The Basics of Babywearing

Many caregivers have, in some way or another, heard of a baby carrier/babywearing. They may know someone who does it or have seen someone at the grocery store doing it. Those people rave about it when you ask them and make it look so effortless. They’ll go at lengths to tell you how it’s helped them with a colicky baby, a screaming teething toddler, cuddle a fevered little one, and given them free hands on those days when babies just want to be held. They’ll tell you stories about how easy it was to navigate an airport stroller-free, to bypass the stroller staging spot at Disney World and get right in line, and how grocery shopping became exponentially easier when you can wander away from the cart whenever you need to and not worry about a child toppling out. They will probably recommend you to a local babywearing group (Really? They have groups for this stuff?! Yes!), a local consultant, or spout off the name of their favorite Youtube tutorial. They will fervently tell you that it is absolutely worth it and insist that you give it a try.

You will probably decide to look into it a little, before you commit to going to a group meeting. You hit the Google Search button and suddenly what seemed so simple is now a minefield of the most confusing information. Plenty of how-tos, dos and don’ts, this versus that. Machine woven. Size 6. Handwoven. 3.2 meters. SSCs. Load bearing straps. Ladder lock buckles. Double Hammock. Ruck. Stretchy wraps. Homemade. Ring Slings. Middle markers. Hip scoot. Superman!!

Isn’t it just wrapping a giant table cloth around your body and tying your kid to you?! Or clipping a couple of buckles and it’s all done?!

It seems that way, in the overwhelming wealth of information that the internet gives you. This may be why that sweet caregiver recommended a local consultant or that local group. Sometimes, it’s simply easier to understand something physical from witnessing a simple demonstration in person. There is a wealth of knowledge out there and local groups that are run by experienced babywearing caregivers with a vested interest in passing along that knowledge, along with the love of wearing your baby. Though, it is possible to be self-taught; there are many great tutorials on Youtube from experienced caregivers who teach you how to wrap and wear one-on-one, in the comfort of your own home.  Wrap You in Love, Wrapping Rachel, Twice Loved & Modern, and Babywearing Faith are just a few of the more well-known names in the how-to Youtube tutorial world.  If you get nervous learning new things in front of others, this or finding a consultant in your area may be the path for you!

A babywearing/baby carrier consultant is someone like me, who has been certified as a professional in my field to teach classes or will come teach you in your home for a small fee. The best part about hiring a consultant for help is that you are getting the one on one help that you need from someone who has logged countless hours of teaching and continuing education work/programs to be as knowledgeable as possible for almost any situation that arises. Whether that’s working with preemies, twins, children with disabilities, foster families, etc, you’ll be able to find someone who can help you exactly where you are in your need/stage of learning.

But before you get to all of that, there are a few terms and considerations that are great to know that will inform you better in the onslaught of information:

Things to ask yourself before buying a carrier:

  • Do you already have an idea in mind of the type of carrier that you are looking for? Are you going off of a friendly recommendation from a friend/family member or because you’ve heard that particular carrier is a great brand? Keep in mind that finding the right carrier with the right fit for YOU and YOUR baby is like finding the right pair of jeans; what one person loves you could hate. Try things on! Even big box stores will let you try things on, all you have to do is snag an employee to get it out of the box for you. Finding smaller shops, a local group, or a local consultant will more than likely give you the in-depth help that you’re looking for when it comes to trying the actual carrier on and getting a proper fit check.

 

  • Will this carrier give proper, ergonomic positioning to my child and myself? You always want the carrier to support the child from knee to knee (back of the knee to the back of the knee) and from under bum to the back of the neck. This allows for the natural spread/squat position of the legs and natural curvature of the spine as the child grows and the spine lengthens. For the caregiver it needs to be comfortable on the shoulders, around the neck, and not pulling down or causing twinges/putting pressure on the back. If it is secured around the waist/hips by buckles and webbing or fabric, it needs to feel snug and secure but not so tight that it’s causing trouble with breathing, mobility, or cutting off circulation. Overall the child’s weight should feel evenly distributed across your/the caregiver’s body.

 

  • Do you have a special need/consideration for yourself of your child going into buying a carrier? Preemies, NICU babies, children with disabilities, caregivers with disabilities, caregivers with a bad back or abdominal troubles, children with medical equipment/harnesses, etc., are all special situations to consider before buying. I highly recommend getting a private consultation with a professional as well as discussing wearing with your pediatrician/doctor before wearing. If you are unsure what to say to your medical professional or they want to speak with your consultant in person first, bring along your consultant to explain/listen in on the hows/whys/tweaks that may come with what you will need to make babywearing possible for you. A consultant can help you consider every type of carrier that could work in your situation.

 

  • Lastly, but no less important when buying a wrap or anything that you intend to babywear in, is to make sure that it is aesthetically pleasing to you. It sounds trivial, but it is very important. After all, you are not likely to wear things that you think are ugly and getting a great deal on an ugly (to you) wrap or carrier is a waste of money if you are not inclined to wear it after the fact.

Carrier Types– there are MANY options in the baby carrier/babywearing world, as far as the variety of carriers goes. All have varying levels of simplicity and difficulty, and your choice should solely be based on what you feel the most comfortable using. I will name only a few, to stay that overwhelming feeling, and I will list them by ‘Size/Weight of Baby’ as they are most popularly known for. Note: almost all carriers can be used for multiple stages of babywearing, this is simply a quick reference guide; be sure to look at and follow the manufacturers instructions for your type of carrier.

  • Stretchy Wraps– You see these in practically every chain store that you walk into. Moby, K’tan, Happy Baby, Wrapsody, Boba, (etc). These are long lengths of fabric that have a lot of stretch to them, like a tshirt when you pull on it with both hands. They can be pre-tied before going out, which can be especially nice when you are first learning and it takes you 30 minutes to get it situated before you leave the house! These types of carriers are generally inexpensive and are great for the beginning stages of babywearing with small infants. Many experienced babywearers have found that once their baby hits about 15-20lbs that their baby became too heavy for a stretch-type wrap and they were on the lookout for another carrier. Though many manufacturers state that the wraps can be used upwards of 35lbs, many caregivers find that the stretchy material begins to sag under the weight and it is difficult keeping the knot in place. However, with proper retightening, you may find that you can use it well over the 15-20 lbs that people tend to stop using it at. Some great places to find stretch style wraps can be found at any of the retailers mentioned here.

 

  • Ring Slings– These are North American in origin and can be made from either machine woven or hand woven wrap materials. The former, because it can be mass produced, will be less expensive than their handwoven counterparts. These can be used immediately with newborns, just as the stretchy wraps, but unlike the former, they  are often used well into the toddler stages. They consist of less fabric and vary in texture, style, fiber, and color depending on the materials used. They typically will not, however, have the same stretch that the aforementioned wraps have. They are easy to use, easy to haul around, and are comfortable while wearing. You can find these on many Buy/Sell/Trade groups on Facebook or directly from companies and manufacturers, such as Marsupial Mamas, Natibaby, or Tekhni Wovens, to name a few well known sites/brands.

 

  • Wraps– Wraps can be used from newborn to preschool age or beyond, depending on the circumstances of the caregiver/child. Here is where things get a little more technical. Wraps are commonly known as ‘Simple Pieces of Cloth’ and come in varying lengths and fabrics. They also come in an array of beautiful colorways, patters, designs, and sizes. You will need to figure out what kind of wrapping you’d like to do to figure out the size that you will need. Will you want to go out for long periods of time in it or just for quick, short trips? If the former, then you will possibly be more comfortable in a longer size. If the latter, then a shorter size could work well for you. This is where a local group or consultant really comes in handy. They tend to have ‘Libraries’ that have many different sizes of wraps/carriers that you can test out, to see what will suit your needs best. It is a great option when you aren’t looking to put forth a lot of money when you are unsure of what you will like. And because there are SO MANY different body sizes and shapes out there, what could be considered a long wrap for someone else could be a short wrap for you or vice versa. (There are great references for different body types found here.)  Also, many of the caregivers in the groups are usually more than happy to let you take their wraps for a test drive! Then there are fibers. All cotton or linen blends are typically the most common and easiest to maintain when it comes to washing instructions. But there are many others- wool or wool blends, tencel blends, repreve blends, linen and linen blends, silks,  Eco-2 cotton blends, etc. The list can go on, each with their own advantages and disadvantages, depending on your criteria (what is easiest to wash? What sells quickly? Would I want to get this wet or muddy? Etc.) Starting out with 100% cotton is usually a great way to go for anyone beginning their wrapping journey and wanting to make sure that wrapping is the right choice for them and their little one; it is easy to clean, typically dryer friendly, and usually needs very little breaking in. You can find a list of some great wrap companies here.

 

  • Meh Dai/Bei Dai– This Asian style type of carrier has the adaptability of a wrap via its straps but with a panel similar in look to a soft structured carrier (SSC), though meh dais/bei dais have been around for far longer. They can be used from the young infant stage all the way through toddler or preschool age, perhaps longer depending on circumstance. The versatility of these carriers is amazing and they can fit multiple caregivers thanks to their adjustability.  MDs/BDs also tend to lift the child higher on the back and front, versus the low sitting backpack style of an SSC. It is also a great option for expecting moms or caregivers with abdominal issues, as it can easily be tied off above the belly, taking pressure away from the pelvis and lower abdomin. A very simple version can be bought such as the Infantino brand, padded European style ones such as the Fidella Fly Tai, or beautiful wrap strap versions such as one from Bebe Sachi can be purchased off-line, in major retail stores, or from local boutiques.

 

  • Soft Structured Carriers (SSCs) – These are European in origin and probably the most well-known type of carrier on the Western market today. These are highly engineered carriers that currently have the strictest safety guidelines of any carrier that can currently be purchased, due to how they are put together with stitching, webbing, and buckles. You can walk into Target, Buy Buy Baby, and Babies R Us and walk out with a ‘clip carrier’. They resemble an odd backpack full of webbing, buckles, and fabric that may seem at once more familiar and comforting than anything else on the list. After all, who didn’t carry a backpack at one point in their lives? All of these come with instruction manuals and are very easy to use. Any ‘store line’ brands such as Ergo, Lillebaby, and Boba are a great value buy and are sturdy enough to last through multiple children. They do not, however, tend to hold a resale value and you can usually find them on sale for half of their new-in-package price on a Buy/Sale/Trade group, on Craigslist, or at local garage sales. There are other companies that fall into ‘higher end’ carriers, such as Jublii, Easy Feel, and Kokadi, that are going to cost a little more and can usually sell later for a market value higher than the purchase price! Whichever brand of SSC that you get, they are easy to adjust for anyone in the family to help out wearing your little one. Many brands have their own infant inserts (some are designed to be used from the beginning without an insert, such as the Ergo Adapt or Lillebaby Complete) and most of these carriers can be used beyond preschool age. If you are an avid hiker or outdoors person, SSCs are a great go-to carrier (especially full or partial mesh versions for breathability) and are typically machine washable.

 

  • “Other” carriers– there are other types of carriers as equally loved and amazing as all of the ones listed above. Onbuhimos from Japan, podaegis from Korea, the Rebozo from Mexico, and even a simple muslin blanket can be used for babywearing! Once you dive in, finding different styles, fabrics, and prints (etc) can become very addicting!! Have a look here for other amazing carriers.

No matter the carrier that you choose, be sure to read the manufacturers instructions for wearing, weight limits, and wash instructions before you buy to make sure that they align with what you need and your own timelines (ex: if you don’t have a lot of time for hands on washing and drying, steer clear of wool type carriers).  And remember that if you are feeding your baby in a carrier, whether nursing/breastfeeding or from a bottle, always be sure to readjust the carrier back into its original place once baby is finished.

While this is not an all-inclusive list of ‘whats’ or ‘how-tos’, it is at the very least a starting point for anyone mildly interested in giving babywearing a try. It can be fun and discouraging, highly entertaining and sweat inducing, and at the end of the day you can look back on your adventures with wonder, remembering those little neck hugs from behind and watching that little face snuggled against your chest fast asleep. It is an experience that can be born out of convenience (multiple children is a great example!) or a suggestion for helping a NICU preemie thrive (also known as Kangaroo Care). There are many reasons for why, just as there are many types of carriers and the ways that they can be worn. Whatever your reason and however you choose to carry, the experience will bring you your own stories and you may just find yourself telling another caregiver about it at the grocery store.

 

Photo: wrap by Pretty Paisley Wovens ‘Agatha’

Photo Credit: Jillian Hanes

 

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