Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Winter Babywearing

by Jennifer MacNeil

This blog piece was originally written for Jennifer's own awesome blog. We highly recommend stopping by there and checking out her other articles. Thanks for sharing this piece Jennifer!

Babywearing and seasonal change

As summer rolls into autumn, babywearers start to ask what to do in the cool weather.  Maybe it's a chilly early morning or evening dog walk that they need to cover up for, maybe it's frigid Canadian winters.  Rest assured, there are solutions that will allow you to babywear outdoors in cool and cold weather.

There are two branches of solutions: separate outerwear for you and your child, or one piece of clothing to cover you both.  There are pros and cons to both, and many options to consider.

Separate Outerwear:  Simply put, you wear your coat/sweater and baby wears his sweater, fleece suit or snowsuit.  Another option is to have an over-the-carrier cover for your baby.  These are often made by baby carrier companies as an accessory for their baby carriers, but they generally can be used interchangeably with other brands of carriers.  A simple DIY carrier cover can be made by tucking a warm blanket around the outside of the carrier.
Something to keep in mind when wearing separate outerwear: Your child is not physically exerting themselves, so will not be as warm as you may be if you are walking, snowshoeing, hiking, etc.  You may need to dress them for one level cooler than you dress yourself, i.e. in a fleece suit even if you are only in a long sleeved t-shirt.

My son is actually wearing two layered fleece suits here, as it was warmer than his snowsuit and covered his feet.  Since my husband was walking/hiking, he is dressed much less warmly than our son.

Pros:
You probably already have outerwear for both of you, so this option often is free and doesn't require you to acquire anything new.
Baby will still be warm if you take them out of the carrier, making it easy to transfer between babywearers or for toddlers to go down and run around.
Cons:
Depending on your coat, this may be a very bulky option and the extra bulk will take up more strap or wrap length.  If you are using wraps, you may find that you can't do the carries you normally do with the length i.e. with your size 6 you can no longer do a Double Hammock with Tibetan Tie, you only have the length to tie at the waist.  This may mean you have to learn new carries or use a longer wrap.
Snowsuit on snowsuit is very slippery and it's tough to get a good wrap job when your bodies refuse to stick together, not to mention the passes slide right off the baby and there goes your seat.
The soft structured carrier (SSC) that fits your child normally may only come partway up their back when they are wearing a snowsuit--may be an issue if you have a leaner.
You are not sharing body heat with your child, so they may not be warm enough in very cold weather.  You are also less aware of their temperature so it can be more difficult to assess whether they are warm enough.

Although not my usual winterwear, a wool peacoat is much less slippery than a polyester jacket, which makes it much easier to wrap a child onto you.  

One Piece of Clothing for both of you: This can really be any number of options, whatever suits your needs and your budget.

Arms in is the usual cold weather preference, unless using them to accentuate your face-making.  Note that here the v-neck is on backwards so that my son is in the V.  It actually works equally well the other way around.

Pros:
Body heat is shared between the two of you. 
Less bulky than each wearing your own clothes
Your carrier will fit normally
If you intend on continuing to carry your child at your destination, you don't have to take them out of the carrier to remove either of your outerwear once you move indoors.
Can look more stylish because it doesn't look as piece-meal.
Cons:
Some of the specialty babywearing outerwear can be quite costly.
You and your child may grow out of the coat before you stop carrying them i.e. you can no longer wear a size M and need to size up to an L.
Can be impractical if your child is going to be let down out of the carrier while you are outside.
Some options only allow you to use it while front-carrying.

At such a young age (4 months here) I was worried that a scarf may accidentally hinder his breathing, so you can see in this photo that I'm holding a safety pin to close up the space between our necks and create two separate neck holes out of the v-neck sweater.

The category of one piece of clothing can further be broken down into:
Designed/intended for babywearing (can be found both new and used) such as:
Ready-made babywearing coat or vest.  Brands include Suse's Kindercoat, Peekaru (now owned by Boba), M Coat, an amauti
Custom or ready-made zip-in extender for your own winter jacket
Babywearing poncho with extra head-hole for baby
Wrap-around poncho
Adapted for babywearing a.k.a. babywearing hacks (often something you already own or purchase at a thrift store) such as:
Stretchy knit sweater (V-neck is great)
Zippered hoodie
A jacket several sizes larger than your normal size
A DIY babywearing coat like this one.

My favourite cold weather babywearing combo; this ensemble cost a total of $4.

My personal preference for sub-zero temperatures is a babywearing hack, because I'm practical, but cheap.  A combination of an XL v-neck cashmere sweater (from Salvation Army) under an XL zippered hoodie (and roll up the sleeves). We dress normally, usually my son wears just socks. I find it is good to about -20C. If it is a warmer day, I use only one (especially for fall/spring), and on the very coldest days I've used my husband's parka--he wore his snowboarding jacket. With a large coat/hoodie or amauti, you have the option of putting the hood over both your heads for extra warmth, an option that I don't think is offered with babywearing coats.

When your babywearing gear is over-sized gifted clothes for your spouse,
you can both use it to babywear!

Whichever option you choose, make sure you are paying attention to footwear.  Most people worry about their child's winter footwear (MEC Toaster Booties, Stonz, Padraigs, booties/moccasins are all great choices) but what I'm referring to is adult footwear.  If you are in a location or season where you may encounter slippery ground or ice, please wear shoes or boots with appropriate treads/traction.  You can also look into traction aid slip-ons that fit over your shoes if you will be walking on slippery surfaces.  In our first winter together, I slipped and fell while carrying my son during a freezing rain storm.  For our second winter I purchased some slip-ons from Costco for $12 (there are tons of brands out there; Yaktrax is one I've frequently heard recommended).  They were sometimes a pain because I had to take them off to go into stores and usually to cross cleared streets (as mine have spikes), but definitely worth it.  They roll up small and I always kept them in my coat pocket so I didn't forget them when we went out.

Last of all, here are some extra tips for my cold weather babywearing comrades:
If you’re using separate gear, back wearing, and you have a hood, roll the hood up and in so it doesn’t bother your kiddo
Use a longer wrap to do a mid-length carry with a shoulder or chest tie (knotless, Tibetan, Candy Cane, etc.) and use the long tails as a scarf—one less thing to carry with you and potentially forget!
If you will be exerting yourself but aren’t warmed up yet, use arm/leg warmers to cover your arms.  They are quick and easy to take off and don’t require you to take your child out of the carrier to remove a layer.
Use a mirror to practice putting your kiddo’s hat on while back carrying (hat demo starting at 5:41).  The easiest hats to put on are ones with ear flaps because they give you two handles.  If your arms don’t bend that way (and they won’t at first!), keep practicing.  Do those behind the back arm stretches when you’re not babywearing.  Practice more.  Keep yourself motivated with the knowledge that you will be able to put your kid’s hat on by yourself, meaning you don’t have to approach strangers to ask for help, (if there is even anyone around).  You will also be able to adjust the hat after it has been on your child’s head and has inevitably twisted or fallen down, obscuring their eyes and causing them to fuss.  Once you’re a pro at putting on a hat, you can earn your golden potato by reaching back and putting your child’s hood back on (for the millionth time), and even pulling that shared hood up over both of your heads!

Left: Using a size 6 wrap to do a ruck with Tibetan Tie I have enough length to use the tails for a scarf.
Right: My hood is rolled up and nestled up around my neck so that it is out of my son’s face.

Do you have any tips to make winter babywearing easier?  Tell us what works for you!

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