Why wear your baby?
The top reason for most parents is the convenience - babies want to be
held, but parents need to get things done. By wearing your baby, you
free your hands to accomplish your tasks. Babywearing enables you to
nurse on the go, chase after your older children, work on the computer
with both hands, run errands, or cook dinner - all the things that still
need to get done after the new baby arrives!
But the benefits of babywearing reach far beyond parental convenience. Babies have a fundamental need for physical contact with their parents and caregivers. Babies who are worn sleep better, cry less, nurse and gain weight better, become securely attached to their caregivers, and tend to be more alert and interactive with the world around them. Kangaroo care, holding a premature baby skin-to-skin, has been proven to promote physical growth and neurological development in tiny babies. Yet even full-term babies are "premature" in the sense that human babies are born at a much earlier stage of development than other primates. By holding them close, parents bond with their babies and help them adapt to the outside world from the safety and comfort of a cozy carrier. Babies are born to be worn!
Is It Safe To Use a Baby Sling or Carrier With a Newborn or Baby Younger Than Four Months?
Absolutely, under two conditions:
- You must use an appropriate carrier that is designed to allow proper positioning for newborns and small babies.
- You must use that carrier safely and follow correct positioning guidelines.
Yes, they are safe. In fact, baby slings and baby carriers are some of the safest baby products you can buy! Plus, babywearing has many physical and emotional benefits for your baby.
But as with any baby gear, you must use your baby sling or baby carrier correctly, following safe positioning guidelines, and be attentive to your baby to ensure her airway is always protected.
Here are the rules you should follow for a newborn or young baby under four months of age, or until she achieves good head and neck control:
- For a front carry, baby should be in the same position you'd hold her in in your arms. She should be in the "babywearing zone" between your collarbone and your waistline, either upright in a tummy to tummy position or in a slightly reclined seated position. In the correct carrying position, you can kiss the top of her head.
- Never allow baby to be curled into a C-position with her chin forced to her chest.
- Her airway must always be clear. Her chin must be up off her chest with her neck straight and her head in a neutral position. You should be able to get one to two fingers between her chin and her chest.
- Her face must always be visible. Do not allow fabric to cover her nose, mouth, or face.
- Do not allow her face to be pressed into your body. Check her when she's actively nursing to ensure her nose is not blocked, and when she's finished nursing, re-position her so that her nose and mouth are not obstructed by your body or by the sling fabric.
- Her body should be fully supported by the baby sling or baby carrier, from her bottom to her back to her neck, to avoid any slumping or slouching.
Remember -- you are responsible at all times for your baby's safety!
There are several types of baby slings and carriers that are widely available today. The descriptions and comparison chart below will help you determine which carrier will best meet your needs. If you have further questions and need help making a decision, though, please don't hesitate to contact me.
A ring sling is a long piece of fabric sewn onto a pair of rings. The "tail," or end
of the fabric, is then threaded through the rings. The wearer places
the sling over her head with the rings on one shoulder, and baby goes
into the pouch formed by the fabric. The wearer pulls on the tail to
tighten or loosen the individual "rails," or top and bottom edges of the
fabric. Ring slings have excellent adjustability. I recommend them for parents of all sizes, particularly for couples of different heights and builds.
Baby ring slings are best used for front and hip carries. Ring slings can generally be shared by wearers of different sizes, although the tail will be longer on a smaller person and shorter on a larger person.
Ring slings have relatively low learning curves, and take very little time to set up and start babywearing. When sized and adjusted properly, with the fabric well-spread over the wearer's back and the baby worn high and close to the wearer's body, ring slings and pouches are very comfortable baby carriers. They are particularly useful for the newborn and baby stages, and for the toddler "up down" phase - just leave the carrier on and pop the baby in and out! For those with back and shoulder issues, or for hours-long babywearing comfort, though, many parents find a two-shouldered carrier more to their liking.
If you're looking for a dedicated hip carrier for an older baby and toddler, the Scootababy combines the quick poppability of a one-shoulder carrier with the weight-transferring comfort of a soft structured carrier.
Wrap-around Cloth Baby Carriers
A wrap is the most basic of all baby carriers - it is just a long piece of cloth used to tie the baby in place on the wearer's body. This deceptively simple, unstructured baby carrier is perhaps the most versatile of all, enabling dozens of different wearing positions on front, hip, and side. Although it takes practice to master all of the various possible carries, it really is not difficult to master one or two basic and extremely useful holds.
Wraps are classified into different categories, depending on the type of fabric. Stretchy wraps are made of soft cotton and feel like your favorite t-shirt. Stretchy wraps are one of the best options for comfortably wearing a newborn for long stretches. Because they can be used to hold baby snugly in an upright position, stretchy wraps are invaluable for babies with reflux and colic. Of the various types of wraps, stretchy wraps are the easiest to learn to use. Stretchy wraps are one size fits all, so parents can share the carrier.
Woven wraps are less stretchy and more supportive, and provide comfortable wearing for babies of all ages and sizes from newborns through preschoolers. Woven wraps are truly an all-in-one workhorse, enabling front, back, and hip carries with many variations and tying methods. Woven wraparound carriers come in different lengths, with the length chosen based on body size and the types of carries desired.
Baby Carriers That Tie On
A mei tai (pronounced "may tie," not "my tie") is essentially a large rectangle of fabric with four long straps coming off the corners, made out of sturdy and supportive fabric. Modern mei tais are based on a traditional Chinese design. A mei tai is an extremely versatile carrier that can be used to carry a child from birth through the preschool years comfortably, on the front, back, or hip. The straps distribute the child's weight evenly on the shoulders and around the waist, making this carrier an excellent choice for those with back or shoulder problems. A mei tai has a moderate learning curve, but its adaptability makes it well worthwhile.
Baby Carriers That Buckle
A soft structured carrier a.k.a. a buckle carrier, is the most modern of the available baby carrier options. It is structured like a
backpack, with a wide padded hip belt that distributes the baby's weight
to the wearer's lower body, and two well-padded shoulder straps. It
fastens with a waist buckle and a chest clip, and has adjustable
webbing just like a backpack on the hip belt and on the shoulder straps
to accommodate a wide range of body sizes. Buckle carriers are the most popular baby carriers in the US, and are a very popular baby carrier for dads.
Baby can be worn on the front or on the back. Hip carries are also possible with certain buckle carriers, though not ideal as they do not cup the shoulder and often ride up into the wearer's neck area. Buckle carriers are easy to learn to use and offer excellent long-term comfort for wearing babies, toddlers, and even preschoolers.
So you've bought a baby sling or carrier - now what?
The best way to learn to babywear is to get hands-on demonstrations and first-hand experience.
There are many babywearing groups that help parents choose and learn to use their baby slings and carriers. Babywearing International, the babywearing advocacy organization, promotes babywearing through in-person, parent-to-parent support and learning groups. Babywearing groups are a great way to meet other babywearers and learn the art of babywearing from experienced parents. Check to see if there is a group near you!