Stretchy Wrap (Moby wrap, Boba wrap, Baby K'Tan, etc)
Ergonomic Buckle Carrier (Ergo, Boba, Beco, Tula, Kinderpack)
Ring Sling (Maya wrap, Sleeping Baby Productions, Sakura Bloom)
Hybrid Ergonomic/Wrap-style Carrier
The number one question that I'm asked, in person or through this blog, is "What carrier should I buy?" And it's a great question! There are so many options and even some you may not have heard about. So here are my two cents on the pros and cons to the most typical carriers that many families will add to their baby registry, as well as a few more that you may want to consider.
There are many skills needed to become a competent, successful, confident babywearer. There's "getting a good seat" which prevents your baby from falling out of a carrier. There's "spreading the passes" to make sure your wrap stays nice and snug. Then there is the babywearing selfie. Many of us who babywear don't know a huge number of other babywearers. It's just not as popular as some other hobbies like knitting, marathoning, or rock climbing. So we share our successes (and failures) through pictures shared with others in various online communities. It's a great way to get feedback and support when you can't have someone right next to you as you attempt a new carry. It's also a fun way to document your baby as he or she grows and to look back on how far you've come from your first few attempts! Here is a little breakdown of what I've found to be the major categories of "babywearing selfies" along with some of our early and recent photos.
1. The Mirror Selfie:
Requirements include an unmade bed or pile of laundry in the background and a goofy looking face. Good for trying new carries, especially if they are going horribly awry.
2. The "Look at us, we made it out of the house!" Selfie:
Documenting the herculean task of getting yourself and your child reasonably presentable and dressed in weather-appropriate clothing. Often occurs during the magic window between meals, naps, and general meltdowns.
3. The Fluff Mail Action Shot Selfie:
A new wrap or carrier has literally just left the hands of your postal carrier and the USPS priority mailer is still floating to the floor, but you are already trying out your favorite carries and documenting them from every angle.
4. The Sleepy Dust Selfie
After walking around your house or neighborhood for minutes or hours, you finally feel your little one's head rest against your chest or back and you know they are finally FINALLY asleep! This blessed event most definitely deserves documentation. Taking a quick sleepy selfie is also a great way to make sure baby really IS asleep before attempting the dreaded carrier to bed dismount.
5. The Babywearing Selfie Collage:
This is an advanced babywearing skill involving multiple apps or photo editing programs. Maybe you're composing a collection of shots representing your entire babywearing stash. Perhaps you want to document what carriers you used on your last vacation. Usually there's a theme and too often there are colored borders, memes, and "stickers" decorating the edges.
My name is Lisa, and I'm a babywearing addict.
One of my favorite things to do is to get together with other babywearers and compare notes. What kind of carrier is your favorite? How do you like to wear your toddler? Can I try your new wrap?! It's a great way to learn new things and make new friends. But how do you meet other babywearers? Someone on a babywearing chat board said recently, "I wish there was a secret sign for babywearers who are really into it. I keep making a fool of myself geeking out on every mama with an Ergo!" Her comment made me think about what it means to be a "Babywearer" and how I've connected with other moms because of our shared interest.
First, let me say this: every mom and dad and nanny and grandparent and sibling with "just an Ergo" or Baby Bjorn is a babywearer. There is no magic number of wraps or type of carrier that makes you more of a babywearer than anyone else. But for sure there is a difference between those caregivers who occasionally use a carrier as one of many means of transporting their little ones and those of us who post weekly (lets be honest, daily) pictures (or blog posts :-/) of ourselves and our little ones BWing all over the city. It's a passion and a hobby, just like any other collection or sports activity, and there are great ways to meet others who share your enthusiasm.
Local Babywearing Groups:
In Chicago, our group is a chapter of Babywearing International. BWI is a non-profit with chapters all over the US (still working on the "International" part) with trained leaders called Volunteer Babywearing Educators. These leaders are great resources for caregivers who are interested in learning the basics of BWing. The group also has a lending library, and for $30 a year you can check out one carrier at a time for up to 30 days! It's a really neat way of "trying before you buy". Our group meets twice a month and I've met some lasting BWing friends this way.
Online Babywearing Communities/ Chat-boards:
Facebook and YouTube are great venues for making new friends! Especially if you can manage to connect with local mamas who you can have real, face-to-face interactions with. There are several large, international groups that I've participated in. Babywearing Love and Support and Babywearing 102 are two really popular (15K+ members!) groups on Facebook that post daily or weekly fun. These might include "Try it Out Tuesday", where an admin will post a new carry for everyone to try and post pictures of their attempts, or "Stash Shot Saturday" where members can share photos of their entire collections.
This is by far my favorite way to meet others who share the addiction (and to convince others to drink the Kool-Aid!). I have recently started hosting a monthly BWing playdate in our home for new and experienced moms. These have been advertised through a local moms group and the response has been great! We have had two meetups so far with one more scheduled next month, and each has had a significant waiting list of moms eager to attend. It has been really great to meet new friends who are already wearing their little ones and to encourage other moms who are just getting started in their BWing relationship.
There have been a lot of milestones on our babywearing journey. The first time I did a successful back carry, the first time I did a successful back carry in public, the first time I nursed easily in a wrap, the first time E fell asleep while being worn, and the first time I was able to share the babywearing love with someone else. After 16-ish months of wearing E almost every day, I decided it would be a good time to explore commemorating our time as a wrapper and a wrap-ee.
"Handwoven" is a buzz word in the wrap world these days. It basically means a wrap that is woven on a loom by a person, putting in hours of work, rather than programmed into a machine which carries out the task. Handwovens are fairly easy to find, although there are several weavers who produce very limited and sought-after quantities of fabric that can cost you anywhere from $500-1200 and more. However, there are far more affordable handwoven wraps in the $100-200 range. Girasol is one example. Here is a video showing the Girasol weavers at work. Pretty impressive!
I decided that I would love to jump in the babywearing deep end and commission a custom piece of "fabric art", and decided to look for a local weaver willing to take on the task. Through the Chicago Weaving School, I found a master weaver who was willing to meet with me and start conceiving of a project. I brought a few of my wraps with me to give her an idea of the dimensions and style I was looking for. I also brought pictures for color inspiration.
The idea was to create a wrap with colors that represented E's first year. The grays on the left were representative of mountains and the road, travel and hiking are two of our family's big passions. The pink was for E's sun hat that she had worn in nearly every picture from every trip we had taken, from Arizona to Mexico to Florida to Cape Cod. The green is the color of our VW Vanagon. For 3 months in 2011, my husband and I travelled around the country in that van and E was our little souvenir ;) The orange and the purple I added because they were pretty and complementary.
The weaver, Judith, was wonderful to work with. Really interested in babywearing and excited to create a piece of "functional art". We went back and forth on colors, materials, and patterns. Finally we settled on a warp (the strands that run end to end of the wrap) of medium gray with different sized and spaced stripes of pink, green, orange, and purple with a dark gray weft (the fibers that run across the fabric). The warp is on the loom and hopefully I'll have some pictures to share soon! Stay tuned to the BabyBeWorn FaceBook page for updates.
This wrap is my new favorite shorty and I think hemp is my new favorite blend!
We've had this size 2 Natibaby Chevron in 30% hemp and 70% cotton for about a month now. It's quickly replaced our other, 100% cotton, shorty as our go-to quick up and down wrap. It is super soft and supportive and makes a medium sized knot. The passes slide easily while back wrapping. The pattern is also classy and simple; it goes with everything! Somewhat unfortunately it matches our diaper bag exactly, so I tend to look super matchy-matchy if I need to bring the whole diaper bag out of the house!
Hemp does NOT need to be babied, unlike some other blends (see my posts on bamboo and wool blends). I washed this wrap on a warm setting and then dried it on hot until it was damp and air dried the rest of the way. Then a nice hot iron helped to break it in ever more. It's nice to not worry about dirt smudges, especially on such a light colored wrap.
Last week I had the chance to snag this beautiful Natibaby Sea Pearls wrap for a steal! I had been searching for the gray and white version of this, and didn't even know that this colorway existed. This is a no-cotton blend of bamboo and linen (80% bamboo and 20% linen). Bamboo is soft and squashy, but I'd heard that it could be a little saggy with heavier babies, so I was excited to try it blended with linen for support.
First off, the color is amazing. It's a subtle tone on tone turquoise pattern that really shows up in the sun with amazing shimmer. It's as soft as a baby blanket and a little slippery. For that reason, it's probably not a great blend for a novice wrapper. I was initially surprised with how difficult it was to keep track of when wrapping E on my back, the passes kept sliding around unless I kept it super snug. But once it was wrapped, it felt great. Cushy on the shoulders but felt solid. Not as rock-solid as Natibaby's cotton-linen blends, but pretty good for bamboo. Bamboo is also a snuggly warm blend because it holds in heat. It should be great for winter snuggles.
It's not all rainbows and puppies over here. There is sweating and sometimes there is cursing under ones breath. There are feelings of "how did I never notice my arms are this short?" and the questioning of parenting choices. Babywearing has a learning curve, just like any skill or activity, and sometimes it can feel mighty steep. I wanted to address some of the feelings and concerns that I often hear from new babywearers, ones that I grappled with myself, and talk about strategies that helped me become more confident and competent in our babywearing relationship. Some of these might seem silly and some profound, but they've all been important steps on our journey.
Obstacle #1: It's just too hard.
Some ways of babywearing ARE hard. Complicated. Fussy.
The first trick is finding what works for you. Are you more of a buckle carrier gal? Maybe a mei tai is a nice compromise between a wrap and a soft-structured carrier. We tried a lot of different carriers before finding the ones that work for us. And different carriers are useful in different situations and for different ages. We found a local chapter of Babywearing International, where we could try lots of different carrier types and even check them out for a 30-day period. That really helped us discover our likes and dislikes.
The second trick is PRACTICE. Practice, practice, practice. For me, that was picking one woven wrap carry each week that I would try every day. Some of those I never tried again, while others became part of our core repertoire. Rarely was there a carry that I nailed on the first, or third, or 10th attempt. Usually somewhere between three and fourteen tries I felt pretty confident. During all this practice, I really started to nail the basics like creating a nice deep seat, getting the fabric from knee to knee, tying a slip knot, and getting baby onto my back. It takes time, but it's worth it!
Obstacle #2: I look stupid.
You don't look stupid, I promise, but people can be opinionated, and not shy about telling you what they think, especially when children are involved (why? I don't know, that's a totally different post). It can be intimidating to walk out the door wearing your baby (or *gasp* put them in the carrier or wrap them in public!), when you know that not everyone is used to seeing it. People stop me all the time to ask me questions and offer comments. 99% of the time these have been curious people who are awed and impressed by how the heck I got my baby on my back, but, sometimes people are put off by the unfamiliar and can be a little snarky. A little knowledge goes a long way, so here are some quick comebacks for common questions/comments that won't start a fight (hopefully).
Obstacle #3: He/She doesn't like it.
This is a tricky one, because it can appear to be true in the beginning. This is where a lot of parents/caregivers give up on babywearing, because who want to force their baby to do something they don't enjoy? The truth is, almost all babies enjoy being worn. What most parents experience and interpret as dislike, is actually baby responding to your anxiety or lack of confidence. Babies are like little radars for emotion, they can tell when we are sad, scared, happy, or excited and respond accordingly. It's survival for them! They don't know enough about the world to interpret it on their own, so they rely on us as parents to show them what emotions go with what situations.
It can be really difficult to put away the mindset of worry while learning to babywear. What if baby gets fussy while I'm wearing him/her in public? What if he/she refuses to get back in the carrier? What if I take him/her out and can't get him/her back in? These are all totally valid thoughts. But next time baby starts to fuss while being worn, think about your state of mind. Are you anxious? Try some deep breaths and bouncing, telling baby "you are safe, mama/dada's got you" and see if it gets better. It might work!
Obstacle #4: What do I do with all my stuff?!
Okay, I'm still figuring this one out. We've experimented with lots of diaper bags to find one that is babywearing compatible. When E was little and I was doing mostly front carries, I used a gear check backpack from a 5K race. It was small and light and I could fit all the essentials inside. When I graduated to back carries, I found a messenger style bag was most useful. But regardless, you're still carrying everything, which is different from using a stroller. I find when we are going for walks, I don't even bring the diaper bag. If we are going on a longer outing, then I will bring it. The Ergo Performance also has a bag that clips onto the carrier that can fit a few diapers and essentials. There are also a couple Etsy shops that make "fanny pack" type bags meant to be used while babywearing.
Obstacle #5: I can't afford it!
This is probably the greatest myth of all. While some people have lots of carriers, others have just one, sometimes one they made themselves. DIY wraps and mei tais are very common and inexpensive, although you should be sure that the materials and construction methods you are using are adequate to support baby. There are lots of online resources for DIY carriers. Second hand carriers are also pretty easy to come by. Children's consignment stores often have a few. You can also try craigslist and ebay. The Babywearing Swap group on Facebook can be very intimidating, but is also a great place to buy, sell, and trade carriers.
This list isn't exhaustive, but these were the major obstacles that we faced in the past year.
A soft structured carrier, or SSC, is a carrier that many people are familiar with. It involves a soft, padded body with shoulder straps, often with a waist belt and buckle fasteners. Common brands include the ErgoBaby, Beco, Boba, Tula, Kinderpack, and Baby Bjorn (although the last is quite different from the others and we'll address that too).
This image from Dearest Diapers is a great visual comparison of some popular soft structured carriers. We own an Ergo Performance, which is the same structure as the regular Ergo, but made out of material that is supposed to add breathability to the carrier. We also have a Beco Gemini carrier in organic cotton.
A list of various SSCs comparing measurements and features
The Ergo is widely available at many retailers including Target and is therefore becoming more and more common. For infants under 10 lbs, there is an additional "infant insert" that provides additional body and head support. We found that E hated the infant insert, but she also hated being swaddled. If your little one enjoys the comfort of confinement, they will probably do well with it. E is also extremely petite and it wasn't until she was about 11 months old that she was able to see over the straps of the carrier without being boosted up. We used the cushion part of the infant insert under her bum to help her see until then. Many people say that their typical or larger-sized babies grow out of the carrier quickly, and as you can see above, it's one of the smaller SSCs in knee to knee length and back height. One thing I would have done differently is to get the regular cotton Ergo rather than the Performance version. The Performance fabric is a bit rough and inflexible while I've seen cotton versions that break in nicely. I don't think the Performance version was significantly cooler either.
We received a Beco Gemini as a gift when E was about 6 months old. I really liked it because E is very petite and the Beco was much smaller in width and height compared to our Ergo. While front-facing is not recommended for long periods of time due to lack of ergonomic positioning for baby, the Beco Gemini does offer a front-facing option. The Beco also had a smaller waist band for me which was nice because I felt the Ergo waistband was too big. The buckle on the waistband has a safety button which you must press with one hand while pinching the buckle with the other. I found this a little irritating when trying to get my sleeping baby out of the carrier without waking her, but I understand it's purpose.
A couple of notes on the Baby Bjorn. While it does fall into the category of SSC, it is not considered the best option by many. Some will tell you that it causes hip problems in babies, but that isn't entirely true. You would have to wear your baby in the Bjorn almost constantly to impact hip development and there is no medical evidence that it will impact hip and spine development negatively (not that it hasn't happened, but there is no scientific evidence). That being said, the Bjorn places all weight on the wearer's shoulders and the baby balances their weight directly on their groin, both of which are uncomfortable, especially as baby gets older. Even recent models of the Bjorn with lumbar support do not distribute weight adequately for the wearer the way that other ergonomic carriers do. I've included some links and diagrams to try and illustrate why you might consider another carrier over the current Bjorn models. Baby Bjorn is rumored to be releasing a new ergonomic carrier with a front facing option that is meant to be more along the lines of other ergonomic carriers. The photo below shows the difference in weight distribution with a narrow-base carrier like the Bjorn and an ergonomic carrier like the Ergo. You can see the carrier on the right distributes the weight from knee to knee, like sitting in a chair, while the carrier on the left puts the weight on the groin, like sitting on a balance beam.
Whichever carrier you currently have or choose to buy, your baby will get all the great benefits of being carried and worn close to your heart. I encourage you to explore all the options, either by attending a babywearing class or trying out different carriers at a knowledgable store or at your local Babywearing International chapter.
**a note that I do not endorse any one carrier over another, these are just my personal experiences to date. I have not tried every carrier mentioned in this post**
Wool is scary. Wool is temperamental. Wool is scratchy.
When I considered purchasing this wrap, I posted a question in a FB babywearing group about caring for wool. How do I wash it? How do I break it in? The responses were as long as my arm; not too much friction, not too much heat, careful about water, use a special soap and conditioner - blah, blah, blah. Oh my goodness what was I in for?
What I've learned in a nutshell is that wool has three enemies, but they work in teams: heat, friction, and moisture. As long as you keep the three separate, your woolie will be happy. No dryer because that uses heat and friction, no washer because that uses all three, don't hand wash in water too hot, don't wring it out when wet, etc. That being said, I've been too chicken to wash it yet. But, I've been braiding it and running it through rings for a few days.
Today it was finally below 85 degrees and 90% humidity, so we decided to give Audrey a whirl. Our Audrey is a size 5, which is on the long side for me. I wore E in a Christina's Ruckless Back Carry (CRBC) with the tails tied Tibetan rather than around my waist.
First let's talk about the fabric itself. Audrey is incredibly thin. I always thought wool would be thick and fluffy, but this is light and airy. The purple cotton is a lovely muted true purple and the wool is called olive, but is more of a gray-olive. It looks ecru in lots of photographs, but is much darker in real life. The photo above is very true to color. Our Audrey is almost brand new and needs a lot of breaking in, so there is a prickly feeling to it still, although while wearing it didn't bother me at all with the chest belt right on my skin.
I will be curious to wear this in other carries as well. CRBC is a triple-pass carry and inherently supportive, but this felt awesome on my shoulders. It felt flexible and bouncy without being saggy or diggy. After a 30 minute walk and a venti hot coffee, we were still cool and comfortable. This wrap is almost breezy! I swear the ventilation on it was amazing. As far as supportive goes, on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being a stretchy wrap and 10 being Natibaby linen (I have purple dinos and there is nothing more supportive that I've tried!), I would call this a 7. Again, I need to try a few more carries to compare.
Overall impression is that this is going to be wonderful for fall and winter and is beautiful to boot!
365 days plus 9 months I've carried, nourished, and loved her with nothing more than the body God gave me and a few simple pieces of cloth
E's first birthday had me reminiscing about how simple we had strived to make her first year on Earth. We started with lots of stuff, but most of it fell away as we discovered what was really useful. The crib gathered dust as we came to accept cosleeping as the best option for our family, the stroller never came out of it's storage spot, and I struggled to maintain a minimal number of toys that inspired imagination and learning.