Author Olwen Rowe (Babywearing Consultant)

One of the quesolwen rowetions I’ve been asked a number of times is “What if I’ve been to a sling meeting and I still can’t get my baby comfortable in a sling / carrier?” Given the dynamics of a sling meeting, this can happen for many different reasons. If you are one of the mums or dads who come away from a sling meeting feeling disheartened because you can’t figure out a sling or your baby cries every time you try, don’t despair, there are other supports available! Or if you look at other mums at a meeting and are amazed at how proficient they seem trying slings, don’t feel that you just can’t learn – maybe they’ve had a lesson or they’ve already tried this type of sling a number of times. If you do not feel confident about your choice of sling/carrier, or how to use it, it may be that some of the pieces of the puzzle are still not clear to you.

In addition, remember that there are also two of you who are learning – you and your baby. Some babies can get stressed when being handled differently, or if you are feeling frustrated, as you attempt to figure out a new carrier or sling on your own. If you are at a sling meeting, the general ‘busyness’ may influence how willing a baby is to try something new; a one-to-one consultation may be better suited given a baby’s temperament. My second baby needed to be carried a lot, but despaired when I tried to learn how to put him in a sling. He was a big, colicky baby who needed lots of physical contact but he was five months old before I finally found a carrier that was actually comfortable for us both.
I wish I’d had help sooner. In those early months we both missed out on much of the joy and ease the right sling and a good technique would have brought us.

Professional support for parents who wish to carry their babies is still a relatively new concept in Ireland. It’s worth exploring some of the reasons why someone might choose to see a professionally-trained babywearing consultant, even if they are attending sling meetings.

What can a sling meeting offer?

A sling meeting can be a great starting point for anyone who wants to carry their baby, as well as introducing you to a wonderful network of parents. It’s also great if you are already using a sling or carrier and you’d like to see what else might work for you, or to see what other parents are finding comfortable. It’s a lovely way of meeting like-minded parents over a biscuit and a cuppa! At Galway Slings babywearing mornings, we usually have more than 20 parents who come for tips and advice, so there’s a lovely buzz and lots of chat. For me, there’s lots to do with putting out all the slings, mirror, demo doll, posters, setting out useful information and getting toys out to entertain older babies and toddlers, and setting out useful information. At the start of the meeting, I demonstrate good positioning in the main types of carriers and slings. There are usually a few helpful mums who set up and organise refreshments, take back rented slings and welcome new parents when they arrive. And all of this happens before anyone tries on a sling!

At our meetings, there’s usually the opportunity to see how a sling feels for you and your baby; you can rent a carrier with the manufacturer’s instructions; you can also chat to other babywearers about their experiences. Many parents are eager to try various slings or to ask for advice on a sling/carrier they are already using. I make sure we have all our library’s slings and carriers there so that people have the opportunity to feel and try various carriers. This is all very relaxed and informal and people are welcome to browse through the different carriers while they chat to other parents. I try to talk to as many people as I can and there are usually a few experienced mums who are delighted to share their experience and knowledge.

As a babywearing consultant what can I offer at a sling meeting?

At a sling meeting, I can chat with parents about different options that might suit them, I can demonstrate some carriers and slings, and I can suggest some tips and tweaks. When I help someone try on a carrier, I can adjust it for them so that they can get a sense of what it should feel like when it’s on correctly. Sometimes I have the time to walk somebody through the basic steps of putting the carrier on.

The main difference between sling meetings and consultations is that I cannot ‘teach’ at a sling meeting. When I run a sling meeting, I see it primarily as an opportunity to give advice and to facilitate peer support. Given the noise and distractions, it’s just not the ideal environment to give detailed instructions or to learn how to use a carrier or sling in depth. With a ring sling, for example, at a meeting I can help you try one on, and if it’s not too busy I can walk you through some of the steps. For me to teach you in a way that you can walk away confident that you can put it on at home, it would take me up to an hour or more during a one-to-one consultation. And that’s before we talk about the different shoulder types! I also need to take safety into account at sling meetings. For instance, while I’m happy to demonstrate a back carry in a woven wrap if there is time, I never teach back carries with a woven wrap at a sling meeting because there isn’t the time or calm to be sure this would happen safely. For me to properly teach a back carry in a woven wrap, it would take about two hours in a calm, quiet environment to teach a group of three.

How is a consultation or workshop different from a sling meeting?

I run consultations and workshops in a quiet environment where you can set the pace, ask as many questions as you like and be assured of my undivided attention. You can take whatever breaks you need to tend to your baby and you’ll always be able to practice a few times with a weighted demonstration doll before ever putting your baby in a sling. Your baby might appreciate this! My training with Trageschule allows me to break down the techniques and walk you through each little step until you feel confident to do it yourself. When you leave a consultation, you can draw on the tips I give you, the visual memory of me demonstrating, and the memory of seeing yourself in a mirror making adjustments. I can send you a photo of you with the carrier on correctly so that you can see what it’s like on you and your baby, rather than on a stranger. And because you’ve had the chance to practice a few times at your own pace during a consultation, when you go home you should also be able to draw on your body memory of practicing the sequence of steps. After a consultation, I’m available for support by phone and email. If you don’t already have your own sling, you can rent the sling or carrier you have been working with from me. Many parents find it useful to narrow their choice down to two slings and to rent both so that they can take their time to figure out which works best for them.

I had a lovely consultation a few weeks ago with a mum who had attended our local sling meeting. She got in touch to say she’d bought a mei tai because she’d loved trying the one we had at the sling meeting. She was thinking of returning it and buying a different style because she couldn’t get it as snug as she had it at the meeting and her baby was getting distressed every time she tried. She had watched a number of online tutorials but found that there just wasn’t enough information given to be able to really make sense of the steps involved in putting it on. After chatting to her about different options, she decided that she’d like to book an hour-long one-to-one consultation. She was delighted at the end of it. She found that after seeing how to put it on and practicing a few times with a weighted demonstration doll she was able to put the carrier on herself and it was just as comfortable as she remembered. Once she felt confident she knew all the steps and we’d fine-tuned her technique, she popped her daughter into the sling with great confidence and ease, and her little baby promptly fell asleep.

Some parents find that the information they get at a sling meeting is enough to get them started carrying their baby. Other parents find that it just isn’t enough. There’s a lot going on at a meeting, so don’t be dismayed if when you leave you haven’t figured out what sling works for you, or you get home and you can’t seem to figure out how to put on a sling / carrier again. Perhaps you’ll have met an experienced parent at the meeting, someone you can meet another time in a quieter environment to get some advice. Maybe you’ll come back to another meeting with more questions. Or perhaps you’ll consider having a consultation or attending a workshop with a babywearing consultant. If you want to keep your baby close, a small group workshop or an individually tailored consultation might be exactly what you need. Babywearing Ireland (BWI) lists professionally-trained babywearing consultants here (insert hyperlink) who have signed the BWI Consultant Code of Practice.

Olwen is a professionally trained Babywearing Consultant (Trageschule Certified). She has three boys and offers consultations and workshops in and around Galway. To find out more you can visit her website: www.borntobecarried.com, or visit her on facebook: http://www.facebook.com/BorntobeCarried.

Olwen runs Galway Slings, a local Babywearing Ireland group with a sling library.  Meetings are on the first or second Saturday of every month from 11-1 in Knocknacarra. Slings can be rented between meetings. You can find out more at www.galwayslings.wordpress.com or visit us on facebook at http://www.facebook.com/GalwaySlings.

As with all BWI sling meetings, you can expect the following:

  • –  an informal chat with friendly people who have similar interests
  • –  a range of slings and carriers to try out in an informal setting
  • –  an exchange with other sling/carrier users about experiences using them
  • –  informal demonstrations of some slings/carriers