How Does Babywearing Affect Sleep?

How Does Babywearing Affect Sleep?

Images of babies sleeping peacefully in slings is a familiar sight. Some parents love using baby carriers as a parenting tool to help their baby sleep, while others worry that they are creating bad habits if their baby will only nap in a sling. But what’s the reality? Does babywearing help babies to sleep or is it bad for babies to nap in a sling?

The Sleepy Dust Phenomenon

Do you worry that babywearing affects sleep? Have you noticed that your baby falls asleep more quickly when you carry them in a sling? Many people often mention that slings possess 'sleepy dust' because of their seemingly magical ability to assist little ones in falling asleep. 

There’s lots of evidence that the “sleepy dust” phenomenon is real. Babies feel safe when they're near you, so it's understandable that they will fall asleep in a sling more quickly than when alone in a cot. Research has shown that carried babies sleep more and cry less

does babywearing affect sleep - baby asleep in sling

Rei Harbour Ring Sling

Snuggling your baby up against you creates warmth, closeness, gentle movement, and familiar sounds and smells, recreating that safe, calming environment they experienced for 9 months. A soft, supportive sling which moulds around your baby's body mimics this feeling of containment and safety.

The close cuddles also produce oxytocin, which has a calming effect on the brain, and reduces levels of cortisol, "the stress hormone".

A 2013 study demonstrated that babies cried significantly less when a walking mother held them as compared to when she was seated. Their heart rates also slowed, indicating a drop in cortisol levels and an increase in oxytocin levels, which produced an overall calming effect. The study examined babies being carried in arms, but using a sling is gentler on your arms and additionally provides the benefit of evoking the sensation of being in the womb.

Does Napping in a Baby Sling Have Any Benefits?

As mentioned, a contact nap (having some physical contact with your baby while they sleep) is often the easiest way to get them to sleep.

Does sleeping in a sling cause problems? Baby feeling safe and secure in sling

Lunae Night Glow

But there are other benefits to sling naps -

  • The oxytocin hormone which you both produce, as a direct result of the closeness, not only reduces stress but also promotes bonding, increases lactation and helps optimal brain development.
  • Keeping your baby close to you significantly reduces the risk of SIDS for babies under 6 months. 
  • The likelihood of flat head syndrome decreases because there is less pressure on just one area of their head.
  • Research shows that a contact nap promotes longer, more restful sleep.

Will Napping in a Baby Carrier Create Bad Habits?

Many people commonly worry that carrying a child too much will make them clingy or that if your little one only naps in the sling, it will affect their sleep at night.

We know that babies feel safe when they’re close to us and that the oxytocin produced helps bonding. By nurturing your baby and responding to their needs you're actually helping your child to develop a secure attachment. If children feel secure in the knowledge that they can return to their caregiver and have their needs met at any time they become more self assured and, rather than becoming clingy, have the confidence to explore their surroundings. 

Napping in the sling will not create bad nighttime habits, actually it can help create healthy sleeping habits when they're older.

If your child associates sleep with reassurance and feelings of safety then, when the time comes, they'll be happier to sleep on their own.

If they are getting regular naps during the day babies are actually more likely to sleep at night. When your little one misses a nap they have an increase in cortisol, the stress hormone, which makes them very unhappy. This results in the well-known state of being overtired, making sleeping even more difficult. So, as counter-intuitive as it may seem, sleep actually promotes sleep. When bedtime comes if your baby is happy and well-rested during the day they will be much more content and find falling asleep easier at night.

Is it Safe For My Baby to Sleep in a Sling?

If your baby is safely supported in an upright position then it is fine for them to have a nap in a sling. Some important safety points to remember are -

  • Check their airways are visible and clear, ensuring that no fabric is covering their nose and mouth.
  • Carry in an upright position, with their head resting on the hard part of your chest.
  • Make sure their chin is not resting on their chest.
  • Tighten your sling so it maintains this upright position and clear airway, with no slumping.
  • Assuming a deep-seated squat position ensures that they sit in a stable posture, with their head naturally resting on you, just under your chin.

It may be tempting for you to have a nap while your baby sleeps in the sling, but it’s important that you remain awake and can monitor them. When we sleep our muscles relax, potentially changing the positioning of your baby in the sling, which could pose a danger.

So don't worry if your baby only sleeps in a sling, in fact embrace it! Young babies often only nap when someone carries them. By using a sling, you help them relax and establish a routine of daytime napping. Your baby will feel safe and know that you will help and comfort them whenever necessary.