I stepped into the Wear Conference (an offshoot of Mommycon) a few weeks ago without a clue of what the term “Babywearing” actually meant. Was it really as simple as it sounded: literally wearing your baby? I had even less of an idea of what the “Babywearing Community” was outside of hashtags on Instagram or Facebook from my friends who seemed to be way more in the know on such things, which, if you’ve ever met me, should not come as any sort of shock.
Was I actually part of the Babywearing Community and I had no idea? My son is now 20 months old and I have an Ergobaby carrier I used fairly frequently, and still sometimes use to this day, so does that count? Am I “in,” and I had no idea of my “in-ness” all these months? Or to be considered part of the “Babywearing Community” did I need a special handmade custom wrappy-carrier-thingy and go to meetings? Did my use of the words “wrappy-carrier-thingy” automatically disqualify me? I was bewildered, and instead of leaning into my innate awkwardness and giving up (as I am want to do in such situations), assuming I was on the “outside” of the crowd, I dove headfirst and finally asked the questions I had always wanted to ask. I came away with what I am now calling “Babywearing 101: Babywearing For The Rest of Us.”
Lesson 1: Why wear your baby at all?
Generally I found asking five people this question yielded 10 answers, but the number one reason boiled down to just one word: hands.
Before you become a parent–and probably after you haven’t had a baby in the house for a while–it’s easy to forget what it’s like to not have full use of your hands. It’s no secret that babies need to be held, but what happens when your baby needs to be held for a while and all those dishes everyone said could wait can simply no longer wait? What if you have an older child who needs you, too? Carriers allow you the use of (gasp!) both hands while your baby feels safe and warm and snuggly inside. There is ongoing research as to other benefits such as colic relief, bonding, reducing flat head syndrome and others as well, but those topics are covered in the Babywearing 201 course, and today we are here for the intro.
Almost every parent who bought a baby carrier has a picture of themselves the first time they discovered the use of both arms again. It’s the same pose: both arms outstretched overhead, making a human ‘X’, showing off this sudden freedom they found.
The one thing to remember? No matter your reason or your frequency of wearing a baby or toddler, there is no wrong answer for why you’re wearing a baby or toddler.
Lesson 2: Types of baby carriers
When I became pregnant I was vaguely aware that baby carriers existed. I saw the section in Buy Buy Baby, did some online review searching and registered for a wrap and an Ergobaby classic with an infant insert. I didn’t know there was more research to be done, and I definitely should have put half the amount of effort into finding the right baby carrier as I did my stroller.
It actually wasn’t until I actually went to the Wear Conference did I learn there were, essentially, four categories of baby carriers, with plentiful options and price ranges in each of them.
Soft structured carrier (SSC)
Arguably the most popular of babywearing devices, soft structured carriers are probably more “industrial” than their other counterparts because they come together with buckles instead of ties. Many times SSCs are referred to by their brand name (much like how many people call tissues Kleenex). Big hitters in the SSC world are Baby Bjorn, Ergobaby and Tula, though there are many, many, many more. SSC’s typically have padded shoulder straps, buckles and can often be used into toddlerhood. Most of these can be used by all adults who wish to carry the baby as the buckles make the SSCs almost infinitely adjustable to all sizes.
No two SSCs are alike, but have lasting power through the years. Some things to think about when considering an SSC are:
What positions would I like my baby to sit in? (Would you like them to sit out as well as in? Back and front?)
What is the minimum weight and size for the baby to use this carrier? (Some SSC’s might require an infant insert for a little while.)
What is the maximum weight and size of the baby/toddler to use this carrier?
How easy is this to adjust and trade between family members?
Unfortunately, there is no one-SSC-fits-all solution. Some SSC’s will simply feel better than others on your particular body. Be sure to try them out, if you can.
Your crunchy hippie friend’s babywearing device of choice, a babywearing wrap is essentially a very long piece of soft fabric that, just like the name implies, wraps around the parent in various ways and configurations. These are typically seen more with the younger (lighter) babies, as they can keep newborns in safe, cuddly positions, are infinitely adjustable (as you are adjusting it every time you wear and re-tie it) and are very, very soft. Many times these do not translate to later toddler years as the babies become too heavy for the soft fabric to support well, especially if the fabric is quite stretchy. The learning curve on using these can be steep, and you might need a different-sized wrap for each member of the family if there are large differences.
If you’re looking for the wrap feel but don’t quite dig the long pieces of fabric, you can also try the Baby K’Tan, which takes all the functionality of the wrap and streamlines it into an incredibly easy put-on process.
If soft structured carriers are the Jets and wraps are the Sharks, mei tai (pronounced “may-tie”) carriers are Maria and Tony’s forbidden love child. Mei tai’s take the ergonomics of the SSC and combine it with the softness and tying abilities of the wraps. Traditionally mei tais are a large piece of fabric with straps coming out of all four corners to tie around in different configurations (i.e., no buckles), but recent developments have made them even more of hybrids. Options with padded shoulders are now available. These are easily tradeable between wearing family members, but do have a higher learning curve than an SSC. Mei tais can be found by many makers such as Chimparoo or Infantino.
Ring slings are deceptively simple contraptions, but ask anyone who has used one and they sing more praises than the cast of “Glee.” Ring slings are large pieces of fabric with hemming around two proprietary rings. The fabric is pulled through the rings, and can be adjusted to each wearer’s comfort. These are particularly well-liked in the summer as they do not have as much fabric looping around the wearer’s body as the other three options. Ring slings might not fit all wearing members of the household (like the wraps) and the learning curve on proper carrying positions can be steeper, especially for the littlest babies. There are a true multitude of options in the ring sling world, but some are available by Maya Wrap and Tula.
Lesson 3: Learning more
If there is one thing I learned about babywearing it is that there is a lot more information and options than I ever thought possible. The good news is that you don’t have to attend an entire conference to learn more! Babywearing International has chapters all over country, and potentially one closer to home than you know. Even better news? You don’t have to know anything to go! (I know this because I asked. Repeatedly.) Often babywearing groups even have these magical things called “lending libraries,” where you can try, get tips on and even borrow different carriers before making a decision. They have the real intel, and love to divulge their secrets. They also aren’t there to pressure or make you feel guilty about other parenting decisions you’ve made (I know this because I asked repeatedly about this as well), in case you’re as afraid of that as I was.
It turns out that babywearing really is as simple as wearing your baby. The “Babywearing Community” is really just made up of parents looking to talk to other parents who happen to also want use of two hands at once. And when you think of it, I think that’s really just all of us, which isn’t that scary at all.