Keep Calm and Carry On – Covid-19 and the UK Sling Libraries

28th September 2020

It’s been a crazy year for us all – could there be some normality on the horizon?

As March 2020 wore on, it became increasingly clear that not only was the pandemic going to affect each and every one of us, it was going to have a lasting effect on the UK sling library industry. As a support system often heavily based on trying things on, and using items for hire to introduce carriers to multiple families, the different sling library organisations around the country began to adapt. Quickly, with impressive adaptability, the sling libraries individually and collectively showed that they are an industry very used to problem-solving.

Carrier hire as a delivery service began, postal hire services expanded. Social media abounded with live video sessions, sling and carrier support groups, local networking systems bringing communities of parents together. Virtual appointments, already offered by many, allowed thousands of families to access trained support without leaving their homes. Babies born into lockdown conditions were held close, new parents without recourse to family support were able to parent hands free, in stressful situations. Carrying educators and sling librarians created new safety procedures and policies, working from home, parenting, home learning, changing the face of the industry nearly overnight – but all working to the same end, bringing the benefits of child carrying to the communities they support.

So, what did we find out from this change of pace, this lockdown, this period of turmoil and reflection? Parents of newborns were stuck at home, literally holding the baby, cut off from their usual support networks at the most crucial of times. But were there hidden benefits for these lockdown babies? Many families we have spoken to have reported increased satisfaction with the newborn period, the idea of an extended ‘baby moon’ – the luxury of having nowhere to be, of all expectations being dropped, no need to respond to family pressures or rush out of the door in the morning. The pace of life dropped, and in many cases the families were able to slow to the pace and rhythm of the newborn. No longer any worries about the babies being passed around, or retreating to unsanitary spaces to attempt to feed, no worries about keeping the house nice for unexpected guests. “I was actually able to do that “sleep when the baby sleeps thing” said Sarah. “Lockdown was just breastfeeding and box sets- it was brilliant” said Lucie. Permission granted to hold their babies as much as they wanted to, to sit and revel in them, maternity leave, parental leave, partners on furlough or working at home. The game had changed.
Conversely, we had the parents of the unsettled baby, of more than one, or the parents of older babies and toddlers. Suddenly, from an often very active routine of baby and toddler groups, childcare, family, friends, letting off steam, tiring them out, being outdoors, having choices we suddenly had little ones quite literally climbing the walls. And their parents, unable to explain things to them, juggling madly, working from home, home learning with older children, just trying to keep up. Everything was harder, everything took longer, and there was no release on the pressure valve, no let up. “He used to be a really good sleeper but during lockdown he started waking at least twice a night, and I was up late every night working anyway. It was awful” said Richard. “It would have been fine if there was just the baby, but with an active 5 and 8 year old to teach and settle too…” “I felt like I was doing everything badly and working at home with a toddler was a disaster” said Anon.

Over at the sling library, it’s easy to see what might start to happen. Carrying aids began to be an everyday necessity in families who might not have used them before, or who would have only used them outdoors. Something to hold on to the baby whilst you worked, or cared for older children became an essential. When leaving the house was possible, it became imperative to distance ourselves from others. In many cases this ruled out the usual pram friendly canal towpaths and local parks, already stuffed to the gills with families and a stressful proposition for parents.

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