Once upon a time if you had told me I’d be carrying my 35lbs toddler on my back I would have laughed, and if you told me not only that but that I would also have carried my 50lb daughter on my back as well I would have said no way flatly. Fast forward 6 years from having my daughter and yep I’ve done both. And you know what? It’s been fantastic. It’s allowed me to get around with two kids on public transit, go out at night to parades and events like Vivid with ease and more importantly it’s been a great way to bond with both my kids.
I’m not really a crunchy mom that most think of when thinking of baby wearers. Honestly, I like organic stuff but I don’t go out of my way for it, I eat plenty of junky food as do my kids and I like my milk pasteurized. I’ve never bed shared, I did cry it out etc. So I say this as a pretty not crunchy mom. Babywearing is an AMAZING tool in the parenting tool box. It’s seriously the one thing I would tell every mom to try.
I’m honestly not even sure how I got into it. I think it was on one of the baby boards on thebump.com when I was on there when my daughter was born. People were talking about how amazing having a Moby (aka a Hug-a-bub, in AU) was and I was like sure why not add it to my registry of 1001 things right? The other thought that came up was ok I have to take public transport to get to and from work every day once I go back to work (when she’s 9 weeks old) and how the heck am I going to carry her home? I can’t take an empty stroller on the train both ways, someone will kill me for that during rush hour. So what can I do? Well I’ll get a baby carrier. Which is what lead me to my first Ergo.
Both of those decisions were fabulous ones. That Moby let me keep my newborn close, the thing she most wanted in those early days while still letting me do neat stuff like go to the bathroom with my arms empty, or make lunch or maybe even clean. Once she outgrew that stretchy wrap around 9-10 weeks I moved onto my Ergo which meant people didn’t want to kill me every day on public transport.
So many times now those carriers (and all the ones that came after them 😉 ) have been a god send. Going through the airport with a tired/crazy kid? Put them in a carrier! Going to visit friends or family during nap time and got a fussy kiddo? Put them in the carrier to sleep! Got a sick/teething baby who just wants to snuggle? Put them in the carrier. Need to do chores but also need my leg that the child is currently clinging to? Put them in the carrier. Trains, buses, walks to preschool drop off for my daughter, and not having to fight the gates at the entrance with a stroller? Put them in the carrier. Touring New Zealand, riding a boat in Fiji, visiting the Great Barrier Reef, hiking Uluru, walking trails at Cradle Moutain or down in Hobart, Sculptures by the Sea, Vivid, Bondi to Bronte, Spit to Manly, walking City to Surf with a 18 month old and 5 year old, hikes through the woods in IL and a million other things. All of those were with a baby or big kid on my back or my husband’s. It made things possible that would have been so much harder and it made for so many memories of them pointing stuff out and talking to me from my back or front and seeing/hearing their wonder up close, not down in the pram where too often I’d be saying “Sorry sweetie did you say something?”
One thing I want to clear up, carriers do take practice. Especially putting a baby on your back for the first time it’s a little bizarre, but once you get the hang of it it really is easy I promise. I can pretty much do it with my eyes closed now. Which leads me to something else. If you see a mom or dad putting on their child PLEASE don’t ever go and grab the straps or the carrier and start trying to help them put it on. Even if to you it looks like they are going to drop their kid I promise they aren’t. Much of the process is muscle memory and if you pull my straps into a different position I suddenly have no idea where to put anything, and distracting my toddler with you suddenly behind me also doesn’t help. Then something that was very safe now isn’t. More than once I’ve had to warn people off of doing that, sometimes nicely sometimes pretty roughly to get my point across. If you see someone putting on a carrier and they look to be struggling, what do you do? Ask if they need help, but don’t come grab anything until you get a firm yes or no from the person.
Ok so I wanna get a carrier where do I begin?
First off it helps to learn a bit of the lingo so here’s a quick run down:
SSC – Soft Structured Carrier, basically it’s like a backpack for a baby that can be worn on the front or the back, there’s nothing to tie it’s usually just a buckle or two at the waist and the shoulders. The pro’s of these is they are generally really dad friendly, evenly distribute weight across both shoulders and down to your hips to help take the strain off your back, low fuss, and a sort of set it and forget it style (no need to constantly adjust etc), and are great for the kid who wants to get up and down 10 times (hello toddlers?). They are great for longer walks and long carries. Common ones are: Ergo, Tula, Boba, Becco, Kinderpack and Bjorn*
RS – Ring Slings, these are a long strip of fabric that runs through two metal rings that allow it to be loosened or tightened as needed. It goes over one shoulder and creates a sort of pocket that the baby rides in with their bum in the bottom while sitting tummy to tummy with you. These are amazing once you get the hang of them but do have a bit of a learning curve and because they are a one shoulder carry generally aren’t great for heavier kids or for prolonged carrying (over 30-40 minutes at a time). But they are fabulous to stash in the diaper bag for a quick way to manage a fussy newborn or baby or to pop a toddler on your hip who just wants to be carried for a bit.
Stretchy Wraps – These wraps are just a REALLY long strip of stretcy jersy cotton material that allow you to tie the wrap criss cross on you so that you can pop the baby in and out of the carrier without removing the whole thing. The stretchy nature of the fabric makes them “poppable” which is fabulous for newborns who just want to be held but will need to be taken in and out a lot for diaper changes, nursing etc. The down side is they can be hot because they are as I mentioned one really long piece of fabric. The other down side is they are outgrown fairly quickly, once your baby hits about 6-6.5 kilos it will be pretty miserable trying to carry them in a stretchy since they will start to sink and pull badly on your shoulders. For that same reason a stretchy wrap should NEVER be used to do a back carry, a child can easily fall out of one in a back carry. Most common example in AU is a Hug-a-bub
Woven Wraps – Woven wraps are again a really long piece of fabric but these are tightly woven tapestries that come in pretty much every imaginable color, pattern and variety your heart could desire. They are not stretchy unlike a Hug-a-bub they are strong and durable and able to support the weight of even of a large toddler/preschooler in a back or front carry. They come in a variety of lengths that allow for different styles of carrying. Wraps are amazingly versatile and for many people they are the one carrier they will ever use. But, and this is a big but, they have a definite learning curve to them for some that’s fine and they push through that and go onto using them for years and years. The other challenge is they can be hard to work with in wet, muddy or snowy conditions where they may drag the ground while you get everything put into it’s right place, they can also be challenging when dealing with a toddler who repeatedly wants up and down right after you got it all just right. And for those same reasons they can be hard to use in an airport, people tripping over your tails is not a super fun thing.
Mei Tai – Is a panel of fabric that has two sets of long straps one set will tie at your waist as the base and the others will go over each shoulder and across your body to form shoulder straps. The great thing about a Mei Tai is it’s infinitely adjustable. It also is fantastic because it will let you do carries at a variety of heights on your back. So if your kiddo likes to look around you might do a high back carry so they can look over your shoulders or a more standard back carry similar to a SSC. The long straps can take some getting used and can have similar issues to a wrap in wet/crowded locations but these really are a great option that more moms should consider, they give you a little bit more of the flexibly of a wrap than a SSC but with less of a learning curve.
Where can I get help?
Ultimately the number of choices can be pretty overwhelming. The best advice I can give anyone considering wearing is borrow from a friend. Or source a group like the Sydney Babywearers on FB and go to a few meet ups. You can try out carriers there to see what you might like, you’ll meet some amazing ladies and they will give you pointers on what to look for and what to avoid and how to use whatever you get. If you can try before you buy! Because baby carriers are a bit like a good pair jeans, what works for one person doesn’t work for another. So try several different carriers, different brands, different kinds etc. And please don’t think that the Bjorn someone got you for a baby shower gift is how all carriers fit. It’s not, it’s weight distribution makes it great for a couple weeks but quickly makes it really hard on the wearer very often. There are better carriers I promise, cause I can tell you now there’s no way I’d carry my toddler in a Bjorn it would kill me.
Logistics? How do I make this all work? Is it really safe?
Often people who are used to having a pram will ask well where do I keep all my STUFF? You know the diaper bag, the purse all of it? Well honestly you get really good at prioritizing what you really need and what you don’t when babywearing. You learn to pack lightly and to carry a light bag. Honestly for us that’s been great, it’s meant not having a giant diaper bag to lug everywhere full of a million things. I’ve learned that I can get by with way less than I think I need most of the time.
When wearing it’s important to remember the T.I.C.K.S. guidelines and always live them. Baby wearing is amazing and is in fact perfectly safe if done correctly. Unfortunately it got a bad rap for a bit because people weren’t following those guidelines which just like misuse of a car seat or any other device that holds a baby can lead to positional asphyxiation due to a child’s airway being compromised. So how do I do it safely?
T – Tight
I – In View at All times
C – Close enough to kiss
K – Keep chin off chest
S – Supported Back
You can find a better description of each of these here
How Long Will It Last?
Also be aware that most kids will need more than one carrier if you are going from 0-6 years. For many people using a SSC, ring sling or Mei tai wearing is done around 24 months but it can last much longer if you are willing to invest in a new, larger toddler carrier that has a wider base to support their legs a bit more as well as a higher back. Again there are a ton of uses for it so for us it was money very well spent. Often you can find a mom who’s kids have had their time in a carrier who’s looking to sell second hand which can be a great way to try out a carrier as well. Always make sure the carrier is solidly constructed, also a word of caution on second hand, Ergo’s unfortunately have a bad problem with unsafe counterfeits coming out of China so for those unless the person can you show you original proof of purchase or is someone you really trust who got it new, then consider buying it new.
Ultimately this is just the tip of a very big iceberg when babywearing but truly it is a tool in the parenting tool box that I couldn’t live without. For me having my monkeys on my back has been one of the most liberating and wonderfully bonding experiences of parenthood. Good luck ladies and happy wearing!