Information about how to choose a baby sling or baby carrier. Information on ring slings, wraps, mei tais, and buckle carriers.
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Home >  Babywearing 101 --
 

Babywearing 101 --

  • Make sure to read the Babywearing Safety page for information on safe vs. unsafe slings as well as for newborn/young baby positioning guidelines.

Babywearing is using a cloth baby sling or baby carrier to wear your child on your front, hip, or back. Parents have been using lengths of cloth or natural materials to tie their babies to their bodies for generations. Recently, the Internet has revolutionized babywearing. Parents now have options ranging from the ubiquitous frontpacks to less well-known, but more comfortable, functional, and attractive baby carriers designed by work-at-home mothers who are experienced babywearers and who have come up with designs that make babywearing comfortable, stylish, and fun.

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!

How Do I Choose a Baby Sling or Baby Carrier?

There are five main 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.

ONE-SHOULDER CARRIERS

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, and are excellent for discreet nursing. The tail also provides a useful cover for privacy or weather protection. The Maya Lightly Padded Ring Sling has cushioning in the shoulder for a comfortable carry, while the Sakura Bloom has a wide, unpadded shoulder and comes in gorgeous linen and silk varieties. 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.



TWO-SHOULDER CARRIERS

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 such as the Moby Wrap and hybrid wraps such as the Wrapsody Hybrid Stretch 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, and for discreet nursing. 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. Dolcino woven wraps are wonderfully soft right out of the package, and are relatively easy to learn to use because of the middle marker and the differently-colored rails (edges) to help orient the wearer.

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 like the Kozy Carrier, the BabyHawk, and the CatBird Baby BE 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.

One of the mei tai's particular strengths is the ease with which even tiny babies can be safely and securely carried on the parent's back, allowing the wearer to be hands-free to take care of older children, cook, consume hot beverages and food, and other activities where having a baby on the front might be inconvenient or unsafe. The Kozy Carrier webpage and the Tummy 2 Tummy DVD both have excellent instructions (and safety advice) from Kelley Mason, the Kozy designer.

Baby Carriers That Buckle

A soft structured carrier a.k.a. a buckle carrier, such as the Beco Gemini, Boba Classic 3G, lillebaby COMPLETE or Pikkolois 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 such as the Pikkolo, Beco Gemini, and lillebaby COMPLETE, although the best buckle carrier for a dedicated hip carrier is the Scootababy. This type of carrier is easy to learn to use and offers excellent long-term comfort for wearing babies, toddlers, and even preschoolers.

Baby Sling & Baby Carrier Comparison Chart



Ring SlingMei Tai Woven Wrap Stretchy Wrap Structured Carrier
One ShoulderYesOnly in hip carryYes, in hip carry
Yes, in hip carry Only in hip carry
Two Shoulder NoYesYesYesYes
Front Carry ExcellentExcellentExcellentExcellentExcellent
Hip Carry ExcellentPossible1 Possible Possible1 Possible1
Back Carry No
Excellent

Excellent, but takes some practiceOnly Wrapsody Stretch Hybrid, not Moby WrapExcellent
Baby can face forward Yes, in crossed-legs/Buddha position
Yes, but not wellYes, but in a position similar to ring slingYesPikkolo, Gemini, and lillebaby only
Suitability for newborn ExcellentExcellentExcellentExcellentDepends on carrier
Suitability for older baby ExcellentExcellentExcellentExcellentExcellent

Ring Sling Mei Tai Woven Wrap Stretchy Wrap Structured Carrier
Suitability for toddler / preschooler Great for quick carries but may be uncomfortable for longer carries ExcellentExcellentNo for Moby; yes for Wrapsody
Excellent
Fits wearers of different sizes Yes
YesYesYesYes
Adjustable to customize fit to wearer YesYesYesYesYes
Ease of nursing ExcellentExcellentVariesExcellentVaries
Learning curve ModerateLowModerateModerateLow
Quick on-off ExcellentModerateModerateModerateExcellent
Easy to leave carrier on and pop baby in and out ExcellentNot recommended Yes, in certain tied carriesExcellentPossible if waist strap is left buckled
Short-term comfort Excellent3ExcellentExcellentExcellentExcellent
Long-term comfortVaries4ExcellentExcellentExcellentExcellent
  1. Although hip carries in the mei tai, stretchy wrap, and buckle carriers other than the Scootababy are possible, these carriers are more cumbersome to set up and use in the hip position. Don't buy one of these carriers for primary use as a hip carrier.
  2. Nursing in a pouch is often easier for women with smaller to medium-sized breasts, but may not be easy for large-breasted women.
  3. With one-shoulder carriers, proper fit and adjustment are critical for wearing comfort for heavier/older babies.
  4. Ring Slings can be very comfortable for wearing newborns and smaller babies for longer periods of time. However, heavier babies and toddlers should be worn in a two-shoulder carrier for long-term wearing comfort.

How Do I Use My Baby Sling or Carrier?

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. If you are in central New Jersey, please join the Central New Jersey Babywearers Group (for Facebook click here) a non-profit, non-commercial group that brings experienced and new babywearers together at monthly meetings and occasional playdates to share information, tips, and tricks on getting the most out of baby slings and carriers.

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!

If you are local to the Central NJ or Philadelphia Metro Area, I offer consultations in my Princeton-area home office.

The Internet is also a great resource for learning about babywearing. Here are some highly recommended sites:

The BabyWearer This website has product reviews, informative articles, and a discussion forum (free registration required) for sharing information on how to choose and use baby slings and carriers. With thousands of actively posting members, this forum is the best place on the Web for learning and chatting about babywearing.

Many sling and carrier makers as well as babywearing advocates and enthusiasts have posted how-to videos at YouTube -- Check out QuirkyBaby's YouTube channel or just run a search on babywearing or baby sling, or on a specific carrier such as Beco Gemini or mei tai.

Mothering.com's Babywearing Forum This forum is one of many at Mothering Magazine's excellent website.



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