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How to Use a Ring Sling

Medically Reviewed by Mary Sweeney, BSN, RN, CEN
Updated
The ultimate guide to ring sling positions and how to do them.

Does the thought of figuring out how to use a baby sling have you all tied up in knots? Baby slings are a fun and practical way to wear your baby, but many moms find them daunting because it can take time to master the techniques.

The first time I used a ring sling, it was a disaster. I couldn’t seem to position my infant correctly, and I was terrified I would hurt her. Thankfully I had a friend willing to show me the proper technique. She was my support system, and now it’s time that I pay it forward.

In this article, we will dive into everything related to ring slings. We’ll talk about why you should choose a ring sling and why you might prefer other options instead. We’ll go over safety considerations, common questions, and babywearing tips, and we’ll give you step-by-step instructions on how to do several types of carries.


The Rundown on Ring Slings

First things first — what exactly is a ring sling? A ring sling is a long strip of fabric similar to a baby wrap. Ring slings are available in a wide variety of patterns and colors and are secured at your shoulder with a set of rings. This creates a sling or pouch that allows you to carry your baby securely while taking pressure off your arms and back (1).

A ring sling’s advantages go far beyond its fabric options. It allows you to have skin-to-skin contact while you carry and communicate with your little one.

It’s also a hands-free carry option. You don’t have to use a stroller, which gives you access to the stairs when you’re out instead of having to search for a ramp or elevator.

That doesn’t mean a ring sling is without its disadvantages. In hot weather, ring slings can become uncomfortable for you and your baby, and if you have a lot to carry, it can become an impractical option.

Weigh Your Options

As with anything you use to carry your baby, you must take these pros and cons into consideration before deciding whether a ring sling is right for you.

Safety Considerations To Keep in Mind

Safety should be your top priority no matter how you decide to transport your baby. You need to do a few things to ensure your baby’s safety in a ring sling.

Before you ever place your baby into a ring sling, you must ensure the sling is safe. When you purchase your sling, take your child with you, ask for a demonstration on how it should be used, and avoid slings that are marketed with terms such as “womb-like” and “cocoon,” as these could hold your baby in an unsafe manner.

Each time you put your baby in the sling, check it to ensure it’s in good condition. You need to watch for tears or snags that might compromise its ability to hold your baby.

The Position Matters

When you put your baby in the sling, you want to ensure their airway is open. Position your baby’s legs and hips safely, and ensure the sling supports their back and neck.

Your baby should be held high and snug next to your chest. If your baby is small, has a cold, or was born prematurely, ask your doctor before wearing them in the sling.

Use caution and your instincts when wearing your baby. Be careful when holding hot drinks or carrying something heavy, and check often to ensure your baby is safe and secure in the sling.

ring sling benefits

How Do I Prepare My Sling?

My aunt once told me that any good recipe requires some preparation. The same goes for most things in life, including your ring sling. While you might be tempted to put your baby in your ring sling as soon as you get it out of the box, there are a few things you should do first.

Ensure You Have the Right Size

Every parent doesn’t wear the same shirt size, and not every parent wears the same sling size. Be sure you have the right size for a sling so it will hold your baby snugly, safely, and securely.

Each brand of ring sling will differ in size slightly. For example, a small/medium Tula ring sling is roughly 77 inches long. But a small Bijou sling is 70 inches long, while a medium is 75 inches long.

How To Know

In general, you can usually go by your T-shirt size when choosing a ring sling. You might want to go up a size if you have a large bust or a wide ribcage or will be wearing a toddler.

Threading a Ring Sling

Threading is the process of weaving the fabric through the rings to secure the wrap to carry your baby. This is how to thread your sling:

  1. Start by deciding which side of your body you want to hold your baby on. If you’re going to hold your baby on your right side, you will place the rings slightly in front of your left shoulder.
  2. Hold your sling by the rings with the long fabric tail draped behind your back.
  3. Wrap the tail around your back, bring it across your opposite hip and gather it up at the rings in the front.
  4. Take the entire end of the tail and bring it up through the rings.
  5. Allow the tail to go forward so the top hem falls toward your midline; the bottom hem will be toward the outside of your body.
  6. Lift the top ring, fold the end of the tail over it, and pull it under the bottom ring as if you were fastening a belt with rings. Work the fabric through the bottom ring slowly.
  7. Check that your tail’s top hem is still toward your midline and the bottom hem is at the outside of your body.
  8. Place both of your thumbs into the part of the tail woven between the rings, then pull it wide to loosen it a bit.
  9. Starting with your top hem, gently gather the piece between the rings strand by strand. If you have a striped sling, you will see you can fan out and gather it stripe by stripe easily.
  10. Grab the top and bottom hem of your tail and pull them out to tighten the sling. Repeat this with the inner sections of the sling to make sure the entire sling is snug.

Basic Techniques for Handling Your Sling

You can use several different holds and carries with your ring sling. But before we jump into the more complicated aspects of babywearing in a ring sling, let’s go over some basics.

Putting Your Sling on Properly

Putting your sling on correctly will ensure it is safe and secure to hold your baby. To properly put on your sling:

  1. Start by threading your sling. You can do this by first putting the sling over your shoulder and then threading it. Or by threading it in your hands first and then placing it over your shoulder.
  2. Put the rings as high as possible on your shoulder, especially when you are first starting. This is because the rings shift down a little as you adjust the sling.
  3. Preset the sling’s position before putting your baby in. You want the bottom rail to be even with your belly button. You can do this by holding the pouch out slightly as you tighten the sling and adjusting it slowly until you get it to the place it needs to be.
  4. Once you are done, you can place your baby in the sling.

Positioning the Ring

The metal or plastic sling rings can cause discomfort if you do not position them correctly. I once bruised my collarbone because the rings sat on it under my baby’s weight for too long. I don’t recommend it.

Instead, position your rings slightly below your shoulder for the most comfort and support.

Tightening Your Sling

You might find your sling is too loose, which causes your baby to sit too low in the sling. Luckily, tightening your sling is a reasonably straightforward process, and your baby can stay in the sling the entire time. To tighten the sling:

  1. While holding your baby with one hand, lift the top ring slightly. This will cause your sling to loosen even further.
  2. Lift your baby to where you want them to be, and tighten the top hem across your body until it is as snug as you desire.
  3. Repeat with the bottom hem and again with the middle section of your wrap to keep the entire wrap snug and secure.

Newborns vs. Toddlers

You can carry your child from newborn to toddler in a ring sling, so they are an excellent option for moms who only want to buy one baby carrier. You should hold both newborns and toddlers upright with their back, shoulders, and hips supported sufficiently.

Positioning Your Baby in the Seat

You want your baby to sit wide in the seat, with a third of the fabric tucked under them. Their legs should be positioned so their knees are above their hip sockets. This positioning helps to prevent future hip conditions.

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Your Guide to Mastering Sling Positions

As with a wrap, a ring sling is versatile. You can wear your baby on your chest, your hip, and even your back. Here are some step-by-step instructions for several different carries.

Cradle Hold

The cradle hold is excellent for smaller babies, usually from newborn to 3 months. With this hold, you will need to use one arm to hold your baby in position.

This is how to do the cradle hold:

  1. Place the sling on the shoulder that is opposite of the way you carry your baby.
  2. Create a pouch, allowing enough slack for you to put your baby into the sling.
  3. Grab your baby and slip them into the sling bottom first, with their head facing opposite the rings and their chest facing up. Your baby should be in a semi-reclined, checkmark position.
  4. Work all the slack from your back up toward the front where the rings are, then adjust any slack through the rings. Work from the top hem, then the bottom hem, and finally the middle section. Pull on the tail in the same direction as it is laying on your baby to keep it from bunching.
  5. Ensure your baby’s legs are in a safe position, with their knees sitting above their hip sockets.
  6. Check that you can see your baby’s shoulders and chest when you look down.

Semi-Reclining Cradle Hold

The semi-reclining cradle hold, also called a reverse cradle hold, positions your baby with their head near the rings instead of opposite them. This keeps your baby in a semi-reclined position without you having to do extra work with your hands.

This is how to do the semi-reclining cradle hold:

  1. Start with your sling on your shoulder.
  2. Place your finger between the two rings and pull on the top rail to open it up and create the pouch for your baby to sit in. The center material should come through the rings as well.
  3. Tighten the bottom hem by pulling the bottom hem portion of your tail. You want your bottom hem to rest across your chest as you tighten the sling. Keep your fingers holding onto the rings as you pull to keep them in place.
  4. Make sure the bottom hem is flat against your chest, then bring down the portion that is sitting against your stomach until it rests at mid-breast.
  5. Tighten the bottom hem again.
  6. Bunch together the top hem and middle of your fabric, finding the spot where your baby’s bottom will sit.
  7. Hold your baby in a burping position and guide their feet into the far opposite side of the sling as the rings.
  8. Pull the top hem up over your baby’s back and gently help them lie down in the carrier.
  9. Hold your baby in your arm as you would if the sling were not there. Use this time to check your child’s leg positioning — you do not want them straight or sticking together. Instead, they need to be folded in an M shape, with your baby facing up, ensuring their mouth and nose are not pressing against you or the fabric.
  10. As you hold your baby with your free hand or the hand on the opposite side of you as the rings, tighten the top hem of your sling.
  11. Gently lift your baby’s head to tighten the middle section of your sling.
  12. Your baby should be sitting up and not lying flat. However, you do not want them sitting straight up. Take two fingers and place them below your baby’s chin — that’s how much room there should be between your baby’s chin and chest.

Snuggle Hold

The snuggle hold, also referred to as the tummy-to-tummy hold, will have you placing your baby chest to chest against you while allowing their legs to be free at the bottom. This hold keeps your baby upright and their legs in the optimal position to protect their hip sockets.

This is how to do a snuggle hold:

  1. Place your sling over your shoulder, making sure the fabric is widely spread out across your shoulder and back.
  2. Fan the material through the rings to prevent bunching.
  3. Tighten the bottom hem so there are about two inches of space between the hem and your body.
  4. Loosen the top hem to create a pouch for your baby.
  5. Place your baby in the burping position and guide their feet through the sling.
  6. Lower your baby into a seated position, making sure their legs are in an M shape with their knees above their hips sockets.
  7. Pull the top hem up over your baby’s back.
  8. Supporting your baby with one hand, use the opposite hand to create a seat by tucking the bottom third of the fabric up and under your baby’s bottom. Make sure the seat supports your baby from knee to knee.
  9. Still supporting your baby with one hand, move the slack from the back of the sling toward the front. Then tighten the sling strand by strand to ensure your baby sits snugly against you.
  10. If you want, you can take the tail and tuck it around the back of your baby’s neck to form a headrest.

Infant Flipped Carry

The flipped carry holds your baby in a similar way to the snuggle hold, but with this carry, the fabric is flipped. This makes the top hem easier to pull up high without digging into your armpit. It also allows you to position your baby more symmetrically in the seat.

This is how to do the infant flipped carry:

  1. Lay the ring on the shoulder opposite the side you want to carry your baby, then bring the fabric wide around your back. For this carry, you do not want to pre-thread the rings before you put the sling on.
  2. Take the sling’s tail and grab the bottom hem, flipping the sling so the bottom hem is now on top.
  3. Gather the tail in one hand and thread it through the rings of your sling.
  4. Check there are no twists in the fabric other than the one flip you did in step two.
  5. Tighten your sling slightly, but leave enough room for your baby’s legs to go through.
  6. Adjust your sling so the rings sit just below your shoulder.
  7. Hold your baby with one hand, then use your other hand to go under the pouch and guide your baby’s legs into the sling.
  8. Place your baby into the pouch, ensuring their legs are in an M shape with their knees positioned above their hip sockets.
  9. Spread the top hem up your baby’s back, and pull the bottom hem up between yourself and your baby to create a secure seat. Make sure the seat is reaching your baby from knee to knee.
  10. Bring the slack from the back of the sling to the front, then tighten the wrap first on the top, then the bottom, and finally, the middle section.
  11. If needed, you can spread the fabric across your back to help make the carry more comfortable for you.

Kangaroo Carry

The kangaroo carry allows your baby to face outward and experience the world around them. You should only use this carry with a baby who has good head support, and you should never allow your baby to sleep in this position.

This is how to do the kangaroo carry:

  1. Place your sling over your shoulder, with the fabric spread out across your shoulder and back.
  2. Loosen the top hem and tighten the bottom hem to create a pocket for your baby to sit in. You want at least a third of the fabric between you and your baby. The bottom hem will be the section that runs across your chest, closest to your body.
  3. Grab your baby and hold them facing outward on the opposite shoulder to your rings.
  4. Bend your baby’s legs into a safe position — some call this froggy or Buddha style, where their knees are above their hip sockets, creating an M shape.
  5. Place your baby in the sling with the bottom hem against their back, then pull the top hem up over your baby’s chest.
  6. Tighten the top hem so it’s snug against your baby but not touching their neck. Then adjust the middle section to lift them higher in the seat if necessary.

Hip Carry

As the name implies, the hip carry is a way to carry your baby on your hip. What might appeal to moms about this one is it’s a hands-free carry. That means you can grocery shop without having to put your baby’s car seat in your cart.

This is how to do the hip carry:

  1. Place your sling on your shoulder, making sure the fabric is spread wide across your shoulder and back.
  2. Fan the material through the rings, then tighten the bottom hem so it’s snug against your chest.
  3. Loosen the top hem by pulling the fabric through the rings.
  4. Place your baby on your hip, and reach under the sling to pull their feet through.
  5. Lower your baby into a seated position on your hip. Their knees should be positioned above their bottom to create an M shape.
  6. Make sure the rings are sitting just under your shoulder, then tuck the bottom hem of the fabric under your baby’s bottom. About a third of the fabric should be tucked under your baby.
  7. Pull the top hem over your baby’s back, making sure the fabric goes across your baby’s shoulders.
  8. Move the slack from the back to the front of the sling.
  9. Holding your baby with one hand, use the other hand to tighten the sling. Tighten the top hem first, then move to the middle section.
  10. Check to make sure your baby is in a deep-seated position and that none of the fabric is bunched up around their face.

Piggyback for Toddler

The piggyback carry is a way to carry your toddler on your back. It leaves not only your hands but your entire chest area free.

This is how to do the piggyback carry:

  1. Place your ring sling over your shoulder, with the fabric spread wide across your shoulder and back.
  2. Open the section of the sling that’s under your arm, and allow your toddler to come into the sling. This might be easier if your toddler is standing on a chair or step stool. You could also bend down to make it easier.
  3. Pull the fabric wide across your toddler’s back, trying to get as much fabric as possible under their bottom.
  4. Have your toddler hop onto your back or lift them to your back if needed.
  5. Tuck the bottom hem of the sling up under your toddler’s bottom, making sure at least a third of the fabric is under them. Then tighten the bottom hem to create a snug and secure seat for your toddler.
  6. Make sure your toddler is positioned so their legs create an M shape with their knees sitting above their hip sockets.
  7. Pull the top hem up to support your toddler’s back, then tighten the top hem to keep your toddler in place. They should be sitting close to you and unable to lean back and out of the sling.

Breastfeeding in a Ring Sling

You can nurse your baby in your ring sling, but it takes a little effort.

First off, don’t plan on it being a hands-free breastfeeding experience. No breastfeeding session is entirely hands-free. Sorry, mama!

But you don’t have to take your baby out to feed them, so that’s a positive.

When breastfeeding your baby in your ring sling, loosen the panel in stages to lower your baby gently down to your nipple. Feed them in this position.

When they are done feeding, return your baby to the snug and upright position they were in initially. This way, they stay safe as you continue to wear them.

Troubleshooting Your Ring Sling

So you’ve started to use your sling, but you find you’re struggling in a few areas. You are not alone. Everyone has questions when they’re new to using a sling, and we are happy to help you out.

Below are some tips to help you find success with your ring sling.

How do I fix a carry that feels too loose or too low?

If your sling feels too loose or low while your baby is in it, chances are your pouch is too loose. Try adjusting the pouch and tightening the sling to get a more comfortable carry.

Why can’t I get my sling tight enough?

There are a few reasons you might be struggling to tighten your sling. It could be that your rings are still new and you need to break them in. It could also be that the pouch you have created is not the right size for your baby.

If that’s the case, tighten the sling in strands using a wheel-spoke pattern. Lift your baby’s bottom a bit as you go to reduce the weight you have to pull.

It could also be that the fabric is tangled in the rings. You can fix this by adjusting the fabric to distribute it evenly by freeing the hem. This should make it easier for you to tighten your sling.

Why does my baby fold over or slump to one side?

If your baby is folding over or slumping to one side, it is probably due to the middle third of the sling being too loose. This will prevent your baby’s back from being supported correctly. Hold your baby to your chest and tighten the middle third around them to give them more support.

What if my baby’s head is leaning back?

Your baby’s head leaning back is often due to the top third of the pouch being too loose. This keeps your baby from sitting chest to chest with you. It can also happen if there isn’t enough fabric spread up your baby’s back.

If there is enough fabric to do so, pull the fabric up. A third of the fabric should remain under your baby’s bottom. Then tighten the top third to provide more support.

What if my baby’s head is too close to the rings?

To move your baby’s head away from the rings, bring the pouch back down to the rope pass. Then rearrange the rings before you pull the pouch up again. You need to bring the slack from behind you toward the rings before tightening the carry to keep everything in place.

Why are there red marks on my baby’s neck?

If the top hem of your pouch is too tight, it can cause red marks to form on the back of your baby’s neck. Instead of tightening only the top hem, tighten the top third to be snug. This will support your baby’s shoulders without making marks on their neck.

My baby’s legs keep straightening. What can I do?

You do not want your baby’s legs to be straight because it can cause issues with their hip sockets, including a disorder known as infant hip dysplasia.

To keep this from happening, make sure you have enough fabric tucked under your baby’s knees to keep them in an M shape. Their knees need to be above their hips.

If the pouch is too tight, you won’t be able to tuck this fabric under your baby’s bottom. Once you have at least a third of the fabric tucked under your baby’s bottom, bring the back slack over to the knee pit, and tighten the slack to hold it in place.

Ring Sling FAQs

Are you still scratching your head in confusion? Don’t worry; we have you covered with answers to your common ring sling questions.

Can I use a ring sling on an airplane?

You can use your ring sling when boarding and exiting an airplane. It can be an excellent choice for keeping your baby close while dealing with the stress of travel. It also means you won’t have to worry about carrying around a bulky stroller. However, most airlines will request that you remove the sling during the flight.

I’m a plus-sized mama. Can I use a ring sling?

Ring slings are an excellent choice for plus-sized parents because they are very adjustable. If your clothing size is 16 or larger, choose a ring sling that is 79 to 80 inches long for maximum comfort.

Can I wear a preemie in a ring sling?

Yes, you can wear your preemie in a ring sling. Kangaroo care has been shown to have a lot of benefits for premature babies, and a ring sling can help you achieve this (2).

But you want to make sure you speak to your baby’s doctor first. They will be up-to-date on any special considerations that might affect your decision.

I just had a Cesarean section. Can I use a ring sling?

Many women can use a ring sling 2 to 4 weeks after a C-section. However, talk to your doctor before you do this. They can tell you if any extenuating circumstances require you to hold off a bit longer.

When you do wear your baby, carry them high and snug. This will ensure the sling does not put pressure on your scar. Quit using the ring sling if you experience any pain or discomfort. You can try again in a week or two.

Can I carry my twins in a ring sling?

If possible, you will want to share the babywearing load with your partner. This will make life easier for you and your back. If it’s not possible to share the babywearing duties, you can wear newborn twins in a single ring sling.

First, place one baby in the sling using the cradle position described above. Then tighten the sling until snug, and loosen the sling just enough to fit your other baby inside, facing your first baby. After your second baby is in the sling, tighten it snug again.

If you have older babies you need to tandem carry, you can still do this. You will need to use two slings instead of one. Just crisscross the slings so each sling rests on one shoulder to distribute the weight evenly.


Headshot of Mary Sweeney, BSN, RN, CEN

Medically Reviewed by

Mary Sweeney, BSN, RN, CEN

Mary Sweeney, BSN, RN, CEN is an oncology nurse navigator and freelance medical writer. Mary has 4 years of experience as an officer in the Navy Nurse Corps. including emergency/trauma, post-anesthesia, and deployment medicine.