A History of Sling Libraries and Consultants in the UK
This is a post I wrote for a blog on facebook go and check out Mariusz's page. A friend kindly translated into Polish (thank you Anna!) and I thought I would share it here too!
Babywearing, the term used to describe carrying using slings or carriers, has definitely increased hugely in the last few years and extends beyond babyhood with many specialist toddler and pre-schooler carriers on the market. We have a great site in the UK http://www.slingpages.co.uk which is the starting point for finding a library or a consultant near to you with an interactive map.
Libraries are run by different organisations or independently. NCT is the National Childbirth Trust, the largest parenting charity in the UK which runs antenatal courses and much more. There are over 350 NCT branches and I got involved after doing an antenatal course and then moving areas so volunteered for my local NCT branch, first being newsletter editor then branch co-ordinator. They raise funds for the charity as well as providing local services such as breastfeeding support, social events and more (www.nct.org.uk )
With another volunteer in the branch we set up the sling library in 2012, buying a few slings to then hire out for people to try. We were both experienced in carrying our own children and wanted to help others enjoy this too, we had no formal qualifications. Most mainstream shops do not sell slings and many were available online only, so it can be hard to find one that works best. The sling library provides this opportunity to try a large selection of slings before buying one. Some people would hire for specific events such as going on holiday. It costs £5 for 2 weeks hire or £20 to hire a stretchy wrap for 4 months, then people often move onto soft structured carriers or woven wraps.
In the UK, in 2010 the consortium of Sling Manufacturers and Retailer and the TICKS guidelines for safe babywearing were created and also The School of Babywearing was set up. Prior to this a few people in the UK had trained with Trageschule and Clauwi. There is no need for people to be formally trained to run a sling library or as a consultant and it is not a protected term so anyone can use this title. Trageschule UK was set up in 2011, as was Slingababy and so started the growth of consultants and libraries. (see www.slingsandmore.blog/2017/02/04/changing-industry/). There are currently 352 Slingababy trained consultants in the UK and over 200 sling libraries.
The (now) largest libraries in the UK were set up in 2010 or 2011 initially many were sling meets where people who carried their children met up and then started swapping slings or carriers and it started to be more formalised with terms and conditions and insurance etc.
The timeline created by Southeast slings shows just how many sling libraries have been set up in the last few years. () 115 since 2013 prior to this there were 59 and 39 of these were set up in 2012.
In order to have insurance to cover any liabilities etc, insurers specify that those involved should have received some training on carrying whether that is a peer supporter or consultant level and copies of the certificates are required. Sling libraries are often busy and charge a small fee to hire a sling or wrap to try. A consultant will charge a fee for an appointment but this is usually tailored to your individual needs and much more specialised.
There are many online support groups on Facebook such as WrapJedi or Babywearing Spotted, and with the growth of Youtube etc there are many online ways of finding support if people cannot get to a sling library.
The UK has a long standing history with the textiles industry and weaving and the cloth trade was the basis of England’s economy during the Middle ages. Edward III issued regulations to prevent the export of wool and stop the import of foreign cloth. Flemish weavers came to England in the 14th Century and more Europeans came in the 16th and 17th Century with new skills bringing with them silk and other exotic fibres. After the Napoleonic wars in Europe a new sense of free trade emerged, which brought expansion again, with new power looms making it cheaper to weave, bringing prices down. Using cotton, flax, hemp and wool the processes were gradually industrialised in the 17th and 18th centuries and huge mills and factories appeared all over the country.
The Jacquard loom was invented in France in around 1803 which enabled elaborate patterns to be woven rather than the simple cloths before that were then dyed. The industry continued to grow until the early 19th Century with British cloth being exported all around the world. However the outbreak of the First World War prevented exports and those countries then developed their own factories for producing cloth. The period during the wars over 800 mills closed, with many men having to go to fight, women started working in the mills but this wasn’t enough to revive the trade and gradually with other countries having less regulations, being able to produce cloth more cheaply, the mills gradually closed down during the 1960’s and 70’s. Those that remain had to diversify and gradually over the last decade there has been a growth in the Woven Wrap industry in the UK, with many brands such a Woven Wings, Joy and Joe, Baie Slings, Firespiral, Supu Woven Wraps, Liora Rae, Jacq & Rose to name a few are using these mills to weave their wraps with the heritage and experience that comes from these historic weaving mills.
There is also more and more research now about the benefits to carrying our children. The wonderful book “Why Babywearing Matters” by Dr Rosie Knowles covers many aspects of carrying and how it is now becoming more popular again. It is how we are evolved to be, to carry our young, born with an un-developed brain in order to fit through the birth canal, our babies are still developing significantly in the first 2 years. Carrying meets some of the basic essential needs of a baby so their brains can then work on developing the connections and as such language and social skills develop and we build secure attachments.
The Victorian Era and the industrial revolution in the UK has much to answer for with the decline in responsive parenting; the need for more people working longer hours to be more productive meant children had to become independent far sooner. Villages and communities were broken up as people moved to the bigger towns and cities to earn more money, to do more work, children worked in the factories, or looked after their siblings. It became seen as lower class to breastfeed, or to carry as it meant you could not afford a perambulator or powdered milk or a wet nurse, it meant women could not take part in “society” if looking after a child so came the introduction of handfeeding, of nannies and nurseries that would train a child’s character, the rise of male Drs being involved in the world of birthing which previously was an exclusively female practise of midwives, led to less skin to skin contact and more interventions, away from natural methods.
This continued across all aspects of life. Traditional cultures that carry their children, would typically have contact with their child for at least 50% of the day. A British study in 2000 showed that mothers spent an average of 61 minutes in 24hrs holding their sleeping or crying child at 6 weeks of age, not including feeding contact when adding this it rose to 3.5 hrs which is still only 15% of the day.
To put it simply, the more people see carrying, the more it becomes more acceptable, more normal. A few years ago I would go out into our town and not see another person carrying their child where now each time I see at least 1 or 2 others carrying.
Many major UK retailers now stock slings and carriers such as John Lewis and Mothercare. With the rise of the internet, there are many independent retailers selling slings and many of these are run by consultants. As such, slings are easier to get hold of. However, the down side to so much choice on the market and the perception that the most structured or the most expensive must be the best is that many people try carrying and do not find it comfortable. This is where the support and experience of sling libraries and consultants are helpful and it is great to see more and more libraries opening and more consultants training as the importance of carrying becomes realised and accepted.