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Friday, June 14, 2013

Babywearing 101: A beginners guide to carrying your baby.

I don't just enjoy babywearing, I have to thank it for my sanity. My older sons are 18 months apart. Keeping my first son close was a nice luxury. When his little brother came along, and I found myself caring for a tiny, squishy newborn and a wrecking ball of a toddler, it became a necessity. Years have passed. My big boys are in school and now I am adjusting to two-under-two again. Except this time they aren't 18 months apart, they're 14.

When you believe in the benefits of something, naturally you want to spread the love.  Every time I see a momma in Kroger with a bucket seat filling the cart, a toddler in the seat, and nowhere to put the groceries, I just want to pull my ring sling out and say, "Hey, can I show you something?"
Unfortunately, most people don't take to interfering strangers the way I do. So.

The problem comes when parents venture into the world of carriers and find themselves completely overwhelmed with options.  What carrier is the best for heat? What are the cheapest options? Can I make my own? Why spend so much on a piece of cloth? What size do I need?

The list of questions goes on.  I find myself wanting to educate without a good short answer for all the questions. So I'm hoping to compile a crash course in how to get started wearing your baby. Babywearing 101, if you will.  There's no way to answer every possible question, but I can hopefully equip you with enough information to avoid frustration and giving up.

Thank you in advance to all the mommas that sent in photos to use in this post.

Types of Carriers

Stretchy Wraps






Popular Widely Available Brands:
Moby, Sleepy Wrap by Boba, Hugabub, My Baby Nest

Pros:
  •  Easy to find at stores like Target (meaning new parents can put them on a registry)
  • Lots of YouTube videos to learn how to wear it. Here are some good ones
  • An affordable starting point, as the Moby Wrap or the Boba Sleepy Wrap can 
  • be bought new for 45-55 dollars. 
  • Fit all sizes
  • Comfortable for long periods with smaller babies. 
Cons:
  • Pretty hot. Not suited to wearing outdoors in the heat of the summer.
  • It's a lot of fabric. Therefore, it can be overwhelming and cumbersome. 
  • A little more of a learning curve than simpler carriers. 
  • Babies start to sag once they hit around 13-14 lbs. The tag says the weight limit is much higher but realistically, with a baby any heavier than 15 lbs, you will be adjusting a lot. So its possible to wear with heavier babies but possibly frustrating and less comfortable.
  • You CANNOT use stretchy wraps for back carries.  They aren't secure enough to keep a determined baby from wiggling out and falling. And lets face it, all babies are determined babies. 
Where to buy new: 
Target, Amazon, Babies R Us. Most big name baby stores and many online retailers now carry Moby Wraps and Boba Sleepy Wraps. 

Stretchy Wraps on the cheap:
You can make your own stretchy wrap very easily.  Just buy 5 yards of 60 in. wide jersey knit fabric from the craft/fabric store. Stores like JoAnn and Hancock routinely have 40-50% off coupons available in store. Hobby Lobby has an app where you can get a 40% off coupon on your phone at any time.   Cut the fabric long ways down the middle so that each piece is 5 yards long and 30 in. wide.  Jersey knit doesn't require hemming as the edges roll.  This gives you two wraps with an end cost of around 15-20 dollars a wrap if you use a coupon buying the fabric.

Name brand stretchies (like those mentioned above) can also be found used on Craigslist or babywearing swaps as babies grow out of them quickly.  They generally sell for around 30 dollars in good used condition. 


Woven Wraps











Popular widely available brands:
Girasol, Didymos, Oscha, Kokadi, Diva Milano, Natibaby, Ellevill, Dolcino, Storchenwiege

Pros: 
  • Versatile, allowing for many different kinds of carries, including back carries, front carries, one shoulder, multi layer for more support, single layer for hot days, etc. You can even tandem wear (two babies in one wrap).
  • There are many YouTube video tutorials for learning carries. One of my favorites is Babywearing Faith, who has many videos of different carries for all ages of babies
  • Can carry babies from birth
  • No weight limit. Basically, if your back can handle it, the wrap can handle it. There are photos circulating of adults carrying other adults in a woven to prove the point that that there is no age/weight limit. I have given my 6 year old a ride on my back in a woven recently and while I wouldn't suggest it for long periods, it wasn't bad for the 15 minutes he was up.
  • Come in many beautiful colors and patterns
  • Come in different fibers for different benefits. For instance, linen/cotton blends are touted for their ability to keep the wearer cool in the heat. Hemp blends are more supportive for heavier babies. Other blends, such as silk and wool blends are also available.  But don't rule out 100% cotton wraps either. 
  • Very comfortable for wearing for long periods. 
  • Can be pretied before you leave the house and then the baby can be put in and the wrap adjusted once you reach your destination.
  • Very secure
  • Hold their resale value very well. (More on babywearing swaps further down)
Cons:
  • Wrapping can be really hot. The coolest way would be to find a loose weave wrap or a 100% linen wrap and wear it in a single layer carry (like a ruck carry) but even that will be hot outside in a southern summer. 
  • Longer wraps can be cumbersome if trying to tie in public. Tails can drag the ground. (Not a problem with shorties.)
  • Wrapping definitely has the highest learning curve. It takes practice.  Eventually, you will feel comfortable enough to put your baby on your back in parking lot, but it probably wont happen the day or even the week after you get your first wrap.
  • Woven wraps are expensive. There are cheaper options (I'll get to those in a minute) but to just buy a brand name woven wrap will usually cost at least 100 dollars.
  • All the available fiber blends, brands, and sizes can be absolutely overwhelming to a parent looking to buy their first woven wrap. 
  • Some wraps, such as hemp, take a little while to break in, meaning they are difficult to wrap with when they are new.  This is something to consider when you buy your first wrap. It may be best to buy used or buy something that breaks in quickly, like 100% cotton. 
Things you should know:
  • When looking to buy your first woven, you need to consider what you are hoping to do with the wrap. If you are looking to do all sorts of carries, you will want a longer wrap as it will offer the most versatility. Your "base size" is the length of wrap you have the most versatility with. I am 5'7 and 150 lbs. I generally wear a size M/L shirt and my base size is a size 6 wrap (4.6 meters). A size 6 is the most popular base size.  Small mamas can often use 5's (4.2 meters) as their base size. Plus size mamas and Daddies that wear a size L+ often choose a size 7 (5.2 meters). Your height isn't as important when picking your base size as your shirt size. Also, don't stress out too much about this. It isn't like you're going to buy the "wrong size" and not get to wear the wrap. The worst case scenario is that you get one that is too small and you will be a little limited on what carries you can do or you get one too long and you have extra tails left over after tying the wrap. 
  • Buying used does not always mean you will save money when it comes to woven wraps. Many wraps are made in limited quantities and become collectors items. When you first check out a babywearing swap, you may be surprised by the prices but keep in mind that people who collect carriers are like coin collectors. They may be willing to pay more than the original value for a particular item.  And all swaps are buyer beware on prices. Just don't assume you are getting the best deal buying used.
  • To break in a new wrap, you can steam iron it, braid it (tutorial here), sit on it, tie it around your table and let the kids treat it like a hammock, air dry it, sleep with it, and most importantly, wear it! I've broken in even the most difficult wraps and I've always thought it was kind of fun. Of course, I enjoy ironing. So. 
  • Different fiber blends require different care. Wool needs to be hand washed. Silk can't be left in the sun for long stretched (you wouldn't want to line dry or leave it in your car). Keep in mind how much maintenance you are comfortable with when buying your first wrap. 
Where to buy new:
Just a few retailers....


Woven Wraps on the cheap:

The very cheapest way to make your own wrap is to get a length of Osnaburg fabric, cotton gauze, or 100% linen from the fabric store using a coupon. Hem it to 30 in. wide and whatever length you would like.  Take shrinkage into account when buying your length. These may be less comfortable than a bought wrap, but are a significantly cheaper starting point for someone wishing to wrap but lacking the funds to buy one.

Wrap Nap Fairy is a retailer on facebook that sells dyed, 100% linen wraps at great prices.

Colimacon et Cie ( C & C), Dolcino, and Storch are all brands of wovens that can be bought new for around 100 dollars. They are all 100% cotton and great starter wraps. See above retailers.


Ring Slings






Popular Wrap Conversion Ring Sling Makers:
Sleeping Baby Productions, Zanytoes, Kalea Baby

Popular Ring Sling makers:
Sakura Bloom, Maya Wrap, Comfy Joey

Ring slings can be made from different materials. There are basic ring slings made from fabrics from the fabric store, there are brand name ring slings like Sakura Bloom that deal mainly with silk or linen, and there are wrap conversion ring slings (WCRS) which are slings sewed from the woven wraps I discussed above. 
I'll be discussing the overall pros and cons of ring slings, but keep in mind that how much support a sling offers is hugely dependant on the fabric it's made of. I can wear my 25 lb toddler in a WCRS for 30 minutes with no pain, but I wouldn't be able to say the same for a sling made of plain cotton twill. 

Pros: 
  • Only one layer of fabric over baby, so pretty good for hot weather.
  • Highly adjustable.
  • My favorite carrier for tiny newborns. They poop and eat so much, it's nice to be able to take them out and put them back in so easily.
  • Work from birth-toddlerhood (if it's made from a supportive fabric)
  • Easy for quick ups and downs 
  • One of the easiest carriers to nurse in (Youtube tutorial for nursing in a RS with a cradle hold)
  • Fold up pretty small, making them good to keep in the diaper bag or car.
  • No tails or straps to drag the ground, so good for using in public. 
Cons:
  • Can become uncomfortable after extended periods of time since all the weight it held on one shoulder.
  • A bit of a learning curve on how to adjust it for maximum comfort

Things You Should Know:
  • Not all rings are created equal.  There are rings made specifically for babywearing (available here). Some sling makers use craft rings and they are not tested to hold the weight of a baby. Please check before buying what kind of rings are used. Craft rings are to be avoided entirely. I've also heard of people using livestock rings from Tractor Supply. These would be safe, but the weight of them could possibly be very uncomfortable. For the best babywearing experience, stick with slings made with rings specifically designed for babywearing. 
  • Like wraps, ring slings come in sizes. Also like wraps, you may have an ideal size but that doesn't mean all the others are the wrong size.  I can wear any size ring sling from size XS-XL, but with an XS, it won't have a very long tail and with an XL, the tail will be down to my shin. I prefer a medium because I like to have enough tail to cover baby up if it's too sunny or raining. It's really based on personal preference though.
  • Also, there are different "shoulders". Some makers sew the shoulder with pleats, some use a gathered method, some do a hybrid of both. Generally, when you see a listing for a ring sling on a swap or on a retailers site, they will list the shoulder type. I have tried all types of RS Shoulders, and I personally haven't found one I dislike. Some people have a preference but I don't think it's really something you can figure out without trying different styles.
  • Many retailers offer the option to buy a "ring sling piece" of a wrap and then have it sent to your favorite converter to have it sewed into a ring sling. They also generally carry a stock of already made WCRS to choose from. 
Where to buy:


Ring Slings on the cheap:

If you choose to sew your own ring sling, make sure to use quality rings and thread, and reinforce the shoulder with extra stitching. There multiple tutorials online available with directions for sewing the various shoulder styles. I'm not going to post any because having never sewed one myself, I can't vouch for the safety of any particular tutorial.

The cheapest option I know to buy a safe, ready to wear sling would be any of the basic fabric slings listed in the above retailers stores.

Also, WCRS can occasionally be found on babywearing swaps in the 60-80 dollar range if you aren't too picky on the color or size.

Risaroo (listed above) has WCRS made from C & C wraps within the 75 dollar range. 


Pouches

Pouch carriers peaked in popularity a few years ago. Now, they are a less popular choice in the babywearing world, probably due to their lack ability to adjust their size.  I come across them often at consignment sales and they emerge occasionally on the babywearing swaps, usually for around 15 dollars. They are great diaper bag carriers because they fold up so small. If you come across one at a sale for cheap and can try it on with your baby to make sure of the fit, I'd say they are definitely worth having.  I wouldn't suggest them for someone shopping for their first carrier though.

Soft Structured Carriers (SSCs)
Also known as Buckle Carriers













Popular Widely Available Brands:
Beco, Boba, Ergo, Tula, Pikkalo by Catbird Baby, Patapum, Kinderpack, Scootababy, Lillebaby

Pros:
  • The easiest carrier to use. Once it's adjusted, you can leave it the same and just take it on and off.
  • Little to no learning curve, so great carriers to leave with grandma or the babysitter so they can wear the baby too.  
  • Ergo carriers are available at Target, which means new parents can register for them. 
  • Distributes weight on both shoulders and the hips, making them comfortable for extended wear. 
  • Can be used for front and back carries.  
  • Appeal to dads and are a good option for parents looking for one carrier to share.
  • Great car carrier since there's nothing to drag the ground when you put it on in a parking lot. 
  • Most SSCs have the option to adjust or add an insert to use with smaller babies. And they are great into toddlerhood.
  • Easy for quick ups and downs, making them ideal for busy, active toddlers. 
Cons:
  • Some women have difficulty with finding a good fit because of the bulk of an SSC, especially women with short torsos, narrow shoulders, or large breasts. 
  • Most SSCs come with the instructions to avoid washing frequently.  They can be machine washed but very frequent washing can shorten the life of the carrier. I have very refluxy babies and so far, I've been fine just spot cleaning my SSCs. But I do think it should be mentioned that washing may need to be limited. 
Things you need to know:
  • Be cautious if you choose to buy an Ergo. There are lots of fakes. Real Ergos are great, and the fakes are really convincing.  But because the fake Ergo's aren't made by a legitimate company, they don't have to follow government safety regulations. Basically, you're dealing with someone producing a carrier with no accountability. So if a buckle breaks and a baby falls, they don't have to worry about a recall and damage to a brand they've worked to build up. You're best bet is to avoid the temptation to save a buck and only buy an Ergo from an authorized dealer.  If you are buying used, ask for a serial number and call Ergo for authentication. 
  • All SSC carriers should be checked regularly to make sure all the seams are sound. Give the straps and waist a hard tug to make sure they are securely attached to the body. 
Where to buy:

PaxBaby - Buckle Carriers
The Sling Station

SSCs on the cheap:

SSCs often come up on the babywearing swaps for less than 100 dollars.


Mei Tai








Popular Widely Available Brands:
Babyhawk, Kozy, Bambaroo, Catbird Baby, Infantino Sash, Mei Tai Baby

Pros:

  • Widely adjustable. Because they are tied with straps, they don't need to be sized. For plus sized parents, many makers offer extra long strap options. 
  • Easy to get a good fit
  • Can be used for front or back carries
  • Can be used with small babies to toddlers
  • Evenly distribute weight over both shoulders, therefore can be comfortable worn for long periods
Cons:
  • Tails can drag the ground while you are trying to tie outside. 
  • Since many Mei Tais are made of canvas, they can be pretty hot to wear in warm weather. 
Things you need to know:
  • There are also wrap conversion Mei Tais made by wrap makers (Didytai by Didymos, Mysol by Girasol, Hopp-Tye to name a few) and by third party wrap converters. These, like WCRS, will be more supportive and comfortable than basic canvas Mei Tais. The straps are generally wider and the bodies more moldable. 
  • If you decide to buy a Mei Tai from a seller that isn't widely known, look for a few things for safety and comfort.  Straps should be sewn to the body with reinforced box stitches for safety. Note the width of the straps. Very thin straps will not be very comfortable. Also, the body needs to be wide enough to support the baby from knee to knee. 
  • All mei tai carriers should be checked regularly to make sure all the seams are sound. Give the straps a hard tug to make sure they are securely attached to the body. 

Where to buy:


Mei Tai Carriers on the cheap:

The cheapest quality Mei Tai that is widely available is the the Infantio Sash. They are available at Target or here on Amazon for around 35 dollars. 


Babywearing Safety

Just a few important safety tips before you get started:
  • You should be able to see your baby's face at all times. Make sure his airways are never blocked by bad positioning. 
  • Baby should be high enough that you can lean down and kiss her head and see her breathing.
  • Baby's knees should be higher up than her bottom and the sling should support her legs from knee to knee. 
  • Always be cautious when you are shopping for a carrier, check for the things discussed in the above posts concerning safety and quality. You are going to use this to hold your most precious cargo, and you wouldn't want it to break when you are walking up the stairs with your arms full of grocery bags or when baby is on your back. It's easy to assure yourself it's worth saving the money to buy an inferior carrier because you could catch your baby if he were to fall, but since we need babywearing so our hands can be free for other things, you might not always be able to free them in time. Err on the side of caution. It's worth it. 
A couple of mainstream carriers to avoid:
(Stock images obtained by google search)


The "Crotchdangler"

Ok, so I kind of hate that term. But you will hear it used in the babywearing community when referring to this type of carrier, be it a Baby Bjorn, a Snugli, or whatever other brand. These carriers put a lot of stress on the baby's developing spine and hips. Unlike all the ergonomic carriers listed in this post that support baby's legs from knee to knee, "crotch danglers" support the baby by their groin and leave the legs hanging unsupported. It has not been proven, but it is suggested that this may contribute to issues like hip dysplasia.
 Now, there are a few different schools of thought regarding these carriers. Some people feel that they should be avoided at all cost because of the potential damage they could cause in development. I personally don't feel like Bjorns and the like are inherently bad carriers. I'd rather see a baby being worn than constantly being left in a bucket seat, bouncer or swing.  My kids have always loved their excersaucer or jumparoo, and any negative thing said about a Bjorn could also be applied to the way a jumparoo seat supports a baby by the groin. 
That said, these carriers are wicked uncomfortable. Every time I see a mama toting 17 pounds of baby in one, I just want to offer her my Boba and a shoulder rub. I kind of feel like one of the biggest detriments of a crotchdangler is that a parent might assume ALL babywearing is uncomfortable and throw it the towel before trying anything else.  These aren't cheap carriers either. There are just so many better options for long term and safe wearing, I would only use a Bjorn if it were given to me and I couldn't afford anything else for a while.



The "Bag Sling"

Several brands make a version of this carrier. Infantino, Eddie Bauer, Premaxx, Boppy, Balboa Baby. 

A few year ago, after the tragic death of three babies, Infantino was forced to recall their version of this sling. (Recall notice here).  There are multiple reasons these carriers pose a suffocation risk.
  • The baby is slumped into a chin-to-chest position, which can block their tiny, straw-sized airway.
  • The sling does allow for airflow around the baby's face.
  • The baby is deep in the sling, generally at the mothers waist, so she cannot see or hear her child's breathing cues. 
  • The bulky sling has a sort of flat area where the baby lays and a harness to buckle him in. Because the sling does not conform to the shape of the baby, he could possibly roll towards the mother, furthering likelihood of suffocation. 

When it comes to bag slings, just say no. They are dangerous. When I come across them at garage sales and goodwill stores, I buy them just so I can throw them away and keep an unknowing mother from possible tragedy. There are so many good, safe options in babywearing. This just isn't one of them. 



The Online Babywearing Community

When I had my first son in 2005, I came across a discussion on a birth forum about babywearing. Having very low funds and a desire to carry my son hands free, I made my first wrap from a stretchy, clearance, mustard colored fabric (before mustard came back into fashion) I'd found for 1 dollar a yard at Wal-Mart. It was itchy and ugly, but I was hooked.  
The problem was, no one I knew "in real life" knew anything about babywearing. I was so excited but had no one to share it with. Then I found thebabywearer.com. It was an entire online community of women who loved babywearing like me. By the time my second son was born, I'd acquired a woven wrap, a mei tai and an SSC. I'd also used the For Sale or Trade (FSOT) Forum to get several of my friends started with wearing.
Things are different now. The green movement has brought natural parenting into the mainstream and ergonomic carriers are available in stores like Target and Wal-mart. I can finally wrap my son on my back in public without people staring like I've got a second head. Wait, no, we haven't made it that far yet. People still stare. But it's ok. Most comments are positive and I have found myself with many opportunities to share the babywearing love.
Facebook has really revolutionized the way we share information. Just from the photos I post of me carrying my boys, I've been able to educate and inform many moms of the possibilities available to them.  There are multiple facebook support groups where you can ask questions and geek out over your new wraps.  There is a big, fast-moving swap that means you can resell wraps and carriers for almost what you paid, making it financially easier to try new things. And TheBabyWearer.com is still there, a trove of information waiting to be dug through.

Online Swaps:
The Babywearing Swap on Facebook  (Read the sticky post at the top of the group to get started)
Thebabywearer.com FSOT Forum (You need an account and can purchase wraps right away, but there is a minimum requirement of 30 posts to be able to list wraps)

Online Support Groups:
Thebabywearer, link above.

So. I release you into the wonderful world of wearing your baby. Hopefully you will find it as fulfilling as I have. At the very least, you'll be able to put dinner on the table and get some laundry done all while your child sleeps at your heart. 



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