The one question I am asked far more often than any other is “which carrier is the most popular?” And its usually asked with no assessment of needs from a carrier, just simply which ONE and only is the best, is the most popular.
And I completely understand the reasoning behind asking this question – we are all highly developed social and essentially pack animals, so its very natural that whenever we are considering anything new we ask those around us for their experiences. What did they use? What did they find helpful? And as we are doing this we are gauging popularity, we are looking for trends among our friends and family members coming up with the same or similar answers and using this as a guide to help us decide what might work for us. While in the past this might have been limited to speaking to those around us, with family and social units becoming more and more geographically spread, we are increasingly turning to the internet as a readily available searchable source of advice or referral in our gauging what is the 'most popular' and/or best.
This is in fact a really great way to shop for a washing machine. You can read the reviews online, talk to people you know and come away with a really good idea of the brands you trust, are in your budget and are likely to work for you.
It doesn't work as well for buying a baby carrier. And I'll tell you why....
Firstly much of the data online is flawed! There are a number of 'lists' online that purport to tell you which carriers are the best. But when you look at them closely it turns out are written by an editor with a journalism background and come solely from this editors experiences going to baby shows and being sent samples and so are of course biased toward the companies who can afford the avenues to reach her and have the biggest advertising budgets. In many cases the journalist covering baby carriers is the same one covering prams and car seats, they have no specialism or training or maybe even experience in baby wearing. These lists don't represent the experiences of many parents – so a piece of data are a bit flawed.
There are lists based on 'voting' but those voting may have only ever tried one thing. I can't tell you how many times a parent has told me their carrier is great, but their baby is really heavy and then they try on something else (something that fits their body better) and they are amazed. One such mother once said to me “WOW, I didn't realise I wasn't comfortable. But I wasn't, this is so much better, my 12 kg son is almost weightless! I'd have never thought that possible.”
If you are interested in a list that takes into account of a broader range of experiences, please check out the UK Sling Libraries and Babywearing Consultants list here. Which was compiled by surveying well over 100 different sling libraries from all over the country, taking into account all their hires over a one year period. So this represents a huge sample size and covers a large geographic and demographic spread of the population. And, most importantly it concerns which carriers were hired or bought after taking advice from that library... so each parent had the chance to see and try several carriers before making a well informed decision (and not simply voting following only having tried just one carrier).
But even armed with a better list like the one above ... does knowing what the most popular carrier is actually help you to find the right one for you?
The answer to this was really crystallised for me by an experience I had back in February, when I had two consults with in 2 days of each other. Both couples were first time parents with similar aged babies and both had started their search for a baby carrier by going to John Lewis and asking for advice. The first couple had a carrier that one of them was really struggling to use. I helped both build confidence with this carrier but ultimately while it fit the dad well, it was simply too big for the mum and all the adjusting in the world couldn't get it any smaller. The result was the carrier gave her back pain if she used it for any length of time. This is when they told me they'd been to John Lewis in Central London and been told this carrier was their best seller and the best money could buy. They weren't invited to try it on (despite this store having testers available for this), simply told this was the best and this correlated with experience of others they knew. It was sad to see, because I know there are other options that would work better for them as a family, but they'd already spent all that money and they simply didn't want to buy another carrier, they were left with something that was completely useless for at least one of them, and as I said goodbye to them I knew the mum wouldn't carry her daughter going forward.
The second consult, 2 days later, was the complete opposite story. They'd been to John Lewis in Kingston while pregnant and received really excellent advice. The sales partner had talked them through the pros and cons of several carriers, got the testers out and invited them to try each of them on. That expectant couple walked out with a different carrier and when I met them they absolutely loved this carrier and used it every day – mum, dad and even granny all used this carrier. They came to me for a consult simply because they were looking for something less bulky to use around the home. They told me how much a difference baby wearing had made for them and how happy they were to have got that advice in store.
Both these couples started their searches in this how to buy a washing machine way, going to stores and asking in terms of popularity and 'best'. The answer they got to these questions made all the difference in the world. In the first couples instance they were given the literal answer, which made no account for their individual needs but did answer the question asked! While the second couple were much luckier, they got someone who helped them make an decision based on their individual needs.
What I really took away from this (and many other similar stories I could bore you with...) is that simply knowing which carriers are the most popular is not necessarily helpful and in fact can even hinder you finding the right carrier for you.
So if we shouldn't shop for baby carriers the same way as we shop for washing machines... how should we shop for a baby carrier?
- Like a pair of jeans! - a baby carrier is much more like an item of clothing ... it needs to fit your body and fit babies body. So the only way to tell if it does this is to try it on! This is particularly important for buckle style carriers where each brand has made assumptions about your body shape and sewn the straps and buckles etc at particular angles accordingly. Padded particular bits differently. So different brands will simply fit different people better than others. So while your neighbour might swear her sling is the best in the world, just as her jeans might not fit you... her carrier might not be the best for you.
- Maybe like looking for a new home? - bear with me! This might seem like a bit of a leap... but just like finding a new home a carrier needs to be right for your family. Right for your budget and right for your lifestyle and able to grow with your little ones! Like hunting for a home, a great way to shop for a sling is to make a list of wants then go see a professional - a sling library or consultant - who will help match up your needs with the right carrier. (Although, in this analogy I guess I am comparing sling consultants to estate agents and I'd really like to think all baby wearing consultants in the country are better at their jobs than any of the estate agents I have ever met!! But you get the idea!). And just like with homes, the baby carrier for you - that fits your family the best - might not be what you originally assumed you'd like most when you were just browsing on the internet.