by Megan Mills,
We often see parents ask questions in the group about what to look for when purchasing a carrier. Whether purchasing new from a retailer, or on the second-hand market, there are many things to consider before spending your hard-earned cash, the most important of which is safety. Here is a quick primer on some things to consider when purchasing a carrier. This is by no means a comprehensive list, and you should always use your judgement and follow any provided product instructions/guidelines before purchasing or using a carrier with your child.
Health Canada has created guidelines for parents carrying their babies, with specific information on what to look for when purchasing a new carrier, as well as general safety guidelines for carrying babies. This information can be found here. There is also a wonderful visual reference made available for parents showing the proper positioning of a baby in a sling (T.I.C.K.S.), which is available here.
When buying new, it is also important to look for counterfeit carriers. These are carriers that purport themselves to be authentic, ergonomic carriers, but are actually cheaply made imitations of such products that have been known to fail under normal use (broken buckles, ripped seams etc.). These have mostly been found in the soft-structured carrier market (mainly fake Ergo Baby carriers, Beco Butterfly II and now Manducas), but there have also been knock off woven wraps reported in the "Didymos Indio" pattern. When in doubt, ask the seller for verification to back up their claims, a truthful seller or retailer will try to help provide you with serial numbers, receipts, contact information etc. to help you verify the authenticity of the carrier. If something seems too good to be true, it probably is. Here is some additional information regarding fake carriers, thanks to Babes in Arms.
Many babywearers choose to participate in the second-hand carrier market, where great deals can be had for those willing to navigate the babywearing swaps, more affectionately referred to as "The Swamp". Ottawa is fortunate enough to have a local for sale or trade space, where local mamas can buy, trade, sell, and ogle carriers from the Ottawa area. When looking for a carrier second-hand, it is important to ask questions to the seller about the condition of the carrier, including issues such as tears, felting, thread shifting etc. which could (but do not always) affect the integrity of a carrier. Though most used carriers are perfectly safe to continue carrying babies, it is always a good practice to look for damage caused by extensive wear before committing to purchase any carrier.
It is also important to know a bit about the carriers you are looking to purchase (new or used). Though not mandatory in Canada, Health Canada recommends that baby carrier producers follow specific quality standards, including ASTM or EU standards. More information on such standards can be found on the Baby Carrier Industry Alliance Page. There are products that are commonly used as woven wraps being sold as "lengths of fabric", as well as companies who make, convert, or customize carriers, without adhering to these recommended standards. It is always important to know what you are buying, as a consumer. Choosing to support companies who adhere to the voluntary standards set out by Health Canada will make for a safer babywearing community in general, as it will encourage non-compliant companies to adhere in order to keep a customer base. If it is not clear whether or not these standards are being followed, there are some indicators that should raise red flags that a carrier is unsafe, such as extra flimsy fabrics, poor/unravelling stitching, and poor quality sling rings that are not one continuous piece, or have not been weight tested for such a purpose (quality converters use safe rings from www.slingrings.com).
No matter where you buy your carrier, it is important to do a quick visual inspection of all seams, buckles, stitching etc. to be sure everything is in good working condition each time you use it. Read all instructions for the proper use of your carrier, and ask an experienced babywearer or babywearing educator to assist you in troubleshooting any issues you may have. Wishing you all another year of happy and safe babywearing!