Why are Slings like Shoes?

Ok, so I know this might sound a bit odd, but run with me for a minute. I use the analogy of baby carriers and slings being like shoes an awful lot, and I’m realising that there’s even more to the comparison than I first thought….




This all started way back when I was first trying to justify “needing” more than one carrier…. well ok I admit it…. by the time it got to the justifying stage I already had more than one, but I could still find reasons to have more!

For most people a baby carrier might appear on their list of baby essentials, but it wouldn’t cross the mind of many parents that you might want or even need more than one.  But increasing numbers of parents are discovering the benefits of using comfortable baby carriers and slings, and once ‘babywearing’ (as it’s now often known) become part of your family life, then it’s easy to find new ways to make use of the huge range of different carrying options out there.

Now am I really suggesting that anyone actually ‘needs’ more than one carrier; it’s just something to carry your baby in surely?  You only need one bed for your baby, right? Well, strictly speaking, this may be true (for example if you ‘co-sleep’ with your baby sharing your own bed until they are old enough for their own full size bed), but in practice most babies start off sleeping at least some of the night in a moses basket, and you may have a carry cot for when out and about too. As they grow your baby moves onto a larger cot suitable for the next couple of years, and then maybe onto a single adult bed after that.

Moses Basket Cot   Toddler bed  Single bed

A newborn baby is very very different to a 3 or 4 year old and different shaped and sized products suit best at different stages. The same applies to baby carriers….. and also car seats, and chairs, and baths, and clothes, and shoes.  Especially the bit about shoes!

Different slings/shoes for different situations

Not only do you need different shoes for different stages of development, but you’ll also need different pairs at the same stage for different jobs, and you’ll need to make sure that they’re properly fitted and supportive in order to be comfortable and to promote healthy foot development. This doesn’t just apply to babies and children though does it? You wouldn’t wear wellies to the beach or to a wedding party, just as you wouldn’t wear flip flops to the office or when walking in the snow. Different shoes for different jobs; and it’s easy to find new situations where a different pair would offer better support, comfort and functionality (or even make the louder fashion statement).  All of this is exactly the same as for baby carriers.

Hiking Boots  Trainers

Many parents don’t realise that it’s completely possible (and historically and evolutionarily normal) for parents to carry their babies and toddlers on a regular basis.  Luckily, there’s now a huge range of slings and baby carriers on the market to suit every shape, size and budget and that will enable you to do this both safely and comfortably.

Good fit makes a sling/shoe comfortable & supportive

If you’ve found that your baby feels “too heavy” for a carrier then this isn’t a sign that you can no longer carry them.  What it tells me that you’ve not yet found a carrier that’s well fitted and suitable for your needs.  A bigger baby cannot yet walk and will definitely want you to carry them! Most parents of babies this age will find that they carry their baby in their arms or on their hip a lot of the time, and this doesn’t stop even as they get much bigger and start walking.

Carriers are like shoes – they need to fit you and your baby well in order to be comfortable.  A well-fitting sling or carrier should support your baby’s weight close to your centre of gravity, evenly distributing it so that you don’t feel pressure points or need to adjust your posture to compensate for their weight.

You should be able to comfortably maintain a neutral posture while carrying, which protects your spine and pelvic floor and allows you to carry a child for extended periods of time without discomfort.  Just like shoes that hurt your feet, an uncomfortable sling is a sign that either it’s the wrong shape or size for you or your child, or that it’s not properly fitted.

Worries about poor sling/shoe fit affecting development

Parents always find things to worry about where their children are concerned!  I want to briefly reassure you about the potential effects of sling (or shoe) choice.

Toddler in welliesfront facing away carryThere is evidence that wearing rigid, flat-soled shoes affects how a toddler’s foot develops with long lasting consequences for foot and postural health.

There isn’t currently any peer-reviewed research looking at the developmental effects of sling fit or positioning and so there’s currently no evidence that a healthy child would be harmed by using any particular type of carrier or carrying position (see also our page on Outwards Facing Carry Positions).  However, some people have raised concerns about how different carriers or positions may or may not support a child’s developing hips, head and spine.

Barefoot toddler boots I take a pragmatic view on both issues; I buy flexible, well fitted shoes for my children and promote barefoot time as much as possible to support healthy foot and postural development.  But when it rains (and when my daughter insists) I will put my children in wellies, which are probably one of the least supportive or appropriate styles of shoe for a developing foot!

Ergonomic carrier positioningThe same applies to carriers; I aim to promote and use the most optimally supportive carriers and positions wherever possible, but don’t think that anyone need feel guilty for occasionally using less ‘optimal’ solutions when needed. Especially if it’s for short periods of time, or for a specific stage that your baby is going through.

Most people find situations for a second sling/pair of shoes

Ok, so it makes sense that a carrier needs to fit in order to be comfortable. But why might you want more than one?

Well you might want a supportive back or multi-way carrier for using on long walks or holidays, when negotiating public transport, or when you need to carry for longer periods like nap-times. You might want a quick-to-use one shoulder sling to pop your bigger baby in so they can sit on your hip while you keep your hands free to cook the dinner.

Earlier on lots of parents favour a soft stretchy sling that supports their newborn snugly on their front, promoting healthy development and successful breastfeeding.  And you don’t want a chunky backpack carrier when you’re trying to look your best for a special occasion; a glamorous ring sling can make carrying your baby look fabulous (it’s not called ‘babywearing’ for nothing)!

Slings/shoes don’t have to be ‘expensive’

In 2012 the average family in the UK spent £427 on buggies (actually not too far off the average UK woman’s annual spend on shoes!), up 20% in 3 years, and it’s easy to spend more than £800 on the popular top end travel systems. Baby products are only ‘expensive’ if they don’t get enough use to justify the cost (same with shoes!)

Car Seat + Stroller + Tandem stroller = £££

For under £500 you could get enough top quality slings and baby carriers to meet all of your needs and still get a decent buggy too!  And you might even have enough left over to find a sling to match your favourite glam outfit…. unless you’ve spent it all on shoes!

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Slings/shoes can be addictive!

Sling Library

With so many attractive and comfortable options out there, slings can be addictive, with some mums buying dozens (I told you they were like shoes)!

But you really don’t need that many, especially when it’s easy to hire a carrier from a Sling Library and get a chance to try them out for yourself before buying the right sling (or slings) for you…

… now if only there was a Shoe Library too!

For further information about hiring slings and getting the right fit with your carrier, just get in touch with the South London Sling Library by emailing info@southlondonslings.co.uk

© 2013 South London Sling Library