All You Need To Know About Babywearing: How To Choose The Right Carrier For You
Updated: Oct 18, 2018
When I was pregnant with my first baby, I was bewildered by all the paraphernalia you are encouraged to buy for the baby. Top of the list was some sort of pram, of which there are hundreds and cost a fortune. So we dithered until a friend suggested a sling. I don't think I'd ever really heard of them, but I researched and loved not just the idea, but also the benefits for the baby and the simplicity of a carrier. I went on to carry our newborns everywhere in a sling: it kept them (and me!) warm, they slept well in it, I could get about easily and I could tend to a toddler whilst keeping the baby happy. And a joyous plus, living by a railway crossing as I did, I could walk up over the bridge to cross when the barriers were down rather than have to wait an eternity with a pram! We did eventually get a pushchair as backup (particularly brilliant at loading your shopping onto!), but my love of using carriers blossomed and I still have a carrier for our 3yo for the odd long walk, which she finds super fun!
So, I spoke to our lovely local sling specialist, Madeleine at Sheen Slings (pictured), who very kindly agreed to write a post for us all about carrying your baby, or as it's often called, 'baby wearing'. Madeleine is a Trageschule trained Babywearing Consultant and has provided help and advice for several hundred local families and runs a fantastically useful sling library in South West London. I couldn't think of anyone better to introduce us to this wonderful world and the different types of carrier out there.
What is Babywearing?
It's a bit of a weird term isn't it?!! It always seems to conjure up different meanings to different people, but despite such a clunky term it simply means any/all carrying a baby in a sling or a carrier. So whether you want to carry around the home or out and about, to help with crying and reflux or to help with bonding or because you have other children you need to care for to, or because you would like to have a free hand occasionally to make yourself a cup of tea, or literally any of the thousands of reasons there are to use a baby carrier, it all counts!
There is so much choice - how do I know which one is best for me?
There is indeed so much choice! And it can be quite intimidating! The absolute key thing is to try them on. And the best way to do this is to find your nearest sling library and/or sling consultant who is fully trained, has insurance and is an absolute pro at listening to your requirements, your situation and finding the thing that fits you the best.
Often the first step is figuring out what type of carrier would suit you best - seeing them in action and getting to try for yourself - and then worrying about individual brands later. Broadly speaking there are 5 main types of sling, each with their own pros and cons:
Stretchy wraps and stretchy carriers (i.e. Caboo): perfect for newborns and 4th trimester. Pros are they are easy to use, soft, akin to being swaddled to parent. Fit a very wide range of body types and are comfortable enough to use around the home for as long as you like. Cons are that babies often grow out of them developmentally after a few months, roughly when they grow out of swaddling (although if this puts you off, many sling libraries offer very cost-effective long-term loans to save you needing to buy your own).
Ring Slings: can be used from newborn to toddler. Ring slings are a bit like marmite... some people love them, some hate them. Pros are they are very fast and easy to use and they fold up very small to fit in a changing bag. Perfect for quick up and downs. Cons are they are less supportive as they are one shoulder carry only and have the steepest learning curve - very easy to use once you have the knack but they are a little counter intuitive at first.
Woven Wraps: perfect for newborn all the way until you no longer wish to carry (preschooler or even beyond). Pros are these are the most versatile of all carriers, they are the one true one-sling-fits-all carrier. Great for bad backs as you get a perfect fit every time. No limit on what you can do with them - front, hip and back carries… only your imagination! Cons are they can sweep the ground if wrapping out and about. They are not as intuitive as a buckle carrier to learn, but they can be just as easy once you've done it a few times.
Meh Dai (Mei Tai): work best from 2-3 months old through til around 2-3 years old. Pros are they very versatile; offering front, hip and back carries. Half-way house between wovens and buckle carriers - they are more intuitive like a buckle carrier but with the perfect fit each time of a woven wrap. Again a good choice for bad backs. Cons are they sweep the ground when putting on out and about.
Buckle carriers: these are the most popular type of carrier on the high street. They are very intuitive to use, although like all of the above it takes a couple of goes to really get the hang of adjusting optimally. This category has the biggest variation between brands! And the biggest fit issue: because of how they are made, different buckle carriers will fit different bodies types better or worse. Carriers are like clothing! Just as you would try a pair of jeans on before purchasing, it's very important to try any carrier on... but buckles most of all - to check you have the best fit. The ‘best’ carrier is the one that fits you the best! While some work well with newborns (i.e. Izmi, Connecta, Ergo Adapt), many don’t work well with newborns, often requiring bulky infant inserts. In general Buckle carriers work best from 5-6 months when babies really fit without the need for an infant adaptation… all the way until around 2-3 years of age.
The second step after figuring out which type is to try several different brands of that type and ensure you are confident using them. Different brands fit different people - a bit like a pair of jeans. And they tighten and adjust in different ways and some ways make sense to some people and bamboozle others. So it's absolutely key to give a few a go and see what clicks. I had 3 people all trying on the same carriers at the same time during my sling library recently and the really cool thing was when one said 'Wow it's so interesting how that one didn't fit me at all well, but looks amazing on her, and when she tried on this one it didn't look right on her but it's so comfortable on me.' And I just grinned because yes it is interesting, and not something you expect or can really appreciate til you see it. When it comes to finding the best carrier for you fit is absolutely everything - friends' recommendations can be a great starting point, but nothing beats trying it out for yourself and seeing how it works for you and your baby.
How long can I carry for?
For as long as you are both comfortable! A well fitted, ergonomic carrier should hold baby in a developmentally perfect position so there's no reason not to carry for as long as you like! When my #2 was born I felt like she spent the first 3 months of her life in a sling! She'd be worn several hours at a time for most of the day coming out only for feeds, changes and the odd bit of tummy time and staring adoringly at her brother.
Won't it hurt my back?
A well-adjusted, well-fitting carrier should not hurt your back. If you are carrying your baby and it does start to hurt your back please, please do seek help from a sling librarian or sling consultant. I can't tell you how many people have struggled on with an ill-fitting carrier for months before coming to the library and then being totally shocked to find that their baby could feel "almost weightless" just with a few tweaks to their existing carrier or with a carrier that gives them a better fit. So often parents are worried that their baby is "too heavy now" but those simple changes to get a better fit make all the difference and I know so many parents that thought their little one was too heavy around 6 months and have gone onto carry for at least another year. Everyone is different and you need to listen to your body but most parents find they can continue carrying until at least 2 in a well fitting carrier, and many far beyond this. Once in a blue moon ... like when he's fallen over and hurt himself, or has a bad cold... I still carry my 5 year old.
Support for special circumstances
While a baby carrier can be an amazing tool for anyone, it can make a really enormous difference when it comes to anyone facing the added challenges that come with special circumstances. I have helped parents find a carrier that works with premature babies, babies on oxygen, babies with low muscle tone, hip dysplasia, bilateral talipes, scoliosis, Down's Syndrome and many other special circumstances. I've also helped parents who walk with crutches, use a wheelchair, have scoliosis themselves, have limited shoulder or arm mobility or are partially sighted, find the right carrier for them. Sometimes people assume a particular circumstance might preclude babywearing, but this is not usually the case. If you can carry your baby in arms then it should be possible to use a carrier to ease your load. You might need a specific type or you might need to go slightly off manual in how you use it, but there is almost always a solution.
Madeleine at Sheen Slings
Madeleine can be found at: www.sheenslings.com
And on her Facebook page: https://facebook.com/sheenslings/