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 a bit of 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 who was 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 are going to dive into everything ring sling related. 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 tips, and we will 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, available in a wide variety of patterns and colors, that is secured at your shoulder with a set of rings. This makes a sling that securely allows you to carry your baby while taking pressure off your arms and back (1).
A ring sling’s advantages go far beyond its fabric option. It allows you to have skin-to-skin contact with your baby while allowing you to 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 though. In hot weather, they can become uncomfortable for both you and your baby, and if you have a lot to carry, it can become an impractical option.
Weigh Your Options
Safety Considerations To Keep in Mind
No matter how you decide to transport your baby, safety should be your top priority. To make sure your baby is safe while being worn in a ring sling, there are a few things you will want to do.
Before you ever place your baby into a ring sling, you must ensure the swing 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.’ These could hold your baby in an unsafe manner.
Each time you put your baby in the sling, check it to make sure it’s in good condition. You need to make sure it doesn’t have any tears or snags that might compromise its ability to hold your baby.
The Position Matters
Your baby should be held high and snug next to your chest. If your baby is small, has a cold, or is born premature, ask your doctor before wearing them in the sling.
Lastly, use caution and your instincts when it comes to wearing your baby. Be careful when holding hot drinks over your baby, carrying something heavy, and check often to make sure your baby is safe and secure in the sling.
How Do I Prepare My Sling?
My aunt once told me that any good recipe requires a little bit of preparation first. I think 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 in length. On the other hand, a small Bijou sling is 70 inches, while a medium is 75 inches.
How To Know
Threading a Ring Sling
Threading is the process of weaving the fabric through the rings to secure the wrap to carry your baby. To thread your sling, simply:
- 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 put the rings onto your left shoulder.
- Hold your sling by the rings, then bring it behind you and drape it over your shoulder.
- Bring the tail around your back and gather it up at your front.
- Take the entire tail, place it under and through both rings.
- Allow the tail to go forward, so the top hem is falling toward your midline; the bottom hem will be toward the outside of your body.
- Open both rings, and work the fabric through the bottom ring slowly.
- Check that your tail’s top hem is still toward your midline, and the bottom hem is at the outside of your body.
- Place both of your thumbs into the part of your tail woven between the rings, then pull it out to loosen it a bit.
- Starting with your top hem, gently gather this piece strand by strand. If you have a striped sling, you will see you can fan out and gather it stripe by stripe easily.
- Lastly, grab your 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
There are several different holds and carries you can use 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:
- 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.
- Put the rings as high as possible on your shoulder, especially when you are first starting. This is because the rings do move down a little as you adjust the sling.
- Preset the position of the sling before putting your baby in. You want the bottom hem to be even with your belly button. You can do this by holding the pouch out slightly as you tighten the sling, allowing you to adjust it slowly until you get it to the place it needs to be.
- Once you are done, you can place your baby in the sling.
Positioning the Ring
The metal rings on your sling can cause some discomfort if they are not positioned properly. I once bruised my collarbone because the rings sat on them for too long under my baby’s weight. I don’t recommend it.
Instead, you want your rings to be positioned just below your shoulder for the most comfort and support.
Tightening Your Sling
You might find your sling is too loose, causing your baby to be sitting too low in the sling. Luckily, tightening your sling is a fairly easy process, and your baby can stay in the sling the entire time. To tighten the sling:
- While holding your baby with one hand, pull up on the ring that the tail of your fabric is going under. This will cause your sling to loosen even further.
- Lift your baby to where you want them to be, and pull the top hem across your body until it is as snug as you desire.
- 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
Ring slings can be used for both newborns and toddlers, so they are a great option for moms who only want to buy one carrier for their baby. Both newborns and toddlers should be held in an upright position with their back, shoulders, and hips supported sufficiently.
Positioning Your Baby in the Seat
You want your baby to be sitting wide in their seat, with a third of the fabric tucked up under them. Their legs should be positioned so their knees are above their hip sockets. This positioning helps to prevent future hip conditions.
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 on your back. Here are some step-by-step instructions for several different carries.
The cradle hold is excellent for smaller babies, usually newborn to 3 months. With this hold, you will need to use one arm to hold your baby into position.
To do the cradle hold:
- Place the sling on the shoulder that is opposite of the way you carry your baby.
- Create a pouch, allowing enough slack for you to put your baby into the sling.
- Grab your baby and slip them into the sling bottom first, with their head facing opposite of the rings and their chest facing up. Your baby should be in a semi-reclined, checkmark position.
- 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 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.
- Ensure your baby’s legs are in a safe position, with their knees sitting above their hip sockets.
- Check that you can see both your baby’s shoulders and their chest clearly 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.
To do the semi-reclining cradle hold:
- Start with your sling on your shoulder.
- 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.
- Tighten the bottom hem by pulling the bottom hem portion of your tail. You want your bottom hem to be already placed on top of your chest as you tighten it. Keep your fingers holding onto the rings as you pull to keep them in place.
- 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.
- Tighten the bottom hem again.
- Bunch together the top hem and middle of your fabric, finding the spot where your baby’s bottom will sit.
- Hold your baby in burping position and guide their feet into the far opposite side of the sling as the rings.
- Pull the top hem up over your baby’s back and gently help them lie down in the carrier.
- Hold your baby in your arm as you would if the sling was not there. Use this time to check their legs’ 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 with their mouth and nose not pressing against you or the fabric.
- 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.
- Then, gently lift your baby’s head to tighten the middle section of your sling as well.
- Your baby should be sitting up and not lying flat. You do not want them sitting straight up though. 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 their chest.
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.
To do a snuggle hold:
- Place your sling over your shoulder, making sure the fabric is widely spread out across your shoulder and back.
- Fan the material through the rings to prevent bunching.
- Tighten the bottom hem so there are about two inches of space between the hem and your body.
- Then loosen the top hem to create a pouch for your baby.
- Place your baby in burp position and guide their feet through the sling.
- Lower your baby into a seating position, making sure their legs are in an M shape with their knees above their hips sockets.
- Pull the top hem up over your baby’s back.
- 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 is supporting your baby from knee to knee.
- 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 make sure your baby is sitting snugly against you.
- 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 into the seat.
To do the infant flipped carry:
- Lay the ring onto 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 it on.
- Take the sling’s tail and grab the bottom hem, flipping the sling so the bottom hem is now on top.
- Gather the tail in one hand and thread it through the rings of your sling.
- Check there are no twists in the fabric other than the one flip you did in step two.
- Tighten your sling a bit, but leave enough room for your baby’s legs to go through.
- Adjust your sling so the rings are sitting just below your shoulder.
- 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.
- Place your baby into the pouch, making sure their legs are in an M shape with their knees positioned above their hip sockets.
- 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.
- 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.
- If needed, you can spread the fabric across your back to help make the carry more comfortable for you.
The kangaroo carry allows your baby to face outward and experience the world around them. This carry should only be used on a baby with good head support, and you should never allow your baby to sleep in this position.
To do the kangaroo carry:
- Place your sling over your shoulder, with the fabric spread out across your shoulder and back.
- 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 to be between you and your baby. The bottom hem will be the section that’s on your chest.
- Grab your baby and hold them facing outward onto the shoulder opposite of the one that your ring is sitting on.
- 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.
- Place your baby in the sling with the bottom hem against their back, and then pull the top hem up over your baby’s chest.
- Tighten the top hem so it’s snug against your baby, but not touching their neck. Then adjust the middle section if necessary.
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.
To do the hip carry:
- Place your sling on your shoulder, making sure the fabric is spread wide across your shoulder and back.
- Fan the material through the rings, then tighten the bottom hem so it’s snug against your chest.
- Loosen the top hem by pulling the fabric through the rings.
- Place your baby on your hip and reach under the sling to pull their feet through.
- Lower your baby into a seated position on your hip. Their knees should be positioned above their bottom to create an M shape.
- 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.
- Pull the top hem over your baby’s back, making sure the fabric goes across your baby’s shoulders.
- Move the slack from the back to the front of the sling.
- 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.
- Check to make sure your baby is in a deep-seated position, and that none of the fabric is bunched up around their face.
Piggy Back 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.
To do the piggyback carry:
- Place your ring sling over your shoulder, with the fabric spread wide across both your shoulder and back.
- Open up 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.
- Pull the fabric wide across your toddler’s back, trying to get as much fabric as possible under their bottom.
- Have your toddler hop onto your back, or lift them up to your back if you need to.
- 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 to sit.
- Make sure your toddler is positioned so their legs are creating an M shape with their knees sitting above their hip sockets.
- 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 feed your baby in your ring sling. It will just take a little bit of work.
First off, don’t plan on it being a hands-free breastfeeding experience. No breastfeeding session is hands-free. Sorry, mama!
But you don’t have to take your baby all the way out to feed them, so that’s a positive.
When breastfeeding your baby in your ring sling, loosen the panel in stages so your baby is gently lowered down to your nipple. Feed them in this position.
Then when they are done, 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
You’ve started to use your sling, but you find you’re struggling in a few areas. Mama, you are not alone. Everyone has questions, 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 (2). 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 different reasons you might be struggling to tighten your sling. It could be that your rings are still new and need to be ‘broken 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, so it’s distributed evenly and 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 lead to your baby’s back not being support 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’s shoulders and upper body from being chest to chest with you. It can also be caused by there not being enough fabric up your baby’s back.
If there is enough fabric to do so, pull the fabric up. Remember, a third of the fabric should remain under your baby’s bottom. Then tighten up 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 you tighten 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 the top hem, the top third needs to be tight and snug. This will support your baby’s shoulders without causing the 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 knee pits 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 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 then tighten the slack to hold it in place.
Ring Sling FAQs
Are there things about your ring sling that still have you 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?
Yes, you can use your ring sling on 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.
I’m plus-sized. Can I use a ring sling?
Ring slings are a great choice for plus-sized parents because of how adjustable they are. If you are over a size 16, choose a ring sling that is 79 to 80 inches long to ensure your sling is long enough to wear your baby.
Can preemies be worn in a ring sling?
I just had a Cesarean section. Can I use a ring sling?
For many women who have a cesarean section, it is possible for them to use a ring sling between 2 to 4 weeks after the birth. Before you do this though, you want to talk to your doctor. That way they can tell you if any extenuating circumstances would mean you need to hold off a bit longer.
When you do wear your baby, carry them high and snug. This will ensure the sling is not putting 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 instead.
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.