Long before Miss E came onto the scene, one of my good friends introduced me to babywearing. I think we’ve pretty much all seen someone wearing a baby in a structured carrier at some point in our lives, but there’s a whole world of babywearing out there that I never knew existed until I had a child myself.
This week is New Zealand Babywearing Week (October 1 – October 9), and in honour of that, here’s a beginner’s guide to babywearing with some of the info that I’ve learned along my baby carrying journey.
Reasons for babywearing
Carrying baby close to you is not just fantastic for practical reasons, there are also a lot of physiological reasons that can enhance bonding. Babywearing is common practice in many cultures around the world.
After babies are born, they have become used to feeling our breathing and heartbeat, hearing our voices, and feeling our movements as we walk and continue about our day. This means babywearing can feel extremely natural to them, providing comfort, warmth and safety. Babies will often fall asleep easier in the carriers, and because their weight is evenly distributed and your shoulders aren’t rounded forward to cradle hold them, you can stand straighter which is better for your posture.
Not to mention you can know where baby is at all times and have both hands free to go about your daily tasks. Some mamas become so proficient in babycarrying they can even breastfeed without removing baby from the carrier. Miss E loves being right in the middle of the action up high, whereas when she’s in her stroller she can’t see facial expressions or engage in conversations as easily.
How to select a carrier
I’m not an expert, but from what I’ve learned through personal experience, this is very much down to your body and what suits it, how old your baby is, what you’ll be using it for, and the aesthetic side of things (do you want it to look pretty?!). Carriers come in all sorts of shapes, sizes, colours and patterns, and it’s quite typical for people to end up with more than one.
For example, I bought a Moby stretchy wrap that was ideal to use with Miss E when she was small. She’s bang on the 50th percentile for height and weight, and I stopped using it when she was around eight months old (though by the instructions we could have continued using it for longer). You can only use these in the beginning as eventually the fabric has too much give to be safe with heavier babies that move around more. I also own a Yaro size 6 woven wrap which is great for older babies, but I really only have it because it is just ridiculously beautiful.
However, standard stretchy and woven wraps can have 5+ metres of fabric that you need to learn how to wind around yourself. It gets better with practice, but it can still be tricky if you need to repeatedly take the baby in and out for short periods (i.e. daily errands where you’re travelling by car and have to stop at multiple places), or if it’s raining and you have to juggle the tail end of the wrap to stop it falling onto the wet ground. This is where a shorter ring sling may be useful.
A great way to figure out exactly what you need without getting overly confused is to jump on a facebook forum where there are people knowledgeable about babywearing; tell them your circumstances and what you think you might like and ask for some help. The forums I’ve found most useful are Sleep Store Baby-Carrying (run by a company that sells carriers, so obviously you can only discuss the products they sell or ask general babywearing questions) and NZ Babywearing Market Place.
Types of carriers
There are many variations of carriers out there, but Sling Babies advise there are four main categories available:
These are long lengths of woven fabric that come in a range of sizes from shorter varieties (typically around size 2-4, great for quick trips and easily carrying toddlers) to the common average size (size 6), to longer varieties (size 7, typically for people size 14+ who want a longer wrap).
There are many ways of tying woven wraps – it can be quite an art form and the results are absolutely beautiful! – and it can take some practice before becoming proficient at getting them tight enough. Longer wraps can be tied in more ways than shorter wraps, however, sometimes winding 5 metres of fabric around your body is not ideal if you need to do it quickly or when you’re out and about.
They can also come in different fabrics. Stretchy wraps are made of a stretchy fabric usually suited to younger babies from newborn through to around 10-12kg. Woven wraps can be made of various fabrics/blends including hemp and cotton; some are stiffer than others and require ‘wearing in’.
These include soft structured carriers with a rectangular panel and wide straps; they are the typical ‘front pack’ and ‘back pack’ carriers that secure over both shoulders.
Variations include the Mei-tai and Onbuhimo and can be secured in a range of ways from being tied, to buckled. Some include hoods for baby or inserts for infants, such as the Ergobaby, Manduca, or Tula carriers.
Pouches are circles of fabric that rest across one shoulder with baby tucked into the wider pouch area.
These are one-shouldered carriers that drape across the body. It looks pretty and it’s super quick and easy to use, especially for toddlers as it can help support their weight while they are sitting on your hip. Some people convert short woven wraps into ring slings if there is a particular design they want.
Where to find more info
There’s a huge amount of information available online, and some amazing support to help you find the type of carrier that would best suit you. Start with the forums mentioned above, or just start looking at what’s available to get some ideas. There may also be a Sling Library near you where you can rent or borrow carriers so that you can try them out before jumping into the deep end to purchase it. It’s important to learn how to use your carrier/s correctly for the safety of both your baby and yourself.
There are many counterfeit products on the market that are made of inferior fabrics and parts which can affect the safety and/or durability of the carrier. Ensure you are purchasing from a reputable seller to ensure you aren’t buying a dud product.
Here are some reputable NZ-based stores each selling a range of carriers for a starting point:
Images / NZ Real Health