FAQ – In search of a “easy” carrier… what are the easiest baby carriers?

Whenever I ask a parent what they want in a baby carrier, top of the list is always “something easy”.  Over the years I’ve had different ideas about what makes a carrier easy to use, or easier than other carriers.  I have come to the conclusion the biggest factor by far is not actually anything to do with the carrier or carriers in question but the parent’s personal experience and way in which their arms work.  

IMG_1080You see, over the years every time I would think oh this carrier is easier than this other, a parent would come along and find the opposite.  I had one hilarious sling library session a while back where parent A came in with a carrier that they found fiddly and difficult and so I suggested carrier B. Which they tried and adored and found soooo much easier and intuitive and then as they were trying this on and falling in love with it parent B walks in wearing carrier B, and says how difficult and fiddly they find carrier B and how its impossible and can they try something else.  You can probably guess the ending here … yep Parent B falls in love with Carrier A.  You see Carrier A just had buckles that flummoxed the first parent but made total sense to the second parent, while Carrier B had a strap the second one couldn’t reach but the first had no trouble reaching it and found this strap much more intuitively placed and much more secure.  Easiness is not a measurable parameter – it depends entirely on the individual and is not something that can be easily guessed by reading reviews. 

IMG_1116The only way to know if a carrier will be easy for you is to try it.  Don’t listen to marketing gumpf… actually try it! Check for yourself that you can reach the strap, that you can undo the buckles, that you can tighten in that direction, that the method for putting it on and taking if off actually works with how your arms like to do things … what feels right for you.

In fact, actively beware of slings that market themselves as being “easier”.  This ease often comes at a price.  For example, I have blogged before about the Baby K’Tan, which markets itself as being very easy with nothing to tie or adjust.  All of which is true but what it doesn’t tell you is that because you can’t adjust it, if it doesn’t happen by pure chance to fit your exact body shape perfectly, you’ll struggle to get a really comfortable safe carry out of it.  This is just one example (of many) of a sling where comfort has been sacrificed for ease!

IMG_1091The key I have found is to try 3, once a parent has tried 2 or 3 they can start to articulate what exactly they are finding easier about one over another then it becomes an easy task to pinpoint what is working for that individual.  This is where sling libraries and babywearing consultants come in, we have huge product knowledge and can easily spot these patterns once you’ve tried a couple of carriers on make recommendations to try based on what is suiting you personally.  We can show you different ways to put a carrier on, ones that aren’t in the manual but may well be easier for you, and we can help you gain confidence not only in using that carrier but also that your spending your money wisely on something that will actually work for you.  The easiest and best sling for you.

-Madeleine

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FAQ – How soon can I carry after birth? What if I had a Cesarean birth?

20161127_102248How soon after birth can I use a sling?

As soon as you feel able!  As soon as you feel able!  I’ve known parents to carry right from the first day if they’ve felt well enough to do so.  The important thing is to listen to your body – you’ve just given birth!  So do take it easy on your body and give yourself time to heal but if you feel strong enough to give it a go.  Go for it!

Just ensure the baby is worn “high and tight” so there is no pressure on your recovering pelvic floor.  What you are looking for is to have the baby high enough on your chest so that their ear is over your heart and/or the top of their head is close enough to kiss.  And then tight enough that if you leant forward the baby wouldn’t draw away from you significantly.  This tightness a) helps them feel more secure and prevents them slumping within the sling and b) it helps ensure the weight is evenly distrubted for you.  When a sling is too loose, the baby feels heavier and this extra pull often manifests as pressure on your core and pelvic floor – both of which have just had a heavy workout during birth and we want to ensure aren’t carrying the load… so being confident in getting that tightness just right is key!  This is definitely something that if your not sure about it is well worth seeking out a babywearing consultant or a sling library drop in session and just checking because nailing that tightness makes an absolute world of difference.

 

What if I had a cesarean birth?

The exact same rules apply – as long as the carrier is high and tight and not putting any pressure on your scar or core there is no reason not to carry.   It’s not like exercise you don’t have to wait for 6 or 12 weeks or any arbitarty point.  It’s quite simply when you feel ready and while I’ve definitely known parents who’ve felt ready a week or so after a section, I’ve known others whose recovery has taken longer and its been more like 5 or 6 weeks.

The one thing I would avoid is any carrier with a very heavy waist band at this point, but carriers such as the Caboo or stretchy wrap are absolutely perfect for those early days when you are still healing.

FAQ – How do you neatly fold up a buckle carrier?

I am often asked to share this trick! So here it is … no more unruly straps poking out of bags, nor large tangled messes that won’t even fit in the bag in the first place!!

  1. Start with the carrier laid out in front of you (on floor, sofa or on your knee)
  2. Fold the arm straps onto the top part of the carriers main panel
  3. Fold any head support and/or hood down over the arm straps
  4. Start rolling the panel down from the top down towards the waist band
  5. Close the waist band around the carrier, tightening as needed to hold

The carrier shown is the Beco Gemini, but this trick works with the vast majority of buckle carriers and not just this one.  It also works on some Meh Dai and half buckles too.

-Madeleine

The Myth of the “BAD” Carrier

At least a couple of times a month a parent comes in and says they have a Baby Bjorn or other narrow based baby carrier which they were using, perhaps not comfortably but happily using nonetheless, but now they are worried because they heard that it was “BAD”, “Bad for their babies hips” or even worse that it was “dangerous”.  Once a parent even dissolved into tears because they thought they’d damaged their baby.  As much as I love the internet, I really wish people would stop using it to scare parents.

It is well past time to bust the myth of the BAD carrier. Time and time again I hear sentences like “I’ve been told the Baby Bjorn is bad and only the Ergo holds baby correctly”.  While there are differences between narrow based carriers and more ergonomically designed wider based carriers (of which the Ergo is just one of a great many!)… the most important thing is baby positioning and NOT the carrier they are in.  It is more than possible to get good positioning in a narrow based carrier if you know what you’re looking for, equally if you simply plonk your child in even the most brilliant wide based carrier with no idea what you are looking for it is certainly possible to end up with a suboptimal carry.

 

So as a picture is worth a thousand words, let’s take a look at what I mean!  My models are the wonderful Cat and William, and William is just 8 weeks old in these pictures (albeit he is quite a tall 8 week old).  Looking first at a narrow based carrier – here we have used the Baby Bjorn Original carrier.

 

The first two pictures (on the left) were taken just plonking poor William in without paying any attention to his positioning.  Note how his legs hang straight down and this in turn pulls his spine straight.  This means he is bearing the weight of his legs and the weight of his body is resting on his upper thighs and crotch.  Developmentally his spine should be curved into a c shape so the carrier is currently artificially straightening him out.  None of this is dangerous, it’s just all less comfortable for him.  It’s also less comfortable for his Mum as all of his 6kg is resting solely on her shoulders and upper back only.

Now let’s compare this to the two pictures on the right.  Here we have thought carefully about William’s positioning, and how to achieve a better position for him.  First and foremost we have tucked his pelvis so that his weight is resting on his bottom and not on his inner thighs.  To do this Cat literally reached inside the carrier and swept downwards and toward herself to tilt his pelvis such that his bottom is right in the base of the carrier.  Then, because the carrier isn’t wide enough to continue to support him in this position (he could easily re-straighten from this point), we have used a scarf to support his legs in this “spread squat” position.  By supporting his legs so his knees are at least as high as his hips (or higher), he is bearing none of the weight of his own legs and all of his weight is resting quite comfortably on his bottom.  The other knock on effect of this more tucked position is allowing his spine to adopt its natural curved c shape and consequently bringing his head to rest comfortably on his mum’s chest.  The addition of the scarf seems like such a tiny change, but you can see from the photos what a massive difference it makes to how William’s body is positioned in the sling, and consequently to his comfort levels.  And not only his comfort, the scarf also helps give his Mum support at her waist helping to distribute baby’s weight better.

Now let’s take a look a wide based more ergonomic carrier.  Here we have used the newest Ergo model – the Ergo Omni 360.

Again the first two pictures (on the left) were taken just plonking William in, and generally putting the carrier on in the manor most parents do if they haven’t ever been professionally demonstrated a buckle carrier.  You will note the base of the Ergo Omni is much wider and thus William’s legs do not hang down.  But if you zoom in you will see his knees are pointing downward and his weight appears to be resting on his thighs rather than on his bottom.  Likewise, again his back has been artificially straightened out by the carrier.  In this has happened in part because his pelvis is not tilted toward his Mum, and partly because the waistband is too low with respect to Mum – which has ment baby is too low and due to this is straightened out as Mum tightens the straps.

 

By contrast, the two pictures on the right show optimal positioning.  Again we have performed a pelvic tilt – sweeping William’s pelvis toward his Mum so that he sits directly onto his bottom in the base of the carrier.  We have also raised the carrier’s waistband so that it sits on Cat’s true waist, rather than her hips.  The result is that we can see William’s legs are in a beautiful spread squat, weight is firmly on his bottom and not being carried in his hips or thighs and his back is once again in a beautiful c shape with his head resting comfortably on his mothers chest.  So much more comfortable.  And likewise Mum is more comfortable because, by having the carrier tight and on her true waist, William’s weight is transferred onto her hips.

Again small changes have made all the difference!

While I have shown just two carriers here, the same applies for literally any carrier on the market.  It matters less WHICH carrier you have versus HOW you are using it.  

Don’t get me wrong here – I am not suggesting we all go out and buy Bjorn Originals! There are big big differences between narrow and wide based carriers, in terms of how easy it is to get a great positioning for your baby and a comfortable carry for you.  And in terms of how long those carriers will last you.  Most narrow based carriers such as the Bjorn Original only really work from around 4-6 weeks until around 5-6 months after which they generally become too heavy and too uncomfortable even with the scarf trick.  Whereas the vast majority of wide based carriers will last well until around 2-3 years of age.  In fact you can just how well they fit a 3 year old here.  These wide based carriers do vary in terms of how well they fit a newborn, with many working best from 4-6 months but there are an increasing number on the market that do fit newborns well such as the Ergo Adapt, Ergo Omni, Izmi, Mamaruga Zen sling and Tula free to grow to name a few.  Hence I would always advise anyone purchasing a new buckle carrier to purchase a wide based carrier.

However, many people are given second hand carriers by friends, and often these are narrow based carriers such as the Bjorn Original (in fact, I would say nearly 50% of the time someone brings a sling that they have been given to one of my sessions its a Baby Bjorn Original!).  While I wouldn’t advise spending money on one of these, anyone who is given one shouldn’t feel bad using it.  Yes it won’t last as long as a wide based carrier, and yes it won’t be as comfortable for you as a wide based carrier but it does give you a flavour for carrying your baby!  Following the advice above will make it more comfortable for you and your baby and gives you time to see how carrying your baby works for your family and how it can help you and then you can spend the money on buying your own carrier safe in the knowledge this is something that you’d like to do!  In fact, I have worked with a great many parents who have used a newborn sling such as a stretchy wrap or a Caboo around the home for the fourth trimester period, then used a gifted Bjorn for a couple of months for out and about when their little one is starting to grow out of the stretchy or Caboo developmentally and then move onto a wide based buckle carrier around 5-6 months when baby fits into these better.  Moral of the story – used correctly with a little help from a scarf, a narrow based carrier can have a time and a place.

There is no such thing as a “Bad Carrier”, only poor positioning or a carrier that that doesn’t fit well.  No matter what carrier you have (or if you haven’t bought one yet) the best thing you can do, is go along to a sling library or visit your local consultant and get advice on how best to fit your carrier to you and baby.

-Madeleine

 

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The Facts about Forward Facing

Carrying babies forward facing (looking outwards toward the world) is something I get asked more questions about than anything else.  So many different questions on this topic.  The reason is simple – there is a lot of conflicting opinions on this and even more conflicting information.  A disturbing amount of this information comes from articles originally written by carrier manufacturers who either did or didn’t make forward facing carriers and was motivated by marketing. Very very little of it has any evidence to back it up.  So its no surprise that often parents are left pretty confused about whats best for them and their child.

So here are some of the questions I am asked and the facts to be aware of when deciding whats best for you and your little one;

Is forward facing dangerous? Nope.  There is absolutely no evidence to suggest forward facing your baby is in anyway dangerous, so long as they are developmentally ready and awake.  These carriers have all undergone safety testing – they simply would not have passed if there was evidence that forward facing could harm your baby.

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Rachel aged 7 months in the Ergo 360

The better question is – Is forward facing comfortable? While not remotely dangerous, its hard to get as comfortable position forward facing verses facing inwards.  Both for your child and for you.  For your child this is simply because the forward facing position in most carriers offers less support.  Less support for their legs, less support for their neck and upper bodies and as their backs are against you they are often slightly flattened out verses how they’d be either in arms or facing toward you.  None of this is dangerous, nor even uncomfortable in the short-term but but if worn for longer periods they might start to become less comfortable over time.  Think of it a bit like being in a rock climbing harness, completely fine for short periods you wouldn’t want to be in it all day every day.

For you the parent, forward facing is less comfortable as it puts the child’s centre of gravity further away from you.  We load bear best by holding weight high and tight to our own centre of gravity – when baby is inward facing the weight is held very close to our centre gravity.  In contrast, when facing forwards baby’s weight is held slight away and thus feels heavier and puts more strain on the parents body.  Again not a problem for shorter periods, and worth listening to your own body and reading babies cues when forward facing to ensure comfort levels on either side aren’t exceeded.

Is forward facing better for my child’s development?  Nope.  Again there is absolutely no evidence to support this at all.  I completely understand why people might think this would be the case, forward facing allows the child to look out and therefore perhaps ‘gain a better view’.  However, there is no evidence that this is helpful to a baby.  In fact there are several lines of research suggesting parent’s facial expressions are key in infant learning. This is called ‘social referencing’;  in new situations or experiences babies look to their parents or primary caregivers and watch their reactions first.  I.e. when someone picks up my daughter she immediately looks at me, if I smile she smiles and is happy to be held.  While if she can’t see me or I don’t smile she immediately cries.  She is using me as a touchstone to reassure her in this new situation.  Similarly as she begins to eat solid food, if I am eating it, she wants to eat it…. if I am not eating it, she has no interest!  Looking to our parents and watching their facial cues is an evolutionary driven imperative, it allows the infant to judge if a situation is safe or dangerous.  I.e. if my daughter reaches for something and I look alarmed … she knows its dangerous.  It also helps babies determine what is important/interesting, i.e. say she is looking at a new toy she also looks at me – am I looking at the toy? Do I find the toy interesting too?  Thus when holding or wearing our babies its important for their learning that they can see our faces.  When facing out they can’t, they don’t need to see our faces all the time so its fine but this idea that perhaps facing out is better for learning is certainly false.

Its also worth noting that in a well fitting inward facing carrier where baby is able to turn their head easily, they should still be able to get a really good view of the world.  And its worth considering how good a view they need – how well can they actually see?  Its interesting to note that while their eye sight is developing rapidly, children don’t generally reach full adult 20:20 vision until somewhere between 3-5 years of age!  In fact babies lack the ability to see in 3D until depth perception starts to develop somewhere around 5 months.

IMG_2451When can I start forward facing my baby?  When a) they have excellent head control and upper back strength and b) they are big enough to comfortably fit the carrier you have for them.

I prefer to explain this in terms of developmental markers rather than age because different babies will reach this sooner or later than others, and its more important that babies have reached this developmental stage than arbitrarily be over a certain age.  The reason they need excellent head control and upper back strength is simply because when forward facing the carrier is unable to provide any head support.  And because they are facing outwards their head and uppermost torso isn’t even supported by your body either.  So they need to be able to hold these up for themselves.  And its it needs to be rock solid – I remember my daughter went through a distinct ‘nodding dog’ stage where she could mostly hold her own head but she looked a little bit like one of those nodding dogs.  No nodding dogs!!…  we need rock solid.

Comfortably fitting the carrier you have for them is different between different brand carriers.  Some are bigger than others, and so the baby needs to be older/physically bigger before they can be used in the forward facing mode compared to other smaller brands.  Rachel and I are working on a full comparison of the forward facing carriers in the library, which will include more information on this…  But what you are looking for when trying carriers on is that baby is not over extended – that their backs are not really flattened out and over extended in order to look over the panel and equally their in a good sitting position with legs not over spread or conversely under supported.  When trying carriers on trust your gut – does baby look comfortable or overly straightened?

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Tom at 10 months old in the Lillebaby Complete, making friends at the Chinese New Year Celebrations in Trafalgar Square

How long can I forward face my child for?  Several manufactures suggest a time limit for forward facing.  This is something I find fascinating, because babies are all different and they are different on different days!  Some days my children would have been happy forward facing for an hour, other days they’d have got fed up of it after 5-10 minutes.  So far better to read their cues than work off an arbitrary time limit.  And it really is arbitrary because as far as I can tell, unlike the limits set for car seats which were set based on research and understanding of optimal infant positioning, these are suggested not based on any researched or evidence but in response to articles written by companies who didn’t make forward facing carriers and were suggesting that it was ‘dangerous’.  So the companies who did make forward facing responded by suggesting it was ‘safe’ so long as under an arbitrary time limit.

Confused?  I know I was!  So what cues are we looking for in deciding how long to forward face your child on any given day?  Babies enjoy forward facing best when they are wide awake and at their most playful and alert.  So we are looking to time around this phase, and as mentioned how long this phase will last will be different on different days!  We are then looking to turn baby inward before they get tired, as they are becoming less playful, less alert,… long before they are actually tired we want to bring them inward.  When forward facing, babies don’t have the ability to snuggle in if everything becomes too much, so we run the risk of over stimulation and ultimately over tiredness.  The best way to avoid over stimulation is to turn baby in long before they get tired.  This gives them the option to snuggle in and helps them process, and ultimately should help them get that all important nap when they need it!  We all know the pain of a missed nap!

Does it matter if my baby falls asleep while forward facing?  Yes. Unfortunately, there is no head support for baby while forward facing which means if they fall asleep and their head starts to loll there is nothing to help support their head.  If this does happen please check their airway – check that as their head lolls it doesn’t loll over the top of the carrier.

In an ideal world you’d turn your baby inward long before they started to fall asleep, but accidental naps do happen!!  So best practise would be as soon as you notice that baby is falling asleep you’d turn them inward.  While I understand it is obnoxious to move a sleeping baby, the forward facing mode is really only designed for babies who can hold their heads up and are awake enough to be able to hold their heads up.

But my baby isn’t happy in their Caboo/stretchy wrap, they are nosy and want to be able to see and only forward facing will let them do this.  I completely get this, the vast majority of parents coming to me considering forward facing are those whose babies are starting to grow out of the Caboo or Stretchy wrap.  As I have discussed at length before both the Caboo and stretchy wraps are amazing for newborns, but parents often feel ready to move onto something else when babies leave the 4th trimester and go through that huge developmental leap where there are sleeping less and more interested in the surrounding world.  These slings are pretty confining, they are like swaddling, so it not a big surprise that babies might grow out of them developmentally around the same time they grow out of swaddling.  However, please don’t mistake this restlessness in a stretchy wrap or Caboo – where the sides of the sling come up high close to baby’s face – to mean your baby particularly wants or need to forward face.  Instead swapping baby to a carrier where the fabric doesn’t pass beyond the top of the shoulder blades – giving baby the freedom to turn their head this way and that unfettered – is usually more than enough to cure this new-found restlessness in slings.

21013881_1288986917896999_3133343590819235261_oIts also worth noting that forward facing is not the only alternative for a nosy baby.  Most slings and carriers also offer positions on the carers hip or back.  In general, for a buckle carrier, the hip position can be used once baby has good head control.  From here baby can see outward and get just as good a view of the world as they would forward facing, but they can also see the parents face for social referencing.  They can easily tuck in towards the parent when they start to become tired and naturally fall asleep, and they are fully supported in a very ergonomic position.  Its also possible to wear a younger baby on the hip in a ring sling or woven wrap or even a stretchy wrap, provided that the sling is worn in a way that supports the baby’s neck.  Often a muslin rolled into the wrap or sling is perfect for this – providing support behind the babies neck but still allowing them to move and be as nosy as they like!

img_8713The other alternative is to wear baby on your back.  Once they are tall enough to see over your shoulder they can get the same view as forward facing on your front, but it is more comfortable for you the parent as we load bear much better placing weight on our back verses carrying weight on our fronts.  Like the hip carry, it also gives the child the option to tuck in and fall asleep when needed.  For a buckle carry, this position can be used once the baby is able to sit independently or is very very close to being able to sit independently.  So in theory often from 6 or 7 months old, however, most 6 or 7 months old can’t see over their parents shoulders yet and thus are usually less impressed with this position.  Instead back carrying in a buckle carrier comes into its own from around 1 year old.  However, it is possible to carry younger babies on the back – my choice for this is a woven wrap because it is possible to wear babies up much higher so they can see over your shoulder right from the beginning and because they can be tightened to give better support enabling a baby who is not yet able to sit independently be worn on the back without fear of slumping etc.

It is also worth considering how long the forward facing phase lasts for.  As discussed above, babies can be worn forward facing once they have excellent neck and upper torso strength.  This is typically around 4 months (although this can vary a lot, anywhere from 3 months to 6 depending on the individual child).  Interestingly, around 8-10 months most babies seem to grow out of forward facing.  They are less interested and/or equally happy or even more happy in a inward facing carry.  Also around this time they get a lot heavier and the extra strain of forward facing starts to become too heavy for the parent.  Consequently, this is also often when parents start thinking about switching over to back carrying instead.  So the forward facing carrying phase is actually pretty short, typically only 4 to 5 months.  When you consider the majority of forward facing carriers are designed to be used from birth all the way to 2 or even 3 years old – the forward facing phase is only actually quite a small percentage of the total life of a carrier.

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Rachel aged 8 months in the Ergo Omni 360

Finally its worth considering cost and your budget.  Generally speaking you’ll pay a premium for forward facing. So its worth weighing all the information above up and decide how much you might use the forward facing position and how much it is worth to you.  How much are we talking?  Depends on which carriers but for example the new Ergo Omni 360 is £155 verses the Ergo Adapt (which does not offer forward facing but is a very similar carrier to the Omni in every other way) at £110.  So in this case the ability to face forward is costing £45.  Most forward facing carriers are around the £120-£150 mark.  While carriers lacking this function (but offering all the other positions, and a great many other features etc) are typically in the £75-100 region.  The exceptions to this are the Izmi priced at £75 and the Beco Gemini at £99… but these are a fair bit smaller than other forward facing carriers such as the Ergo 360s, the Lillebaby Complete, the Beco 8, the Mountain buggy Juno etc etc and thus while they do cost less they are unlikely to last your baby quite as long.  Deciding on whether its “worth it” or not is really a personal choice and depends a good deal on the personal preferences of both you and your child!  This can be where hiring a carrier for a couple of weeks and trying it out in your normal day to day life can really help.  I’ve had parents who’ve tried it out and decided that forward facing is a position they really love and use frequently and likewise I’ve had parents that to their surprise have found that they barely used the forward facing position.  For the latter group many went on to choose another carrier that didn’t offer the forward facing position and saved themselves a good deal of money. While those in the former group invariably were able to happily go and spend the extra money safe it the knowledge that it would be worth it for them.

-Madeleine

Woven FAQ – What size wrap do I need?

Buying your first woven wrap – deciding what to buy – can often be the most intimating part of wrapping.  There is a startling array of different brands, blends and designs.  It can be terrifying to work out where to start!  ‘Woven FAQ’ is my attempt to answer some of the questions I am asked the most by people buying their 1st wrap, and to cover the most important points to consider.

So to kick off this series is the most common question of all:

What size wrap do I need?

The most common wrap sizes run from a size 2 (2.7m) to a size 7 (5.2m) in 50 cm intervals.  Which you’ll need depends on two things:

  • First and foremost – what you want to do with it
  • Secondly – you and your baby’s size

For the second point – the best way to work out what size you need is to try different sizes on and determine your ‘Base size‘.  This is defined as the size you need to do a front wrap cross carry.  Please note that I say your size and your baby’s as I need 1 size longer to wrap my 3.5 year old verses my newborn!  But the biggest determiner on this will be your size.  Most people are between a 5-7 for this.

Then as I mentioned it depends on what you want to do with your woven;

With a base size wrap you can do almost everything – front wrap cross carry, front cross carry, double hammock etc!  In general, carries where the fabric passes 3 times around you and your baby’s body.

 

 

A medium length wrap (base -2 or so) will enable you to do carries with 2 passes around you and babies body, such as kangaroo, short cross carry, Robins hip carry, ruck and short versions of double hammock.

 

 

While with a short wrap (base – 3 or 4) you can do single pass carries such as hip carry with a slip knot, classic hip carry, ruck tied under bum or at shoulder etc.

 

 

In general carries with more passes around you and baby are going to feel more supportive – as there is more cloth to spread the weight evenly with. These carries can also be a bit more forgiving if you are new to wrapping. But the trade off is that more cloth to deal with can sometimes feel a little overwhelming or a lot to deal with if your new!  Or a lot if you are attempting to back wrap a very wiggly toddler for the first time.  Carries with just a single pass around you and baby require a little more precision over the tightening to ensure comfort but do have advantage of requiring less length and being cooler on hot days.  In fact short or mid length wraps can be a great choice for an up down toddler because the wrap will fold up small enough for a change bag when not in use or can even double up as a scarf.  So the key is to pick the right size for what you want to do and your body size – i.e for front carries with my newborn I prefer a size 6 or 7, while if you are petite and mainly planning to back carry in a simple ruck a size 3 or 4 might be more appropriate. As ever your local sling library or sling meet is a great place to have a go and take the guess work out of what size to buy.

-Madeleine

The fallacy of the most popular carrier

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.

downloadThis 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?

  • jeans-2Like 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.
  •  img_9768Maybe 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.