Tandem Babywearing

Look! Is it a bird? Is it a plane?

No, it's a parent of twins with free hands! Really.

Carrying twins together in a sling soothes bubs and gives parents free hands for errands, housework and older kids, but it's vital you know how to tandem-carry before you try it. Mum of twins plus one, CARISSA MASON, reported in a previous issue of the AMBA Magazine.

Volunteer “baby-wearing” consultant Bell Griffiths loved carrying her three singletons in slings so, when she fell pregnant with twins, she knew she would give tandem wearing a go. Bell, who is a member of the Albury-Wodonga Multiple Birth Association, said baby-wearing was so convenient.  "Tandem-wearing means I am able to meet both babies' need to be close while being able to tend to my other kids", she said. "I always tandem-wear for grocery shopping, and school drop-off is easier with carriers too." When her identical boys Ethan and Chase (now 18 months) were smaller, Bell was even able to breastfeed them both while wearing them - now that's multi-tasking! Husband Jamie (pictured with Ethan and Chase - Photo taken by MILK photography Australia) also tandem-wears the boys. "He's so proud of it!" Bell says.

Bell started tandem-wearing her twins using a stretch wrap and a ring sling as soon as she was home from hospital. "I have five kids (Taylah, 10, Rory, 9, Oliver, 4) and housework to do!", she said. Bell changed to a woven wrap once the bubs were nine weeks old so she could carry one on her back. She says it's important to use a woven wrap once babies reach about 4kg each as a stretchy wrap will start to sag and be unsafe. And it's never safe to use a stretchy wrap for back carriers. Now she uses full buckles because they're quicker and toddlers are wriggly.

Bell would wear her babies for two to three hours at a time when they were newborns, but now she wears them for shorter periods, up to two hours. "Now they want to get down and explore", she says. Bell says wearing two babies often draws attention. "Oh the looks! People stop me to chat every few minutes – mostly positive things like "they look like koalas", "great idea" or "I wish I knew about that". A few people say things about them being too big/heavy or bad for my back, but the weight is distributed evenly on your hips when you use a decent ergonomically correct carrier."

Bell, along with two other ladies, runs the local sling group. "We meet once a month and help people work out the best way to wear their little ones. We have carriers to try out and troubleshoot for people who are having issues with their carriers. It's volunteer work, but I love seeing babies get cuddles and mums getting their freedom back", she says.

There's a whole community of sling groups all over Australia. Mum of three Lisa Chaplin helped establish Darwin Babywearer's Inc and also advocates for tandem baby-wearing. "I first wore my girls (fraternal twins Kallie Jade and Mahlia Rose, 3,) when they were five days old on the day we got home from hospital. It settled them so easily and made my life so much better to have them close to me. And it was the easiest option for me as a single mum as I only have two hands!" Lisa says wearing both her girls enabled her to be hands-free and allowed the twins to interact together more easily than in a pram.

Lisa, who is a member of the Northern Territory Multiple Birth Club and also has a 13-year-old daughter, Tehlita Ruby, says she has tried out quite a few wraps. "I used a Moby Wrap (commonly referred to as a stretchy wrap) to start with and, very quickly, after many YouTube visits, moved onto a long woven wrap."  Lisa has used Didymos woven wraps, a Maya tie wrap and Boba and Manduca soft-structured carriers, but, as a self-confessed "larger mum", her favourite is the Mei Tai with a ring waist. "It has extra long straps to enable it to go over me and to then put one of the girls on my back and one in the straps at the front."

Lisa says she tandem-wore her twins everywhere, including the zoo, expos and on holidays. "I have only just stopped wearing them as now they are strong-minded, independent three-year olds who want to walk everywhere", she says. Lisa encourages parents to consider tandem-wearing, do some research, find a local baby-wearing club and ask for advice.

Three deaths have occurred in Australia since 2010 as a result of suffocation in a baby sling. Dr Kirsten Vallmuur, from Queensland University of Technology's Centre for Accident Research and Road Safety – Queensland, says the biggest risk was babies placed in a C-like position, which restricted their ability to breathe. Babies don't have the strength to move out of unsafe positions. Babies have also been injured by slipping out of slings and falling, or while being positioned in or removed from a carrier. "Although there are risks with using baby slings, if used safely and correctly, there are benefits such as ease of breastfeeding, forming attachments to the infant and also providing a practical, comfortable and convenient way of carrying the baby", Kirsten says. She is working with the Queensland Office of Fair Trading on a nationwide education campaign to better inform parents about safe baby-wearing.

Specialist Paediatric Physiotherapist Melissa Locke, from Movement Solutions Physiotherapy in Brisbane, says it is vital parents protect their babies' airflow and ensure they are at a comfortable temperature while in a sling or baby carrier. "All babies in slings must have sufficient air flow and adequate support of their airway and oesophagus (food pipe)", Melissa says.

She insists parents of premature babies consult a health practitioner before using a sling. She explains: "In my experience, kangaroo cuddles, or skin-to-skin contact, are hugely beneficial for premature babies. Slings can help facilitate this skin-to-skin contact, however babies who are premature or have a low birth weight may be frailer than and not as strong as full-term infants. As well their motor skills can take longer to acquire."

"I would recommend carrying young babies who have not as yet developed head control together at the front, so that you can see them and can make sure they are in a good position. As babies develop better head control, you could carry both on either side, then graduate to wearing one on the front and one on the back as they gain good head control and wake more often." Melissa says she recommends parents always followed the TICKS guidelines - Tight, In view, Close enough to kiss, Keep chin off chest, Supported back.

She says it is also important for parents, especially new mums, to take care of their spine, joints and muscles. "During pregnancy the female body undergoes significant change in body posture – the normal curves of the spine are exaggerated, making your lower back curve more inwards and your upper back round more. On top of this, hormonal changes allow ligaments to become more lax. These changes can cause postural distortion and muscle imbalances." Melissa says it is important for mums who have delivered via caesarean to ensure their core is stable before baby-wearing and ensure it doesn't put too much strain on their lower back. She recommends consulting a women’s health physiotherapist.

"I don’t recommend new mums ‘wear’ their babies for prolonged periods of time. If possible, dads can help out with additional baby-wearing duties as they don’t have major body changes to contend with", she says. "All parents must make sure they balance the load so that it is symmetrical on their bodies, and that wearing the babies doesn’t affect the way they stand, bend or lift as this could put them at risk of back injuries or musculoskeletal conditions.

"(When choosing a baby carrier) I would look for breathable fabric, an adjustable model to make sure your baby doesn’t slide down too low and good-quality head support. Parents will also appreciate soft shoulder straps and models that are easy to get on and off, especially when they are on their own", Melissa says.

AMBA and members are proudly supported by Celeste from AngelRock Baby, supplier of the versatile TwinGo Carrier. Celeste has completed the Trageschule advanced training course and is working on a Multiples Babywearing Workshop.  If you are a member of an AMBA club you get 5% off your purchase from Celeste, quote your AMBA member number or show her your card.  A 5% donation from purchases will be given by AngelRock Baby to support AMBA. 

TIP from Celeste: Tandem carrying is best when built on the skill of solo carrying, so once you can carry one baby confidently then you can try tandem carriers.  I think this also removes the feeling that mums need to be superwoman, they can start slowly rather than jumping in the deep end. This is actually one of the reasons I love ringslings and TwinGo - both allow you to start with one at a time.

Get more information

  • BCIA: Baby Carrier Industry Alliance: The BCIA has created a safety campaign 'Visible & Kissable' aimed to communicate the simplest and most easily remembered advice.  Members of BCIA, including educators, retailers and manufacturers access this safety information and abide by guidelines to promote healthy and happy babywearing.
  • Safety advice about slings and baby carriers is at www.productsafety.gov.au > baby products > baby carriers
  • Instructions on how to wrap babies in various slings is at www.slingbabies.co.nz
  • For Australian advice and support, Bell Griffiths runs a Facebook group called twin/tandy babywearing. Lisa helped establish the Darwin Babywearer's Group, which is also on Facebook. Both mums recommend Facebook's national Babywearing Buy Sell Swap Group.
  • Find your local sling group: http://www.slingmeetsaustralia.com/find-your-local-group/

Always follow the TICKS rules for safe baby-wearing - UK Sling Consortium

Tight: Slings and carriers should be tight enough to hug your baby close to you as this will be most comfortable for you both. Any slack/loose fabric will allow your baby to slump down in the carrier, which can hinder their breathing and pull on your back.

In view at all times: You should always be able to see your baby’s face by simply glancing down. The fabric of a sling or carrier should not close around them so you have to open it to check on them. 

TIP from Celeste: The adult should be able to monitor by turning to look over the shoulder.  If the adult is not flexible enough they may need to wait until their child is bigger to back carry.

Close enough to kiss: Your baby’s head should be as close to your chin as is comfortable. By tipping your head forward you should be able to kiss your baby on the head or forehead.

TIP from Celeste: in a back carry baby needs to be high enough that you feel their breath on the back of your neck if they are young.  One of the things I loved about back carrying my youngest son from 8-9 months old was hearing his voice in my ear - he also slept with his cheek on the back of my neck, and it was lovely to have him so close.

Keep chin off the chest: A baby should never be curled so their chin is forced onto their chest as this can restrict their breathing. Ensure there is always a space of at least a finger width under your baby’s chin.

Supported back: When carried upright a baby should be held comfortably close to the wearer so their back is supported in its natural position and their tummy and chest are against you. If a sling is too loose they can slump, which can partially close their airways. (This can be tested by placing a hand on your baby’s back and pressing gently – they should not uncurl or move closer to you.) A baby cradled in a pouch or ring sling should be positioned carefully with their bottom in the deepest part so the sling does not fold them in, half-pressing their chin to their chest.

TIP from Celeste: Take a little mirror with you to check on your child.  Use a cup with a straw, you can hold it and they can drink while still up.  If your bub is old enough to grab at things be careful, for example in a supermarket, you may get donked on the head by items taken off close shelves!