Wednesday, 15 May 2013

New To Babywearing? Overwhelmed By Your Choices? We Can Help!

by Tami Grosset
Some photos by Jenna Sparks Bradbury and others by Kim Brooks

You might be visiting this blog because you were given a card like this:
Or perhaps you’re new to baby wearing and are overwhelmed by the choices available to you.
Or maybe you have been using a Baby Bjorn or Snuggli type of carrier and are wondering what the fuss is all about since wearing your baby hurts like hell?

Whichever reason, you’re welcome and we hope that you’ll find some answers here.

Mainstream carriers, found in big box stores may seem like an obvious option for many parents. They’re easily found and are sometimes accompanied by a pretty good price point. These kind of carriers, however, are generally not ergonomic and can be hard on the wearer, especially once the baby hits a certain weight. Most Baby Bjorns and Snugglis (which seem to be the most common brands) do not have a waist belt and have shoulder straps crossed over the back. The ‘crossed in the back’ shoulder straps can be super comfy for many wearers but the lack of a waist belt can can create a lot of discomfort for the wearer since all the weight of the baby is carried on the shoulders and upper back. Also, if a parent is wearing their baby facing out, the baby will lean forward changing the centre of gravity and putting the weight on their lower back which again is uncomfortable for the wearer. Essentially any carrier that spreads the weight across the shoulders, back and hips will be more comfortable.

It is recommended that parents should also look for a carrier that will spread the seat from baby's knee, to baby’s other knee. This will support baby in an optimal position for healthy hip development. (This image from the International Hip Dysplasia Institute shows why this is important; As babies get bigger and older, around 6 months or so, parents may find it more comfortable to wear them on their back, since our backs are designed to carry weight better than our fronts. Choosing a carrier that offers a variety of positions (front, back and hip, for instance) from newborn to toddler sized can be a thrifty way to future proof your babywearing family.

Some people like SSCs (soft structured carriers) which include the Beco, Boba 3G, Ergo or Manduca. These all offer various carries (front, back and sometimes hip) and give great support with waist belts and adjustable shoulder straps. Some of these carriers allow for the straps to be crossed in the back which many people find very comfortable. They can generally be used from early infanthood into toddlerhood and sometimes up to 45lbs worth of kid! (To put that into perspective my 5 1/2 year old is only just 40lbs!)
A mei tai (MT) (Babyhawk, Freehand and Chimparoo Mei Tai) carrier is an asian style carrier which is basically a rectangle of cloth with straps at each corner. Most ergonomic SSCs are based on the MT design but with buckles instead of tied straps. MTs can be uncomfortable after baby hits a certain weight since the waist straps are generally unpadded and so don’t spread the weight as nicely as a padded waist belt will allow. There are some products on the market (like the Babywearing Support Belt by CatBirdBaby; that extend the user life of the MT by creating a padding for the waist straps.
Alternatively a parent could opt for a woven wrap converted into a MT (WCMT) which sometimes can include a padded waist and padded or half padded/half wrap straps. This kind of carrier can be expensive since the cost includes the cost of the woven wrap and the cost of the conversion. The result of the expense is, however, a supremely comfortable and often unique custom carrier that will usually sell preloved for as much, and sometimes more, as it cost to purchase. There is a list of conversion companies in an earlier blog post;
 Other people prefer woven wraps (WW)which are probably at the other end of the spectrum of babywearing (while SSCs are more common place and pretty easy to use WWs have a higher learning curve and can be rather intimidating to a newbie babywearer). WWs are basically a length of woven fabric which can be used to tie a baby to the wearer. There are many many ways to wrap a baby with a WW and this is great as the varieties of carries can offer different supports based on the wearers specific needs (ie I have hip issues so I can use my WW so that there is less pressure on my hips and when my hips feel good I can use it to protect my shoulders or any other part of my torso, if needed!) There are many websites and clips on YouTube that show how to use a WW in all its ways. Here’s a link to one of my favourite online resources for WWs; You will also find many useful links for WWs, and other carriers, in our COTW posts.

My favourite type of carrier for a newborn has to be a stretchy wrap (SW) like the Boba Wrap (formerly known as the Sleepy Wrap) or Moby Wrap. These are usually made from 100% jersey knitted cotton, although the Boba Wrap has a 5% spandex content which adds to its elasticity. SWs are lovely to use for newborns as they create the womb outside the womb which is so crucial especially for a newborns early days. With a SW there is a limit to the positions in which you can carry a baby and a SW should never be used for a back carry since the stretch can cause a baby to flip off your back! (This clip shows how this can happen;

Ring Slings (RS) can be great to just pop baby in and out when going to the grocery store or making multiple errands. RSs are adjustable and allow for a few different positions including front, hip and back although the front and hip positions are most common for this carrier. RSs are also great as you can easily slip it into a diaper bag; they can be a favourite carrier to use when traveling as they store easily in a carry on bag.

A pouch carrier is my last carrier option and not my personal favourite for a newborn, although they can be great for an older child. They are particularly tricky to use with a newborn as the baby has to lie in a cradle position (which many newborns dislike) and it can be hard to get them in a safe position where their chin is not too close to their chest, which would cause their breathing to be compromised. Once the baby is old enough to sit up and hold their head up, they can sit in the pouch on the hip and this is where the pouch can be a great, poppable carrier; easy to stash in a diaper bag or in the glove box in your car and quick to put on and use. One downside to the pouch carrier is that they are usually sized (there are adjustable pouches available from Hotslings) so if you and your partner are different sizes sharing the carrier is not an option. (In comparison RSs are generally one size fits all and the tail of the sling will fall long on a smaller person and be shorter on a larger person.)

Be careful to avoid bag carriers. These are carriers that look like a bag and where the baby lies at the base of the bag. These are not safe carriers and have been linked to some infant deaths. Most of these kind of carriers have been recalled and removed from the market but many remain available as hand me downs and through Kijiji and other ‘previously used’ sites. This blog goes into more detail about the dangers of bag slings;

To find out more about babywearing you could visit one of our wonderful local Ottawa stores. Milkface ( is in Old Ottawa South on Bank and in Westboro on Churchill, Extraordinary Baby Shoppe ( is on Wellington in Hintonburg and Belly Laughs ( is in Kanata. They all have awesome staff who know their stuff and should be able to spend some time with you on working out what your needs are. You are most welcome to come to one of our meets, where you can try out other members carriers. Watch out for events posted weekly on our Facebook group page here;

Happy shopping and even happier babywearing!!

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