Written by Ruth Grint
Most people do not expect to have a premature baby, and all that comes with it. You don’t expect for your baby to spend their first days, weeks or even months in an incubator. And once you bring them home, how do you continue to keep them close while still getting on with a return to “normal” life? Babywearing could be the answer to carrying your preemie.
My son was born at term, but spent the first 3 nights of his life in the NICU. I felt a bit of a fraud – he was two or even three times the size of the babies next to him. The nurses were very keen for me to have skin to skin contact with him as soon as we could. I happily stripped off in the middle of the NICU – I blame the drugs! But also the desire to have that close contact that I’d imagined I would have had immediately after his birth.
Many of you reading this will have experienced “Kangaroo Care” and the benefits associated with it, such as regulating baby’s temperature, heart rate and hormones, and also helping with bonding.
When you’ve been discharged from hospital, you may want to be able to keep that closeness going. That’s where babywearing, using a sling, wrap or carrier, can come in.
Benefits of Babywearing
Benefits for mums of keeping baby close included increased milk production, an increased duration of breastfeeding, a reduced risk of developing post natal depression, and having a gentle way to introduce exercise to look after your post-natal body. Other adults can benefit from very special bonding time, particularly if this has been limited due to visiting restrictions. The ability to get out and about without using a pram can be quite liberating. Having your hands free lets you carry on with daily life whilst still keeping your little one safe. Baby benefits from this too, and when happy in a sling will often cry less, sleep more and have better digestion.
While I’m going to concentrate on options below for babies who are still small the benefits of carrying don’t go away. You can keep carrying until your little one is in toddlerhood or beyond!
Safety and Positioning
Babies are usually carried in a Chest to Chest Position.
- Hands up by their face as this is useful for self soothing
- Supported spine in a gentle curved shape.
- Baby should be supported from the knee to the knee.
- The pelvis should be in a tucked position
- This is the position that newborn babies tend to take anyway so we’re being respectful of your baby’s normal position.
If your baby has specific needs that mean they cannot be carried in this position, please contact a Babywearing Consultant who will be able to provide further advice.
The TICKS guideline for Safe Babywearing takes you through the steps you should take every time you use your sling to ensure that your little one is safe. The airways of preemies are particularly precious, so ensure that your baby’s airways are clear and that they are well supported in their sling or carrier to ensure that they can’t slump.
Non-hands free options
There are a number of brands that produce tops that are specifically designed to promote skin to skin contact with your baby. These are often called Skin to Skin tops. It’s important to check the instructions if they are able hands free, or are intended to be used whilst sitting. These can offer a gentle transition from the kangaroo care in hospital, but can be difficult to use if more than one adult, and will be a less flexible option in the medium term when you feel ready to take your baby outside. They also do not accommodate heavier babies.
A stretchy wrap is a great starting point for carrying your preemie in a hands free way. Made of very soft and stretchy fabric, you tie the stretchy around you at the start of the day. Then pop baby in and out as needed to accommodate for nappy changes and feeds.
A number of stretchy wraps, such as Lifft and Izmi, are weight tested for babies of 5.5lbs and 5lbs receptively. Although most lighter weight two way stretchy wraps could be used safely at this weight or even below with the advice of a babywearing consultant.
Using a stretchy wrap is the nearest I have ever felt to giving my baby a cuddle, without having to use my arms!
Some brands of stretchy only stretch in one direction, and can be wide and heavy. This makes it difficult to get the correct snugness for your baby, which is important for safety.
The Close Caboo is similar to a Stretchy wrap, but is pre-sewn in to shape. It’s lower weight limit is 5lbs.
A ring sling is a length of fabric, with two rings sewn in to one end. You thread the fabric through the rings, then create a pouch that is the correct size for your baby. These can be used with smaller babies, although again I would recommend getting the advice of a babywearing consultant to make sure that you are comfortable, confident and safe with carrying your preemie.
Buckle carriers vary massively in the size and weight requirements, for smaller babies you will be more limited on your choices. Please don’t be tempted to carry your baby in a carrier that they are too small for, either weight or size wise, as this could be a safety risk, in terms of baby’s breathing, and the risk of falls.
The Izmi carrier is a lovely example of a carrier which can accommodate from as low as 7lb, while other options go from around 7.5 lbs. The length of your baby is also important as a light but long baby may fit a certain carrier better than a heavier but shorter baby.
Please steer clear of the cheap carriers you may seen in supermarkets. They lack the adjustability to be able to accommodate smaller babies safely, often carrying them too low and loose. They are also less comfortable for both baby and carrying adult.
Getting help and support with your sling
Your local Babywearing Consultant (also known as a Sling Consultant) makes a great first point of call when it comes to carrying your preemie. They have specific training in helping you to find the best way for you carrying your preemie confidently, comfortably and above all safely. They’ve experience in helping families with specific needs, and can go outside of the Manufacturer’s guidelines for a sling or carrier when it is safe to do so. They may offer home visits, video consultations or they may have their own workspace where you can visit them.
You may also be able to get support at your local Sling Library, although be aware that the people assisting you may have different levels of training and may only be able to support you in specific ways.
You can find your local Babywearing Consultant or Sling Library at http://www.slingpages.co.uk/
Ruth Grint is a Babywearing Consultant based in the Wirral, but helps families all over the UK to find a sling that they love. She offers one to one consultations by video call and in person, and also retails a range of slings, wraps and carriers from quality brands.
Did you see…
Our recent blog on World Prematurity Day?
Also did you see that our NICU diaries are now available on Amazon! There are 5 diaries to choose from: