Using a ring sling is one of my favorite ways to baby wear. Slings are great for quick ups and downs, can be used for newborns and toddlers, and fit easily into just about any diaper bag you carry. It took me a long time to find the ring sling love, though, and I gave up on it many times. Now that I've got my ring sling mojo in full gear, I realize that the reason I got frustrated and gave up on slinging was largely because of some key mistakes I was making. These are common mistakes for beginners. Correcting them can go such a long way in helping you learn to love your slings. So, let's talk about each mistake and how to correct it.
Mistake #1: Not tightening the middle third
The fabric part of a ring sling can be broken down into a few components. The seams of the sling are called "rails." The top rail is the seam that runs along baby's back or shoulders, and the bottom rail is the seam that goes under her knees. The stretchy fabric in between the rails is what forms the seat, or the part of the sling that tucks under baby's bum. Some people call this the "middle third," because it forms the middle part of the three sling components (top rail, bottom rail, and middle third). Even beginners know to tighten the top and bottom rails in order to secure their baby in the sling. However, many novice baby wearers forget the importance of tightening the middle third. Since this is the part of the sling that forms the seat -- which supports the majority of baby's weight -- failing to tighten the middle third creates a loose, saggy seat. The result is that the top and bottom rails have to work overtime to support your baby while there is nearly no support under baby's bottom. This leads to pain in your neck and shoulders near the top rail, and pain under your baby's legs near the bottom rail.
Correcting this mistake is simple. After getting your baby into the sling, begin with either the top or bottom rail (it doesn't matter which) and begin tightening the sling strand by strand, working your way from one rail to the other. Pay special attention to the middle third, making sure to pull it nice and secure so that it forms a hardy seat. This will relieve tension on your neck, back, and shoulders, and will provide a more comfortable seat for your baby.
Mistake #2: Not unlocking the rings
The metal rings are designed to "lock" into place when your baby is in the sling. The weight of your baby actually applies force to the rings, which causes them to clamp down on the fabric and prevent it from slipping. This is why you can safely wear your baby in a sling without worrying that he will fall out. When it comes to tightening the sling as described in Mistake #1, many parents forget that they need to "unlock" the rings to get the fabric of the sling to glide through them and form a good seat. Unlocking the rings is easy -- all you have to do is support your baby's weight with your arm.
Most parents know to keep a hand under baby's bum while they secure the sling. However, it seems that a lot of parents underestimate how much of their baby's weight they should support in order to unlock the rings correctly. When I am putting my toddler on my hip in a ring sling, I support his entire weight on my forearm while I tighten the sling. This completely unlocks the rings and allows me to pull the fabric through them with ease. Failing to support your baby's weight will create tons of extra work as you fight against the locked rings to try to get the sling tightened.
Mistake #3: Starting with the rings too low
The optimal position for the rings once your baby is in the sling is at corsage or boutonnière level. Remember high school dances? That spot where your date pinned your flowers on your chest is where the rings belong. As a beginner, I often placed the rings right in that spot when I began getting my baby situated in the sling. By the time I had tightened the rails and the middle third, the rings ended up somewhere down the middle of my belly. That was so frustrating because once my baby was situated in the sling, it was very difficult to scoot the rings back to the correct spot.
I'm sure that more experienced baby wearers than me are able to tighten the sling without causing the rings to travel downward. As for me, I still haven't conquered that skill. So, my workaround for that problem is to start with the rings on the very top of my shoulder -- almost onto my back. By starting with them so high, I am able to confidently tighten the sling and end up with the rings in just the right spot when I'm finished.
Mistake #4: Not making a proper seat
I don't know how I got all the way to #4 without addressing this one. It's probably the most important of them all. Creating a proper seat for your baby is ESSENTIAL for your comfort and your baby's. I watched a lot of videos online when I started slinging, and they all talked about the importance of pulling the fabric of the sling alllllllll the way up between the legs and to the belly button in order to make a secure seat. Don't know why, but I really had a hard time doing that. I quickly realized that I could create a "good enough" seat by simply tucking some of the fabric under my son's bum and leaving it at that. Sure, it was secure. My son never slipped out. But the result was that I was constantly having to readjust the sling to keep him in the right position. The bad seat also made my son feel insecure, which caused him to fuss and insist on being put down. Not only that, but the lack of a full seat caused the sling to yank down on my neck and shoulder, which caused me a lot of pain. Worst of all, the pseudo-seat I made did not support my son from knee to knee, which caused his legs to dangle downward instead of staying in a nice M position. Failing to support your child from knee to knee can lead to problems like hip dysplasia down the road, so it's very important to avoid that mistake!
So, if you want to make baby wearing optimally safe and comfortable for you and baby, make sure you create a good seat. Reach in between you and your baby and grab the bottom rail of the sling. Pull it, shimmy it, jiggle up and down a little bit. Do whatever you need to do to inch that sling between you and your baby, all the way up to her belly button. Then, check to make sure that the fabric spreads all the way across her bum and from knee to knee. Look in a mirror to check the seat. If you made your seat correctly, your baby's body should form an M with her knees up slightly higher than her bum.
Mistake #5: Getting too brave, too fast
Slinging can be scary for a lot of first time baby wearers. Believe it or not, even tiny babies are very good at picking up on these cues from their parents. If your child senses that you are scared or worried, he will wonder why you are scared, assume he is in a scary situation, and will react with a fear response. I have talked to so many parents who have given up on slinging because their babies cried every time they got in the sling. Although I do believe that there are some kids who authentically dislike being worn, I have seen for myself that most of them eventually come to love it once mom or dad has some confidence.
Slinging is something that should be eased into, with lots of practice at home before venturing out into the wild. Build up your confidence in the safety of your home -- and preferably with a helper -- before taking a day trip out. Practice getting baby in and out of the sling while standing over the couch or bed. Ask your spouse, partner, or friend to spot you the first few times. Wear your baby for short periods of time at home and take him off BEFORE your muscles start to feel fatigued. This way your body can slowly acclimate to it. Spend lots of time playing with your baby while you wear him. Sing to him, give him his favorite toy or paci. Try breastfeeding him, if you are comfortable. All of these things teach your baby that a sling is a safe and comforting place to be. You will find that over time -- just like my son -- your child will start getting excited when you whip out the sling. My son, now 20 months old, will actually bring a sling to me and grin from ear to ear, letting me know that he wants to come up. This warms my heart every time, because he began as one of those fussy babies who I thought would never like to be worn.
Avoiding these five common mistakes can make baby wearing much more pleasant for you and your baby. It takes a little time to master the art of the sling, but once you nail it, you'll notice an incredible difference. Keep it up, mom and dad! You can do it! Don't give up just because it's challenging. Slinging can be such an amazing experience, so don't let these avoidable mistakes take that experience away from you.