I’ve ‘worn’ both of my babies (‘babywearing’ can be an odd term the first time you hear it – basically just means you carry your baby close to you in an carrier thats worn on your body) because I knew no other way to have a happy baby and make myself coffee. I’ve had a pouch sling, an Ergo, a Tula, and a Moby wrap. (Right now I alternate the Ergo and Tula.)
When I recently posted a photo of Theo in the Tula, I got a lot of questions about babywearing. I’ve also gotten a few emails asking my babywearing advice, but I’m no babywearing hobbyist or expert (just someone who happens to have wimpy upper body strength and babies like being held), so I called in Kim Lacroix, a babywearing educator who happens to have a son with amazing hair:
Hi! My name is Kim. I always tell everyone that my two favourite parenting tools (the ones I couldn’t live without) are breastfeeding and babywearing. My almost-two-year-old son Zave (Xavier) has been carried in various carriers since his birth and, at this point, I have tried quite a few different styles of carriers. I fully intend on “wearing” baby #2 (a girl due in the spring!) just as often as I wore my son… if not more.
Learning about the advantages and disadvantages of each type of carrier became a kind of pastime for me during my one year of maternity leave (I live in Canada). And now that I’ve tried so many carriers, I especially love being able to help other moms choose and use carriers. I even took a two-day Babywearing Educator course through the Canadian Babywearing School so that I would feel even more comfortable helping other parents. Babywearing makes my life so much easier, and I know it can help others, too.
The long version of why and how I became so passionate about babywearing is here. (Portage is the French word for babywearing.)
Q: I babywear because it’s incredibly convenient – whether I’m doing chores around the house or walking in and out of shops without a bulky stroller. Are there any other benefits?
A: The most natural place for a baby is in your arms, especially in those first few months of life known as the “fourth trimester.” Mothers and fathers instinctively pick up their babies and hold them close to them when they cry, knowing that it calms them. A baby carrier allows you to hold your baby in your arms, giving them the close contact they crave, but also giving you two free hands.
When my son was younger, he always wanted to be in my arms when I was in the kitchen, to see what I was doing. It was frustrating until I realized I could put him on my back while I made dinner – he was so happy to be “included” and to be able to see what was going on, and I was happy because both my hands were free to get a meal on the table!
Carriers are useful inside the house but they are also handy for traveling or doing errands. Like you said, Ashley, it’s so much easier to get around with a baby carrier than with a stroller – trails and stairs and crowded places are easy to navigate when you are “wearing” your baby in a baby carrier. I’m reminded of this every time I use my stroller and come across a few steps that I can’t get up by myself. We were traveling with friends recently and visiting Key West. We had our son on our backs (mine or my husband’s), while they had a stroller. Every time we got to a little shop, one of our friends had to wait outside with the stroller while we just walked right in, no matter how small or crowded. Babywearing lets you go anywhere!
With older babies like my toddler, a carrier gives them a safe place to nap if you are away from home, helps calm them down when they are overwhelmed and having a meltdown, allows you to keep them close in parking lots and crowded places, and is MUCH easier than carrying them in your arms. I’m just not strong enough to carry my toddler for very long. Because as much as he loves to run, he eventually gets tired and wants to be carried… (Amen, sister! If I try to just ‘run in’ to a store for a few minutes and carry the baby, my arm huuuuurts for an hour afterward. – Ashley)
My husband travels a lot for work (he’s a pilot), and during my year of maternity leave, I took over 20 flights, alone with my son, to go be with my husband. Getting around airports with my son in the baby carrier was so much easier than with a stroller! I could even feed my son on the go without anyone noticing. And he was always calm and happy since he was close to me.
So many moms tell me that on those nights that they tried everything to get their baby to sleep, and the only thing that finally worked was putting them in a carrier. I think we’ve all had nights like that, eh? I’m always so thankful for babywearing on those nights (or afternoons). (I spent MANY afternoons with Theo in the Ergo, bouncing on an exercise ball to get him to sleep! Then when he did, I could get stuff done because my hands were free. – Ashley)
After my son’s vaccines, he was incredibly upset for several hours, and wouldn’t even nurse. The only thing that finally calmed him down enough to breastfeed, and then, finally, to sleep, was putting him in a carrier. Carriers are also incredibly useful for babies with reflux, since those babies do much better when they’re carried upright.
Q: My friend said she tried wearing her baby, but her baby never liked it. Is there anything she can do to help him enjoy being in a carrier?
A: Most babies love being carried – think of how quickly most babies calm down as soon as mom picks them up. Sometimes it’s not the carrier that’s making the baby fussy. Before you try putting your baby in the carrier, make sure that your baby is fed and changed. And if your baby doesn’t seem to like it one day, I always say: try again! Babies change every day.
Once baby’s in the carrier (and even as you’re putting her in), get moving – babies like movement! Walk, dance, sway, bounce. (I like to do the “elevator,” which is basically a straight-back squat, while holding onto something steady for support! It’s great exercise, too!) Singing and shushing while wearing also helps calm a fussy baby, and sometimes getting out of the house and going for a walk helps, too.
Q: Do you think there’s one best brand of carrier (Ergo, Tula, etc) or type of carrier (wrap, sling, soft structured) or does it depend on personal preference?
A: The Canadian Babywearing School’s motto is “Practice, Not Product” and I wholeheartedly believe in this. So the answer is no, there is not one “best” brand or type. Each type of carrier has its advantages and disadvantages, and yes, personal preference does play into it as well.
Buckle carriers (also called soft-structured carriers, or SSCs) are the quickest to put on and probably easiest to learn to use. However, I always tell people that buckle carriers are like a pair of jeans: they fit everyone differently. There is a limit to how adjustable these carriers are, so differently-shaped people will find different buckle carriers more or less comfortable.
Some people swear the Tula is the “best” buckle carrier out there, and more comfortable than any other. That’s not the experience we’ve had in the Ottawa Babywearing Group Sling Library: most people who borrow the Tula from the library end up finding it less comfortable than other buckle carriers, like the Manduca, the Ergobaby, or the Beco Gemini (which is often recommended for more petite mamas like you and I, Ashley).
I always recommend that people try out a buckle carrier before buying it, to see if it’s right for them. (Yes! My local babywearing chapter has a huge library of wraps and carriers that members can borrow for a month for just $5. It’s awesome. You can also go to meetings and just try things on. – Ashley) If you can’t get to a store to try before you buy, then it might be safer to buy a mei tai, which is similar to a buckle carrier in shape, but has no buckles; you just tie the straps instead. This makes it easier to adjust and also gives it more versatility, since you can tie the straps different ways.
Q: I tried a ring sling because I loved the idea, but it hurt my shoulder after just 30 minutes. Does that mean it wasn’t a good quality or are they better for newborns instead older babies?
A: Ring slings can be great carriers for all ages. I still use mine with my 25-pound toddler, and I have friends who even use them with their 3 and 4-year-olds! They are great for older babies because of how quick they are to put on (great for those up-and-down ever-changing toddler moods) and also how little fabric there is (great for warm climates AND for carrying an “emergency carrier” all rolled up in your diaper bag).
For a newborn, a ring sling is ideal because it’s so easy to just slip over your head without even having to put down your baby.
There is a bit of a learning curve to adjusting a ring sling, and once you have spread the fabric well over your entire back, it should distribute the weight better.* Different ways of sewing the shoulder of the ring sling (with and without padding) can make a difference, too. But that being said, I still wouldn’t want to wear any ring sling for much more than an hour. No matter how comfortable you make it, it’s not going to be as comfortable as a two-shouldered carrier.
*Check out this series of videos by Sewfunky Slings. Tanja, the owner of Sewfunky, is a Canadian manufacturer of ring slings and a babywearing educator who trained through the Canadian Babywearing School, like me. And while we’re on the subject of Youtube videos: they’re not all created equal! Remember when you’re looking at videos that not all of them are made by trained babywearing educators, and may not be depicting safe babywearing practices.
You may have also seen a different type of sling with no rings. These are called pouch slings, and they are simply a loop of fabric that you need to buy in exactly the right size for you. A ring sling, on the other hand, is adjustable and can fit a variety of different-sized wearers.
Q: Everyone in the babywearing community seems to be into woven wraps – why? And why are they so expensive?? (They are usually like $100+ for a long piece of fabric).
A: When I was pregnant, I always said I wasn’t interested in using wraps. They looked “too complicated” for me. Ha! Famous last words…
I do use woven wraps now, and I love them. Their biggest advantage is their versatility: you can tie them in a million different ways, which means you can make them comfortable for YOU and your body type. And they double as blankets, towels, baby hammocks, scarves, sun covers, makeshift high chairs, etc. Oh, and… well, they’re pretty too. I’ve always loved pretty fabrics! But really, the clincher for me was the first time I tried a woven wrap: I couldn’t believe how snuggly it was. It made me feel like I was wrapped up in a cozy blanket with my baby. Almost like he was back in the womb!
Their biggest disadvantage—and this is a big one—is the learning curve. Many parents just aren’t interested in learning how to tie a woven wrap, or spending several hours in front of the mirror practicing. And that’s fine! They may be pretty, but there are lots of other options for carrying your baby on your back, front or hip. Learning to wrap your baby onto your back in a woven wrap can be somewhat frustrating at first. Then again, some people find that it’s a skill that’s fun to learn.
Why are they so expensive? Think about how much quality fabric can cost. Upholstery-weight (think jacquard-weave) fabric is often sold for $20 or (much) more per yard. And most woven wraps are between 3 and 5 yards long. It’s a lot of fabric! And when you also think about the fact that you are wrapping your baby in it, you want the dyes used to be child-safe (baby is definitely going to chew on that fabric), and for the fabric to be tested to be weight-bearing.
You can buy a very plain, inexpensive woven wrap for under $100. But you can also buy “luxury” wraps in all kinds of fabric blends and patterns. Think silk, wool, bamboo, linen, etc. There are so many options out there: you want a wrap with turtles on it? It exists. You want one with yellow and red stripes? It exists too. Flowers? Elephants? The chemical symbol for oxytocin? You name it, you can probably find a woven wrap with that pattern. Some moms become “collectors” of pretty fabric, wanting to try different blends of woven wraps or wanting to have different wraps to match with different outfits. There are lots of other “luxury” baby items out there, like $1000 strollers. You can get a cheap umbrella stroller that will absolutely do the job too!
Q: What’s the difference between a woven wrap and a wrap like the Moby or Boba?
A: A Moby or Boba wrap is a type of stretchy wrap. A woven wrap doesn’t stretch length-wise, whereas a stretchy wrap feels more like a stretchy t-shirt material. Stretchy wraps are SO comfy for newborns. But because of the stretch, when baby gets heavier, the wrap starts sagging and they aren’t as comfortable. A comfortable carrier is one that holds your baby close to you so that the two of you can move as one – no dangling or sagging.
You also can’t use a stretchy wrap for a back carry, since baby could push his way out and fall. A woven wrap is more versatile, then, since it can be worn on the front, hip or back, and can be used for newborns right up to heavy toddlers (and even preschoolers).
So should you get a stretchy wrap? They are quite inexpensive, especially if you buy one used. They really are wonderfully cozy for those first few weeks, and you can probably re-sell it once you’re done having babies. They are also easier to tighten than a woven wrap. So why not? Then again, if you could also choose to go right to a woven wrap, knowing that it’ll be a bit harder to adjust at first, but that it will last you longer than the stretchy wrap.
Q: How can someone be sure they’re babywearing safely?
A: The main thing to remember with babywearing is to always make sure your baby is “visible and kissable.” That means you carry them high on your chest in the carrier (the same way you would in your arms), and you always make sure you can see baby’s face. (No blanket over their head, please!) Even in a sling-type carrier, baby is always carried upright, since that’s the best way to make sure that baby is in a safe position. When baby is reclined, she could have more trouble breathing if her chin gets compressed against her chest (this is especially true of littler babies), so I recommend avoiding that position.
Q: I’ve noticed a lot of people wear their babies facing outward – but I’ve also heard that’s not good?
A: Some babies love being carried facing outward. But other babies can get over-stimulated easily when they’re carried that way, whether it’s in a parent’s arms or in a carrier. They will usually get fussy and squirm or cry, which is a good sign to turn them towards you. It’s like they get overwhelmed by what they see and just want to burrow their face in the safety of their mom or dad’s chest. Another sign that they may be feeling over-stimulated is if they fall asleep in that position. It’s kind of like they’re turning the switch to “off” to get away from it all. You should definitely turn them inward to face you at that point.
It can also get quite uncomfortable for the wearer to carry a baby whose weight is hanging forward, away from them. Think about tying a pair of running shoes or a smaller bag onto your backpack. Have you ever done that? Then you know how uncomfortable it is to carry weight that’s “dangling” off you instead of moving with you.
The most ergonomic position to carry baby is the way you would carry them in your arms, that is, with their bum supported and their legs in an “M shape.” This means that baby’s knees are above their bum. Young babies naturally “froggy” their legs this way when you’re holding them. This will be the most comfortable position for both parent and baby. If your baby loves to be able to see what’s going on around him, you can try carrying him on your hip or your back (once baby has good head control and can sit unassisted, usually about six months), or you can put them in a “Buddha” position in a sling or wrap with their legs crossed in front of them. (Their weight is on their bum.)
You may have heard that wearing a baby facing outwards causes hip dysplasia. That’s not true—it doesn’t cause it. But it can aggravate a pre-existing condition. (More info here.) The best position is an ergonomic one, with baby’s bum supported from one knee to the other.
Q: A lot of husbands want to babywear – any tips for that?
A: My husband loved being able to calm down our baby and snuggle with him in a carrier. He always said that although he didn’t have boobs to breastfeed him, at least he could wear him and baby would be happy! It’s a fantastic parenting tool for dads and other caregivers.
If your husband is like mine, he might not be interested in learning how to use anything more complicated than a buckle carrier. He loves being able to clip the Ergo on and go. He also used our mei tai a lot to put my son to sleep when he was younger.
This is a photo of my dad putting my son to sleep in our mei tai.
(This is the cutest picture of all time!! – Ashley)
Q: If someone wants to get started in babywearing, what do you recommend they do? (Assuming they don’t have tons of disposable time and income to spend on learning about babywearing.)
A: I often recommend a mei tai as a first (or only!) carrier. It fits from birth right up to toddlerhood, can be quite inexpensive, and is easy to use and adjust to different wearers. What I like a lot about mei tais is that they’re easy to share between different wearers (like mom and dad, or grandma and grandpa!).
The only disadvantage of a mei tai is that the long straps can drag on the ground and get dirty. That may not be an issue where you live (we used ours recently while on vacation in Key West with no problems!) but if you live in a snowy, slushy climate like ours in Canada, you might prefer a buckle carrier.
An ergonomic buckle carrier is my next choice for someone just getting into babywearing. They are better for older babies (2-3 months onwards), but most buckle carriers can’t be used for newborns without an additional insert (to take up the extra space in the carrier and get baby into a weight-on-bum position), and like I said earlier, it’s really best to try them on before buying since they fit everyone so differently. Find a good babywearing store (not Toys ‘R’ Us!) that carries brands like Ergobaby, Manduca, Boba, Chimparoo, Catbird Baby, and Beco. You also have to be wary of fake copies of Ergobaby carriers – they may be cheap but they are not safe! I have heard horror stories of buckles breaking… buy from a trusted Ergobaby retailer and you will get a safe, tested carrier that will last you for years and years.
I also highly recommend looking up a babywearing group in your area! There are groups all over the country who usually hold regular meetups and have experienced babywearing moms who can help you adjust your carrier to make it more comfortable. It’s also a great way to make new friends! I’ve been hosting meetups in Ottawa, Canada for a year now—sometimes at a park, sometimes at my house. Look for groups on Facebook (search “babywearing + your city or region”), on the Babywearing International site, or on this list from Wrap Your Baby.
For a list of all of Kim’s recommendations, check out her site: kimlacroix.com/portage/recommended-carriers
Thanks for all the resources and advice, Kim! If you have any questions about babywearing, ask below in the comments and we’ll do our best to answer you!