The first time my youngest son came out with me for the school run was when he was only 4 weeks old. As you can expect, he used to get a lot of attention, but not for the obvious reasons. We’d get a lot of attention because people often didn’t realise he was with me! In our stretchy wrap, warm, cozy and asleep. Most people had to take a double look before realising I was wearing my baby. And the day I had to retire our stretchy wrap because he was too heavy for it was a sad day indeed!
I didn’t really get into babywearing with my first son, 8+ years ago. I wish I had, as he was one of those babies who needed a lot of physical contact and struggled to sleep anywhere that wasn’t on me or with me. We tried a pouch when he was little, but we didn’t get along with, and instead of trying something else, we kind of gave up on babywearing altogether. In hindsight, I know we missed a massive opportunity!
Which is why I’m happy I properly got into babywearing with my second son. Needs must meant that I needed spare hands to attend my 3-year-old when my middle son was a baby, and so we tried and fell in love with a structured baby carrier.
My story already tells you that each baby and each family is different, and when it comes to finding the perfect baby carrier(s) it’s important you find what works for you. But if you want to find out more about babywearing (i.e. carrying your baby in a sling, carrier or wrap), here are a few different types you can get, with a brief list of features to help you make a decision as to what’s right for you.
Soft structured carriers
With my second and third son we used a Beco Gemini, and I got a tremendous amount of use out of it! With my second one we used it pretty much from birth (or a from a very young age), and with my third we moved onto this when he outgrew his stretchy wrap. After the Beco Gemini we treated ourselves to a bigger, more comfortable Beco Soleil, which has a larger base (seat) and is suitable for toddlers of up to 20kg.
Soft structured carriers are probably the most widely used types of carriers, and here are some of the features that make them so popular:
- Because they have buckles and adjustable straps, they are relatively easy to learn – they’re easy and quick to put on and take off.
- They are two-shoulder carriers – your baby’s weight is distributed nicely between your two shoulders, so they’re easier on your back and might be more suitable for a longer walk, for example. They also often have padded shoulders and waist straps to make them more comfortable.
- Some models are suitable for newborn, but not all are, so make sure you check the manual before buying or using them with your young baby. Some of them can just be adjusted for younger babies, but some cannot.
- Depending on the model you buy, you can often carry on the front, back or hip (do check on the manual / instructions though, as not all carriers are suitable for all carrying positions and certain positions are definitely not suitable for newborn babies).
Hiking baby carriers
If you’re into hiking (or just do a lot of walking with your baby), you can get a more structured and supportive type of carrier, where you carry your baby on the back. Because you can only carry your baby on the back, they aren’t suitable from newborn. They are also a lot heavier and pricier than soft structured carriers, and they’re probably not your everyday type of carrier, so I’m not going to go into a lot of details here. Plus, I’ll be honest – I’ve never had the pleasure of trying one!
A similar version to the soft structured carrier is the Mei Tai – a traditional Chinese baby carrier.
- The weight is also distributed across both shoulders.
- You can generally carry on the front, back or hip (but always do check with your specific brand and model first).
- They don’t have any buckles or adjustable straps – the waist belt and shoulder straps are sewn onto a rectangular piece of fabric. They’re basically worn like an apron.
- Because of the absence of buckles, they are a little harder to get used to and adjust to the optimal position, but it means they can be passed from one parent to the other without having to adjust the position of the straps and buckles – each parent adjusts the straps according to their body shape.
- Some of them have padded shoulders and waist, like soft structured carriers. Others don’t.
- Some brands and models can be used for newborn but not all are, so make sure you check before buying or before using with your young baby.
Slings or pouches
When my eldest was a baby, we had a Baba Sling. I had chosen it because it seemed like a great option for discreet breastfeeding, but because you carry the baby on one shoulder only, this was never really comfortable for us. Of course this is only our personal opinion and preference – they work perfectly for lots of other parents!
- It’s a large rectangular piece of fabric sewn together at both ends (some of them, like the Baba Sling have an adjustable buckle) – the large piece of fabric where your baby lays or sit effectively acts like a hammock.
- The large amount of fabric allows the sling to also act like a cover, for discreet breastfeeding.
- They are one-shoulder carriers.
- You can carry your baby in the front and hip position (not on the back).
- Once again, do check with your brand and model whether there are any age and weight restrictions.
- If you have back problems or a sensitive neck or shoulders, it may be advisable not to carry your baby in a pouch for long periods of times, as this may cause discomfort.
Another type of sling available on the market is the ring sling. Once again, I’ve never had the pleasure of trying one of these, but I’ve seen plenty of demonstrations, and they look very comfortable for parent and baby alike. These are some of their features:
- They are also one-shoulder carriers.
- You can carry your baby in the front or hip position (not on the back).
- They are normally suitable from newborn, but always check before buying or using.
- It’s a large piece of material that you adjust via a ring. It’s similar to a traditional pouch or sling, but you can achieve a better fit as the material can be pulled tighter or left looser through the ring.
- If you have back problems or a sensitive neck or shoulders, it may be advisable not to carry your baby in a ring sling for long periods of times, as this may cause discomfort.
By far the best carrier I’d recommend to anyone with a newborn, wraps can be made of different materials. The two main types are stretchy wraps or woven wraps.
Stretchy wraps are made of elastic (stretchy) material and are therefore perfect for the first few months of life – when your baby gets too heavy (7-8kg tops), the elasticity of the material (coupled with your baby’s increased weight) will stop you from achieving a nice fit, and you may feel that your baby is slipping / bearing down. This is (sadly) when the time has come to retire the stretchy wrap.
Woven wraps, on the other hand, have a longer ‘lifespan’ and also allow you to carry your baby in different positions: front, back and hip. Stretchy wraps are for front carry only.
- Have no buckles.
- They are two-shoulder carriers – your baby’s weight is distributed nicely between your two shoulders, so they’re easier on your back.
- They are a bit trickier to put on when you’re still learning – this is because you’re basically looking at a large piece of cloth (materials may vary) of up to 6 metres. It can feel a bit overwhelming at first, but armed with the instructions, a full-size mirror and a good YouTube video, you’ll learn in minutes.
- They feel amazing when you achieve the right fit – stretchy wraps can only be used in the first few months of life (up to 4 or 5) when your baby is still very light, and you won’t even feel they’re on you (except for the cuddles you get!)
After a long search for a stretchy wrap before my third baby was born, I settled on a Hana Baby Wrap, which is made of bamboo cotton and therefore more breathable and light than a standard cotton stretchy wrap, which can get a bit too warm in hot weather. I loved it so much that I was over the moon to recently be able to carry my 6-week niece in it – best feeling in the world!
Important safety guidelines
Just a couple of necessary safety tips before I leave you. No matter what type of carrier you get, make sure that you ALWAYS:
- Check the age and weight requirements and restrictions for your carriers – brands and models do vary.
- Check which positions you can or can’t carry your baby in – brands and models do vary.
- Make sure your baby isn’t wearing too many layers / is too hot while in the carrier. Young babies cannot regulate their own temperature and can easily overheat.
- Follow the T.I.C.K.S. guidelines for safe babywearing:
- Tight – the sling / carrier has to be tight enough to hug your baby close to you.
- In view at all times – when carrying your baby on the front, you should always be able to see your baby’s face (airways) by simply glancing down.
- Close enough to kiss – carrying your baby too low (i.e. too far away from your chin) can compromise their breathing. You should be able to just lower your chin and kiss your baby’s head.
- Keep chin off the chest – a baby’s chin should never be curled or forced into their own chest.
- Supported back – their back should be supported in a natural S-shape position.
If you’re new to babywearing, I’d recommend printing the T.I.C.K.S. guidelines and referring to them often, until they become second nature to you.
Other than that, good luck with finding the perfect type of carrier for your needs, your family and your baby! You may even want to treat yourself to a few, depending on the need and occasion!
This post was contributed by Sara, a mum of 3 boys, who recently left her job and career as a Business Analyst to become a freelance writer and work around her crazy home life. She blogs at Mind your Mamma, a family and lifestyle blog, mainly about self-care, mindfulness, decluttering and organising. You can connect with Sara on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.