. I know how much my presence as a doula helps them in the birth process, and in the immediate postpartum. But I want my influence to be longer lasting than that.... So I make each client a sling. I show her how to use it. I encourage her to hold her baby as often as possible. And I pay attention to what they tell me about the history of each sling...

The first one I made is still in use (and that child is 27 months old), but in use by the sister of the woman I made it for, with her one year old. Another one was lost in the grocery store. Another one was used by both a mommy and a daddy, and I made a matching one for the big brother to carry his stuffed animals in.... I've made a number of them for little girls and boys I know, and they are all well used. The most recent one I made for a couple who adopted their baby. This sling holds this little guy close to his new mama, and they take him for long walks in it. No stroller. It calms him, they say, and they let him sleep on their chests at night. I promised them that by the time he's 18, he won't want to sleep on their chests anymore.

I feel very strongly that every mother should know how to wear her baby, whether or not she chooses to use that knowledge. How many times have you seen a mother juggling a stroller and a baby and a diaper bag and a toddler at a bus stop? How many times have you seen a parent with weary arms lugging a 35 pound toddler through a mall, carrying the child because little legs got tired?

Birth professionals should know these techniques, and pass them on to their clients. We are in a unique position to influence our clients, and this particular influence can have far-reaching effects on the quality of life both for the families we serve and for their babies. We need to reclaim the wisdom of carrying our babies, and share it with our clients and our children.

Techniques:

Bedsheets:

"Tube" style sling (see also Rev. Jan's great DIY page!)

Serger: If you are going to be using an overlock machine, follow these instructions:
Regular sewing machine: If you don't have a serger, use these instructions:

http://www.ida.net/users/stace/sling.html is another set of instructions which are very similar (only a few differences in construction) with some *very* good diagrams.

Other easy homemade slings

There are many other ways of wearing babies, these are the ones I know and share with you. If you have other ways, I would love to hear them, if you have pictures or methods, you can send them to me. My goal is to teach as many people as possible the different ways of holding and carrying babies, so that mothers will have an easier time of caring for their little ones and their little ones will have an easier time growing up.

Copyright 1997, by Jennifer Rosenberg All rights reserved. Single copy reproduction for personal use acceptable. May not be published or reprinted in any other form, electronic or printed without written permission. Portions of this article appeared in Midwifery Today magazine issues number 44 and 45. Updated slightly with links, August 2005.


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