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All About Babywearing: Your Guide to Safe, Ergonomic Baby Carriers

babywearing, wrapping
Vatanai Pamir; Double Hammock

Why Babywearing?

There are numerous benefits to babywearing – in short, in makes life easier for mama (or daddy!) and baby. Babywearing has been an essential part of child rearing in many cultures for centuries; in recent decades the practice has grown in popularity in Western cultures as parents have come to realize its many advantages. Just a few reasons babywearing is so fabulous:

  • Newborns NEED to be held. Close physical contact with a caregiver has physical and physiological benefits for baby.  Carriers allow a caregiver to provide baby with the physical comfort she needs while still have hands free for other activities, including playing with and caring for older children.  Check out our top picks for newborn carriers.
  • An upright position is great for babies with reflux.  The slight pressure on the tummy from being worn also helps with gas issues.
  • A colicky baby is more easily soothed when snuggled and rocked in a carrier.  It is also much easier on a caregiver’s arms to have the carrier help with the holding.
  • Carriers can go many places more easily than a stroller: maneuvering in crowded places, walking the dog, hiking, sightseeing, and using public transportation are all made easier by using a carrier instead of a stroller.
  • Once baby is aware of his world, a carrier provides a better view of his surroundings.   Worn babies are more easily made a part of the action.
  • Even toddlers who are walking frequently want to be held.  A good carrier makes it much easier to handle the weight of your growing toddler while leaving you hands free for other tasks.
  • Wearing is a wonderful way to soothe and comfort a sick or grumpy baby or toddler.
  • And the list goes on!

For the most part, all babies like to be worn (after all, most babies love to be held!).  However, some are more picky about what position and what carrier they like!  Always try a new carrier or carrier with a baby that is rested, full, and happy.  A tired, grumpy baby is not going to care for a new experience of any kind.  Don’t be discouraged if your baby fusses at first – very normal for a baby to do when introduced to any new situation.  Try movement!  Sometimes bouncing gently on an exercise ball will work.  Other times, you may need to go for a walk.  And give baby a bit of time to adjust.

It is also quite normal for babies to go on a “wearing strike” as they become more mobile, especially as they learn to walk.  Don’t put up the carriers just yet though.  Most toddlers will come back around and will even ask to be worn once they master walking.  With the right carrier, you can babywear just as long as you would use a stroller.

Didymos Violet Lilies in Front Kangaroo; Bebina Star Sign in Ruck Tied in Front

What’s the Best Baby Carrier?

There is no one answer to this question. What is best for you depends on what you hope the carrier will help you do, how often you plan to use, who is wearing, the age of your child and most importantly your personal preference. Many babywearers find that multiple carriers are helpful – one for quick, short term wearing and one that is more comfortable for longer periods of time.   Some carriers are best suited for newborns; others for older infants or toddlers. Some carriers can be used from birth through the end of toddlerhood.  The information on our carrier pages may help you decide what will best suit your needs.

One great way to find out what might work for you is to contact a babywearing group in your area. Babywearers love to share their “stashes” and to meet new babywearers. Some groups offer formal classes while others may be informal gatherings. Another option is to seek out brick and mortar stores in your area that carry brands you are interested in. Many will have demo carriers that you can try. Finally, don’t be afraid to purchase a used carrier and give it a go. Quality carriers have a high re-sale value so chances are if it doesn’t work for you, you will be able to get most of your money back in re-sale…and try something else!  And if you have a sewing machine and are feeling crafty, it’s definitely possible to DIY a carrier!

Didymos Blue Cotton Fish; Hip Rebozo
Didymos Blue Cotton Fish; Hip Rebozo

What Carriers are Out There?

Here are brief descriptions of the main carrier types. For more information on the pros and cons of each as well as information on different brands, click the name of the carrier you are interested in. Many of these carriers are manufactured by small companies or work-at-home mamas and may only be available for purchase online or in specialty stores. It is worth the extra effort to seek them out as the difference in a quality carrier and most of those you will find in big box stores is huge.  All of the carriers we recommend by brand name will carry baby in an ergonomically correct position when worn properly.

Wraps: Wraps are pieces of cloth in varying lengths.  They can be used for front, back, and hip carries.  Wraps are the simplest carrier in terms of structure, but may take a bit longer to learn to use.  Wraps are a good choice for someone who wants to do many different carries with the same carrier.

Mei Tais:  Mei Tais are soft bodied carries with a tie waist and shoulder straps that come around baby and tie.  They can be used for front and back carries (it is possible to hip carry with some MTs).  Mei Tais are a good choice for someone who likes the adjustability of a wrap, but wants something slightly faster to get on.  A Podaegi (pod) is a related carrier – basically a MT without waist straps.  A Onbuhimo (onbu) is also similar to a MT but has rings at the waist instead of straps; the shoulder straps are threaded through these rings.

Buckle/Soft Structured Carriers:  SSCs are soft bodied carriers that have buckle waist and shoulder straps (there are some versions that have either a tie waist or tie shoulder straps); they are used for front and back carries (there are some that can hip carry as well).  SSCs are a good choice for someone who wants a quick carrier that doesn’t require long fabric or straps to deal with.

Ring Slings:  Ring slings are one shoulder carriers – a piece of cloth threaded through rings; they are used primarily for hip or tummy to tummy front carries (experienced wearers can back carry an older baby/toddler with a ring sling).  Ring slings are a good choice for someone looking for a quick and compact carrier.

Pouches: Pouches are a piece of fabric sewn in a loop that forms a pouch for baby to sit in; they are a single shoulder carrier and can be used for hip and tummy to tummy front carries.  Pouches are a good choice for someone looking for a quick and very compact carrier.

Babywearing Clothing and Accessories: There are specially designed coats, sun protection, and other gear just for babywearing.   We’ve also included information on this page about babywearing practicalities (like the best diaper bags).

What should I consider in choosing a carrier?

To answer this question, I’ve begun a series of posts discussing various aspects of choosing the right carrier for you:

Vatanai Aialik; Kangaroo Carry

Is Babywearing Safe?

The short answer – YES! When done properly, babywearing is absolutely safe. Just as with any other bit of baby gear, carriers used improperly (or unsafe carriers) can be dangerous. Think about how much care and attention you put into selecting, installing, and using your child’s car seat. The same level of attention should be paid to choosing and using a carrier.

We have a run down of newborn specific babywearing safety tips here.  More specific safety information is included in each carrier section. There are a few general guidelines that are true of all carriers:

  • The number one safety rule, particularly with babies under 4 months, is to make sure baby has a clear airway.  A newborn’s airway is much like a straw; when the chin falls to the chest, the straw gets pinched and the airway is restricted.  An upright tummy to tummy position with a snug carrier supporting baby is ideal.  Baby’s head should always be clear of the carrier and facing up and out (baby’s head will be turned sideways to rest on your chest).  Unless baby is nursing, her head should not be turned into your body.  Read here for more information about infant airway safety.
  • Carriers should hold your baby just as you would. Think about how you instinctively hold an infant (and how infants hold themselves): Your hands cradle baby’s bum and back and provide head support – your carrier should do the same.
  • Newborns will instinctively assume a froggy legged position; older babies and toddlers will wrap their knees around you with their knees above their bum – again, the carrier should do the same.
  • Newborns should ideally be worn in an upright tummy to tummy position with legs in or out depending on the carrier (if you choose a legs in position, make sure baby’s weight is on her bum and not her feet).  A cradle position can be used while nursing but baby should ideally be returned to the upright position when finished.  If you choose to use a cradle carry, please have a knowledgeable babywearer assist you with proper positioning – this can be a tricky one to get correct (a proper cradle carry is actually more like a reclined seated position with baby’s head well clear of the carrier and clearly visible.  Even the tiniest newborn can safely be worn in an upright, tummy to tummy position; this position is preferred by many babies, provides relief for spitty or reflux babies, and makes it easier to ensure a proper airway. Infants without head control should always be worn so that their heads are supported.
  • Older infants and toddlers who are riding legs out should still be properly supported. The carrier should extend to baby’s knees and baby’s knees should be slightly higher than her bum. “Front pack” carriers (such as the Bjorn and Snuggli) do not provide proper support and put strain on baby’s developing hips and spine.   For more information on alternatives, see our post here.  There is also an explanation of how improper support in carriers can lead to hip issues here.
  • Outward facing carries should be used sparingly if at all (we recommend a high back or hip carry instead).  It is very difficult to achieve proper positioning in an outward facing carry. It is also difficult for an overstimulated infant to seek security or fall asleep safely when worn outward facing.   Outward facing carries also put unnecessary strain on the wearer’s back as baby is dangling from the body instead of snug against the wearer’s center of gravity.  A high back carry provides baby with the same view but is much more comfortable for baby and wearer; a hip carry is a great alternative for those not interested in back carrying.  More details can be found here.
  • More helpful information on the benefits of babywearing and the effects of proper positioning on infant development can be found here.
  • Avoid “bag” style slings – many of these have been recalled recently but you may find some used ones still on the market. For further information on the dangers of bag slings visit here and here.
  • When buying a carrier, look to see that the maker is a member of the Baby Carrier Industry Alliance; there are new standards for slings and carriers coming into effect and BCIA members will be compliant.  Many sellers on Etsy and Ebay are not compliant.  If you are buying a new carrier, it should come with a product registration card; if not – send it back!  When buying used, ask the same questions you would of a new carrier.  There are unfortunately counterfeit carriers on the market at present – most notably Ergo, Freehand, and Beco.  If you wish to purchase one of these carriers we recommend buying only from an authorized dealer for that brand; if buying used, ask the seller for proof of purchase.  More information about spotting counterfeit carriers can be found on each manufacturers website.
  • For more information on safe babywearing visit TheBabyWearer.com or the Babywearing Safety Facebook page.

Where To Buy?

Most of the carriers we mention here are not available in big box stores.  Some specialty brick and mortar stores will carry them and there are many wonderful online retailers who stock them.  Some carriers are made by very small companies or work-at-home-mamas and may only be available at limited times from a single website.  Our list is not exhaustive but includes retailers we have shopped with and trust.  Most are run by babywearing mamas who are more than happy to answer your questions and help you find the perfect carrier.  Links to company pages are included on the specific carrier pages.

Birdie’s Room (Canada): wraps, mei tais, ring slings

Carry Me Away: wraps, mei tais, SSCs, ring slings, pouches

Elephant Ears: wraps, mei tais, SSCs, ring slings

Granola Babies : wraps, mei tais, SSCs, ring slings, pouches

Happy Wrapee: wraps, mei tais, ring slings

Heavenly Hold: wraps, mei tais, SSCs, ring slings

Marsupial Mamas:  wraps, mei tais, ring slings

MetroMinis: wraps, mei tais, SSCs, ring slings, pouches

Nappies and More: wraps, mei tais, SSCs, ring slings

Quirky Baby: wraps, mei tais, SSCs, ring slings pouches

Tadpoles and Butterflies (Canada): wraps, mei tais, SSCs, ring slings, pouches

Woven Wraps:  wraps, mei tais, SSCs, ring slings

Wrap Your Baby: wraps and accessories

Wrapped Baby: wraps

Zerberts: wraps, mei tais, SSCs, rings slings

Used carriers are an excellent place to start your babywearing journey.  The best source for used carriers is the For Sale or Trade forum on TheBabyWearer.com.  You will need to create a log-in to view the forums.  It can be a bit overwhelming at first, but browsing the forum is a great way to learn about different carriers.  Sellers are generally very helpful and willing to answer questions about their for sale items.  You may also have some luck on your local Craigslist or at consignment shops and sales.

Have Questions?

Feel free to contact us – We love to talk babywearing!

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