We are very pleased to publish a Guest Blog post from Emma Mason of Em & J Sling Consultancy. This was written as part of her Slingababy Consultancy Training. We think it makes a thought-provoking read:
When I first found out I was pregnant with my son the exciting countdown began! Endless hours trawling the internet, reading forums and checking reviews – all trying to establish what were the “best” options for my unborn baby. Undoubtedly, I came across a lot of conflicting and sometimes quite strong views from other mums – it was the first step into the minefield that is parenting!
One of my favourite things to do was to make lists (mainly shopping lists!) of all the “things” I would need for my new baby. A necessity in my opinion – thanks to my research- was a baby carrier. I, like a lot of my friends at the time was very up to date with the latest celeb crazes – and the media photos of celeb mums carrying their babies around in high street carriers had not gone unnoticed!
Being one of the first in my friend group to have a child, I was very much reliant on the information I could access on the internet, in books and in the media when preparing for the arrival of my baby. I wasn’t lucky enough for someone to tell me “why not come along to a sling library and try before you buy” – I didn’t even know that sling libraries existed! I thought the high street was the only place you could buy a baby carrier!
Needless to say – when my little bundle of joy arrived, it was nothing like the books said! He didn’t feed 3 hourly – he fed CONSTANTLY! And that perfectly placed carry cot and bouncy chair that I had so carefully picked out due to its “suitability from birth” – certainly didn’t seem that suitable for my teeny tiny baby who screamed or puked every time I tried to put him down. I tried not to worry that my baby didn’t behave like the other mums said he should on the forums and social media groups….. I made the most of the time my husband had off work and avoided doing ANY chores – mostly I just sat and breastfed while being brought snacks and drinks! Seemed easy enough! Then my husband went back to work…..
That’s when I realised; how on earth do I get anything done while holding a baby? Toilet – pretty much impossible, making a cup of tea – not worth the hassle! I finished the first day on my own very hungry, thirsty, tired and desperate for the loo!
It was then I realised that actually I could maybe try and use the carrier I had bought (still in its box at this point!) in and around the house. Before I had only pictured it being used for dog walks etc – but I was desperate!
The first time I put it on I can remember feeling terrified – nothing seemed to fit right, my baby seemed too small, not supported – I didn’t like it at all. What a waste of money!
It was then that I recalled someone at my baby shower using a sling and she had mentioned a local “sling group” on social media. At the time I had discounted this advice; I had done my own research – I thought I was sorted! Well I quite clearly wasn’t “sorted” I needed help!
I found and joined the local “Babywearing” group (strange name for it I thought!) and there started my love for slings! I met the most fantastic supportive community of women, many of whom have helped me through some of the inevitable bad days of parenting! I was quickly immersed in the world of slings, carriers and BABYWEARING – and what a wonderful positive amazing world it was!
It wasn’t till a number of months later – whilst at lunch with a friend – she said something that changed my perception of the world I had found myself a part of. “It’s so strange, I never saw you as becoming one of those weird, hippy, breastfeeding, babywearing types”.
Well I can tell you – I didn’t see myself as “weird”, “hippy” or a “type” – I simply saw myself as a mum utilising slings to get through the day to day slog of caring for a newborn.
Her comment made me feel slightly uneasy. If she was my friend and thought this, what would other people think? Was I being judged? Was the way I had chosen to care for my child “weird?” Was my husband embarrassed by me?
I pushed the comments and my feelings to the back of my mind – and those negative feelings have only been brought to the surface on the rare occasion when the topic has been bought up in the media or by the very rare occasion I have suggested using a carrier to someone, only for them to say “they weren’t one of “those kind of mums”. I’ve also found some negativity in the “babywearing” facebook groups – which can often become host to some very hostile judgmental characters spouting all sorts of “rules” or “parent bashing” comments. Yet another thing that makes me personally not want to be associated as a “Babywearer”.
Rare as these occasions have been they have stuck with me and made me concerned that other parents may be put off using slings or carriers to carry their children – purely due to the stereotypes that are associated with the term “Babywearing”.
It’s a term that I personally dislike – maybe due to the unease I felt when my friend who used it had so blatantly “stereotyped” me into a group that I didn’t feel I was part of. For whatever reason I consciously try and avoid using it; particularly when talking about slings or encouraging their use by new parents. I use terminology like “using a baby carrier” instead – in the hope that the parent will give it a go and see the amazing benefits that I’ve experience – by which time even if they experience the term “Babywearer” later on the positives would out way the negatives!
As my interest in slings and encouraging other parents to use them grew I decided to do a Sling Consultancy course and following this my integration into the “babywearing” world became deeper. I started to wonder whether the problem I had with the term “babywearing” was an individual one, or whether the feelings I had were more widely felt in the parenting world.
I designed a survey – nothing statistically perfect (my days of university level statistical analysis is years behind me!) – but more just to try and gauge the general feeling and opinions of others. I posted it in a number of nation/worldwide sling and babywearing Facebook groups, as well as other parenting advice and selling groups. The passion and interest in the subject was quickly apparent and I had 500 responses in just over 24 hours.
Following some very basic analysis – I found a number of interesting results:
Only 1% of the respondents associated the term “babywearing” with Dads, suggesting that the term is mainly associated with mothers; could this mean that Dads are put off by the term? This would be a shame when it’s a great way for fathers to bond with their children. I wonder if the term was more prescriptive – “using a carrier” – that this would be seen as more gender neutral and consequently encourage more fathers to try it out?
A substantial 41% associated the term “babywearing” with a “baby” rather than children in general (only 12%). This suggests that the use of the term could potentially limit encouragement of the use of carriers with toddlers and older children for whom it could be greatly beneficial; particularly those with disabilities – potentially avoiding the use of a wheelchair and improving accessibility for as long as possible.
While 5% (25 respondents) associated the term with a feeling of “dislike” for the term itself, with some even stating that they had been confused about the terms meaning pre-parenthood– 12% (62) respondents associated it with “hippy” or “earth mother” connotations. Fortunately, some of those who answered actually said that they changed their opinion once they actually used a carrier or sling due to the many benefits it brought them in parenting but, for those who are potentially put off by the stereotypes the term brings with it, they may never see past the term and get the chance to experience the benefits for themselves.
One of the most interesting results was that 19% of responders linked the term with attachment or gentle parenting and 5% of responses indicated that they felt that use of the term leads to judgment (i.e. “you will make your child clingy” / “you’re one of those velcro mums”). 5% also felt that the term was linked with a competitive or exclusive group of mums which, let’s face it is a new mums worst nightmare! Most want to avoid drawing attention to themselves at all costs – and the fear of being judged can really affect a new mums confidence and general mental wellbeing. This to me is a major concern -we don’t want new parents to be put of using a sling because they feel they aren’t good enough / don’t fit in with or don’t want to be associated with the typical stereotype of a “babywearer”!
Some really positive things that came from the survey was the high amount of responses citing the benefits that they associate with the term. 55% of responders said that they associated babywearing with increased bonding with their baby or child, and 45% commented on the convenience and practicality elements of using a sling. More than one responder commented about how they felt that using a sling had helped them get through Post Natal Depression.
It is these fantastic benefits to using a sling which makes me passionate about ensuring that something so basic as using a term which could be have negative associations doesn’t impact on any parents trying out slings.
Whilst the majority felt that the associations with the term “babywearing” would encourage them to use a sling – 21% said that the associations discouraged them from using slings or carriers (whilst this hadn’t necessarily completely put them off). This to me is still a fairly high percentage from such a small group of 500.
163 responders out of 500 felt that it would encourage more people to try slings out if the term “babywearing” wasn’t used.
It is worth noting that a large proportion (98%) of the responders had used carriers or planned to in the future. The fact that this group still reported some substantial negativity around the term makes me wonder what those who are non-sling users think of the term, and if it contributed to their reasoning behind not choosing to use a sling.
The main thing I took from the survey was that, whilst the majority of feeling for the term is positive, there is a noticeable amount of negative feelings out there. Because of this I think we should consider the prospect that, particularly in the point of view of introductions to the use of slings, we should discourage the use of the term. We don’t label those who use prams as “pram pushers” so I struggle to see any benefit from labelling those who use slings as “babywearers”.