The subject of babywearing tends to involve, at some point, phrases like “crunchy mom” or “granola mom.” I don’t really see myself as being either. Sure, we babywear, we use cloth diapers, we co-sleep, use therapy-based discipline, recycle as much as we can, and often have beans and lentils on the menu. On the other hand, I requested a caesarean, combination feed formula and breast milk, shop in a big corporation supermarket, and have a husband that really should rattle given all the medication he’s on. So for us, whilst we practise elements of attachment/alternative parenting, it’s been a case of finding what works for us, as opposed to finding theory and sticking to it, and a big part of that has been babywearing.
There are several types of slings and carriers available, which can make the whole endeavor seem incredibly daunting. Many people will be familiar the mass-produced carriers that often allow the baby to be forward facing. The controversy over these goes two ways: one is that it puts all the pressure on the crotch, rather than, “knee-to-knee,” which spreads the weight; the other is that if a baby is facing out, they can’t snuggle back in if they get over-stimulated. These carriers also tend to be hellish for the caregiver’s body. There’s nothing wrong with a baby being upright, but it’s how they’re carried (i.e. in the “froggy position”). There has also been concern of “pouch” type carriers, too. Also: beware counterfeit carriers.
So, onto what’s around:
- Rings slings
- Asian-style carriers
- Soft Structured Carries (SSCs)
Rings slings are one that people often encounter with their newborns. They’re relatively simple slings to use once you’re used to them (this is a great YouTube demonstration), they’re great for carrying a tiny baby and can aid breastfeeding. They’re also amongst the more affordable of slings that are around. They’re also just gosh darn handy. Take for instance being in and out of the car – a ring sling can be very useful because there aren’t straps and knots to deal with, and there’s no overwhelming bulk to them. They’re also super for doing quick hip carries.
Wraps can be divided into two categories: stretchy wraps and woven wraps. Stretchy wraps tend to be popular and are often available in larger stores. They can be great with newborns, but aren’t great for older children and definitely not for back carries. The problem with stretchy wraps is that they aren’t suitable for children throughout the time they can be worn. This is when people tend to discover woven wraps, which can be used from newborn through to the toddler years. Wraps can seem complicated, but once you spend some time fiddling about with them, they begin to make sense and whilst a size 7 wrap (usually 5.2 metres) can seem intimidating, the fabric will be all used up by the time baby is wrapped up (this is a good guide from Didymos). Wraps are, simply, quite versatile.
For many, this means a mei tai, but there are other types of carrier out there. Mei tais have always been our basic carrier. They are, once figured out, really nice and easy to use. They can be used with newborns and toddlers, and for every stage in between. When I first researched slings, the mei tai was one of the more intimidating; wraps and ring slings made sense, somehow, and SSCs were obvious, but all those straps on a mei tai? They seemed scary, but within a few tries, it began to come together. An important factor with all carriers is practice.
Soft Structured Carriers.
These are pretty self-explanatory: they’re carriers that have an actual structure to them. Supportive belts that buckle around the waist and rucksack-type shoulder straps. These can be great for quick up-and-down carries. We had a Patapum when Juniper Junior was a toddler and it was invaluable for that awkward period where he was desperate to walk everywhere but got tired quickly. SSCs also have an advantage over Asian style carriers and wraps for sorting out a carry outside, as there isn’t the same risk of having wrap or straps dragging on the ground whilst getting little one up in a carry.
- Do research. Lots of it.
- YouTube is an amazing resource for trying to figure out different carries.
- Mirrors are also great for practice: they help you to figure out what you’re doing and are also great entertainment for little ones.
- Take care of your body. Whether or not you’re using a sling, your body will have to adapt to randomly gaining weight when carrying a little one. A sling can be a benefit here, because of spreading the weight. For me, with Little Juniper weighing in at 20lbs at five months old, I’ve found Crocs (Yes! Crocs!) really helpful to wear around the house. Where usually I’d be barefoot, Crocs offer a little extra relief for my body. Also, for when out and about? Good footwear really helps there, too.
- Weather concerns can be off-putting, but there are fabrics that are great for all seasons and covers to protect from the sun, as well as covers that protect in the horrid weather. It is even possible, though a little more expensive, to buy coats that are specially made to accommodate adult and child.
- Custom carriers are amazing. They can be incredibly beautiful. They work exactly the same as standard slings. They do not possess magic powers. Customs are great if the money is there for a splurge, but for day-to-day use? Standard is okay!
- Talking of splurging … it can be worth having more than one sling. We have to, since Little Juniper excelled at possetting when he was very little and even now has his moments. Having more than one sling (whether different types, or more of the same) allows for wash and wear. This is helpful on a day to day basis, and a reassurance in case illness hits, in which case there may be a need for more washing, but also more wearing.
- Everyone is a different size, and there is a sling for pretty much every shape. There are easily available SSCs that go up to a 60″ waist (a Boba goes up to 58″ and the Beco goes up to 60″) and it’s not hard to track down slings that can be made-to-order.
- Depending on where you are in the world, you may be able to find a babywearing consultant near by. These people can work wonders.
A word on different carries (front, hip, back). Finding a sling is one thing. Finding the carry the works can be quite another. Front carries are often the simplest way to go and where most people are encouraged to begin, especially for carrying from newborn. Hip carries can be a little more difficult to master and likewise for back carries. The difficulty with back carries is getting little one on your back. I’ve been doing back carries with Little Juniper since he was a few weeks old (ten, maybe?) and after getting my knack back, I’ve been slinging him on my back myself. But it’s not for everyone. Mr. Juniper enjoys having Little Juniper on his back, but always has my help to get Little Juniper on him. In the beginning, it is often helpful to have another person there to help and as time goes on, most people will find what they’re comfortable with; at the moment, I’m giving hip carries a miss.
A word on cost. From my travels around the Internet, it’s apparent that cost can very much be an issue and there are a couple of issues to remember: a very low cost sling is possibly either counterfeit or badly produced, a higher cost may be a lot to consider, but many slings are made in developed countries (IE they are not made in sweat shops and will often be made from ethically sourced fabrics if not fabrics that are woven “on site”). Once those points are considered, the cost will often seem more reasonable. Remember too how much money might otherwise be spent on a “good” pram or stroller – slings can equally be a main method of transporting a little one.
A few more words. People love their slings for their own reasons and use them differently, too. For me, they give me freedom to run around the house as well as around town. Slings mean that there’s no trying to get a pram through a doorway, for instance. And, for us, carrying our boys simply felt like the right and natural thing to do. Juniper Junior was slung in a stroller as well as a sling and gave up both when he was three. Little Juniper, on the other hand, hasn’t been in a stroller since he was six-weeks-old and I had come down with something fluey that left me struggling to stand at times. Slings have also allowed Mr. Juniper the freedom to carry Little Juniper for long periods of time as, due to past events, his arms can only cope with the strain of an increasingly heavy Little Juniper for a few minutes at a time. In a nutshell: babywearing certainly isn’t for everyone, but for those that choose to, it can be a wonderful experience.