Before Tyler was born, I knew I wanted to “wear” him a lot. I not only wanted the freedom to continue doing chores and playing with Kendall, I wanted to be very close to him. So I did a lot of research on babywearing but had to piece my own information together. Now that I’m in it and love it, I asked the leader of my babywearing group, Clover Heske co-owner of Bean Tree Baby, to compile some information for moms-to-be and newbie mothers who were interested in knowing more about babywearing.
So, “babywearing”… what a weird word! I doubt it’s in the dictionary these days, but it was coined to describe the act of wearing a baby against a parent or caregiver’s body in a soft baby carrier. The act of babywearing is hardly a new concept though, as people all over the world have been using simple pieces of cloth or fabric to aide in carrying their babies for, well, as long as we have had babies and fabric! As humans, our babies are born pretty helpless; non-mobile and unable to feed themselves, so as parents we have always needed to find ways to tote our little ones
around to give them the level of care they require. In the past that was usually done by just the parent’s arms or a simple piece of cloth that tied the baby to the adult’s body. It wasn’t until the early 1800’s that the early versions of what would be known as the modern stroller or pram was designed and it was another 100 years until it became more widely available in Westernized countries. With the invention of the stroller many people abandoned the practice of wearing their babies in simple pieces of cloth, but over the last 20 years or so we’ve seen a resurgence of parents interested in utilizing soft baby carriers again to help in meeting the daily needs oftheir babies.
Thankfully these days we have a lot of options for baby carriers beyond a simple piece of cloth. I like to say there is a carrier out there for just about every family, but sometimes it can be a challenge to find the one that suits you and your baby the best. This is where it can really pay to do your homework and research the different types of carriers there are, because some really are better suited to certain ages and situations. If possible, trying on a carrier (or a few different types of carriers) before buying is best, so look for a local store specializing in baby carriers or a local babywearing group in your area. Even if it’s an hour drive, it may be time well spent if it means you walk away with the perfect carrier!
Types of Baby Carriers
Pouch- A pouch is a very simple, no frills carrier. It is a tube of fabric with a curved seam, worn like a sash across the wearer’s shoulder and torso. Pouches are usually used to position the baby on the wearer’s front or hip. The majority of pouches on the market are considered to be “sized” pouches, and sizes are chosen based on the adult wearer’s body frame. Other pouches are “adjustable” in that they are able to be made smaller or larger within certain parameters to fit a wider variety of wearers. While pouches may lack a custom fit, most people find them easy to get on and off, and they fold up very small for convenient storage in a diaper bag or purse. They are best suited to infants and toddlers.
Recommended Brands: Slinglings, Hotslings
Ring Sling- A ring sling is essentially a piece fabric, usually between 6-7 feet long, that has a pair of rings attached to one end. The fabric is threaded through the rings, much like a belt, and then worn like a sash around the wearer’s shoulder and torso. Ring slings are usually used to position the baby on the wearer’s front or hip. The wearer can adjust the sling, making it looser or tighter, simply by pulling the excess fabric (AKA “tail”) through the rings. Ring slings are known for their ability to get a snug custom fit thanks to their near infinite adjustability. Ring slings can be used with newborns, infants, and toddlers.
Recommended Brands: Maya Wrap, Sakura Bloom, Sleeping Baby Productions
Wrap Around Carrier (aka, Wrap)- A wrap is a piece of cloth ranging from 2.5 meters to 5 meters. Short wraps can be used for one shoulder carries, similar to a pouch or ring sling, to position the baby on the wearer’s front or hip. Long wraps are usually used for two shoulder carries to position the baby on the wearer’s front or back. The fabric is simply wrapped around the wearer and baby, and then knotted at the ends.
Wraps come in two main types, stretchy and woven. Stretchy wraps are made of a knit fabric and are well suited for use with newborns and young infants. Woven wraps are made of fabric woven specifically for carrying babies, and can be used from the newborn period all the way through toddlerhood. While wraps may seem daunting to learn, they are possibly the most comfortable and versatile of all the types of carriers available today.
Recommend Brands: Boba Wrap (stretchy), Moby Wrap (stretchy); Colimacon et Cie (woven), Didymos (woven), Ellevill (woven)
Mei Tai Carrier- Inspired by traditional Asian baby carriers, the mei tai (pronounced “may-tie”) has a rectangular panel that supports the baby’s body, with a waist strap on the bottom end and shoulder straps coming off the two top corners of the body panel. Mei tais are generally used to position the baby on the wearer’s front or back. Since the waist and shoulder straps of the mei tai adjust by tying knots, it fits a wide range of body types and offers great support even for heavy toddlers. Mei tais are best suited to infants and toddlers, but can be used safely with newborns as well.
Recommended Brands: BabyHawk Mei Tai, Freehand, Kozy
Soft Structured Carrier (aka SSC)- Soft structured carriers are similar to mei tais in that they have a body panel, a waist strap, and two shoulder straps. However, soft structured carriers have waist and shoulder straps that are usually heavily padded and use webbing and buckles to tighten and close, instead of tying knots. Most soft structured carriers are used to position the baby on the wearer’s front or back. While some soft structured carriers can be used with newborns, they really shine when used with heavy infants and toddlers, especially in a back carry. Soft structured carriers are designed to transfer a lot of the baby’s weight to the wearer’s hips which makes them a wonderful choice for long walks and hiking.
Recommended Brands: BabyHawk Oh Snap, Beco, Boba
Safety Issues When Babywearing: What to Look Out For
I think one of the most common questions people who wear their babies, especially newborns, hear is, “Is that safe?” The answer is, when done properly, yes! The safest place for a newborn baby is in its parents’ arms, where they can check on the baby’s breathing and well being quickly and easily. Babywearing can help parents keep their baby close while freeing up their arms to do other things. It’s the best of both worlds!
That said, it is important to make sure that when in a carrier a baby is not placed in a position that would compromise their airway/breathing. This is especially important with newborn babies under 4 months old and/or with babies who were born with other risk factors (such as premature babies, low birth weight babies, twins, or babies with an underlying respiratory condition). Remember that no nursery product, be it a baby carrier, a swing, a stroller, or a bouncy seat, can keep your baby safe and their airway open. That is a job only a parent or caregiver can do!
In the babywearing world, we like to use the phrase “Visible and Kissable” to describe safe positioning for babies in carriers. First, the “Visible” part pertains to the babies face and airway; you need to be able to see the baby’s face at all times, make sure there is no fabric covering their nose or mouth, and that their head is not angled down with their chin touching their chest. You can test for this by trying to
place two fingers between their chin and their chest; if you can you are good to go! The “Kissable” part comes in to play with where the baby is on the wearer’s body. You should be able to bend your head and neck down and plant a kiss on the top of your baby’s head when they are in the carrier. If you can’t, the baby is probably too low and it may be hard to check on them and their breathing as needed. A baby too low on your body can also cause back strain, but that’s not really a safety issue, just a comfort one for you!
For more information on baby carrier safety I highly recommend checking out the babywearing safety page on the Baby Carrier Industry Alliance website.
Editor’s notes: If you have any more questions or would like more information about babywearing leave a comment.