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Babywearing, in a nutshell
I'm assuming that since you're here, you already know why babywearing is great. But if you are new to babywearing or need a refresher, here are just a few reasons:
- It's easy! No lugging heavy infant seats, struggling with awkward strollers, or sore arms and backs from trying to juggle those things *plus* a baby. Makes breast- and bottlefeeding simpler, since both hands are available to position and guide. If, like me, you are a lazy parent, nothing beats a carrier.
- It promotes attachment between parent and child. Tiny infants need the security of a parent's close touch -- there's just no doubt about it. A carrier helps keep your baby where s/he belongs, and enables you to go about your day in addition.
- It helps you tend to both your baby and his or her siblings, and can even help ease an older sibling's transition from only child to big sib, since s/he sees that you can hold the baby and take care of him/her at the same time.
- It's far less expensive than the latest travel system! One of the great things about a carrier is that you don't *need* the infant car seat, the stroller base it fits into, the SUV stroller for mallwalking, etc. etc. etc. My first baby went easily from his convertible carseat to his sling, usually without waking -- there was absolutely no need for the infant seat. Your baby may vary, but an infant who gets used to being transferred from seat to sling will likely do just fine for the rest of his childhood. I could still move Susan at 2 years old from her carseat to a sling without waking her. Try that with a bumpy stroller!
- Pediatricians are noting a marked increase in the number of babies in the US with flat heads (plagiocephaly), caused by the babies spending the majority of their day in an infant seat or some other containment device. Using a carrier instead can totally prevent that, and also helps to develop their muscular and balancing skills, since they move with the parent in the sling. Time spent in a sling counts as tummy time!
- You can't spoil a baby by holding her -- I promise! Things left on the shelf spoil, not things that are cared for :)
Types of carriers (beyond the Bjorn and Snugli)
Slings are worn on one shoulder and can be divided into two main types – pouch, or tube-style, slings, which have a sewn-in "seat" for the baby and are usually not adjustable; and ring-slings, which are adjustable through a set of circular rings. Slings are easy to use, great for quick ins and outs for toddlers who frequently change their minds, and are often compact enough to stash in a diaper bag for travel. The fact that they are used on one shoulder does limit the size of the child who can be carried; most parents stop using slings for all but short trips when their children reach 25-30 lbs, but this will vary depending on the parent's strength and the length of time they've been babywearing. Slings can be easily used from birth onward, although it is critical to insure that a newborn isn't too scrunched up in the sling: his/her chin should never be pressed against his/her chest, as that can compress the airway and potentially lead to asphyxiation (very rare, but possible). [Most babies will cry and fuss if this is the case, but a sleeping infant may not do so. If the baby seems uncomfortable or unhappy in a cradle hold in the sling, try other positions.]
Within the two types, there are variations.
- Pouches are made with a seam in the middle, which
is curved to accommodate an infant lying down, sitting up, or facing out, or
an older baby in a hip carry. The seam allows the pouch sling to be as narrow
as 20" wide
and still be safe.
- A pouch that does not adjust must be carefully fitted for safety and comfort! The baby's lowest point should never be below your belly button; if it is, the pouch is too large and should be exchanged.
- Pouches can be made adjustable with a set of zippers, snaps, or buttons to allow adults of differing sizes to use them.
- With "hybrid" pouches, the adjustment is made with a set of rings, the distinguishing features being their narrower width and sewn-in pouch seat.
- Ring slings can be padded or unpadded. Widely-available padded slings
usually have a "closed" tail and very thick padding, which can make
the sling difficult to adjust. Other padded slings, which are usually found on
the internet rather than in stores, tend to have thinner, lighter padding and
open tails. Unpadded slings have no padding at all, but that doesn't make
them less comfortable. It does make them easier to adjust and get a good, snug
- Unpadded ring slings differ mainly in the fabrics from which they are made, the width and length of the fabrics, and the way that the "shoulder" of the sling (the part of the fabric where the rings are sewn in) is designed. There is no one right way to sew an unpadded sling's shoulder – every wearer is built differently, so what's comfortable for one wearer can be less so for another.
- Slings are found in a large range of price points, from $15 to $150 and beyond.
Asian carriers include the podaegi (Korean in origin), the mei tai (Chinese), and the onbuhimo (Japanese), as well as some newer soft structured carriers that combine several features. These carriers have in common a rectangular "body" piece and one to four straps, which are tied around the wearer to support the baby's weight. The straps usually go over both shoulders, which can distribute weight more efficiently than a sling, although the straps make the carriers slightly more difficult to store than slings. They are easy to use after a little practice and are great for long walks with toddlers. Asian carriers usually cost more than slings, because they take a much longer time to sew.
- The podaegi is a rectangle of fabric, called a blanket (which can be wide or narrow) with one very long strap along the top edge. It can be used to hold the baby on the wearer's back, either "strapless" (with the strap tied around the mother and baby on her chest, above the breasts, and then around in back underneath the baby, and tied in front), or with the strap wrapped over the wearer's shoulders and then as above), as well as on the wearer's front, and can be used from birth onwards.
- The mei tai is a smaller rectangle with straps coming out of each of the four corners. The straps may be wide or narrow, padded or unpadded, and attached at angles or straight out or up and down. Usually, the bottom straps are tied on with the fabric hanging down (called the apron tie), and then the baby is placed in position, and the top straps brought across the back or front and then brought back around to tie. It can be used on the front or back, but it excels in back carries.
- The onbuhimo is similar to a mei tai, but rings are substituted where the lower straps would be. It is primarily used for back carries for larger babies and toddlers. The baby is "tossed" onto the wearer's back with the straps, which are then crossed on the wearer's front and brought through the rings, then tied in front. The straps may also be used "rucksack" style, more like a backpack.
- Soft structured carriers, like the Ergo or Patapum, combine the shape of a mei tai with buckles, webbing straps, and a padded waist belt. They often appeal to fathers who may not care for the tied look of other carriers.
Wraps are long pieces of fabric that are literally wrapped around the baby and the wearer. They provide the most support and comfort of any carrier, for infants through toddlers and beyond, and can be used to carry more than one child if need be. Because of their simplicity of design, there are dozens of ways to wear a wrap, and that versatility makes them an ideal carrier. While they do take some time to learn, it's time well spent, and just a few carries will easily get you through to toddlerhood and even beyond.
- Wraps come in a variety of lengths, from around 2.5 meters (rebozo-length) to nearly 6 meters. A rebozo can be used similarly to a ring sling, but the rings are replaced with a knot that can be worn in front of or behind the shoulder. Rebozos are common in Mexico, where they are used as shawls before and after the babies are born and grow up, and even during birth. Longer wraps lend themselves to more carries. A 3-meter wrap can be used for a "rucksack" carry; a 4-meter, for a cross-carry; a 5-meter, for most women, is enough to do most of the carries that wraps allow, although larger women may need a longer wrap. Most wraps are between 20-28" wide, though some are wider.
- Wraps can be stretchy or woven. A stretchy wrap is great for newborns, as it allows the wearer to pre-tie the wrap in place and then "pop" the baby in. As the baby gets heavier, though, the stretch may become a liability, making the wrap sag and demanding frequent retying. A woven wrap is less "popable" but tends to be more comfortable with a larger child, as it stays in place under the child's weight.
- Wraps can be found in just about any price point, ranging from the simple piece of cloth (SPOC) bought at a fabric store to the rare wraps that sell for $300 and up. The more expensive wraps are made with organic cotton and are specially woven as carriers, but you can be just as comfortable in a SPOC – as with any carrier, it's all about finding what's right for you.
Safety in commercially-available carriers:
The American Consumer Product Safety Commission released a statement on March 12, 2010, cautioning parents against using carriers that force an infant into a chin-to-chest position, or otherwise blocked the child's airway or face. Please see this page for more information.