Well Rounded Birth Prep

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Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Babywearing FAQ

I get this type of email a lot: "I need some advice on babywearing and types of carriers. I know you're an expert so any advice or references would be appreciated!!" I have so much to say about babywearing that I will have to break it down into chunks of several blogs.

One great site for comparing different styles, brands, and functions of slings/carriers is The Baby Wearer.

Babywearing Safety Facebook fan page is an excellent resource for positioning tips and other necessary safety tips. They have lots of links on safe positioning with various carriers.

There's more to baby positioning than this, but if I could tell you 2 quick laws for newborn positioning, they would be:

1. Baby's head should ALWAYS be close enough to kiss. This ensures that he is close enough for you to observe his breathing and that his airways are unobstructed.

2. Never allow baby to be in the chin-to-chest position, which can cause positional asphyxiation. You should be able to tuck (at least) two adult fingers between baby's chin and chest when baby is properly positioned.

Here's a quick video on safe positioning for newborn. It's shown with a ring sling but applies to all carriers for newborns.

The proper physiological position for a newborn is vertical between his mother's breasts. This helps them assimilate neurologically and benefits breastfeeding. Researchers have noted that cradle or other positions for newborns can confuse them and even potentially cause breastfeeding problems. Here's an excellent article outlining the physiology of proper babywearing positioning regardless of brand of carrier:

Babywearing: Safe Positioning

Love that link.

As for my personal preferences, I own 8 slings of various styles/brands, depending on the function & my outfit.

For newborn, I recommend a soft, stretchy wrap such as Moby Wrap, Sleepy Wrap, or Cuddly Wrap.

I don't know whether or where I have photos of me wearing our littlest one in our stretchy wrap when she was an infant, but here's one of my midwives, Jennifer Stewart, wearing Baby K in my stretchy wrap when K was 3 months old. (She's more than a midwife; she's my friend!)

One alternative to the stretchy wrap is a hybrid that's similar in function but fitted (not adjustable, must buy your tight fitted size) so it doesn't require wrapping: the Baby K'Tan. Personally, I do prefer the adjustability and versatility of a traditional wrap sling, but I realize that some parents are intimidated by wrapping one. That's when a Baby K'Tan is handy.

Stretchy wraps' websites say they are safe until 3 y.o. or so, which is true, but they are really not comfortable beyond 20 lb or so (in my humble opinion). The soft, T-shirt type of material stretches w/ the weight & doesn't provide as much support as a soft structured carrier (like an Ergo) does at that point.

For newborn stage through 4-6 months, I *love* a stretchy wrap. It has a teeny tiny learning curve, but worth it. I could teach you how to wrap it in 2 min or less. Easy to wrap & tie before you even leave the house & leave tied & throw your coat on over it & slide baby inside once you arrive at your destination. You don't have to untie/retie to get baby in & out.

Stretchy wraps also should never be used for back carry, despite what their websites say. This 56 second clip shows why.

Woven wraps, on the other hand, ARE safe for back carry (or front carry, for that matter). Here's a 58 second clip showing why woven wraps are secure with baby on back in the same scenario as above.

Some examples of a woven wrap are the GypsyMama Wrapsody and Ellaroo's wrap.

Here's my sister-in-law safely wearing her toddler on her back (Tibetan tie) in a woven wrap while pregnant with her littlest one.

On a side note, are you aware that baby car seats are now warned only to use *in* cars, not as carriers out and about? They put babies at risk of low oxygenation & shouldn't be used as stroller systems and the like.

Infant safety in car seats and carriers

Here's one on other reasons to leave the car seat in the car:

Car Seats Are For Cars (Mothering Magazine)

My favorite sling/carrier overall is the Ergo, hands-down for comfort for long term (many hours straight babywearing) from newborn thru toddler years. It distributes baby's weight comfortably across both shoulders, around the hips via a padded waist belt, and across the back. It's safe for newborn when used w/ the extra infant insert or you can use receiving blankets to make a pocket of sorts so he/she doesn't slide down. It can be used without the infant insert around 15 lb or so. It's super easy to nurse from, while walking around, hands-free, without anyone seeing. It's so ergonomic (thus the name). It's safe thru 45 lb. Browse my Facebook photos and you will see Baby K in my chocolate brown Ergo in 90% of the photos. It's for front carry, back carry, or hip carry. If it tells you anything, it's the carrier that the Duggar family uses for their babies.

Here is a pic of me w/ Baby K in my Ergo (she's 15 months old here) and Trebor with her son in a Tre'Slings ring sling (and our friend Connie--hi, Connie!) at Chuck E. Cheese, chasing our older kids hands-free.

Other brands that offer a soft structured carrier similar in style to an Ergo are BabyHawk's Oh Snap!, Beco's Gemini (but NOT their Butterfly carrier, which has an internal harness and makes breastfeeding difficult while wearing baby in the carrier), and Boba Baby Carrier.

For a dressy sling (church, weddings, Christmas parties, graduations, baby showers, funerals, etc.), multi-purpose everyday sling, and for my water sling (pool, the beach, water park, hot summer days), I recommend ring slings from one of my best friends, Trebor Sutler. She's a SAHM who homeschools her 4 kids and makes these slings on the side. You can see pics of me wearing Baby K in her slings on her fan page under Fan Photos. Trebor's slings are top quality. The rings are safe for baby to teethe on, in addition to the superior sling craftsmanship. You can see comparison pricing from Sakura Bloom ring slings; a sling that Trebor charges $50-60 for would cost double that at Sakura Bloom. Trebor will ship your sling order anywhere.

Tre'Slings Facebook Fan Page

Ring slings are easy-on, easy-off, which makes them great for popping baby in and out when running errands. It folds very small, so it's easy to keep in your diaper bag for when baby *might* do OK sitting in the grocery cart, but will probably want out and want held in 10 minutes. It's very easy to nurse discreetly from a ring sling. Ring slings are adjustable, which makes them useful for more than one wearer of different builds/sizes. There is very little learning curve with a ring sling. They are quick and easy to use.

Here I am wearing Baby K in my cotton Tre'Sling:

My mesh water sling by Tre'Slings, pictured below, has been a lifesaver. Baby K *lived* in my water sling for our entire beach vacation last summer (when she was 9 months old). We also use it every time we take our kids to our local pool because our pools forbid anything inflatable, including swim wings and baby boats. This means that unless you have a Tre'Sling water sling, you have to either stay on the sidelines with your baby or hold a squirming, wet baby in your arms while in the water while trying to tend to your older kids. With my Tre'Slings water sling, I can actually manage to take our 4 kids ages 7 and under to the pool by myself!

Here's a beautiful photo of Kelly Moles wearing her beautiful baby girl in a Tre'Slings dressy sling at a formal ball. Don't you just love this pic?

Mei Tai carriers, also called Asian style carriers, are another very comfortable option. They are similar in feel and function to Ergo (front or back carry) but with ties instead of buckles. They can be used from newborn through toddler (30-35 lb). You can nurse from them, but a bit more effort: you must untie, reposition baby, then retie, as opposed to quick loosen-tighten strap with Ergo (then reverse the process when finished nursing, untying and retying).

BabyHawk makes top quality Mei Tai carriers from trendy fabrics.

Trebor (Tre'Slings) has made several gorgeous Mei Tais as well. They take longer to make than ring slings, so she doesn't advertise them, but may make them custom order. You can also find many beautiful Mei Tais on Etsy.

Here's my friend Lynette Berger's Facebook fan page for her WAHM business, Designs by Lynette (who made my dressy Mei Tai).

She makes gorgeous, quality Mei Tais. Mei Tais are supremely comfortable when made with a cotton woven fabric. I picked a fabric that was well suited to a ring sling (like the photo above of the red ring sling) but isn't well suited to a Mei Tai. It wasn't her fault; I picked it. That kind of dressy, silky fabric looks & feels great on a ring sling, but due to the Mei Tai straps, the silky fabric digs. Lynette is a great option for ordering a Mei Tai carrier, and has photos of several she has made. Her workmanship is the highest quality, and her fabrics are gorgeous. My pics are in her fan photos, too.

Here I am at a Christmas party wearing Baby K (at 13 months) in my dressy Mei Tai made by Lynette.

One popular carrier is the pouch sling (brands such as Hotsling and New Native Baby Carrier). While they *can* technically be used safely for newborns, I don't recommend them because most versions are not adjustable (unlike a ring sling which is similar in shape but infinitely adjustable for perfect fit) and thus are far more difficult to properly position your newborn. Especially for newborns, proper positioning to ensure an unobstructed airway is essential. Pouch slings can be useful for an older baby or toddler (4 months or older through 30 lb or so) in a hip carry position. They fold so compactly that they are about the size of a diaper, so they're great to take with you in the diaper bag when you're not sure whether your toddler will want up or down. Most versions are not adjustable for size, however, so keep that in mind if you want a carrier that more than one adult can use.  Here's me carrying my son in hip carry in a New Native Baby Carrier pouch sling when he was 20 months old. Personally, I have used my pouch sling exclusively for about 1 year old through 3 years old for the hip carry position.

Please remember that bag style baby carriers were recalled and are always unsafe. Even if someone gives you one for free, please throw it away. They are the equivalent of sticking your baby in a duffel bag and hanging it over your shoulder. They put baby in danger of positional asphyxiation (chin-to-chest position restricting airway) as well as re-breathing carbon dioxide from the fabric obstructing baby's face. There is no way to safely wear a baby in these unsafe carriers. Here's an article showing what a bag style carrier is and why it's dangerous.

I also do not recommend "crotch-dangler" style baby carriers such as Baby Bjorn, Snugli, some Infantino carriers and other similar ones. These are not ergonomic for the parent or for the baby. For the baby, it can put undue pressure on the spine and just feel uncomfortable in general. For best spinal support, newborns' legs should be in the fetal position in slings, and older babies' legs should be in the "M" shape position with knees higher than bum (as described by this babywearing article).

As for mom or dad's back, "crotch-dangler" front carriers leave baby's legs hanging straight down. This pulls the child's weight away from the parent's body, causing unnatural strain on the parent's back and shoulders. Quality baby carriers position the baby/child in a similar position to one you would use when you carry him or her in your arms, and at the same height as you would carry him or her.

Allow me to demonstrate the difference.

When properly positioned, look how my daughter's weight is distributed evenly around my body, close to my center of gravity, with her legs wrapped around my waist (as they would be with any of the carriers I advocated above). Her legs are in the "M" shape (well, close to it--they would be in "M" shape if she were in an actual carrier as opposed to my arms).

Now compare that photo to the one below, which mimics the position of a front carry "crotch dangler" carrier. Look how her weight is pulled away from me, throwing off my center of balance as well as putting much strain on my back and shoulders.

Worse yet, the next photo mimics front-facing position with a "crotch-dangler" carrier such as a Baby Bjorn. If you thought the last photo looked uncomfortable, wait until you see this! I don't know how or why people carry their babies like this!

OK, that oughta get you started. ;-) Let me know when you've browsed all that and have more questions.

I was not paid in any way to give this review of baby carriers. The opinions stated are my own. There are many other brands of baby carriers that offer safe, quality carriers. I don't have the time or energy (or space) to list them all; this is a sampling. Baby K'Tan did provide a sample carrier for parents to try on in my Well Rounded Birth Prep babywearing classes. I paid full price for all my other carriers.

Do you have babywearing questions? Email me at wellroundedbirthprep (at) gmail (dot) com and I'll answer your question on my blog.

Edited to add:

"Strollers, baby carriers, and infant stress" is a fantastic article explaining why babywearing is what baby expects and needs biologically, physically, emotionally, and neurologically, while artificial baby carriers (strollers, car seats, swings, bouncy seats) should be used sparingly. Lots of photos, including baby's head molding as a result of spending too much time lying flat in a crib or in a car seat instead of being held.


  1. Great Job..and a Great overview of Babywearing in Various Babycarriers. Even though I make ringslings, I have several different carriers for different occasions. I loved my cuddly wrap when my baby was a newborn. I used my Mei Tai's here and there, but found it more difficult to nurse in them. I have used my ringslings the most and found it easiest to nurse in them. I also really love my new Ergo, that has been very handy with longer shopping trips and even walks. It is very comfortable and I have been able to nurse in it as well. Even though I make and sell ringslings, I tell people that babycarriers are like shoes...you can never have too many and you need different ones for different occasions.

  2. I love both the Moby and GypsyMama! Both have been life savers. GypsyMama also has one for water wear.

  3. Great overview of babywearing! I loved my mei tai. The major benefit (for me) of my homemade mei tai vs. the ergo and various other commercial styles that mimic it, was that I was able to be completely self sufficient. Once I learned how to properly position the baby and the straps, which was really easy, I didn't have to ask someone to help me buckle the straps or anything, like many of my friends who've used the ergo or similar brands did. Plus, I really didn't have any more difficulty nursing in my mei tai than I experienced in any style of sling. Plus, I love supporting WAHM like Trebor who make slings rather than paying more money for a commercial one. :-) I also loved my wrap sling. I especially loved that a wrap sling can be made, without sewing, at home for pennies on the dollar vs. what you might pay for a brand name like the Moby. Just my $0.02!


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