Short answer: no! A sling will not make your baby clingy.
In all seriousness, making their baby clingy is one of the most common concerns new parents have about using sling. Can you spoil a child? Is there such a thing as holding them too much? What if they never learn to settle themselves without me?
What does the science say? Babies become independent humans by first being dependent and feeling secure that their needs will always be met. Independence grows out of feeling secure that your safe place will always be there. For babies that safe place is you! That is why bonding and attachment matter for babies, and for older children too.
Attachment leads to independence
The science behind this is attachment theory (different to Attachment Parenting!), which originated in the 1950’s with John Bowlby. The continued research in this field has shown that children best form secure attachments when their needs are responsively met. Most attachments are formed in the first 5 years of life. Children who don’t build secure attachments as babies and toddlers have increased risk of future physical and mental health issues.
There is research to support this. Research suggests that the children most distressed at separation from their caregivers are those without strong attachments. The clingiest children are those who think their caregiver might not return. Children with strong attachments are confident their parents will be there when needed, and tend to be the most independent. Children secure in their relationships and attachments will more often mange short-term separation more easily than those without. Whilst this obviously is only broadly true – all children are different and some are more anxious and ‘clingy’ than others – it does mean that the often repeated line that carrying creates clingy babies is definitely not true.
Carrying your baby in a sling can help you bond and develop their attachment. Rather than making them clingy, slings help to foster future confidence and independence.
Why babies want to be held
If you’ve spent any time with newborn babies then you know that most enjoy being held. Some newborns cry whenever you put them down. Other babies need constant cuddles, but these are short term phases. Most are somewhere in between; however, the vast majority of newborns will exhibit some degree of ‘clingy’ behaviour at some stage.
What is the fourth trimester?
The fourth trimester is a concept which covers the period from birth until your baby is 3 months old. The term ‘the fourth trimester’ describes the behaviours and experiences of newborn babies during the transition from womb to the big wide world. Your baby spent nine months in a warm, quiet, dim place. The womb continually rocks and holds developing babies snugly. Suddenly they emerged into a bright, noisy, cold world full of strange smells, and huge contrasts. Now, they are put down in large beds, dressed in strange clothes and moved in and out of car seats. It’s difficult to imagine how confusing and disorientating that must feel to a tiny being.
Slings, clingy babies and the fourth trimester
They are used to being inside a person, is it any wonder that they are most relaxed when held? They are not clingy, they are disorientated. However, in your arms or a sling they feel contained, the movement of your body rocks them. Your baby can hear and feel your familiar heart beat. They smell your familiar smell and your body heat helps keep them exactly the right temperature. A sling does not make your baby clingy, it creates a familiar environment in an unfamiliar world.
During this period it is common for babies to only settle on someone, to sleep when held, to enjoy feeling snug and warm and hearing familiar sounds – a heartbeat – and smelling familiar smells. This is all totally normal! If you can, then relax and enjoy the cuddles, take a rest yourself and dive into some boxsets.
If you do need to be up and about, because you have older children or other responsibilities that is the point where a sling can be an amazing tool. Using a carrier or sling recreates the feeling of your arms. Slings can help your baby feel comforted, allow them to sleep, and allow you to get around more easily.
What about carrying older babies and children?
Maybe you are now on board about using a sling with your newborn, but what about as they get older? Does carrying babies over 6 months in a sling make them clingy? The answer is still no. Babies get more interested in the world around them as they get older. The world is interesting but new experiences, and there are many, can be scary. Babies pick up on their parents’ stress cues, such as tension or relaxation in your body, you expression, your behaviour. These things help them know if what they can see is safe or scary. Can they explore, or should they be on guard?
This is triangulation; they observe something new, check your response, and this influences how they feel and behave. In a sling this is easy. Your baby sees the huge expanse of the sea. They look at your face, recognise you’re relaxed and calm, so they feel safe and interested. Carried babies may want to be in a sling when in new environments or around new people. The sling hasn’t made them clingy, it provides them with comfort and helps them interpret new experiences through you!
Big kids: they’re not clingy they’re connecting
I’m going to be honest here and say that my 5 year old still occasionally likes to nap on Mummy or Daddy. It’s rare, and more common when he’s poorly or particularly tired, but he loves to snuggle up and drift off. This is all totally normal! Both my 3 year old and 5 year old occasionally turn up in bed with us too. This is totally normal – and something I expect will continue for a while yet! They also both like to be held and even carried in a sling sometimes. They are not clingy, they just need reassurance, and sometimes a sling or carrier helps to provide that.
Older children’s reasons they want you to carry them might be different to a newborn baby, but they still seek reassurance, they still seek security and to them that is still you. It’s also totally normal for older children to want their own space, to be alone, to push you away. They need to have space to understand what makes them an individual and to develop that independence.
Growing up can be scary
As they grow babies and children go through many transitions which can be scary – teething, learning to crawl, sit and walk, their body growing, weaning, learning to talk…. the list is long for small children! During these transition times you may find that your baby or child requires more closeness, more cuddles, more security. It will be a phase, and the length and intensity of the phases will vary with the child. Some may breeze through everything and some might feel like one phase blurs into the next. Your baby will grow and develop and change into an almost unrecognisable child, and they need support to do that.
Even if your older child still likes to be held a lot you probably still need to get out and about. A sling can be a great tool even for older children, with options available to fit right up to preschool age and beyond.
My baby is clingy – did I use a sling too much?
No! You can’t carry your child too much IF you are being responsive to their needs.
Every baby is different – they are individuals and they have different needs at different times. Babies have individual personalities and some babies have naturally more anxious or nervous dispositions. If you have a baby who is naturally anxious, they may appear to be clingy. If you’ve carried your anxious baby from birth, for years, they may still be clingy. Carrying doesn’t change the fundamental personality of your baby. Carrying is simply a tool which can help you both cope with day to day life.
Some babies are happy in a sling, and enjoy playing alone, and exploring the world around them. This is just their personality. They may exhibit ‘clingy’ behaviour in some circumstances and not others, and carrying may just be a helpful practical tool.
Many babies will fall somewhere on this spectrum, and will change as they grow and develop. If you’ve been listening to their cues and meeting their needs then you are doing the most amazing thing in the world for them, and carrying can be a tool to help you do this
Need help with a sling or carrying?
Why not check out our articles? Get in touch if you’d like to book a carrying consultation. Finding the right sling can be a great tool for families. The It’s A Sling Thing service is part of CalmFamily and we offer a postal hire service, consultations, a try before you buy service and many slings and carrier for sale too!
For video assistance why not head over to our YouTube channel and subscribe? We have lots of videos on carrying babies in different slings and are constantly adding to our tutorial library.
If you are looking for in person help then try looking up your local sling services who are usually on Facebook.
Want to know more about your baby’s development?
Here at CalmFamily our we train consultants all over the world to help parents understand how their baby or toddler is developing. They offer courses, workshops and consultations that help parents understand what is going on behind those inexplicable seeming behaviours. BabyCalm and ToddlerCalm have helped thousands of parents find their own ways to meet their babies’ and toddlers’ needs whilst still meeting their own needs as parents.Recommend0 recommendationsPublished in