We let the slings take the strain!

Bonding: Parents with their children on their chests at the Sheffield Slings group, based at St Thomas Philadelphia Church in Upperthorpe.
Bonding: Parents with their children on their chests at the Sheffield Slings group, based at St Thomas Philadelphia Church in Upperthorpe.
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Hands-free parenting is taking off in Sheffield... A parenting group, where members have a mutual love of carrying their babies in slings, has attracted more than 300 members in less than a year.

Sheffield Slings say there are many benefits for parent and baby, as our reporter say Ellen Beardmore found out

A GROUP of mums were enjoying the music at Sheffield’s Peace in the Park festival last year when the idea first came to them.

All were carrying their babies in colourful slings and attracted plenty of attention from the crowds of festival-goers.

“People kept coming up to us and saying that’s a great idea”, says mum-of-two Rosie Knowles, of Hangingwater, one of the founding members of Sheffield Slings.

“So we thought we need to get out into the community – we take slings to people.”

A few salsa dancing sessions, flash mobs, long walks and public events with babies in slings later, the popularity of the group has surged far beyond the original five.

More than 330 mums and dads have signed up to the group in just eight months and the group has already won International Babywearing Week’s best babywearing outreach programme 2012 award.

Members meet at Sheffield Slings events, spread the word in their area and are able to attend sessions on everything from breastfeeding to using baby carriers.

The central focus of the group is a love of carrying babies in slings, hailed as a more ‘natural’ way of parenting.

It is said to soothe infants as they are close to mum and can hear their heartbeat.

It is also said to aid sleep and boost bonding.

On a purely practical level, it leaves the parent able to carry their baby while doing other tasks such as preparing a meal, and to get out of the house without lugging an unwieldy pram around.

Some mums say the group has helped them stave off post-natal depression by providing them with a support network.

And they are able to turn to each other even in the middle of sleepless nights spent nursing their babies through staying in touch online.

Rosie, a GP in Crosspool, says: “So many people in the group have suffered with post-natal depression so they can say to each other ‘I’ve been there too’.

“I think the popularity of the group is because we are a friendly bunch and we go the extra mile to where people are.

“The popularity of slings I think is part of a culture in wanting to be a particular type of parent, having your child close to you.

“It’s natural parenting, it frees people up.”

The group aims to be all inclusive and even has three mums who carry their premature babies on their front as well as an oxygen tank on the back, to help with the development of their lungs.

It has a core steering group and some members are even gearing up to take a qualification in using slings, so they can teach others how to do it safely.

Ruth Wainaina, mum to seven-month-old Edith, says: “I’m completely addicted to the whole world of slings.

“I love the prettiness of them and the fact I can hold her in lots of different ways.

“She used to get upset in the pram and I’d end up carrying her in one arm while pushing the pram with the other.

“It’s also great because, as a new mum, you worry if you’re doing stuff right.

“Here you get feedback and also a bit of validation that you are doing what you see is the right way to be a parent.”

Visit www.sheffieldslings.com or www.facebook,com/sheffieldslings for more information on the group and its events.

‘It helps me bond with my baby’ says mum

NEW mum Helen Claye is determined to carry her baby the way she always wanted.

She loves walking with little Arya Doughty, who was born prematurely at just 28 weeks last July, in a sling on her front, while she carries a rucksack containing oxygen on the back.

The oxygen helps her daughter breathe after she was born weighing 2lb 1oz and had to be resuscitated. Being forced to breathe caused damage to the membranes of her lungs.

Helen, of Woodhouse, attends the outdoor events of the Slings group as she cannot go into busy places because of the infection risk to Arya.

The 32-year-old says: “The group has been really supportive, sitting outside with me in the freezing cold. They are a really lovely bunch.

“I think I’ve fallen on my feet, as I can’t go to baby groups or anything like that.

“Before the birth, I was determined I wanted to use a sling and we feel the situation isn’t going to restrict us.

“When you’ve had a baby who has been so poorly you are quite nervous anyway, so I’m happy to have her with me all the time.

“She spent weeks in hospital and every day I had to go away.

“So to have her on me, she’s right there, all that bonding you never get to do in the same way as other new mums gets done.

“It’s nice just to hold her and get to know her.”

So, how much does a baby sling cost?

IT IS all about the slings.

They range in price from £25 to £250 and vary from a simple piece of fabric, to those hand-woven in Guatemala and designer baby brand versions which sell out in minutes online.

A pile of the colourful carriers was present at the monthly Playtime meeting, at St Thomas Philadelphia Church, Upperthorpe, Sheffield, for parents to try their hands at. Although tricky at first, group members say they are easy to master with a bit of practice.

New mum Ellie Hunter, of Heeley, was referred to the group by her hypnobirthing tutor before giving birth to Samuel four months ago. She is now a self-confessed sling addict.

She says: “I don’t know how I would have managed doing anything without having him in a sling.

“Like a lot of babies, when he was first born he’d scream if I put him down for a minute. So even if it helps you make a cup of tea that makes a big difference.

“Slings are specially woven so they support the babies weight – some of them sell out in seconds online.

“It’s become something I like to do because I can’t really enjoy clothes shopping in the same way at the moment so I spend money on nice slings instead.”

The Playtime group will be meeting on the second and fourth Wednesdays of each month at St Thomas’ at 10am, starting from February 27.