Yes, you need a stroller if you have a baby. But that stroller won't take you and your new sidekick to all of the places you want to go.
Parents have a dizzying array of options when it comes to wearing their babies, and it can be tricky to know where to start the process. However, once they find a baby carrier that works for both parent and child, families will find that they are free to explore places they may not have anticipated.
Why wear your baby?
Babywearing has numerous physical, logistical and emotional benefits. Ellen Sternweiler, mother of three and owner of Bellybum Boutique (bellybumboutique.com), has plenty of babywearing experience, both as a parent and a retailer. She wants new parents to know there are practical and ergonomic solutions out there.
Perhaps the most obvious advantage of babywearing is the ability to be hands-free. ™This is particularly useful when you are trying to wrangle multiple kids or when you have a baby who only sleeps when they are in movement and you need to get work done,∫ says Sternweiler.
Farrah Brown, a Wheaton mother of a 6- and 4-year-old, became hooked on the emotional benefits of babywearing while using a ring sling with her son.
"I just loved the feeling of holding him close and being able to cuddle and comfort him,"says Brown. "Plus, I truly believe in the advantages of having your baby close. Being physically close to mom and dad gives baby a quiet confidence to learn about his world."
In addition, babywearing oftentimes is just a better logistical choice than a stroller.
"Strollers just don't fit everywhere! They can be cumbersome, heavy and tricky to maneuver through crowded restaurants, sidewalks, stores, street festivals and other child-friendly places such as museums," Sternweiler says.
Choosing a carrier
When it comes to choosing which type of carrier works best for you, Sternweiler says there are a number of considerations to take into account.
"I recommend waiting until your child is born before choosing a carrier. Different carriers are better for different situations and different sized children. I wouldn't necessarily recommend the same carrier for a 5-pound baby as I would for a 10-pound newborn."
Also, consider whether you only want your child facing you or whether you would like an outward facing option, she says. Wraps, while easy to master and more cost effective, tend to be warm.
"You want a carrier that distributes the weight of the baby evenly across your shoulder and loads the majority of the weight low and evenly on your hips. Avoid carriers that have no waist belt or support," she says.
Chicago mom Eva Ho bought an Ergo Baby carrier before her son was born, but she didn't find it comfortable to use and settled on a ring-style sling when her son was a newborn.
"The Sakura Bloom is my favorite brand. I have three of them and they are beautiful,"says Ho. After her son was about 9 months old, Ho switched to a mei tai style carrier because she felt it was more secure and she could wear her baby on either her front or back. She likes the BabyHawk carrier for larger children.
Ho advises first-time parents to try a variety of different carriers before making a purchase. At the Chicago Chapter of Babywearing International, she attended meetings and for a small deposit was able to try out various carriers.
Brown suggests borrowing a carrier or two from a friend or going to a store that will let you try a couple of styles to see what you like the best before you make the investment.
"Carriers that are one-size-fits-all (like ring slings or wraps or structured carriers) are easier to start out with since you can adjust as you go and not have to worry about getting the right size. Stretchy wraps and ring slings are great for newborns. Woven wraps, soft-structured carriers (like Ergo or Becco) and ring slings are my favorites for all ages,"says Brown.
Now where to?
"Before you use your carrier for an all-day trip to the city or the Shedd, wear your baby to the grocery store or a quick trip so you can get used to the feeling and make adjustments as necessary," Brown says. "I always wore my babies around the house, not just when we went out. Trying out a new carrier in your home will help give you the confidence to use it when you are out, too."
Ho has worn her now 3-year-old son to a variety of places, including Hong Kong. She recalls being able to eat in French restaurants while her newborn peacefully slept in his sling.
Ho believes carriers offer kids a better perspective than a stroller to actually see the attractions at destinations like the zoo, museum or aquarium.
"Using a sling or a carrier instead of a stroller allows you to move around in places that would be so difficult to navigate with a stroller like stores with tight aisles, public transportation, places with lots of stairs but few elevators such as museums," says Brown.
All experienced babywearers agree: there is nothing like having your baby close to you.
"Having your baby right by your face where you can just look down, touch, see, feel and smell their head and feel their breath is just one of the most delicious, special, fleeting moments you get to experience as a parent," Sternweiler says.
Caitlin Murray Giles is a full-time mother of three and part-time freelance writer living in Wicker Park.
See more of Caitlin's stories here.