Parenting is hard. Some moments it’s the absolute greatest, but then there are times where one kid is pouring soap on the floor, one is repeatedly flushing *something* down the toilet, and the baby is crying while you try to make a healthy dinner that they will inevitably refuse to eat because it’s not in the shape of a dinosaur. I have no advice for that, but there is something that can help soothe babies and keep toddlers out of mischief: babywearing!
The term babywearing is actually fairly new, originating with famed pediatrician Dr. Sears. The actual act of babywearing, however, has been going on for centuries across many cultures. The Mexican rebozo, African khanga, Inuit amauti, and Japanese onbuhimo to name a few.
Babywearing is popular for many reasons! Babies cry less, bond with their caregiver, and can turn away from over-stimulating situations. It can help with reflux; the caregiver is hands free, and it is exercise for the wearer! Now you can get back to that hobby of yours! I’m kidding. You’ll probably wash dishes or do laundry. But now you’re hands free AND snuggling baby while you do it!
Before we go any further, the most important thing to keep in mind is safety. The (now obsolete) group Babywearing International taught ABC:
Airway: Keep baby’s chin off their chest, their face in view at all times, and close enough for the caregiver to easily kiss.
Body positioning: The carrier should support baby in the manner determined by baby’s level of head/body control and muscle tone. Baby’s weight should be on their bottom with the legs in an “M” shape.
Comfort: Baby and the caregiver should both be comfortable! If not, try readjusting.
For help getting a better fit or any questions, the carrier manufacturer is a good resource. Also, although BWI dissolved, many chapters will continue under a new name and offer years of babywearing expertise!
Some other safety notes- generally, baby should be worn on the front of the caregiver until they’re able to sit unassisted. If you hear wheezing or grunting, take baby off and try again. Use a spotter or stand over a bed when you’re learning to use a carrier. Footie pajamas can scrunch toes, so stick with footless ones or size up. Lastly, no matter what you read on the internet, carriers don’t cause hip displacement. Some can aggravate a condition that’s already present though.
My top picks for a newborn are a ring sling or stretchy wrap. A popular example of a stretchy wrap is a Moby wrap. It’s generally a lower cost option and can be pre-tied on the caregiver and tightened after baby is in. These aren’t meant for backwrapping, can be hot in the summer, and while they are rated for higher weights, once baby reaches about 15 pounds, it can require frequent adjustments to keep baby high enough.
Ring slings are great for newborns and can be used through toddlerhood. They can be put on quickly, are easy to nurse in, and fold small enough to fit in a diaper bag or big coat pocket (can personally confirm). Some are sized, but they are generally a “one size fits most” carrier. Because baby’s weight is mostly on one shoulder, it can be uncomfortable to wear bigger toddlers if you’re not used to it. There are ring slings made for use in the water, too!
Woven wraps are wonderful for all ages, including newborns. It’s not my first recommendation for new parents because they already have a lot going on, and there’s a bit of a learning curve to wrapping. Wraps come in many different fabric types, are very versatile in how baby is worn, and some retain a decent resale value. They come in sizes since different lengths are used depending on the size of the caregiver and the type of carry. There are many helpful YouTube pages that teach different carries. Woven wraps also double as blankets, hammocks, capes, toddler burrito wraps…
Some Asian style carriers that have become popular here include the onbuhimo (Japan), meh dai (China), and podaegi (Korea). They generally use straps and a fabric panel. Depending on the design and manufacturer, they can be used for front and/or back carry, and some specify to only use with children that can sit unassisted. They may have rings, buckles, or ties. An onbuhimo with no waist strap is great for pregnant wearers.
If the baby section at Target is any indication, soft structured carriers have had a surge in popularity. Examples include Tula, Kinderpack, and Ergo among many others. They’re easy to use, fast to get baby up and down, baby’s weight is distributed on both shoulders, and they don’t need to be readjusted between uses. Most don’t fit newborn to toddler, although there are some exceptions like the Tule Free to Grow or Soul Anoona. Others use an infant insert that can be cumbersome. Some carriers allow baby to face outward, but this can be uncomfortable for the caregiver as baby gets bigger.
A fun hybrid carrier worth mentioning is the XOXO buckle wrap. Making a safe seat is as easy as buckling the waistband, then the wrap tails can be tied around baby in many different configurations. It can be worn in an inward facing front carry, with baby facing out, in a back carry, or on the hip.
Pouches can be hard to wear safely. There are so many other options on the market that I suggest skipping these.
Toddler law states that they will have an emergency as soon as you sit down to feed baby. Or maybe your schedule means some meals have to happen on the run. Most carriers and front wraps allow nursing with minimal adjustment. Establish a solid knowledge of the carrier as well as a good breastfeeding relationship before trying to nurse in a carrier. Always move baby back up into safe position after nursing, even if they’re asleep. This can be pretty discreet, as in the photo above.
Babywearing has so many benefits for both caregiver and baby! If you don’t know where to start, look for a local babywearing group or certified babywearing educator that can demo different carriers, help you get a good fit in your carrier, or work with special needs situations.
Emily Johnson teaches a Babywearing 101 class that introduces types of carriers and how they’re worn. She also hosts Cloth 101 classes that teach caregivers the benefits, types, care, and cleaning of cloth diapers, including troubleshooting problems. She’s a mother of four that likes long walks down the aisle at Target, microwaving coffee at least three times a day, and hiding in the bathroom with chocolate and a good book.
If you have any questions or want some help getting started, feel free to email Emily at HelpWithCloth@gmail.com.