So I’ve been asked to review a book!
I think the last time I wrote a book review was back at school, but I’m hoping a vague grasp of the English language and an interest in the subject of the book will help me with this one.
Publishers Pinter & Martin have sent me a copy of Evelin Kirkilionis’s book A Baby Wants to be Carried, translated by Kathryn O’Donoghue from the original German Ein Baby will getragen sein. Alles uber geeignete Tragehilfen und die Vorteile des Tragens in 2014.
My inital thought was “Who is this book for?”. I am what is called a “Babywearer”- not a term I particularly relate to or like but it rolls off the tongue better than “I am a person that sometimes carries my baby in a sling or wrap”, so this book does hold a certain interest for me personally. I didn’t know very much about “Babywearing” when I was pregnant, other than that there were a range of slings available, and a friend kindly lent me one to try. When my baby arrived, I tried out the sling and then realised I wanted to know more about it. I am the kind of person who likes to have good information about what I am doing and why. I like to get things correct, so I went straight to the internet to find a local group to ask “Am I doing this right”?
In the developed western world where access to the internet is simple and fast, it was easy to find a wealth of information about slings and wraps- from companies that manufacture slings, to facebook groups set up purely for advice to community sites about local “sling meet” groups that you can join and convene in real life with other sling mums and dads, or “sling libraries” where you can borrow different kinds of slings to see how you get on. Of course there are drawbacks to having so much information out there- much of it being personal opinions masquarading as fact and some very strong opinions on both sides of the debate. And this is what surprised me: there is some debate about whether slings are good for babies and even discussion about whether some slings on the market are not actually fit for purpose or safe. So this lead me to thinking that this book probably does have a good strong audience- those who are interested in using slings and wraps but are maybe blinded by the huge number of sites and different kinds of information out there. A quick google of the phrase “slings and wraps” brought up 2.5 million results so where to start?
The subtitle of A Baby Wants to be Carried is “Everything you meed to know about baby carriers and the benefits of babywearing”, which was a promising start. I opened the book really looking forwards to seeing a condensed and concise version of the information I’d personally been trawling through for the past 11 months or so.
One of the first things I noticed about the book was the beautiful photographs. As a photographer myself, I was pleased to see really lovely, well composed and varied photos- not just skinny modelesque women, but normal people (both men and women) with a range of different kinds of carriers. However, I was surprised throughout the book at the positioning of the photographs. For example: on page eleven there is a useful table outlining the main different kinds of slings and wraps, however there were no pictures or photographs to illustrate what was meant for those who maybe hadn’t seen a Soft Structured Carrier (SSC) and couldn’t visualise it from the description. This was a theme that reoccured throughout the book- in places where I expected a picture or a diagram to clarify a description of a carry, position or sling there was rarely one there. I think I’m a visual learner in many ways so for me, this made some of the text quite inpenetrable, though I’m lucky that I’ve seen and experienced many of the slings and wraps discussed so at least had a good starting point to be able to understand the written definitions. Those who were maybe more new to the concept of babywearing might find this a little intimidating.
The book was well structured to cover all aspects of babywearing from the myths and facts surrounding babywearing to some different techniques for tying woven wraps. The contents page was very thorough so if the book were being used more as a reference guide than something to sit down and read all the way through, it’s easy to find exactly what it is you want. I read it in two sittings- which fit in well with the main sections. The first section is The Theory of Babywearing: why carry your child? and the second is The racticalities of babywearing: how to carry your child.
The first section did seem slightly overwhelming to me, and I was surprised at some of the information that is most commonly shared around babywearing groups not being present. There is a lot of discussion and some very good scientific information in this section about culture, evolution, child development, physiology and interestingly for me how babywearing benefits your babies proprio-vestibular sensory system. Some of this was research I’d already read elsewhere, and some of it was new to me and very interesting. However this half of the book is quite heavy, and very scientific. I’ll admit that I did skim read a few of these bits, but it does contain useful knowledge if I were ever to have anyone question my choice to use wraps and slings, and it’s well referenced to a number of studies. I did expect the information to be clearer about HOW to carry a baby in this section. Yes there are a huge number of benefits to both child and parent, but many of these benefits can only be seen when the child is carried correctly. Although parts of this are carried, there wasn’t as much emphasis on the safety aspect of babywearing correctly, and the potential risks of using a non-ergonomic highstreet carrier.
The second half of the book concentrates on expanding on that initial table I mentioned from page 11 (with the different kinds of slings and wraps available)- with a double page spread plus on each of the kinds of carriers mentioned with a photograph this time and bullet points to showcase “special features” and “points to consider”. This was useful to compare and contrast the different kinds of slings, but it wasn’t maybe as clear as it could be to compare the slings against each other.
On page 119 there is mention about the correct leg postition for a soft structured carrier, with a rare illustration rather than photograph. However, the illustration isn’t very detailed and doesn’t show the entire carrier, the incorrect position isn’t particularly emphasised and the issue is confused slightly by also mentioning extra straps for stabilising small babies. The leg position is one of the most important parts of getting a SCC, Mei Tai or similar kind of carrier correct, and it’s a shame that this section wasn’t clearer. The terminology used also wasn’t common parlance- maybe a consequence of it being translated from the authors native German.
The common terms used in the UK/US are “knee to knee” or “M shape” to describe how the legs should be positioned in a carrier- with the following picture being one of the most shared:
In addition to this, on page 135 it says:
“[…}This is one of the T.I.C.K.S rules for safe babywearing you can find on the internet”
I was quite shocked by this as the TICKS rules are one of the first things one learns about babywearing and are the guidelines developed by The Consortium of UK Sling Manufacturers and Retailers and recommended by The British Association of Babywearing Instructors for any babywearer to follow. It seems like a strange omission and for me would be the first thing that the second section focussed on.
A large part of the second half of the book was allocated to showing the techniques for different kinds of carry with a woven wrap. I had a go at some of them and found the instructions to be very good. In the past I’ve had to visit YouTube but will now be able to use the book for some of the different carries. The photographs here were very useful to really show where to pass the fabric and the text highlighted the important points to remember for each different carry. The double page spread (or more) showed the minimum length of fabric required for the specific carry (though didn’t equate this to a wrap size but ().
There are so many different wrap carries and variations of the various carries that there was no way that they could all be covered in this book. However it did feel like some of the other babywearing options were slightly glossed over to favour the woven wrap- in particular stretchy wraps, ring slings and mei tais. I have three slings- a calin bleu light summer linen wrap in a size L (equivalent of about a 6), a mei tai and a ring sling, so I do feel like the parts I may have found more interesting were not covered in much detail. I recently bought a mei tai with wrap straps, and I’ve been looking for new ways to do back carries with it, but there was nothing in the book to cover this.
The book concluded with some very important issues- one being FFO (Forward Facing Out) carries which are NOT recommended at all due to the hip postitioning for the baby, inability to turn away from external stimuli and the reduction in physical contact, let alone the immense strain on the parent wearing the sling as it can be very uncomfortable for them too. It also touches on inappropriate and badly designed carriers though can clearly not mention specific brands in the same way that internet discussion can. In particular “narrow based carriers” which do not produce the “knee to knee” position I mentioned above, FFO carriers and bag slings which have very sadly been linked to a couple of baby deaths due to them not being fit for purpose. This is obviously a very serious matter, and whilst I was pleased that it was included, it could have been made more prominent for those new to babywearing.
It’s always easier to pick holes in something than to find positives, so I’ll say now that this is a good and useful book. This review represents my personal opinion in particular of some of the areas that I feel could have been improved to make the book flow better and to make it more accessible for the kind of person that I assume the audience to be.
As someone who has spent almost a year of nightfeeds trawling the internet for information about safe and comfortable babywearing, I feel I’m reasonably well informed about the issues surrounding babywearing, and was surprised by some ommissions in this book. However, I’d imagine that anyone with any real interest in carrying their baby will find local facebook groups and similar where their knowledge of the subject can grow beyond what can reasonably be expected to fit into a book.
The book is beautifully produced, colourful, well laid out and very well referenced and backed up with scientific studies. I think it would be an asset to any Sling Library, and there are many parents out there who will find the abundance of science, sense and step-by-step instructions a good gateway into the wonderful world of babywearing, although I hope that some of the key material missed out may be included in a future edition.