Babywearing Made Simple

by Rachel Bartlett

I formed a habit of carrying my baby, ever since her birth. We're both happier because of this decision. And with a good sling, it's no harder on me than pulling my own weight.

Yes, I'm one of "those". . .a babywearing mom.

The concept of babywearing is as old as time, and is still prevalent today in many cultures. It's a practice on the rise in the United States (luckily for the babies).

Advantages of Babywearing

  • Return to the Womb - A baby being carried in a sling is able to experience warmth, motion, security, and sounds similar to what he heard while in the womb. Parents are more aware of their baby's needs, and can attend to them immediately.
  • Pays Attention to Tiny Backs - A sling will conform to a baby's body, eliminating pressure on his developing spine.
  • Close and Secure - Sling carriers allow babies to see and feel their mother, while increasing the time the mother is able to comfortably hold them.
  • Hands Off The Baby Please - Wearing your baby in a sling protects him from curious strangers and their germs. Most people won't get too close to a baby being cuddled close to his mother's breast.
  • Baby's Number One Choice - Babies prefer being held. (Think of the times you see mothers holding a baby with one arm and trying to push a stroller or shopping cart with the other.)
  • Discreet Nursing - A sling provides for more discreet nursing in public.
  • Optimal Weight Gain - A breastfed newborn who's having a hard time gaining weight will benefit while carried in the sling because he'll smell his mother's milk and be stimulated to nurse more often.
  • Weight Distribution - Slings, as opposed to strapped carries like backpacks or frontpacks, distribute the baby's weight evenly over the parent's back, reducing strain.
  • Calmer Babies - Babies who are carried in a sling have more calm, alert periods. Slinging helps reduce crying and fussiness, and can help immensely with a baby who has colic.
  • Confidence - Carrying a baby in a sling helps him to be more independent and self confident as he grows. A toddler who knows his mom is there for him and will pick him up and carry him when he needs her to is more apt to feel secure in his environment.
  • Look Mom - HANDS! Older siblings will feel less resentful of a new baby who is carried in a sling, since Mom has her hands free to help with the older child's needs.

How to Use Your Sling

It's important to remember that using a sling is something that is learned. It will take a bit of practice to easily use your sling, but soon it will become almost automatic to place your baby in and go. You will have more success if your baby is rested and fed before you start.

Preparing Your Sling for Use

  1. Lay your sling out flat. It will be easier to thread this way.
  2. Take the portion at the end where there are not rings and fold them as you would a paper fan or a strip of construction paper to make something "jump out" of a card that you made in elementary school. It is a sort of corrugated fashion folding back and forth until you have a neat stack. The width of your folds should be the same as the width of the folds that are sewn on the ring end of the sling.
  3. Lay out your long folded sling with the Maya Wrap label facing upward.
  4. Pick up your folded stack end and bring it toward the rings and through both rings about half the length of your folded sling.
  5. Take the folded stack end and flip it back over, like a snake, OVER the top ring and UNDER the bottom ring.

Threading your sling is easier if you first lay it out flat. When you first open your sling, you will notice a folded over part. Holding the rings end of the sling in your left hand with the tag side down, unfold that piece and then spread the sling out completely on a flat surface. Gather the material together like you would fold a paper fan and pull it through both rings. Then pull it over the top ring and through the bottom ring, making sure to keep the edges or rails of fabric in the right place. (Follow each edge around to the rings and make sure it's on the same side through the rings. Make sure the material in the middle is evenly distributed through the rings instead of all bunched up.)

Preparing to Wear Your Sling

(These instructions are for wearing your sling with the rings on your right shoulder; they can be mirrored for use with the rings on your left shoulder.)

Hold your sling with the tail facing out, the rings in your right hand. Put your left hand through the sling and bring it over your head, with the rings resting just slightly in front of your right shoulder. Spread the fabric of the sling over your shoulder and evenly over your back (all the way from your shoulder blades to your lower back.)

Pull the material tightly across your back so that all of the slack is in front of you. You are now ready to place your child in the sling.

The Cradle Hold
This hold is most popular for newborns, but can also be used with an older child or a nursing baby.

Pull the inner fabric up on your chest, creating a "pocket" for your baby to sit in. Place your child in the sling with his feet on the side with the rings. (MW slings can also be used with the child's head on the same side as the rings. Either way is fine; it all comes down to what is more comfortable for you and your baby.) When the baby is comfortably in the sling with his head either inside or outside the sling (again, whatever is more comfortable for your child) pull the tail of the sling to tighten it. You can make the sling fit more snugly by adjusting the top and bottom rail independently.

Vertical Position
After pulling all the material around your back tightly, put your baby inside the sling with his bottom resting on the bottom rail, his tummy against yours, and his head resting on your upper chest. Holding him securely with your left hand, pull the fabric around him tightly, holding all of the slack between your hand and the rings. Gently tighten the sling with the top rail covering or mostly covering his head. This is for a newborn carry; a baby with head control will not need his head covered by the sling but may still enjoy the vertical position.

Kangaroo Carry
This position works best with younger babies who have head control. Put on your sling and create a pocket as if you were planning to use it in the cradle position. Cross your baby's legs ("Indian Style") and place the baby inside sitting up with his back against your chest. While supporting your baby's weight, pull on the tail to tighten the sling.

Front Carry
Put your child in the sling facing sideways; he will be facing the rings. Be sure the bottom rail comes out to your child's knees. If your child is restless or tired, you can place his arms inside the sling. Tighten the sling until your child is secure.

Hip Carry
This is an excellent position for heavy toddlers because your hip is used to support your child's weight. Put your child in your sling resting on your hip with your child's legs straddling you. The bottom of the sling should extend out to your child's knees. The top of the sling should come up to his shoulder blades. This position can be used with the child's arms inside or outside the sling. Tighten the sling until your child is secure.

Troubleshooting: If your back begins to feel strained, make sure your baby is pulled close to your body. Tighten the sling as necessary.

You can view the Maya Wrap instructional online video here: Maya Wrap Instructional Video.

Back Carry
The back carry position is recommended for children who are at least one year old. Put your sling on with the rings too high (either on or behind your shoulder.) Place your child in the sling as far back on your hip as possible with his arms covered. Tighten your sling until your child is secure. Carefully slide your baby around to your back. Until you are familiar with this position it's a good idea to have someone help make sure your child is secure in the sling. The back carry position should only be used with a cooperative child.

Troubleshooting: If the rings end up in the middle of your chest while using this position, take your baby out and begin again, putting baby further back on your hip and starting with the rings further behind your shoulder.

As long as you and your baby are both comfortable, there really is no "wrong" way to use your sling. The more you use it, the easier it becomes, and the more indispensable it will be to you.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q. This all sounds nice, but won't my baby become spoiled if I hold her too much?
A. Actually, the opposite is true. Responding to a baby's needs lets her know she is loved and valued. Babywearing promotes deep bonding and allows parents to respond more quickly to their baby's cues. "Spoiling" happens when something is neglected. Your child will grow confident and secure when her needs for dependency are met in her early years.

Q. How do I learn to use my new sling?
A. Wearing your baby in a sling will be a very pleasurable experience for both of you, so have fun! Maya Wrap slings come with written instructions with pictures, and an instructional video is also available. You'll have better results learning to use your sling if your baby is rested and fed. Some babies don't like the idea of the sling in the very beginning, so when you get the baby inside and adjusted, start moving immediately. The motion helps them get used to being help in the sling. And truly, the more you use your sling, the more comfortable you will be at using it. It will become like second nature to put your baby in, make a minor adjustment and go.

Q. I'm pregnant with twins. There's no way I can use a sling for my babies, right?
A. Slinging twins is more of a challenge, but so is everything relating to twins. This can be done! When the babies are newborn, both can be worn in one sling (just order one size larger than you would normally need.)

One possible position is a double "tummy-to-tummy" carry. Place one baby over each breast facing you, with the babies' legs either inside or outside the bottom of the sling (whichever the babies prefer). Tighten the tail until the babies are both snugly held against your chest.

Another position for newborn twins is with their feet touching, with the babies facing each other sideways in the sling. Place one baby in the sling with her head facing the rings. Then put the second baby in, facing the first. Tighten the sling until snug.

When the babies are older, you can wear your babies by using two different size slings. If you would normally require a medium sling, you would need a medium and a large. Put on the smaller sling first and get one baby snugly situated. (You can use a cradle position for younger babies or a hip carry for older ones.) Then put the larger sling over and get the second baby positioned and tighten the sling.

Q. My baby doesn't seem to like the sling. Am I doing something wrong?
A. Most babies like the snug, cuddling feeling of being carried in a sling, but some take a little longer to get used to it. If your baby is fussy in the sling, here are a few suggestions:

  • Move around immediately
    Eventually you will be able to be less active with your baby in the sling, but at first, and if the baby seems restless, start walking as soon as you have him secured in the sling. The rhythmic motion will be soothing, and your baby will enjoy all the sights from his new perspective.
  • Give her a few minutes to get used to it.
    As with anything new, being in a sling can take some getting used to. If your baby isn't crying, but is just a bit fussy, give him a few minutes to adjust to being inside the sling. If he becomes very upset, take him out and try again later. This might mean in an hour, a few days, a week or even a month later. A baby who seemed to hate being in the sling at 2 months old may surprisingly enjoy it at 3 months old. I found with my daughter that positioning was what made the difference. She didn't like the cradle hold when she was newborn, but did enjoy the vertical position with her head only slightly covered for support. (I used my hand to provide all the support she needed until she could hold it up herself.) We still use our sling daily, and she's 17 months old.
  • Relax!
    Your baby will sense your tension. If you are frustrated with not being able to expertly tighten the sling, take a deep breath, or try again later when you are feeling more relaxed. It may be that just a change in position will make the difference with how your baby reacts to being inside the sling.
  • Hold your baby through the sling.
    Put the sling loosely around your baby. Continue to hold her with your arms. As she begins to relax, gradually tighten the sling until she is being completely supported by it.
  • Feed your baby.
    Your little one may be more accepting of the sling if she is being nursed.

My Favorite Sling

I have used several different kinds of baby carriers over the years with my older children and never found one that was really beneficial without causing a lot of strain on my back and shoulders. When a friend bought me a Maya Wrap sling as a gift when I was pregnant with my youngest child, I thought, this is just another carrier I'll never use. Boy, was I wrong! My baby is a rambunctious toddler and we still use our sling every day.

Maya Wrap slings are:

  • Versatile (can be used in many positions, and with babies from birth to 35 pounds.)
  • Lightweight (cool in the summer, and not bulky - just toss it in your diaper bag or on under your coat and go!
  • A great aid for discreet nursing in public (the long tail can be tossed over the baby's head for complete coverage.)
  • Very comfortable (the fabric spreads completely over your back and shoulder, distributing the weight of your baby evenly, and minimizing back strain.)
  • Usable for parents of many sizes (they are available in small, medium, large, and extra large.) When ordering your sling, choose the size that will fit the larger parent; a larger size merely adds extra tail length for the smaller parent.
  • Quite beautiful (Maya Wrap slings come in a variety of hand-woven fabrics, including four solid shades).

Rachel Bartlett is a WAHM to four great kids. When she's not providing "taxi service" or helping with homework, they enjoy playing games, reading together, taking walks and watching movies. Rachel feels strongly about attachment parenting and breastfeeding. To read more about Maya Wrap slings, visit her website, Maya Slings by Rachel.

Copyright © Rachel Bartlett. Permission to publish granted to Pregnancy.org, LLC.