Bio Eric organic Storchenwiege woven wrap from My Natural Baby
What to look for when buying a baby carrier.
By Jessica Richards
Your baby loves to be held. Her very core tells her that her parents' arms are her home, and nothing seems better than breathing in your baby's scent as you cuddle her. But after a while, your arms start feeling it. What can you do? The frontpack hurts your back, and you can't get the sling quite right. It can be so tricky to find the right carrier to suit you and baby.
There are a few things to take into consideration when choosing your baby carrier.
A good, well designed baby carrier should :
Be able to support baby in the position you'd normally hold them, so they are in close to your centre of gravity. i.e. tummy to tummy, cradled in-arms, hip carry and piggy back when older.
Distribute baby's weight evenly and comfortably,
Support baby's legs in a seated position (except for cradle carries) with knees up higher than their bum.
NEVER make baby's legs dangle straight down, but be gently wrapping around your middle as if you're carrying them inarms.
Be of sound, safe construction.
It is important to choose the right carrier for your specific needs. Some carriers are great for short periods but you wouldn't want to hike in them. Others are great for supporting reflux babies upright. It depends what you and your baby's needs are, as to what will suit.
Do try some on before you invest in a carrier. If you have a babywearing group in your area, go to a meeting and get some expert help. If not, do some research online with Slingbabies.co.nz or TheBabyWearer.com.
Remember that what you think you may like is sometimes NOT what baby likes. Online auction sites can be good for a bargain, as long as you know what you're looking for and can be sure of the quality and sizing (e.g. for pouches).
Anything you see in big baby shops that is mass produced and openly encourages forward facing out and crotch-dangling, is NOT recommended. It is not comfortable for baby OR your back, and is not good value for money. Even a knotted bedsheet sling can often do a better job of holding a heavy baby than the frontpack you picked up for $300.
All the decent quality baby carriers in NZ are made or imported by small home businesses who know what they're talking about and care about their products. They will be able to help you with carrying methods etc.
Let's look at the 5 main types of carrier, and aspects to watch out for when choosing.
A pouch sling is a circle of fabric with a curved seam at the bottom. Baby's bum always rests in this curve, encouraging the knees up- bum down.
Pouch slings are worn on one shoulder- usually the left side if you're right handed, and vice versa.
A pouch sling's length should always match your shoulder-to-hip measurement, so check this with the seller if buying online.
Pouch slings may be pre-folded or you can flip the shoulder later, depending on manufacturer's instructions.
Check the stitching of the curved seam for loose threads or stretching. Make sure the fabric is strong enough to take the weight of baby. It's no use having a sling that's only recommended up to 10kg if you want more use from it later on.
Ring slings are worn on one shoulder, with the rings at 'corsage' level and the leftover tail hanging.
A Ring sling is used similar to a pouch sling but with the added adjustability of the rings to tighten the edges separately and bring baby in closer to you- useful in a tummy-to-tummy carry with newborns.
The rings will ideally be proper aluminium sling rings from . Although some reputable brands use other types, the ones above are ultra safe and weight tested to 250lb.
NEVER use a sling with thin craft rings with a join- or worse, a gap. These weaken rapidly and can snap with disasterous results.
There are a few different shoulder designs available- variations of pleated and folded. But as long as they ensure good spreading of the back and top over your shoulder, whichever you personally like is fine.
You will occasionally see ring slings with padded rails and a sewn-together tail. These are alright, but can be tricky adjusting the edges as you run out of tail. We usually recommend the more common 'open' tail for a good fit and adjustment. Ring Slings make a great emergency high-chair!
This category includes mei-tai, podaegi, onbuhimo and chunei. Only the Mei-tai is usually available to buy in NZ, being the most common. Many people find the weight distribution of Asian Style Carriers excellent on two shoulders, which makes them ideal for older and/or heavier babies, and wearing for long periods comfortably.
A Mei-tai is a rectangle of fabric with four straps- two waist straps and two longer shoulder straps. The shoulders will ideally be wide and often a little padded for optimum weight distribution, and enable you to tie in a variety of ways. Some have sleep hoods with little thin straps to tuck under your shoulder straps, others have a fold-over top. Some have longer panels than others, meaning you'd have to fold over the bottom to use for a little baby, but it would give you more wear once they're older.
You can wear Mei-tai on the front, hip and back. Podaegi, Onbuhimo and Chunei are mainly back carriers.
A Podaegi is also a rectangle shape, usually longer. There are only two top straps, which go over or under your shoulders, cross under baby's bottom and end up at your waist.
The Onbuhimo is the same again but with rings to thread your shoulder straps through instead of bottom straps, and the Chunei is similar to a waistcoat which forms a backpack for baby.
SOFT-STRUCTURED CARRIER (SSC)
The design of Soft-Structured Carriers has been taken from Asian style, but they added buckles instead of ties, and a thick rigid waistband. They all have a sleep hood, padded shoulder straps, some have pockets or other little bits added. Soft-Structured Carriers are wide at the base, which creates the optimum seated position for baby.
Soft-Structured Carriers are good for if you have a heavy baby or want to wear them for longer; or if you're very new at it and 'simple to use' appeals to you. They can be used as a front pack, but really come into their own as a back pack once baby can sit up.
Dads seem to like Soft-Structured Carriers for the 'hardware' aspect, and the lack of frilly flowery bits. They are great for LONG periods of wearing, putting most of baby's weight on your hips quite nicely. Some people are just not the right body shape for SSCs however, so it is important to try before you buy- and a Mei-tai is just as comfy if you don't like the SSC.
Framed backpacks are *ok*, especially if you have a lot of gear you want to carry with you. But they carry baby up high and away from your centre of gravity, and unless they have an excellent waist band for weight distribution, your shoulders will pay for it after a couple of hours. If you're going to invest a couple of hundred in a backpack, why not get something you can wear your older baby in for hours and not feel it at all, and appeal to your subtle sense of fashion at the same time? (And you can put all your gear in your stroller or make hubby carry it!)
A wrap is a long piece of fabric that you tie in a variety of ways to wear your baby. They can be stretchy or woven fabric. There are many tying methods to use for your wrap, but you only need to know ONE, and you're sorted. Everything else is just extra, so don't be intimidated by the metres of fabric. They are the best type of carrier for people with bad backs I.e scoliosis, or babies with hip casts etc, as they are so versatile.
Stretchy wraps are good for wearing newborn to around 18m depending on comfort. They are not as wide as woven wraps. You can get baby in and out about 3-4 times before you have to re-tie, which is great for going to the mall or out at events.
Stretchy wraps are only recommended for front carries, never on the back as they are just not supportive or wide enough to keep baby from pushing away from you.
Woven wraps are a bit more of an investment, as they are often specifically loom-woven as baby carriers and imported from Europe. Woven wraps are much wider than stretchy wraps, which provides excellent coverage for back carries. They are very supportive, with a specially designed slight diagonal elasticity. They are great for long periods of carrying newborn to older babies/children. Most of the time you will need to retie it every time. Again, you only need to know ONE way of tying your wrap, the rest can come later. Online videos are wonderful for practicing with.
Despite this mass of information, don't be put off!
Wearing your baby in a comfortable carrier is one of the most rewarding and practical aspects of attachment parenting you can do with your baby. And it's not just for mums and dads: grandmas, uncles, siblings, friends can all do it too (with baby's acceptance)
Wearing your baby in a sling doesn't depend on how you birthed your baby, how you feed them or sleep them. It is just a wonderful parenting tool, making life with your wee babe so much easier.
Enjoy those gorgeous snuggles with your newest member of the family, your body is their natural habitat for a lot longer than 9 months!
See us next issue for 'Safe babywearing'...
Jessica Richards is a mother of 3, ex-teacher, LLL Leader and founder of Slingbabies- a non-profit babywearing group and website.