Why Mei Tais?
Mei Tais are a traditional Chinese baby carrier; in its simplest form, a mei tai is a rectangular cloth body with straps coming off of each corner. Modern manufacturers have each developed their own take on this traditional design, so there is a wide variety of offerings.
Mei tais are most easily used for front and back carries although they can be used for hip carries as well. Back carries can be done at varying heights (younger babies need a high back carry). They are easily transferred between wearers and provide a “custom” fit as they are tied onto the wearer. Mei tais are a good middle ground for someone who likes the custom fit of tying that a wrap offers but wants the speed and ease of a soft structured carrier.
Types of Mei Tais
Mei tais can be loosely categorized by strap style, waist style, and body type:
- Wrap Style Straps: These straps are un-padded and are worn on the shoulders much like a wrap would be.
- Padded Straps: These straps have some amount of padding on the part of the strap that goes over the shoulder. The rest of the strap is the same width but without padding.
- Padded to Wrap Straps: Found primarily on wrap conversions, padded to wrap straps start with padded shoulders but fan out to wrap width. Bamberoo’s “Hybrid” straps, Ocah’s “Duo” and “Harmony” straps, and ObiMama’s “Kombi” and “Zen” straps fall into this category.
- Un-padded: No padding on the waist.
- Padded: Some level of padding on the waist; padding may only be as wide as the body or may extend somewhat around the curve of the waist.
- Structured: Some mei tai makers offer a more structured waist like those found on soft structured carriers. These often have buckles; carriers with a buckle waist and tie straps are often referred to as half buckles.
Body Types and Other Features:
- Material: Most wraps are made from natural fiber materials; straps and inner bodies are generally heavy material like canvas. Most have coverings of print fabric. Some manufactures offer solarveil carriers and others offer wrap conversions (either the body or the entire mei tai made from a woven wrap).
- Size: Some manufacturers offer different body sizes such as infant, standard, or toddler – check the measurements provided by the maker or ask if you are unsure about sizing. Other brands come in one size that is intended for all age babies/toddlers (although no mei tai offers a perfect fit from newborn to preschooler). Mei tai width measurements are taken across the top of the waist band; height is measured from the top of the waistband to the top of the center of the carrier (usually it is specified if this measurement does or doesn’t include the headrest).
- Hoods and Headrests: Many mei tais offer hoods and/or headrests that can be used to support a baby’s head as she sleeps. Some hoods can be tucked into the mei tai or removed when not in use. Some are flat style and others designed like a sweatshirt hood.
- Body Styles: Some mei tais have a flat, rectangular body. Others offer seat darts and/or contoured bodies. Seat darts allow for a deeper seat and will accommodate a larger child than a non-darted body of the same width. Some wearers find that a non-darted body provides a more snug fit than one with darts.
Mei Tai Brands:
This list is not exhaustive as there are many mei tai makers (including a number of WAHMs) on the market. We have listed brands that we know and trust either from personal experience or by reputation. If you are interested in a brand not listed here, check reviews before you buy (TheBabyWearer is a good source). Not all mei tais are constructed equally; unfortunately, there are some on the market that would not hold up to long term use or be safe for a heavier infant. It takes a skilled and experienced seamstress (and one who understands the mechanics of a carrier) to construct a safe and durable carrier. Proper stitching and reinforcement and the use of quality materials are key for safety.
The links provided here are for the manufacturer’s website. Some carriers are also available through babywearing vendors and shops. I am including only brands that I have personally owned or worn and only those currently in production as of the last update of this page.
- Babyhawk: padded shoulder straps; un-padded waist; headrest; available in standard size (newborn and up) and toddler size (taller body for toddlers); available with double sided prints (fully reversible); sold through various retail outlets
- Bamberoo: padded shoulder straps (or Hybrid on wrap conversions); padded waist; flat or sweatshirt style hood; infant, standard, and toddler sizes; wrap conversions and solarveil available; primarily sold through Bamberoo
- Beanslings: padded shoulder straps; padded waist; headrest and/or hood; primarily sold through Beanslings
- Catbird Baby: padded shoulder straps; un-padded waist; flat hood; adjustable width body; sold through various retail outlets
- Dream Carrier: padded or Blossom shoulder straps, several waist options; sold primarily through Dream Carrier Threads
- Freehand: padded shoulder straps; un-padded waist; sold through various retail outlets
- Hoppediz Hop-Tye: wrap conversion; wrap style straps; lightly padded waist; cinchable waist; available through various retailers – Read our Review!
- Kindercarry: padded shoulder straps; flat or sweatshirt style hood; infant, standard, and toddler sizes; wrap conversions and solarveil available; primarily sold through Kindercarry
- Kozy: padded shoulder straps; un-padded waist; headrest; sold through various retail outlets
- Mei Tai Baby: padded shoulder straps; un-padded waist; headrest; sold through various retail outlets – Read our Review!
- ObiMama: wrap style, padded, Zen or Kombi straps; padded waist; flat or adjustable hood; infant and toddler sizes; wrap conversions; primarily sold through ObiMama – Read our Review!
- Ocah: wrap style , Duo, and Harmony shoulder straps; padded or un-padded waist; flat, adjustable, or hoody hood; infant, standard, and toddler body sizes; wrap and partial wrap conversions; primarily sold through Ocah
Some of the above brands are only available in limited quantities. If you are interested in a particular hard-to-find brand, your best bet is to subscribe to that brand’s yahoo group and Facebook page for the latest updates on stockings. The “For Sale or Trade” forum on TheBabyWearer is also a good place to find these carriers. I haven’t included some brands that are very hard to find, no longer in production, or not sold in the US; you may find some of these on the FSOT forum though.
Can I DIY?
You can although this is not an appropriate project for a weekend warrior seamstress. It seems simple enough to construct a mei tai; however, even a skilled seamstress needs to also understand the mechanics of a carrier (where the stress points are for example) to construct a safe one. There are tutorials available on the web. If you are interested in taking on a DIY mei tai, we suggest reviewing multiple tutorials to find the best and safest design elements. You can start by checking out our DIY guidelines and our DIY mei tai/onbu tutorial.
Which Brand and Style Should I Choose?
There is no one answer to this question as each brand offers slightly different features and fit. In general though, carriers with un-padded waists are easiest to use with smaller infants. Most wearers find padded waist mei tais (which also tend to be slightly larger bodied) to be more comfortable with older infants and toddlers. Many wearers will switch mei tais as their child moves into toddlerhood.
Mei Tai Carries and Other Information