Help! My baby cries in the sling!

Your newborn has a tendency to cry when you put them in the sling or your baby has turned 3-4 months and all of sudden, they cry when you put them in the sling when they previously enjoyed it and were perfectly content. They push away, cry, kick off when you put them in the sling, won’t settle down or move their head around in frustration.

So what’s happening then? Lots, actually! First, remember that it’s nothing you’re doing wrong. In fact you’re doing an awesome job of carrying your baby and responding to their needs, so don’t worry. Second, it’s not necessarily the sling that is a problem, so don’t rush off to buy something new, we can look at making some adjustments in the first instance.

Newborns have poor eyesight when born, they can’t see very far and spend a lot of time sleeping. Being carried in a sling re-creates the uterine environment; the gentle rocking, the tightness and warmth, the noises from the mother’s voice are all the same and they feel content, safe and secure. Small babies don’t realise that they are separate from the mother for a while, so a sling is the perfect environment for them. But a few months down the line, their eyesight improves, they become more curious, they want to move their arms and legs more, they have gained better head control and all this means they might not like the gentle constrain the sling offers.

Should you stop using the sling? No! There is no timeline as to when you should stop using the sling (as we speak, I still carry my 3 year old!). Should you rush off to buy a carrier that offers the facing out carrying position? Neither! There are lots of things you can do:

  • You could try and do an off-centre or hip carry with your sling (if it’s possible) to offer more visibility. If you have a buckle carrier with straps that cross, you can carry your baby on the hip. Check out my tutorial . It’s also possible with stretchy wraps, woven wraps, meh dais, Close Caboos and half-buckles.
  • Ringslings are really wonderful to offer lots of visibility for nosey babies by doing a hip carry. Pouches are also really handy for that, but make sure your baby has full head control before using one.
  • You could try flipping the shoulders on your stretchy wrap to keep the fabric away from the face.
  • With detachable, thick padded shoulder straps on a buckle carrier, you can try to bring the straps under your armpits, across your back to your opposite shoulder and clip; this will move the thick straps out of the way for more visibility. Check out my tutorial.
  • You can try to let your baby have 1 arm out of the carrier/sling or both if they have good head control.
  • Don’t use the headrest or hood as this restricts visibility and head movements. In fact, as long as the top of the panel covers your baby’s back all the way up to the nape of the neck, you don’t need extra headrests or hoods to support the back of the head. They are handy to support the head if your baby falls asleep and the head isn’t supported well enough (especially for back carries).
  • Using the facing out option on your carrier or hiring/buying a carrier that offers this carrying option can help. Your baby will need to have full head control before you start carrying this way. See more about that below.

Check out my video with lots of practical tips and demos for crying babies or the one for carrying curious babes!

If changing the positioning in the sling doesn’t help or baby is below the 3-4 months stage and always cries; there are other things to try out and consider:

  • Breastfed babies sometimes cry because they get mixed signals when you put them in the sling, close to the breast and don’t feed them; they might think they are getting some boob, but nothing happens. The trick? Feed them in the sling as soon as you put them in! Once they are done, gently bring them back higher up on your chest, try to burp and re-tighten your sling. Feeding in slings is a super handy and simple skill to learn that makes life easier and a content baby. There are lots of sling-specific and sling-type feeding tutorials on my Youtube channel so have a nose around, or drop me a message if you can’t find what you need or need 1-0-1 help. You might find babies don’t cry when a non-breastfeeding carer put them in the sling, and it’s often because they know they don’t have access to the good stuff! Or the opposite can happen: they can’t smell the milk and get distressed. Try expressing some milk on a cloth for the carer to wear on the sling’s strap or tuck in the sling for baby to smell (make sure the cloth doesn’t cover your baby’s face).
  • Rocking, talking, making eye contact, singing to your baby while putting them in the sling can help them calm down. Slowing things down, moving around the house or going out for a walk immediately to shift the focus can also be helpful.
  • Making sure your baby has been fed, burped, isn’t overtired and is in an alert, happy mood to practice with the sling is also important.
  • Take a deep breath! And I really mean it. Babies are sensitive little humans and they can pick up on the parents’ stress and emotions. If your baby cried a couple of times when going in the sling, you might start to feel anxious every time you put them in it thinking they will cry or that you’re doing something wrong. They pick up on your tension and can start to cry. So take a deep breath, go slow and remember you’re not doing anything wrong, quite the contrary, in fact! Breaking this vicious circle is important to try and make some progress. If you have a new baby and you’re feeling stressed and anxious a lot of the time, it’s also very important to take care of your mental health and seek support if you are struggling (I have been there, you’re not alone and there is a lot of help available).
  • Some babies have reflux and carrying them in an upright position can help with that (hello, sling!!). In this situation, make sure you always burp your baby before you put them in the sling, and tighten your sling once they have. Putting pressure on the stomach can be a bit uncomfortable just after a feed, so make sure you burp your baby and re-tighten progressively (support the head if you are re-tightening bit by bit).
  • Is your baby teething? It could be why they are grumpy in the sling. Some babies start to teeth super early on and the teeth might not show up for months, so don’t dismiss it. Teething necklaces are inexpensive and a handy tool to have to distract baby and relieve pain. You might also want to get some suckpads to cover your carrier’s shoulder straps if your baby is munching on the strap.
  • Babies are born with immature digestive systems and it can take them time to process milk and release gases. If your baby is squirming in the sling, try to rub their back by bringing your hands inside the sling, make them seat deeper into the seat by bringing the knees higher than the bum or take them out of the sling to help them release the gas.
  • Some babies don’t like the tummy-to-tummy positioning or any pressure on their stomachs. You could try an alternative position in the sling by having them seated sideways and alternating with a front carry position. This is not a cradle position which is dangerous as the chin and chest are likely to touch increasing the risk of suffocation. I recommend trying this position with a sling consultant to ensure good positioning and that the airways are well-supported. Get in touch if you’d like to explore this!
  • Visible or invisible medical conditions and tensions in the body after the birth (e.g., torticolis) can also cause babies to be unhappy in the sling. Always seek medical advice if you have any concerns about your baby.
  • Slings need to be tight enough to support your baby’s body so that their head is well supported and airways clear, all that while respecting the shape of your baby’s spine (C-shaped for non-sitting babies). Over-tightening a sling can put pressure on your baby’s back and be uncomfortable. Not tightening it enough can make babies feel like they are not safe, and this is a reason why they might push in the sling with their arms. Think of tension like a ‘Goldilocks hug’, not too tight, not too loose, just right, just like you would hold your baby in arms.
  • Babies can overheat in slings even in the winter as they can’t thermoregulate for a while, so it’s important to pay attention to how you dress your baby in the sling. Remember that the sling counts as 1-3 layers (3 layers for example for Caboos and stretchy wraps, wovens). Likewise, ensure you keep your baby warm enough when going out for walks in the cold weather, especially feet (check out my babywearing socks!)
  • Sometimes, if your baby was happy where they were and you decide to move them and put them in the sling, they might protest! Crying is their only way to express their disagreement, so this is their way of saying ‘hey, what are you doing? I was perfectly fine there!’. Distraction, talking, rocking them and moving around can help.
  • Positioning is important in the sling for comfort but also to help support your baby’s body and head and promote healthy hip development. Babies should ideally be supported by the sling from knee-to-knee without over-extending the legs or pushing the hips apart (check out my video on how to improve a narrow-base carrier) all the way to the nape of the neck, and with the bum sitting lower than the knees (the M shape positioning). Ensure there is nothing digging into the legs. The sling should support your baby in their natural sitting position.
  • Some babies are very sensitive to certain slings. Some will favour stretchy wraps because it very much reproduces the uterine environment, some don’t like structured slings…. each baby is an individual with their own likes and needs. Trying out a couple of different slings might help!

A word about facing out. Some parents choose to carry their babies in a carrier that offers the ‘facing out’ option. This can be a great option to offer your baby some visibility and if you find that none of the other suggestions have work. There are a few things to be aware of before you start carrying facing out (also read my blog about facing out):

  • You will need a buckle carrier that offers this position, that is, it has a system to make the bottom of the panel narrower at the point where the thighs are to allow for your baby to sit in the ‘M’ shape positioning (i.e. with the knees higher than the bum) without pushing the legs and hips apart or pinching the thighs. Not all carriers offer that. Narrowing the fabric on the waistbelt on any carrier doesn’t mean it will offer supportive or comfortably positioning. Buckle carriers only offer this, not other slings (e.g., Ergobaby Omni, Beco Gemini, Beco 8, Tula Explore etc..)
  • Baby must have full head control (around 5 months old). Before that, they are too heavy for them to hold them for a long period of time. If they can’t support their own heads, the airways can be compromised leading to a risk of suffocation.
  • Airway must always be clear and visible and you must monitor your baby. Use a handy mirror (for a sling mirror with retractable string, get in touch!).
  • Do not let your baby fall asleep in this position; the airways can become compromised and this carries a high risk of suffocation. Carry your baby facing out when they are alert, not ready for a nap and happy.
  • 20-30mins at a time to avoid over-stimulation and preserve your back; the weight is shifted forward and baby feels heavier (try crossed straps and keep their arms under the shoulder straps).
  • Turn baby around if they cry as they can become overwhelmed by the environment or if they fall asleep.
  • Reset the buttons/poppers on the wider setting when facing you. Enjoy!!

Don’t hesitate to get in touch if you need help!

Help support the sling library! If you have enjoyed this article and would like to support the sling library, we have a GoFundMe campaign. All donations go towards supporting parents in difficult financial situations so that babywearing is accessible to all. Thank you so very much!

Love, Mel

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