Finding the carrier that suits you and your baby or toddler
A passion for carrying
Moved to tears watching the video of babies being carried close to their mother’s hearts, I shall never forget having just bought my first baby carrier. I was four months pregnant with my first child and had just bought a stretchy wraparound at the local market.
I was enlightened reading Jean Liedloff’s The Continuum Concept in 1992. Emotionally written, Liedloff shares her experience of the Amazon’s Yequana babies, ’from birth, continuum infants are taken everywhere … He is asleep most of the time, but even as he sleeps he is becoming accustomed to the voices of his people, to the sounds of their activities, to the bumpings, jostling and moves …… the changes of texture and temperature on his skin and the safe, right feel of being held to a living body.’ Since then I had joyfully imagined keeping my baby close in this way.
From my daughter’s first ride in a carrier when she was a few days old several years ago, I have been learning about the most comfortable and supportive ways to carry her and her little brother.
Of all the types of carriers, I have had the least experience with slings - the one I used on my daughter’s magical first outing to the forest at 12 days old was not very comfortable or supportive and I wore it rarely after that. Since then I have discovered the importance of wearing a sling high up and firmly close to the body, and being able to adjust the outer part of the sling (the ‘top rail’) so that the baby is held securely.
With any carrier, both its design and the way it is used make a huge difference in comfort levels and support for the baby’s body. Many people give up baby carrying without knowing that the design of carrier is not optimal for them, doesn’t suit the age of their baby, or the precise way it to wear it. For this reason I recommend considering structure, fabric, , position, and proper fit when finding the carrier that suits you and your baby. And you may, like me, discover different carriers fit different occasions, and different phases in your baby’s development.
I loved using a stretchy wraparound for my daughter’s first six months. This is a long piece of material tied in the cross-over wrap with outside pouch. I could easily slip my daughter in and out without taking it off. (This is called being “poppable” in the baby carrying community!) It supported her head and protected her from over-stimulation whilst giving me both hands free. I made one of these too but found the fabric too stretchy. All kinds of carriers may be made at home; the fabric used dramatically affects the support and comfort.
By seven months, I had sore shoulders with the stretchy wraparound, and began searching for other carriers. Many mums discover they need to switch from front- to back-carries at around six or seven months. Stretchy wraps can be worn on the back but are not often used in this way – as they are tied on first, getting baby in them usually requires some help.
I tried various types of soft constructed carriers – these vary considerably from brand to brand. They usually consist of a main rectangular piece with straps around the shoulders and waist. Padding on the straps makes them comfortable, and clips or ties mean they are usually easy and quick to take on and off. Take care that the constructed carrier you choose provides adequate support for your baby’s hips. Poor support is shown by their legs hanging straight down from the hips. For optimum support, look for a carrier with a wide crotch piece that extends to the baby’s knee hollow so that the baby’s legs are pulled up to at least a 90 degree angle and straddle around like a frog. Head support is also required for young babies and older sleeping babies.
There are several kinds of soft constructed carriers, a few of which can be worn on the front, hip and back. Some I tried were more comfortable on the front when my baby was young, others were more suited to carrying my older baby on my back. My daughter loved to be carried on my back in a constructed carrier through the busy shopping areas and at the end of long walks up until three years old. I could carry her for hours and still be comfortable, and continued to do so until I became pregnant again.
On a recommendation, I also bought a hip-seat, a hip belt with a seat that sits out to the side for babies once they can sit up. I used it a lot, and when my daughter was 18 months old I wore the seat round to my back, and then tied her on with a long scarf. We were both delighted with this solution.
When pregnant with my son, I found out about woven wraparounds that can be worn in many different types of carries, including several on the back. I bought three different organic brands for comparison; with one brand I bought three different lengths so that I could research all the different types of carries. I bought an instructional DVD too, to fathom how on earth to tie them! (available from www.childrensneeds.com).
I wanted my daughter to be included when I was carrying the new baby, and so bought her a stretchy wraparound, a mei tai style carrier, and a woven wraparound. She and I spent several evenings trying different ties and carries, she practicing with her doll and I with a hot water bottle. She loves to carry her two dolls at the same time, one on her back and one on her front.
Once my son was born I didn’t use a carrier much for the first few weeks – my baby moon meant staying with Sunny in the bedroom for most of the time. When I began to venture into the outside world with him, we went on quiet country walks outside our back gate, and I carried him in the longest woven sling I had. I generally used two types of front carries for the first three and a half months – the kangaroo pouch and the cross-over wrap with inside pocket. I found the fabric of all three types of woven wraparounds gave him plenty of support and was very comfortable for me even after a long time.
Now Sunny is three and a half months old and I have just started carrying him on my back in one of the constructed carriers and also the woven wraparounds. Back carries can be introduced even earlier, depending on the type of carrier used, and particularly when the adult is experienced and knows how to ensure adequate support for the baby’s head. I find some things easier to do with him on my back– such as hanging out the washing!
Ultimately people fall into different camps with their choice of carriers. Some people are passionate about slings. Others are very happy with structured carriers or Asian inspired carriers and do not want anything else. Still others enjoy all that wraparounds have to offer and swear by them. Some people have one carrier from newborn to toddler, others, like me try several of them.
Even the research quoted often varies quite differently – for example, one sling site quotes research that babies should be carried lying with their backs in a curved position, whereas some of the woven wrap sites cite studies suggesting all babies be carried in a straddle position. Stretchy wrap carriers often promote outward-facing holds, whereas some woven wrap sites recommend not carrying this way.
When making you own choices, you too will soon discover what carriers work best for you and your body. Babies, too, have their own unique preferences in how they are carried. One place to start your own research on baby carriers is the Babywearer website (www.thebabywearer.com).
I recently read a children’s book entitled ’A Ride on Mother’s Back‘. As in ‘The Continuum Concept’, each person carrying a baby enjoyed activities that had been carried out for generations. The baby was a welcome part of that life, learning about his culture and his world, while remaining close to someone he trusts.
Here in the West, we have lost that continuum. Babies are often separated from us, and disconnected from the organic flow of life’s hussle and bussle. Thankfully the carrier industry is changing all that. Now we can reclaim the lost art of carrying babies, having all the different options available at our fingertips.
Liedloff, J. (1988) The Continuum Concept. Penguin Books, London. (first pub.1975).
Bernhard, E. and D. (1996) A Ride on Mother’s Back - A day of baby carrying around the world. Gulliver Books, California and New York.