Babywearing is the act of carrying your baby (or toddler/preschooler!) using some sort of carrier, be it a woven wrap, stretchy wrap, ring sling, mei tai or SSC. It is a wonderful tool to have in your parenting arsenal and fosters a close bond between the wearer and the child. It allows the wearer to complete everyday tasks ‘hands free’ and without worrying about the child running across the street, out an open door, falling down the stairs, or any of the other many dangers that surround us. It is even possible to nurse in a carrier or tandem wear TWO babies at the same time!!
The world of babywearing is vast and complicated. Hopefully this introduction will help navigate the seas for a novice babywearer to better understand the options, terminology, and safety.
Babywearing International (babywearinginternational.org) has offered some simple to follow guidelines to ensure safe babywearing for you and your child. These especially apply to newborns and young infants who lack complete head control. Make sure baby’s chin is off her chest always, and keep her face “close enough to kiss”. Newborns should always be worn in a front carry, facing inwards to ensure proper positioning and monitoring. Keep the body position of your child in a “C” shape, but prevent excessive slumping. Knees and hips should be in an “M” position, with the knees higher than the bottom. Last off, make sure you’re comfortable!!
Types of carriers
Stretchy Wraps are some of the most popular newborn carriers around. They are relatively inexpensive, and easy to find, and 100% cotton. The Moby probably is the most popular stretchy wrap. These are great for newborns, but may intimidate beginning wrappers because they have so much fabric (about 5 meters in length). The benefit to stretchy wraps is because of the amount of stretch, they are very forgiving on imperfect wrap jobs, and allow ‘pre-tying’ of the carrier, so you can have it all ready to go before baby is put in the wrap, and keep it tied all day long. The disadvantage is the limited use, since they are stretchy in all directions, once baby starts to gain weight, they sag and become uncomfortable, which causes many parents to abandon use (and babywearing entirely!) and that they are very warm in the summertime.
In the same vein as Stretchy Wraps, we have the world of woven wraps. This area of babywearing alone is very detailed and complex, and deserves (and has!) many many webpages dedicated to it. A woven wrap is essentially a long piece of fabric. It varies in length, fiber, and width depending on the brand and size. There are both machine woven and handwoven wraps, pricing varies from under $100 to an infinite amount depending on the maker, scarcity, and popularity of wraps. Sizing is as follows:
Size 2: 2.6 Meters
Size 3: 3.2Meters
Size 4: 3.6 Meters
Size 5: 4.2 Meters
Size 6: 4.6 Meters
Size 7: 5.2 Meters
Most babywearers identify with Size 6 as a “base” size, and that is the recommended size for new babywearers. Size 6 offers the most diversity in carries and has enough length to reinforce the carry to provide the maximum amount of safety while learning to wrap. From there you can branch off and have different wraps in different sizes to use for various carries. Wraps also vary in fiber blend. Almost all wraps have some amount of cotton in them, and may also include bamboo, hemp, linen, wool, silk, and more boutique wraps even offer higher end fibers such as cashmere or baby camel hair! Different fibers offer different benefits and drawbacks depending on the qualities you desire in a wrap.
There are literally hundreds of different carries one can do with a woven wrap. Youtube is a wonderful resource to utilize in studying how to use a woven wrap.
Soft Structured Carrier (SSC)
A Soft Structured Carrier (SSC), or a Buckle Carrier, is probably second to the stretchy wrap for popular babywearing. Popular brands include Ergo, Lillebaby and Boba, but many other brands exist. SSC’s are very simple to use. They have two shoulder straps that usually buckle, and a buckle waist. Think of them like a backpack for your baby. The most important thing in finding the right SSC for you is the correct fit for your child. Ideally, the base of the carrier will go “knee to knee” under your child’s bottom to provide maximum support. These carriers can be made from canvas, woven wraps “converted” or mesh. They usually come in two sizes, standard (or baby sized) and Toddler. Some companies even offer pre-school sized carriers for bigger children to be worn in. A standard sized carrier fits an average child through about a year to 18 months. After that, a Toddler size would be recommended. These can be worn on your front or on your back. Remember, it is never recommended to forward face your child in a carrier. It is uncomfortable to the child and the wearer, and often causes back pain to the wearer, which again can lead to stopping babywearing before you’re really done because of pain.
Many parents with children with SPD (sensory processing disorders) use babywearing as a tool to help control the environment their child is in, and give them a safe place to retreat to when they need the comfort. An SSC is a great choice for these parents as the ease of use and sizes work well with the lifestyle they need.
A Ring sling is a short piece of fabric with rings attached to one end. The fabric can be cotton, linen, or a woven wrap. There are even some water ring slings made to be used while lounging in the pool with your little one! Ring Slings use a one shouldered carry, where the fabric is then threaded through the rings and secured using the weight of your child sitting in the pocket of the sling. This is a popular carrier for newborns, as they don’t get ‘lost’ in all of the fabric of wraps and they do not quite fit SSCs or Mei Tai’s yet. It is also a very useful carrier for quick ups and downs with babies that are on the move. Ring slings come in various lengths from about 65 inches (Small) to 85 inches (XL), and the size you need depends on your size and your baby’s size. Standard advice is to order your shirt size. If you plan on nursing in a ring sling, you can also order a longer length to use as a nursing cover or sunshade for your child. The only difference in length is how far the “tail” or the end of the sling drops down your body. This is really only a concern for shorter individuals, as it may become a tripping hazard. Rings can be worn on your left or right shoulder, it all depends on which side is more comfortable for the wearer.
Ring Slings are made by wrap manufacturers, and other companies that specialize in ring slings such as Maya, or may be custom converted by companies who specialize in that, such as Sleeping Baby Productions.
Mei Tai/Asian Inspired Carrier
The Mei Tai (pronounced May-Tye) is a version of an Asian carrier. There are several other types of Asian inspired carriers such as Onbuhimo and Podaegi, but those are more obscure in the babywearing world. A Mei Tai is essentially a square or rectangle piece of fabric with one strap coming off each corner. The bottom two tie around the waist of the wearer, the top two tie over the shoulders and around the baby being worn. This is a step up in complexity from an SSC, but also a step up in comfort as it is a completely custom fit to the wearer. Mei Tai’s can be made out of almost any non stretchy fabric, though the most common are canvas, cotton and wrap conversions. Mei Tai’s can also be sized to baby or toddler size, the dimensions of the panel just change. These can also be worn on the front or back of the wearer. Some mei tai’s are made by wrap manufacturers such as the Girasol Mysol, or also may be custom made by companies that specialize in doing just that.
As you can see, babywearing is a diverse and widespread world. It is both a tool and a hobby for those involved in it, and often becomes a lifestyle. There are babywearing meet ups, playdates, groups, facebook groups, buy/sell/trade swaps, and much more!! Many avid babywearers have an extensive ‘stash’ of carriers, all to justify the needs (and wants) of the wearer and the baby. Babywearing can be a fashion statement!!
Good luck, and remember, Wear All the Babies!!!!
- by Summer Blunden
photo sources: Lillebaby, Dearest Diapers, Fidella, Babywearing Internationl