Finding the carrier that suits you and your baby or toddler (longer version)

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 Hug-a-Bub at the local Bangalow market.  My husband and I returned home and after watching the video, tried on the carrier with our Samoyed dog as test subject!  For an ex-incubator baby like me, imagining carrying our baby close was joyful and healing.


I had been enlightened by Jean Liedloff’s “The Continuum Concept” in 1992.  Emotionally written, Jean talks of the experience of 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 … His unequivocal expectation of these circumstances, and the fact that these and no other are his experience, simply carry on the continuum of his species.” (Liedloff, 1998,p61) 

After my daughter was born, I started carrying her in the Hug-a-Bub.  The first few days the weather was very hot, in the 40’s, and too hot for any carrier!  On her first outing at 12 days we took her to the forest in a sling.  I tried the sling a few times, it was one with padded rails or edges, and I found it not very comfortable or supportive.  Only since pregnant this time have I discovered the importance of wearing a sling correctly and being able to adjust the top rail so that the baby is held securely. 

The Hug-a-Bub was our faithful companion for the first six months.  I wore it almost constantly, keeping it on even when my daughter was out of it (such as going in the car), as I found I could easily slip her in and out without taking it off.  I loved the stretchy fabric and the fact that her head was totally supported whenever I tucked her head in, and that she was protected from over-stimulation this way.  I found that she would often fall asleep too when in an over-stimulating environment.  I enjoyed how close she was to my body and how I could do things around the home and walk our dogs on the beach whilst keeping her next to me. 

I had also made a couple of stretchy long wraparounds which I found quite comfortable for the first few months but by five and a half months found they didn’t have the support required to distribute her weight equally.  I understood why manufacturers of wraps and slings go to a lot of effort finding suitable fabrics.  By seven months, however, I was even finding I had sore shoulders with the real Hug-a-Bub, and began searching for some other carriers.   In retrospect I think that I was probably not wearing the Hug-a-Bub tight enough for maximum support.

A friend gave me a constructed carrier, with shoulder straps, a waistband, and clips, which I enjoyed for a month or so – it had lots of padding on the shoulder straps and waist-band which I enjoyed.  I received lots of comments that my daughter did not seem comfortable, and I too thought it looked all “wrong” when she was on my back in this carrier.  More recently I have also found that this kind of carrier does not provide adequate support for babies, as evidenced by the legs hanging straight down from the hips.  No wonder she looked uncomfortable!  I also tried a Wilkinet, bought when I was visiting England.  I enjoyed it for a short time but found front carrying too uncomfortable and didn’t find a way to enjoy the back carries.  I felt really stuck, as I wanted to carry Lana on my back and just didn’t know how I could do it comfortably. 

My sister gave me her old metal framed rucksack carrier, which was like a big backpack, and I also found that very heavy and uncomfortable on my shoulders, although I did use it a few times.  A friend back from a trip to the UK recommended the Hippychick hip-seat, a hip belt with a seat that sits out to the side.  I bought one of these and used this for most outings with my daughter.  I wanted a way to use it without needing to hold on with one arm, and tried it with the sling, but it was a bit cumbersome.  When my daughter was 18 months I began to realize that I had some hip pain from using the hip-seat on one side only.  I came up with the idea of wearing it round to my back, sitting my daughter on there facing my back, and then tying her on with a long scarf.  We were both totally delighted with this solution, and I found it incredibly comfortable and easy, particularly on our next trip to the UK and the plane travel involved.  The airport workers seemed fascinated with how easy it was for me to carry her at two and a half, and pull my luggage along! 

On looking for a carrier that might function like the hip-seat and scarf, I discovered the Ergo baby carrier.  I went to buy one at Instinctive Parenting, where they were out of stock but had a Patapum baby carrier.  I put the Patapum on and was hooked!  Here was what I had been looking for, a carrier all in one, which had very thick shoulder straps and hip band.  My daughter was approaching three years old and still loved to be carried, especially in busy shopping areas and on long walks.  I could carry her in the Patapum for literally hours and still be comfortable.  I also felt delighted at how fit I had become.  I had developed muscles from carrying her, and was pleased when someone picked her up and said how heavy she was, when I knew I had just carried her for two hours!  I continued carrying her in the Patapum until I became pregnant again.

With this pregnancy, I began the search to understand baby carriers early on.  I wanted to find out more so that I could be comfortable after the seventh month mark, and wanted to find out whether there were any other ways to carry a baby on my back.  I had given my Hug-a-Bub away to a friend, who raved about it too!  So I went back to Instinctive Parenting to buy another one and to order a child-sized one for my (now nearly four-year-old) daughter, for her to carry her dolls in.  I wanted her to have the same wraps and carriers that I did so that she would feel included when I was carrying the new baby.  Suzanne Shahar of Instinctive Parenting (www.instintiveparenting.com) was so helpful with all my questions.  She recommended a Cwtshi Mei Tai, which purchased (along with a small one for Lana).   I also bought an organic Ergo, as it had head support for a sleeping baby whereas the version of the Patapum that I had did not.  I thought I was all set and did not intend to buy any more carriers.

A month or so later, a friend was on the beach with her baby in a Didymos.  The Didymos was the first woven wrap I had seen – and I was amazed to find that a woven wrap could be worn in many more ways than a stretchy wrap.  I went on an internet search that night and it was like entering Aladdin’s cave.  A whole new world opened up to me, the world of woven slings and a multitude of ways of tying them and carrying a child from infancy to early childhood.  I began a quest to understand more about all these foreign-sounding carries.  I came across the Babywearer website (www.thebabywearer.com) and was astounded to read that there were literally hundreds of different types of carriers available, from slings to wraparounds to Asian-inspired carriers, to constructed carriers.  There were sections on how to choose a carrier, and reviews of hundreds of carriers as well as where to buy them.

I wanted to learn more about the whole culture of carrying babies.  As an advocate of attachment parenting, and a certified Aware Parenting Instructor, I was passionate about it.  I realised how little I knew about the practical options for carrying babies.  I knew that I wanted to learn all I could, both for myself and my next baby, but also to contribute to reawakening knowledge about carrying babies. 

My journey took me to a kind of undercover world, a free club that took a little finding.  My fascination with woven slings and everything organic led me to the Storchenwiege.  I bought one for myself and a child-sized one for Lana, after reading rave reviews from women at The Babywearer and from the Children’s Needs US site, which although offering many different types of European woven wraps, several of which were organic, recommended the Storchenwiege above all. 


I bought their instructional DVD too, to try and fathom out how on earth to tie my new wrap!  Lana and I spent several evenings trying different ties and carries, she practicing with her doll and I with a hot water bottle.  Soon I was familiar with a few different positions and felt more at home.  I did more research on the length of wraps required for different carries and decided I also wanted a longer Storchenweige so that I could do all the carries.  I too was becoming like the women on the Babywearer site who were in love with their Storchs (and I hadn’t even carried the baby in it yet!)  I wanted to understand more about the differences between woven and stretchy wraps, and between the different woven wraps.  A friend had recommened the Lana wrap to me, so right at the end of my pregnancy I also decided I wanted to try one of those too. 

Once Sunny was born I didn’t use a carrier much for the first few weeks – part of my babymoon meant staying with Sunny in the bedroom, with my darling husband bringing food and doing all the washing and other household activities.   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 Storchenwiege I had – in one particular kind of carry.  Soon after he had been born I had bought another organic woven sling called the Never Fail, which I used like the Storchenwiege but which I found even cosier when we walked in the cool winter afternoons.  As the weeks passed the Storchenwiege was my carrier of choice, and I began to practice another type of carry with it, which I came to prefer.  I was also surprised to find that, during those early weeks, I enjoyed carrying him in the Wilkinet – especially when I wanted to put it on quickly and wear it for a short time – and I used the Cwtshi in that way too.  When he was a little older and we made occasional trips to the shops, I enjoyed the Hug-a-Bub, as I could tie it to me before I went out, and then could put him in quickly once we arrived there. (This is called “poppable” in the baby carrying community!)   I used the Lana carrier in similar ways to the Storhenwiege, and found it a bit warmer.  I was delighted to have so many options, and having so many came in useful practicing Elimination Communication and missing many of his cues!

When he was five to seven months old I carried him in the Cwtshi when we went to the shops or in other stimulating places.  When we went on bush walks I began carrying him on my back, in the Patapum, the Ergo, or the Storchenwiege.  Now he is ten months old I am enjoying the Patapum the most and carry him on my back on most outings.  The Cwtshi, Ergo and Patapum are all very easy for getting him off quickly when he wiggles (his signal for needing to wee).  I am still learning about different carries; just today I re-watched the Children’s Needs video to learn a new back carry with the Storchenwiege. 

(Added in 2012 - My favourite carrier with him after this point was the Olives and Applesauce.  Delicious!!)

Ultimately people fall into different camps with their choice of carriers.  Some people are passionate about slings and love them from their little one’s babyhood until early childhood.  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.  Even the research quoted often varies quite differently – for example, a sling site I found quoted research that babies should be carried lying with their backs in a curved position, whereas some of the woven wrap sites recommend all babies be in a straddle position.  Stretchy wrap carriers promote outward-facing carries, 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 baby.

Suzanne Shahar at Instinctive Parenting lent me a book whilst I was pregnant.  A children’s book called “A Ride on Mother’s Back”, it affected me deeply and I bought a copy for our family.  It was the concrete example of what had touched me so deeply about Liedloff’s book – here, all over the world in different cultures, were babies deeply rooted in their culture.  Each person carrying a baby, whether in Guatemala or Kathmandu, knew what to do and enjoyed doing things that had been done for generations.  The baby was a welcome part of that life, learning about the continuum of his culture.  I felt bubbling joy reading this book with my daughter.

Here in the West, we have lost that continuum.  Our choices are vast, which is sometimes confusing and sometimes wonderful.  Now we can reclaim the lost art of carrying babies, having all the different options available at our fingertips.  

References


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.