The Basics of Babywearing
Many caregivers have, in some way or another, heard of babywearing. They may know someone who does it or have seen someone at the grocery store doing it. Those people rave about it when you ask them and make it look so effortless. They’ll go at lengths to tell you how it’s helped them with a colicky baby, a screaming teething toddler, cuddle a fevered little one, and given them free hands on those days when babies just want to be held. They’ll tell you stories about how easy it was to navigate an airport stroller-free, to bypass the stroller staging spot at Disney World and get right in line, and how grocery shopping became exponentially easier when you can wander away from the cart whenever you need to and not worry about a child toppling out. They will probably recommend you to a local babywearing group (Really? They have groups for this stuff?! Yes!) or spout off the name of their favorite Youtube tutorial. They will fervently tell you that it is absolutely worth it and insist that you give it a try.
You will probably decide to look into it a little, before you commit to going to a group meeting. You hit the Google Search button and suddenly what seemed so simple is now a minefield of the most confusing information. Plenty of how-tos, dos and don’ts, this versus that. Machine woven. Size 6. Handwoven. 3.2 meters. SSCs. Load bearing straps. Ladder lock buckles. Double Hammock. Rebozo. Stretchy wraps. Homemade. Ring Slings. Middle markers. Hip scoot. Superman!!
Isn’t it just wrapping a giant table cloth around your body and tying your kid to you?!
It seems that way, in the overwhelming wealth of information that the internet gives you. This may be why that sweet caregiver recommended the local group. Sometimes, it’s simply easier to understand something physical from witnessing a simple demonstration in person. There is a wealth of knowledge out there and local groups that are run by experienced babywearing parents/grandparents with a vested interest in passing along that knowledge, along with the love of wearing your baby. Though, it is possible to be self-taught; there are many great tutorials on Youtube from experienced caregivers who teach you how to wrap and wear one-on-one, in the comfort of your own home. If you get nervous learning new things in front of others, this may be the path for you! Wrap You in Love, Wrapping Rachel, Twice Loved & Modern, and Babywearing Faith are just a few of the more well-known names in the how-to Youtube tutorial world.
But before you get to all of that, there are a few terms that are great to know that will inform you better in the onslaught of information:
Carrier Types- there are MANY options in the babywearing world, as far as carriers go. All have varying levels of simplicity and difficulty, and your choice should solely be based on what you feel the most comfortable using. I will name only a few, to stay that overwhelming feeling, and I will list them by ‘Best for Size/Weight’ as they are most known for. Note: almost all carriers can be used for multiple stages of babywearing, this is simply a quick reference guide.
Ø Stretchy Wraps- You see these in practically every chain store that you walk in to. Moby, K’tan, Happy Baby, Boba, (etc). These are long lengths of fabric that have a lot of stretch to them, like a tshirt when you pull on it with both hands. They can be pre-tied before going out, which can be especially nice when you are first learning and it takes you 30 minutes to get it situated before you leave the house! These types of carriers are generally inexpensive and are great for the beginning stages of babywearing with small infants. Many experienced babywearers have found that once their baby hits about 15lbs that their baby became too heavy for a stretch wrap and they were on the lookout for another carrier. Though many manufacturers state that the wraps can be used upwards of 35lbs, many caregivers find that the stretchy material begins to sag under the weight and it is difficult keeping the knot safely in place.
Ø Ring Slings- These can be made from either machine woven or hand woven wrap material. The former, because it can be mass produced, will be less expensive [Q1] than their handwoven counterparts. These can be used immediately, just as the stretchy wraps, but unlike the former, they can be used well into the toddler stages. They consist of less fabric and vary in texture, depending on the materials used. They will not, however, have the same stretch that the aforementioned wraps have. They are easy to haul around and comfortable while wearing. You can find these on many Buy/Sell/Trade groups on Facebook or directly from companies and manufacturers, such as Marsupial Mamas, Natibaby, or Tekhni Wovens, to name a few well known places/brands.
Ø Wraps- here is where things get a little more technical. Wraps come in varying lengths and fabrics. They also come in an array of beautiful colorways, patters, and designs. The first rule with buying a wrap (or anything that you intend to babywear in) is to make sure that it is aesthetically pleasing to you. It sounds trivial, but it is very important. After all, you are not likely to wear things that you think are ugly and getting a great deal on an ugly (to you) wrap is a waste of money if you are not inclined to wear it after the fact. Secondly, sizes. You will need to figure out what kind of wrapping you’d like to do. Will you want to go out for long periods of time in it or just for quick, short trips? If the former, then you will probably be more comfortable in a longer size. If the latter, then a shorter size will work well for you. This is where a local group really comes in handy. They tend to have ‘Libraries’ that have many different sizes of wraps/carriers that you can test out, to see what will suit your needs best. It is a great option when you aren’t looking to put forth a lot of money when you are unsure of what you will like. Also, many of the caregivers in the group are usually more than happy to let you take their wraps for a test drive! Then there are fibers. All cotton blends are the most common and easiest to maintain when it comes to washing instructions. But there are many others- wool or wool blends, tencel blends, repreve blends, linen and linen blends, cotton and cotton blends, etc. The list can go on, each with their own advantages and disadvantages, depending on your criteria (what is easiest to wash? What sells quickly? Would I want to get this wet or muddy? Etc.) Starting out with 100% cotton is usually the best way to go for anyone beginning their wrapping journey and wanting to make sure that wrapping is the right choice for them and their little one.
Ø Mei Tai- This type of carrier has the adaptability of a wrap but with a panel and hip belt structure like a soft structured carrier (SSC). It tends to lift the child higher on the back, versus the low sitting backpack style of an SSC. It is also a great option for expecting moms, as it can easily be tied off above the belly, taking pressure away from the pelvis. A very simple version can be bought from some stores such as the Infantino brand from Target, or fancier ones such as the Fidella Fly Tai can be purchased off-line or from local boutiques.
Ø Soft Structured Carriers (SSCs)- These are probably the most well-known type of carrier on the market today. You can walk into Target, Buy Buy Baby, and Babies R Us and walk out with a ‘clip carrier’. They resemble an odd backpack full of webbing, buckles, and fabric that may seem at once more familiar and comforting than anything else on the list. After all, who didn’t carry a backpack at one point in their lives? All of these come with instruction manuals and very easy to use. Any “store line” brands such as Ergo and Boba are a great value buy and both are sturdy enough to last through multiple children. They do not, however, hold a resale value and you can usually find them on sale for half of their new-in-package price on a Buy/Sale/Trade group, on Craigslist, or at local garage sales. There are other companies that fall into ‘high end’ carriers, such as Tula and Jublii, that are going to cost a little more and can usually sell later for a market value higher than the purchase price! Whichever brand of SSC that you get, they are easy to adjust for anyone in the family to help out wearing your little one.
Ø “Other” carriers- there are other types of carriers that are not quite as well-known but are equally loved and amazing. Onbus, podaegis, and even a muslin blanket can be used for babywearing! Once you dive in, finding different styles, fabrics, and prints (etc) can become very addicting!!
While this is not an all-inclusive list of ‘whats’ or ‘how-tos’, it is at the very least a starting point for anyone mildly interested in giving babywearing a try. It can be fun and discouraging, highly entertaining and sweat inducing, and at the end of the day you can look back on your adventures with wonder, remembering those little neck hugs from behind and watching that little face snuggled against your chest fast asleep. It is an experience that can be born out of convenience or a suggestion for helping a NICU preemie thrive (known as Kangaroo Care). There are many reasons for why, just as there are many types of carrier and the ways that they can be worn. Whatever your reason and however you choose to carry, the experience will bring you your own stories and you may just find yourself telling another caregiver about it at the grocery store. J