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Babywearing in the Public Eye

Even before I was pregnant, I knew that I wanted to babywear – carrying baby seemed like a natural thing to do, and while strollers certainly have their place, I wasn’t a fan of the idea of having to use one on a regular basis as they strike me as rather cumbersome (then again, I’m the one you see in Target carrying 15 items because I hate pushing a buggy!).  While I was pregnant, I started researching what carrier/s needed to be on my must have list.  From my involvement on an online message board, I heard about the Moby and the Baby Bjorn.  The Bjorn was the only carrier I’d actually seen anyone using.  Both went on my “maybe for baby” list.

Ellaroo Christiane; Ruck under the Bum with a 5 Month Old

I’m an obsessive sort of planner about things so as my pregnancy progressed, I continued to investigate carrier options…and I stumbled onto a goldmine of babywearing information on the web –  TBW was founded in 2003 by an Australian couple, Jennifer Norton and Denby Angus; their passion for babywearing has grown into an international community of babywearers with an active chat forum, for sale or trade board, and a host of articles and how tos about carrier use.

What I discovered as I read the wealth of information available at TBW, both from articles and mama wisdom on the forums, was that all carriers are not created equal.  For the most part, quality carriers (by quality, I mean those that are both safe and position baby in an ergonomically correct way) are not heavily advertised or widely available.  They are sold in specialty stores and online boutiques, but with few exceptions are not available at the big box retailers where many of us do much of our baby shopping.

Many in the babywearing community work to both promote the benefits of babywearing as a parenting practice and to educate parents about safe and ergonomically correct carriers.  Becoming Mamas has developed our babywearing guide out of this desire to educate.   Unfortunately, mainstream media outlets have not tapped into the expert knowledge available in the babywearing community when they talk about babywearing.  During the March 2010 Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) recall of the Infantino SlingRider, the babywearing community – including members of BabyWearing International (BWI) –  repeatedly offered their services to media outlets – both to demonstrate the dangers of “bag slings” such as the SlingRider and to educate about safe babywearing.   For the most part, those offers were ignored.

This refusal to listen is really nothing new.  For years, babywearing advocates had been lobbying Infantino and other outlets to remove the dangerous SlingRider and other “bag slings” from the market.  The work of M’Liss Stelzer, a registered nurse and babywearing mama, had shown the SlingRider to be potentially deadly.  Yet, the only place I’ve seen her work mentioned outside of the babywearing community was in an article in the British newspaper, The Independent, after the CPSC SlingRider recall; if this work had been heeded years earlier, the deaths of several infants could have been prevented.

Despite this example of how the babywearing community can help the media educate about safe babywearing, most media outlets continue to ignore this resource.  Instead, we get media pieces like the May 26th Today Show segment, “The Best Ways To Carry Baby”, a spin-off of an iVillage piece, “The Best Baby-Carriers Ever.”  Some of the carriers profiled are good; others leave much to be desired.  Some of the advice on wearing is good, but some is not; other important information is simply left out.  In the wake of the CPSC Infantino recall and the CPSC warning on carriers issued earlier in March 2010, it is understandable that media outlets would be somewhat cautious in how they promote babywearing.  One would think that this caution would lead them to consult experts from BWI or TBW’s community – one would be mostly wrong.

Here’s my play-by-play on what the Today Show piece got right and where it went wrong:

  • Liz Zack, the editor of iVillage‘s Pregnancy and Parenting section is interviewed by Today’s Ann Curry.  The piece begins with a reminder about the recent CPSC Infantino recall (Infantino gets named and a picture of the recalled carriers shown).
    • Good: The recalled slings were widely sold; reminders about their dangers can’t be repeated enough.
    • Bad: It should be noted that there are other slings on the market that also fall into the “bag sling” category – those should be avoided as well.
  • The CPSC general warning “to use caution” when carrying babies under 4 months is mentioned.  This is followed by a mention of positioning concerns: no fabric covering the face and the danger of the chin to chest position.
    • Good: You do have to be careful to properly position a newborn.  Like all baby gear, carriers are only safe when used correctly.  Both positioning concerns mentioned are important.
    • Bad: This statement could be read as a warning against using a carrier for the first 4 months (especially since none of the “model” babies appear to be younger than 4 months).  And the newborn phase is when many parents could most use a carrier since newborns need to be held frequently.
    • Bad: While the positioning concern was mentioned, no graphic or demonstration was given to show what this would actually look like.
    • What would have been nice: If you are going to mention newborns in carriers, you really should show newborns properly positioned in carriers.
  • “Fashion show” of the “best, safe” babycarriers begins.  I’m going to quibble with the use of “best” and “safe.”  Some of the profiled carriers are great!  But others are less than desirable.  While none of the profiled carriers is deadly in the way the Infantino slings were, some of them do pose risks that were not addressed.  And there are other far more comfortable options that were not profiled…these are hardly the “best.”
  • First up…the Moby Wrap.  They claim this is “the most comfortable carrier” and claim it’s great for baby on front and baby on back.  Liz Zack, the iVillage editor, says she used the Moby with her toddler.
    • Good: The Moby is a great carrier, no doubt.  It is relatively inexpensive, as they note, and widely available.  It’s a great starter carrier and easy to recommend.
    • Bad: I cringed when the model wearing the moby came out – baby was in a forward facing “crotch dangle” position.  One of the biggest failures of the segment was the fact that they did not address the importance of ergonomically correct positioning – maybe because they showed multiple ergonomically incorrect positions (including some carriers that can’t correctly position baby).  Babies should always be supported by the carrier out to their knees with the knees slightly higher than the bum – otherwise, the spine is placed in an unnatural position and too much pressure is placed on the crotch.   A quality carrier will mimic the way you hold a baby in arms – babies will automatically pull their knees up and wrap around the person holding them, not dangle their legs straight down.
    • Bad: Neither the forward facing position shown on the model nor the back carry mentioned by Liz Zack are included in the most recent version of Moby Wrap’s instructions.  Moby does show a forward carry, but it is one that supports baby’s legs by pulling up the pocket (there was also no mention of the fact that good head control is necessary for this carry).  Back carries cannot be safely done in a very stretchy wrap like the Moby because the stretch makes it virtually impossible to pull tight enough for a safe carry.  Essentially, the segment endorsed usage of the product that goes against the manufactures instructions.
    • Bad: While the Moby is safely able to hold the weight of a 35 pound toddler it is no where near the “most comfortable” carrier for an older baby or toddler.  In my experience, the Moby really only works through 15 pounds or so – after that, the sag issues make it uncomfortable for the wearer.  It’s not unsafe for a toddler if used properly, but if someone was told this was the best carrier through 35 pounds and started to experience that discomfort, they might give up on wearing thinking there were no better options.
    • What would have been nice: This was a great opportunity to show how snuggly and comfortable a quality carrier like the Moby can be for a newborn.  The Moby is wonderful for newborns and is a great option for many parents who may only wear frequently during the first few months.  It would have been nice to see a wee baby properly worn instead of the ergonomically incorrect, forward facing “crotch dangle” shown.
  • Up next…the Baby Bjorn.  They say it’s really easy to get on and “daddy-friendly.”  They also note it can’t be used for back carries but can be front facing or facing the wearer.
    • Good:  I have to be honest and say I have a really hard time finding anything positive to say about the Bjorn.  The Bjorn is heavily marketed and widely available.  As I mentioned above, I considered it when beginning my research because I didn’t know there are far better options.  If I have to say something good, I’ll say that it may bring some folks to babywearing who may not have otherwise tried it.
    • Bad: The Bjorn is notorious in the babywearing community for the forward facing “crotch dangle” position.  See my notes above on the moby as to why this is problematic.  It’s not that the Bjorn is unsafe in the way that the Infantino slings were, but I wouldn’t suggest carrying a child in this position for any extended length of time.  If you are using a Bjorn to carry baby while you grocery shop or run errands a few times a week – it’s probably fine.  If you are using it to wear baby for hours a day as many babywearers do, it is potentially dangerous to baby’s development.  I liken it to the difference in using a jumparoo for a moderate amount of time (which I did with kiddo) verses leaving baby in a jumparoo for hours a day.  Clearly the latter is bad for baby’s development.
    • Bad: The Bjorn’s big selling point is the outward facing position – some babies do not like to be worn facing in.  It is true that there are some picky babies out there.  However, a high back carry (which can be done in a mei tai or a woven wrap – neither of which got a mention here) is a much more comfortable option for baby and wearer – and it offers baby the same exact view.
    • Bad: I’ve heard many former Bjorn users complain that as baby got heavier, the Bjorn grew terribly uncomfortable.  Another problem with the outward facing carry is that it puts baby’s weight dangling off of your front instead of close to your center of gravity.  That means lots of strain on the wearer’s back.  Babywearing shouldn’t hurt; using the Bjorn with an older baby (they say it’s good through 25 pounds) is going to most likely hurt.  Any carrier that gets as many complaints about discomfort as I’ve heard from Bjorn owners doesn’t belong on a “best of” list.
    • Bad: If you are paying $90 for a carrier, you probably want it to be useful through toddlerhood.  And you probably want to back carry with it.  Why invest in the Bjorn when you can get a newborn to toddler carrier that allows a back carry and is just as easy to use for about the same price?  If none of my other reasons convince you the Bjorn doesn’t belong on a “best of” list, maybe this one will.
    • What would have been nice: It would have been nice if the Bjorn hadn’t gotten a mention at all.  The cynic in me has to wonder if its constant presence on lists like this has something to do with advertising dollars??
  • Next up…The Boba.  They note that the Boba is a great option for carriers, can be used for front and back carries, and is “super comfy.”
    • Good: This one they got right!  The Boba is a relatively new soft structured carrier and a great option for toddlers.
    • Bad: They did mention the Boba as being good for toddlers, but didn’t really clarify that it really isn’t an option for newborns or smaller babies (Boba’s website notes the carrier is intended for 1-4 year olds; 15-45 pounds).  This would have been a good opportunity to point out that many parents will find it necessary to purchase multiple carriers as their child grows – just like most purchase multiple strollers.
    • What would have been nice: I would have loved to see the Boba modeled as a back carrier; even better if they could have shown how easy it is to back carry.
  • Next…The Ergo.  They show the Ergo being used as a hip carrier and note that it can be used as a front, back, and hip carrier.
    • Good: The Ergo is another great carrier and is readily available at many retail outlets (Babies ‘R Us has even started to carry it).  The Ergo does go newborn to toddler and the easy to use buckles make it less intimidating – it easily fits on a “best of” list.
    • Bad: They claim it’s a “great hip carrier” – the Ergo owners I know say it’s really not such a comfortable hip carrier.  That’s a minor quibble and it really is a good option.  They also didn’t mention that the Ergo requires an insert for newborn use (I would guess because they were pretending that people don’t wear newborns).
    • What would have been nice: It would have been helpful to parents to see different aged children in the Ergo (or any of the other carriers).   A comparison of the Ergo and Boba would have been helpful as well.  The Boba is taller bodied and therefore a better choice for taller toddlers.  But the Ergo can be used with younger babies.  Those differences were not pointed out and could help parents better chose the carrier that will suit their needs.
  • Last…a Kelty Frame Pack.  They say “what a great backpack carrier.”  They note that you can carry “really big kids” in it (the model child is 3.5) and that it has storage space.  Oh, and this one is modeled by a dad.
    • Good: Nice to see a dad included and an older child being worn.
    • Bad: The ergonomic positioning problem again – this carrier is no where near the kid’s knees.
    • Bad: This is the only carrier shown in a back carry even though both the Ergo and Boba are good back carry options.  This is also not the only carrier for “big kids.”  The Boba has a weight limit of 45 pounds – only 5 pounds less than the Kelty.
    • Bad: Unless you are doing serious back country backpacking and need to haul a lot of gear, a frame carrier is not the best option, even for hiking.  The carrier places the child far from the wearer’s center of gravity, making it a far less comfortable option.  Plus the carrier itself weighs quite a bit.  Maybe that’s why dad got invited to the party?
    • What would have been nice: If they had to show a frame pack, it should have come with the advice to skip the frame unless you are really hauling gear (and even then a SSC may be preferred).  The hikers I know much prefer to use a soft structured carrier as a frame pack can really throw off your balance (and is not as comfortable for the child).  They also should have chosen a model that offered a better seat for the child.
  • What else was missing?
    • There was no mention of pouches, ring slings, mei tais, or woven wraps – all good carrier options.
    • There was no effort to describe what kind of carriers are good for what sorts of uses (for example the Moby as a newborn carrier, a ring sling as good for quick trips, etc).
    • There was no mention of where you can go (aside from iVillage) to learn about safe babywearing and quality carriers.

It would be impossible to include everything about babywearing in one 4 minute segment, but Today could have done a much better job with the time they had.

As a final note, a quality carrier doesn’t mean an expensive carrier.  Consider that for the same price as the $90 Bjorn, you could get a custom Babyhawk mei tai (which can do front, back, and hip carries; newborn to toddler) or an Ergo (if you want buckles).  Quality used carriers go for even less.  And a good ring sling can be had for as little as $25 if you know what you are looking for.   Our guide breaks down the quality carrier options for you and gives you some brands to look for.

Like any baby gear purchase, choosing a carrier is not something that should be done without researching the options.  A baby carrier is a must-have tool in your parenting arsenal; from newborns to toddlers, children love to be held – a quality carrier makes meeting that need much easier and provides a great way to keep your baby close!

We’d love to hear what you recommend to would-be babywearers as the “best” carriers on the market – leave us a note!


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Published in Babywearing