Slings are fantastic. Sure, babies can be held on laps, or put over shoulders, or even put down (if you are fortunate enough to have one who is happy with this), but occasionally you need both hands. Playing a game with baby in a sling leaves you with one hand for the cards and the other for the dice.
Brilliant though slings are, there are a few caveats. (By the way, why is it that people are always completely pro or anti something? Where’s the moderate view, the voice saying “this is pretty good, but here are some downsides you ought to know about”?) So, in the interest of being both fair and useful, here are the downsides.
Firstly, ours hated all slings initially. Screamed and screamed. We were given a new stretchy wrap and a much-used Baby Bjorn Original, and then hired a ring sling and a soft structured carrier with cross-over straps at the back. When we put her in the wrap at two weeks old she screamed for at least five minutes, before falling fast asleep. She only screamed for three minutes the time after that though… When we first tried the ring sling a couple of weeks ago it took six lengths of the road and five rounds of My Grandfather’s Clock (all four verses) before she accepted it.
Secondly, just as she gets comfortable in the sling, she wants feeding. Theoretically, it’s possible to breastfeed in some slings. I tried with the ring sling, but somehow it didn’t go very well. The instructions seemed pretty simple: loosen the sling, move the legs round and the body down, support the head, latch on. As I loosened the sling she was already suggesting that maybe this was Not A Good Idea, and by the time I was trying to straighten her body it was clear that she thought it A Very Bad Idea Indeed. It took ten minutes just to get her to stop screaming, and that even including feeding her (in the normal way, on a pillow on my lap). So, feeding in the sling is a definite no from me.
Thirdly, there’s great potential for sick. We have a greedy baby. She likes to eat and eat, and if it turns out that her eyes are bigger than her stomach (estimated at 40% of the time), then it comes back up. A couple of weeks ago she went through a period of refusing to swallow the last mouthful, so it dribbles out a few minutes later. She wears a bib most of the time, and I stuff a muslin down the front of the sling (underneath the bib and her chin – practically in my cleavage) to catch most sicky dribbles. Generally, having them upright means that more milk stays in the stomach…but first there’s the task of getting them into the sling, and that means they need to be put over your shoulder, and that has the potential to encourage sicky burps… Last week I went to try a sling at the sling library, put her over my shoulder for a moment, and by the time I lowered her into the sling she’d been sick all over her bib and then pulled the bib over her face. Curds in her eyebrows wasn’t quite the impression I was hoping to give to a room full of people who looked like they knew what they were doing. Still, at least baby sick wipes off easily.
In summary: try a sling, but also take a muslin and a bib.