Callum turns 18 months old tomorrow (sniff!); every day he is more and more “little boy” and less and less “baby.” Even so, I still “baby”wear almost everyday. The truth is that babywearing is a parenting tool that carries well into the toddler years. I’ve had lots of people ask me if it’s uncomfortable to wear Callum now – maybe he’s too big and heavy. I can honestly say that I can comfortably wear Callum for hours still (not that I often have the opportunity to wear for that long, but I physically could!). Others wonder if he’s too old to be worn. I see plenty of kids his age and quite a bit older in strollers or carried in parents’ arms (often while mama or daddy pushes the empty stroller) – he’s definitely not too old!
Toddlers are worn differently than pre-walkers. For one, they are eager to explore the world on their own once they can walk. But little legs do get tired and little arms reach up to be held. There are also times when it simply isn’t safe for toddlers to run free; a carrier allows a toddler to take in the sights of a crowded place from a safe vantage point. Toddlers are rarely worn for long periods of time; they like to be up and down a lot. A good carrier will save your arms and back, let you leave the stroller at home when you don’t really want to hassle with it, and of course snuggle your big kid close when he needs it.
I wear Callum still when we go out and about if we aren’t in a place were he can roam freely or where I can watch him. Wearing him allows me to easily walk our dogs every morning (and a bonus workout for an extra 25 pounds on board!), and it’s still our favorite way to wind down before bed. Wearing comes in handy when he’s cranky and just wants to be near me, but dinner needs to be made. Even when we go places that Callum will mostly be walking (like our local children’s museum), I always have a carrier just in case.
It isn’t surprising that people wonder at the comfort of wearing a toddler. Most of the mass market carriers that people are familiar with (like the Bjorn or Snuggli) would be horribly uncomfortable if not impossible to use with an older heavier child. The Ergo is one mass marketed option that can work for older children, but even though it’s a great carrier and rated to 35 pounds, it is not as comfortable for older, heavier toddlers as other options. In the past, if you wanted to wear an older child, you were often left with few options but the bulky external frame hiking packs. I can see why one wouldn’t want to haul one of those around town.
The good news is that there are an increasing number of options on the market that allow toddlers and even preschoolers to be comfortably and safely worn. Until recently, many of the carriers were difficult to find as they are produced by small businesses (frequently WAHMs) and not marketed beyond the babywearing community. In the past few months two carriers – the Babyhawk Oh Snap and the Boba – have been introduced. Both carriers are designed for toddlers (they are not for small infants) and both are widely available online. Hopefully, these carriers and others that may follow will make it even easier for parents to wear their children beyond the first year.
If neither of those options tickle your fancy, there are still lots of smaller companies that produce soft structured carriers, mei tais, ring slings, and woven wraps that are suitable for toddlers. A good source of information on these smaller manufacturers is The Babywearer.com (check out the forums for the latest news on what’s hot and available). Toddler friendly mei tais and SSCs produced by smaller manufacturers are released in limited quantities on certain dates; if you find a carrier you are interested in (again TBW’s forums are a good way to figure out what those might be), join that manufacturer’s Facebook page, yahoo group, or website to stay up-to-date on their releases. Of course, the For Sale or Trade forum on TBW is a great place to find these carriers as well.
So what makes a good toddler carrier a good toddler carrier? Here are some things to keep in mind about toddler wearing and toddler carriers:
- What worked great for the first year, might not be such a great option for toddler wearing. But the same is true for many types of baby gear like car seats and strollers. As your child grows, you will need a carrier that can accommodate a larger body and provide support for more weight (the opposite is also true; many great toddler carriers won’t work for little ones). If you are finding that your old favorite isn’t working for your toddler, try a toddler friendly carrier and you’ll likely be pleasantly surprised and how comfortable toddler wearing can be.
- Even though toddlers weigh more, they are actually easier to wear. Toddlers are longer so their weight is more evenly distributed on the wearer’s body. It’s actually harder to wear a 20 pound 6 month old than a 30 pound toddler (although I wouldn’t say either is “hard” with the right carrier!).
- It’s pretty common for toddlers to go on a “wearing strike” as they learn to walk. But don’t sell off those carriers just yet! Most children quickly come back around and even begin to ask to “go up” as they get older.
- Toddlers like to be up and down a lot as they explore on their own two feet. You’ll want a carrier that you can use quickly. Ring slings are a nice option for short trips. Many parents like soft structure/buckle carriers for ease of use. I prefer woven wraps with an occasional mei tai thrown in the mix.
- Back carries are your friend! Ideally, you want a carrier that you feel comfortable using for both front and back carries. Most wearers find back carries to be more comfortable for long term wearing (and many toddlers prefer the wider view). But even big kids sometimes want front snuggles 😉
- For ring slings you’ll want a sturdy fabric (linen and wrap conversions are popular options) and a wider width to provide proper support.
- If you are interested in a mei tai or soft structured carrier, look for ones that have taller bodies and more padded straps. Most wearers find that a padded waist on a mei tai or a structured waist on a SSC is a must when carrying a toddler.
- Woven wraps work well for all ages although some brands are known for being more toddler friendly (see our guide). You may find yourself using different carries with a toddler than you did with a younger baby. Ruck under the bum is a great quick option for toddlers. The double hammock is great for longer periods of wearing as it distributes the weight across your entire torso.
- Whatever carrier you chose should support your child out to his knees and keep his knees slightly higher than his bum – another reason you may need to “size up” as your child grows.
- For all carriers make sure you are buying from a reputable manufacturer. Safety is important at any age, but the extra weight of a heavier child can make short work of shoddily sewn seams.
- Finally, if you are looking for the perfect fit for you and your toddler, trying before you buy is a great idea. As toddlers get older, they often become quite opinionated about which carrier they’d like to use. Your toddler might hate one carrier and love another. A babywearing group can be a great place to try out some different options to find something you both love.
Toddlers are busy little people but they still want and need the security of snuggles. Toddler wearing can be a great way to fill that need as well as an easy way to keep your toddler safe and happy when out and about!
If you are a toddler wearing mama, we’d love to hear about your favorite carrier – leave us a note!