Meet the dads who are happy to go walkabout with their child in a sling

Babywearing is no longer just for mums. Karen Funnell meets Irish men who believe there is nothing more manly than carrying your child in a sling.

USING a baby sling has been a way of life through the ages but the Western world has been slow to embrace it.

It was often disparaged as a ‘hippie’ or Third World contraption, or for those who couldn’t afford a swanky stroller. 

However, with the growth of ‘attachment parenting’, using a sling or carrier is edging towards the mainstream.

The practice has been around for thousands of years. Prior to the early 1900s, parents worldwide used cloths, shawls, scarves and even bedsheets to snuggle up their little ones. 

Obviously there were no Bugaboos, so babywearing — as it came to be called — was a convenient way of holding/feeding/comforting the child while going about their daily business.

Meet the dads who are happy to go walkabout with their child in a sling

In the late 1960s, an American Peace Corps volunteer invented the Snugli baby carrier after seeing African women carrying their babies on their backs. 

Then in the ’80s, the ring sling was invented by a man in Hawaii. 

He sold his idea to pediatrician Dr William Sears, who coined the term ‘babywearing’ after his wife described the sling like an item of clothing that she put on in the morning and took off at night.

The hands-on approach to parenting has been embraced by fathers too. 

Celebrity dads including Orlando Bloom, Ethan Hawke and Ryan Gosling have all been papped proudly ‘wearing’ their offspring.

Babywearing Ireland, a not-for-profit organisation run by a network of volunteers, is holding its fourth annual ‘Wear a Hug’ fair on Sunday. 

Fair organiser Tricia Nugent O’Connor says the fact that first-time father, Ciaran McKenna, has been selected to be the ‘face’ of the event proves that dads are really coming on board.

“In March we launched an open competition to find the ‘Face of The Fair’. 

"We had huge interest, made a shortlist of just eight (three were dads) and these went to a public vote on our facebook page. 

"We were blown away by the photos, they really showed that babywearing is for everyone. 

Meet the dads who are happy to go walkabout with their child in a sling

"Ciarán’s photo did stand out — a new dad totally in love with his son and delighted to be able to wear him close — pure bliss and what babywearing is all about,” says Tricia

Ciarán McKenna, a full-time student living in Kerry with his girlfriend Katie and nine-month-old Zakk, says he was initially sceptical when he first tried a carrier.

“Katie had always been adamant she would babywear but I wasn’t sure. At first, I only used the plain structured carrier and only at home. But I quickly fell in love with it. 

"I loved how close my baby was to me, how quickly he settled when being worn and how much we bonded. I knew I had to share my experiences and love of it with other dads.”

Ciaran, who says woven wraps are his favourite because of comfort and versatility, posted a picture on a babywearing group and set up a Facebook page especially for babywearing dads ( www.facebook.com/bwdads), which currently has nearly 3,900 likes. As the face of the 2015 fair, he will be available on the day to talk to other other dads.

“Many men are nervous but they don’t need to be,” he says. “A lot of the wraps are marketed at women but there are lots of different styles out there. My advice is try them out and find one that suits you.

“I don’t think any type of carrier is manlier than any other. It’s not all rainbows and flowers, there are skulls and comic book characters out there too. Is there anything more manly than being the best dad you can be?”

Another male convert is Ronan Maher, a 35-year-old programme director for a therapy centre, who lives in Glasnevin with his wife Willemein and 18-month-old daughter Fenna. He generally uses a buckle carrier although his wife is keen for him to try wrapping.

“Compared to the buggy the carriers were instantly better for me. Using the carrier we were together on adventures rather than me pushing her ahead of me. 

"When she’s right there, inches from you, you inevitably have more chats, looking at the leaves on the tree together — essentially I found that it helped me get know my baby.”

Ronan has found people are largely supportive of his decision to babywear but for any doubting Thomases out there he says: “There seems to be an idea that wearing your baby is not masculine … but in fact I think the opposite is true. Wearing your baby is a very manly thing to do.”

Fiona O’Farrell, a consultant paediatric occupational therapist, says using a sling provides dads with an opportunity to create a surrogate womb, as well as being an excellent tool for communication and soothing.

“It provides a great opportunity for bonding. And in the evenings using a sling is very soothing for your baby,” she says. 

“A sling needs to support your baby’s head and neck at all times, and baby’s neck should be straight at all times. 

"The sling should distribute weight across the baby’s body and always make sure your baby can breathe. 

"His face should always be visible, nostrils and mouth free, chin upwards and not resting on his chest.”

* Wear a Hug Fair takes place on Sunday at the Glenroyal Hotel, Maynooth, Co Dublin from 10am-6pm, with stands, baby sling demos, talks and a fashion show. 

€6 entry/€5 BWI members. Children are free. www.babywearing.ie ; www.wearahugfair.ie 


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