If I could, I’d shout it from the rooftops- “Wear all of the babies!” I’m a big fan of babywearing and the benefits that come from it. Babywearing is using the practice of using a type of carrier, or cloth, to hold a baby close to the body. Babywearing has been practiced across cultures around the world for hundreds of thousands of years. As long as people have had babies, they’ve found ways to carry their infants using materials available such as animal skins, plants, natural materials. It is important to note that babywearing is not a modern or Western phenomenon and has been practiced by indigenous people globally. There have been long periods of time where babywearing was pushed to near eradication due to colonization and forced racial assimilation. Babywearing regained popularity in Western cultures in the ’80s and ’90s with an even larger resurgence in the past decade.
Babywearing is great for several reasons. Allowing you to be hands-free might be my favorite reason of them all. It allows you to get some freedom back to your day while simultaneously soothing your baby. They get the comfort of being held close to your warm body while you get the freedom to do what you need (eat, errands, tidy up, take a phone call, tend to other kids). Babywearing is also age appropriate tummy time. Rarely have I met a baby that enjoys being placed on their tummy on the floor. By wearing them in a supportive carrier, you are allowing them the safety and freedom to develop their neck muscles and head control. Babies find comfort when held snuggly next to a warm body because they feel supported, safe, and regulated by breathing sounds and heartbeat. Babywearing also can allow for easy breastfeeding on the go. Certain carriers are better than others for breastfeeding but it can be achieved in all carriers with a little practice (I’ve personally done it in all of the many carriers that I own and used with my own son). Babies who are carried close to the body have been shown to cry less and be more alert. Babies who are carried also spend more time looking at their caregiver’s face and have been shown to be more adept at reading expressions, leading to greater social and verbal development.
There are a few things to consider when deciding if babywearing is right for you. Often overlooked, is your own personal healing journey after birth. No matter how you delivered, your pelvic floor is impacted by pregnancy. For some, birth may impact the pelvic floor muscles even more due to prolonged periods of pushing, perineal tearing/ episiotomy, and cesarean births. If you feel heaviness or pressure in your vagina or perineum, hold off on babywearing until this has been addressed by your OB/Midwife or a pelvic floor specialist. Be mindful of cesarean incision healing and hold off until the incision has healed. I have found that certain carriers, particularly those that wrap around the waist, put more pressure on the pelvic floor than those that do not. When I was in the early days of postpartum, I preferred a wrap or ring sling that did not put undue pressure on my pelvic floor.
Another consideration is baby’s size and the carrier choice. Many have a minimum weight limit, often around 8 pounds, so be sure that you check manufacturer specifications before you begin. Be mindful of baby’s positioning in the carrier to ensure safety. I often see young babies facing out in a carrier when they do not yet have proper head and neck control. Babies 6 months and under should face in until they are able to control their head and neck on their own. Facing out is also more stimulating than facing in, so being aware of your baby’s needs is important.
TYPES OF CARRIERS
There are 5 main types of carriers that you will come across most often.
BUCKLE CARRIERS are the most common because people find them easy to use from the start and are the ones you’re most likely familiar with seeing. They buckle around the waist and have 2 arm straps that go around the shoulders. It’s a bit like a front-facing backpack. A buckle carrier allows you to make adjustments to fit around the waist and shoulder straps and can be easily adjusted if sharing the carrier with another caregiver. Buckle carriers can be used for front and back carries and may be a comfortable option for longer wearing periods. It is possible to breastfeed easily in a buckle carrier. This type of carrier is best for an older baby with neck control but some may have infant inserts available for smaller babies (typically 7+ lbs).
Popular Brands: Ergo, Lille Baby, Tula Baby, Colugo
RING SLINGS are a long strip of fabric with a metal double ring on one end. The tail is threaded through the ring to create a sling that holds the baby. Ring slings can be used from infancy to toddlerhood. Ring slings are quite possibly the easiest carrier to breastfeed in, from my own experience. When not in use, they fold up nicely and can be tossed in a diaper bag until needed. I never traveled without a ring sling due to the ease of use and compact fold. Ring slings are great for front and hip carries. Ring slings are great for beginner baby wearers. I know they may seem intimidating (how the heck is your baby going to safely stay in there?!) I was most intimidated by using a ring sling and was the last one that I tried but once I did, there was no turning back. Ring slings place very little pressure on the pelvic floor but may cause some discomfort at the shoulders. I recommend changing which shoulder you use each time.
STRETCHY WRAPS are extra long, very stretchy fabric that is used to wrap around your body and then place the baby inside. They work best with young babies from about 7-20 pounds. Oftentimes I have found people hesitant to use their stretchy wrap because it may seem complicated to use at first but after some practice rounds, (I suggest using a stuffed animal!) confidence is easy to acquire. Stretchy wraps, like ring slings, can fold up very compact and make it portable. Stretchy wraps are best for front carries with baby facing in. Stretchy wraps can place some pressure on the pelvic or cesarean incision if tied tightly around the waist.
WOVEN WRAPS are extra long, non-stretchy piece of fabric that is used to wrap the baby on the wearer’s body. Baby is placed in the wrap prior to fully wrapping the fabric around the body. Woven wraps have a wide variety of ways to be worn and can be used for front, back and side carries. Woven wraps are appropriate for all sizes of babies and toddlers, depending on the wrap style.
MEI DAI is a traditional Asian carrier that looks similar to a soft structure carrier minus the buckles. Rather than having buckles to connect at the waist at arms, there are straps that must be tied. The body of the Mei Dei is a rectangular piece of fabric with 2 straps for the shoulders and 2 straps for the waist. Mei Dais can be easily shared with other caregivers as the straps need to be tied for each use, allowing a range of adjustability for comfort. This type of carrier can be used for front, back, and side carries and for babies up to toddlers.
Popular Brands: Didymos
Understanding and implementing basic safety is important for both baby and wearer. Here’s an easy acronym to remind you of each step.
Close enough to kiss
Keep chin off chest/ Knees
Tight carrier means that the carrier should be adjusted in a way that supports the baby’s body and holds them close to your own as if in an embrace.
Insight means that you should be able to see your baby’s face and airway at all times. Baby’s face and airways should never be obstructed by fabric, including your own.
Close enough to kiss means that you should be able to easily kiss the top of baby’s head without strain. They should be held high enough on your body to maintain this distance. As baby grows, you may need to adjust the carrier to maintain an appropriate distance.
Keep chin off the chest means that the baby’s chin and body are not curled down into a deep C shape. Very young babies are unable to lift their own heads up and when not supported properly, their airways may become obstructed. Keep your baby upright in a carrier with a 2 finger width space between neck and chin to maintain airways.
I like to add in Knees for K as well. The seat of the carrier should support baby from knee to knee, when legs are out, to form an M shape with the legs, knees and tush.
Supported back means that babies regardless of age and development should always have back support. Newborns naturally have a C curve to the spine that develops over time to an S. Never put undue pressure on the back to push it into a straighter shape. Make sure that the carrier is not too loose or too tight. I also like to note here that your own back support is important as well. Adjust the carrier to feel best on your own body. For stretchy and woven wraps, spread the fabric across the back for greater weight distribution.
FINDING THE RIGHT CARRIER FOR YOU
There is no one carrier that works universally for every baby and adult. If you have access to a babywearing lending library or store that’s a great place to start. My favorite in NYC is The Wild. Every employee is trained in baby wearing and they have samples, along with various sized weighted dolls, to try on with expert guidance. Asking friends and family to let you borrow their carriers may be a great option as well before purchasing. There is a wide range in price points for carriers, with some trendy fashion brands in the thousands. Just because one brand is more expensive than another does not mean it is a better design. Try on a few different ones, if accessible, making adjustments to the fit to find the right one for you. And hey! Your baby may have a say in what they prefer as well so it’s a collaborative effort.
Always check the manufacturer specifications and directions before beginning use to ensure that your baby meets size requirements and that you know how to properly place your baby in the carrier safely. Just like anything new, it may seem intimidating at first, but with patience and practice, you’ll get the hang of it. Give yourself and your baby some test runs around the house before venturing out into the world. I have found that some babies take to carriers right away while others need more of an adjustment period. Once you find a carrier and fit that is right for you both, you’ll be hands-free, snuggled, and ready to go!