On Friday 27th October, Niamh and I flew to Sweden for the very first Swedish Babywearing Conference! If you know me well, you will know I’m terrified of flying, so – although a piece of Swedish Babywearing history in the making was exciting enough – there was a specific reason for this trip.

Back when I was writing my book “In Arms Carrying”, Ulrika Casslebrant (Nära bebis) asked me to speak at the conference. Seeing a great opportunity to share my message with babywearing educators I agreed. It was only afterwards that it clicked that I would actually have to fly. And speak. So I decided to bring Niamh to hold my hand, and also take some photographs. Fast forward 5 months, and here we are, waiting for take-off…..

 

[Image description: Mel, a white woman with straight dark brown hair looks scared. Niamh, a white teenager with light brown hair tied back looks excited]

 

Well, the flight was not fun, but we made it, and that was the first scary experience over with. We made our way to Stockholm, and went straight for “fika”, which is “coffee break” in Swedish. Ulrika had recommended a lovely traditional place called Vete-Katten, and it really was wonderful!

 

[Image description: In the top left of the picture is Niamh but only her coat and elbow are visible. In front of her is a latte in a white cup with a silver spoon on the saucer. At the front of the image is a brown tray with a white plate with a silver cake fork on it, with a white chocolate and strawberry mousse cake with strawberry puree and a small piece of strawberry on top. Next to it is another white plate with silver fork, and a slice of chocolate mudcake.]

 

After fika we headed for our hotel to check in and drop our bags off before doing some more exploring, and later on we finally got to meet Ulrika! We met up for a meal with her, two other babywearing educators (Zarah and Camilla), and Henrik Norholt (Chief Science Officer for Ergobaby, and one of the speakers at the conference). We were able to get to know each other a little better, and enjoy some time socialising before the conference the next day. It was interesting to learn about the babywearing educating community in Sweden and hear about some of the work each person is doing.

 

[Image description: L-R Niamh, Mel, Camilla, Ulrika, Zarah and Henrik sat at a table with water, a collection of glasses, some tealights and a plate with remnants of a curry]

 

Getting to meet Ulrika after months of talking online was just the best – she’s an amazing person. She’s also into many of the same things as me, so there’s nothing to not love about her! We were so busy this weekend that we forgot to fit in a fika date, so that was disappointing, but means I have to go back so we can catch up properly in person, haha!

We soon headed back to the hotel for an early night, as the 3am start had taken it out of us both, and we had an early start the next day too.

 

In the morning we headed to the conference venue early to set up for my talk. Soon, everyone began arriving and before I knew it, it was time for the conference to begin. I was up first and discussed in-arms carrying. My talked approached the subject from a beginner’s angle as most were new to my ideas. Some of my aims for the talk were to introduce the concept of babies being active participants in carrying, break down the stages babies and children go through when learning clinging behaviour, discuss the effect carrying can have on our bodies and look at ways in which we can apply in-arms principles to babywearing.

Unfortunately I had to cut the talk short as I over-ran, but the response was wonderful. The willingness to be open-minded, and the appreciation and excitement about my ideas was a bit overwhelming! I was told that in Sweden it’s similar to the UK, where in-arms tends to be seen as either inferior or people don’t realise the enormous wealth of knowledge in-arms can give us for how we carry, and babywearing too, so it’s encouraging to get this sort of response.

 

[Image descriptions: Image 1 – Mel speaks at a podium with a laptop on it. To her right is part of the projector screen, showing ‘ng” reflex’ and a grid of suggested videos at the end of a YouTube video. The back of three people are at the front of the image. Image 2 – Again, Mel speaks at the podium with a laptop on it. This time the whole projector screen is visible, with the back of one person slightly obstructing it. The slide reads ‘Knees in line with hips?’ and the BabyDoo image of 4 diagrams with different aged babies and their position in slings is below the heading. The backs of 4 other people are at the front of the image.]

 

We had a break and people were able to purchase a copy of my book – In-arms Carrying: A practical guide for comfortable carrying – if they wanted. Unfortunately I didn’t have enough with me for all who were interested, but it’s lovely to know that there are now a bunch of copies owned in Sweden! Ulrika and I are working on a plan to make them more accessible over there, as currently it takes 4 weeks for delivery from Amazon.

 

Next up was Henrik from Ergobaby. This was the third time I’ve had the pleasure of listening to him speak, and his talk on attachment theory was as thought provoking as always. I like how he incorporates videos which tap into our feelings, as it helps get his points across strongly as well as making us think more about how we may affect our children’s attachment through both our own parenting practices and how we were raised by our own parents. His talk was well-received and got everyone thinking about how babywearing can facilitate the attachment process.

 

After Henrik’s talk it was time for lunch. I was too focused on the day to remember to take any of my own pictures, other than this one of our lunch, so I’m missing pictures of Henrik and Kerstin speaking. Our vegan lunch was amazing – it was filling and nourishing – definite “brain food” to go with the intellectual food for thought!

 

[Image description: Lunch in a recycled container, containing green leaves to the left, beetroot houmous and quinoa “bread” next to it, and chickpea salad with pickled radish on the right.]

 

I was able to get hold of some other pictures from Ulrika though, so many thanks to her for the following ones.

 

After lunch it was time to hear Kerstin Uvnäs Moberg, author of “The Oxytocin Factor”, talk about the importance of oxytocin, its benefits, and how it’s activated. She gave us things to think about, including how the birthing system of today tends to be set up to deny both birthgiver and baby the environment and time to make the most of how both are primed to get an “oxytocin explosion” in the period shortly after birth, and how that can impact on them and their relationship going forwards if it’s missed. It was great to both meet her and hear her speak for the first time, as I loved her book!

 

After Kerstin’s talk we gathered for a group photograph to commemorate the day…..

 

[Image description: Everyone is gathered in front of the projector screen in a group. There are chairs visible at the front of the image.]

 

The day wasn’t over yet though – after a short break we came back for the last part of the day – a panel discussion. This consisted of questions such as should there be a new attachment category based on babies who are carried, what can we do to promote the release of oxytocin, and should there be a “hybrid” carrier which merges the benefits of in-arms carrying and babywearing.

 

[Image description: Ulrika, Kerstin, Henrik and Mel sit in front of the projector screen. Ulrika is holding a microphone. The back of some people’s heads are at the front of the image.]

 

All in all, it was an incredible day. I really enjoyed the fact that the talks weren’t completely babywearing-specific (e.g. focused on carriers etc.), that they encouraged exploration of other areas which can then shape your babywearing experience and/or help you develop your babywearing educating. Everyone clearly enjoyed themselves, it was a great opportunity to meet new people and connect other people who hadn’t seen each other in a while, and had such a warm and welcoming atmosphere. It was wonderful making new connections and friendships, and meeting some of the Swedish Slingababy family too!

The day was very well organised, ran smoothly, and was held in a great place. Having no shopping area meant that the full focus was on the talks and networking, which is unusual compared to UK conferences, but it worked so well. Also, the fact that it was well attended but not massive meant that it had a busy but cosy and no overwhelming feel to it. It was the best conference I’ve attended so far!

 

So, the conference was over, but my work in Sweden wasn’t! The next day I facilitated an in-arms carrying workshop. We decided the day before to just do one, and I’m so glad for that as we were able to slow it down and ended up running for just under 3 hours instead of the 90 minutes it was meant to last for!

Among other things, we explored primitive reflexes, how the birth process may affect carrying for both baby and caregiver, how we affect the carrying process, and ways to encourage the development of clinging behaviour while carrying. It was great having baby Ivar participate, as it makes things so much clearer when you can see them in action.

If you’ve worked with me before, you’ll know how much I get into everything and I always wish there’s more time. Well, this was no different! We got to go deeper than the workshop was intended, but we still could have easily stayed another 3 hours, just discussing the points we had been exploring further.

 

[Image description: Åsa, Mel, Zarah and Anna sit in a semi circle on a wooden floor. Baby Ivar is laying on his belly in front of Åsa, on a white quilt with square patterns on it. Around them are worksheets, pens, a toy bag and cups on a tray.]

 

Unfortunately, I had a plane to catch, so we had to leave it there, but plans are afoot to bring the in-arms carrying course to Sweden, so hopefully it won’t be too long before I’m back, exploring in-arms carrying in greater detail with some awesome people! Babywearing consultancy may be a relatively new thing in Sweden, but I can see that it’s going to develop in a very special way, from what I’ve seen this past weekend.

So, a huge “well done” to Ulrika and her team of volunteers who organised and ran the event. I’m still on a high from the day, and I can’t wait to hear when the next conference will be – I’d love to go back again as an attendee, and catch up with the new friends I’ve made this weekend! I hope more people from other countries will attend too – it’s always interesting seeing how the babywearing community works in different parts of the world, as well as getting to discuss ideas with new people.

 

If you’d like to work with me, please get in touch to find out more about my Consultancy, Peer Supporter or In-arms Carrying courses. I’m also happy to talk about speaking about in-arms carrying at other events. You can reach me at hello@melcyrille.com

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Have you ever wondered if babywearing could be bad for your back? Maybe a concerned family member or friend has warned you against using slings/carriers because they’re worried about the effect it may have on your body?

It’s an understandable concern, especially for those living in a primarily sedentary culture like we are here in the UK. Our postures tend to suffer from how we live and move (or the lack of movement in our lives), so to be aware of how our bodies react to the normal practice of baby carrying is a good thing!

The good news is, babywearing and carrying isn’t inherently bad for your body. If it were, our babies would be able to walk from birth. The fact is that we are primates and we are designed to carry our young. As human primates, we don’t have an abundance of bodily hair like other primates such as apes and monkeys do, so our bodies are designed to carry in a different way. Instead of our babies clinging onto fur, they cling onto our bodies with the assistance of either our arms or a baby sling/carrier.

Unfortunately our bodies have ended up adapting to the invention of the pram, as well as many other ways of being that contribute to poor posture. There are obviously many benefits for caregivers for using prams (including personal space, carrying heavy bags etc.), but the fact we as a society have moved away from what our bodies were designed to do (carry babies), has meant that prams have helped to contribute to poor posture.

If you take a look at people pushing prams, you’ll often see they are slouched over, handle bar too low for their height, pushing a weight that is far from their centre of gravity. This can make pre-existing postural problems worse, and introduce problems to a good posture. If you use a pram, making sure the handle bar can be set to the right height for your height will help your body out.

While babywearing-specific research is still in its infancy, there is a good amount of research about how various load-bearing activities may impact on the body. Research into backpacks and how wearing them can affect the body is of the greatest interest here, as wearing a backpack is the closest example we have with wearing a baby.

It’s been shown that having more of the weight lower down the body is better for comfort, stability and flexion. This makes so much sense when you think about how the primary caregiver usually has a body genetically designed to have wider hips, meaning babies and children naturally sit around the waist/hip area. In fact, it’s been shown that the lumbar part of the spine (lower back) has resilience to increased loads placed upon it, meaning that the lower spine is more readily able to adapt to heavier weights without sustaining injury.

Of course, too much of anything can have negative effects on our bodies, so the key is to pay attention to what our body is telling us over any “rules”, warnings or advice we’re given. Work out what’s best for you and your body, and identify if you have any current problems that may be making a certain way of wearing more comfortable for where your body has transitioned to. Always consult a medical professional if you have any concerns.

On top of this, paying attention to any postural problems you may have will help you in adjusting your carrying to make it more comfortable if you’re experiencing discomfort with adequately tightened carries. Front carries with a slumped-forward posture will no doubt make your posture worse if you’re not correcting it as you go along. Those experiencing this postural problem may find that back carrying helps to “straighten out” their posture, and those with a “sway back” problem may find front carrying is more beneficial for their body.

I’ve mentioned how baby carrying is completely normal for us as a species. The thing is, in England at least, we’re so out of the loop of what “normal” carrying means that it’s become something that we need to relearn. One thing you can do is look at how you carry in-arms and mimic that when you use a sling/carrier. Also, paying attention to cultures who haven’t given up baby carrying as a norm, and study how and why they carry can give you a fantastic insight into what positions may work best for certain situations and why. Also, doing research into your ancestry is a brilliant way of tracing back the roots of your family’s babywearing culture!

As with everything when it comes to baby carrying – one size does not fit all! If you have any questions or concerns, you can either email me or contact your local babywearing educator.

If you’re a carer or babywearing educator interested in learning more about how the wearer’s physiology impacts the carrying journey, take a look at the Carried Consultancy Course and/or email me for more information.

 

Some research/further reading links:

The Effects of EMG activation of Neck, Lumbar and Low Limb by Using Baby Carrier with Arms during Walking – http://www.koreascience.or.kr/article/ArticleFullRecord.jsp?cn=DGMHBK_2010_v5n3_323

The effects of body posture by using Baby Carrier in different ways – http://www.koreascience.or.kr/article/ArticleFullRecord.jsp?cn=DGMHBK_2013_v8n2_193

Increase of load-carrying capacity under follower load generated by trunk muscles in lumbar spine – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17539579

Soldier load carriage: historical, physiological, biomechanical, and medical aspects – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14964502

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