By: Kim Kaplan, Guest Blogger
I think any discussion of new motherhood and breastfeeding should include information on babywearing. I know for me, wearing my babies is not only an incredible time-saver, but it’s also an essential part of my whole parenting style.
If you do a little research, you’ll quickly see that the benefits of babywearing are numerous and wide-ranging. Dr. Sears will tell you that worn babies cry and fuss less (I know for me, both of my girls would instantly fall asleep when they were wrapped for the first several months of their lives). Babies who are worn spend more time interacting with people at eye level, helping them to develop speech and social skills, and the rise and fall motion of their wearer’s gate helps them to improve their balance.
Babywearing can be especially helpful right when your baby is born. Kangaroo care, or wearing your baby skin to skin, can help regulate a newborn’s body temperature and encourage milk production. Having your baby right next to your breast will encourage her to nurse more frequently and will help you learn to respond to her signs of hunger quicker. And babywearing gives you free hands to get things done and feel like you’ve accomplished something more than surviving those first few weeks and months. It also gives other caregivers a chance to have a close physical bond with the baby and really feel connected. Parents, grandparents, older siblings, and friends can all safely wear the baby and have some special snuggle time.
Plus, babywearing allows you to take your child places a stroller just can’t go, like on a hike through the mountains or on a long walk down the beach. For me, wearing my babies has become a part of life. It’s a way for us to feel more connected, for me to nurse on the go, for my husband to get some work done around the house while still helping with the kids, for us to keep the kids safe while we navigate a busy airport or famers market, and a million other reasons.
CHOOSING A CARRIER
So, if you’re convinced that babywearing is for you, the next step is choosing a carrier. The main types of carriers are pouches, ring slings, wraps, soft structured carriers, and mei tais. Below I’ve given some information on the different types of carriers. Different people prefer different carriers, so if you can, it’s best to try out a few before deciding on a carrier.
A pouch is just a loop of fabric that goes around your body and has a pocket to nestle the baby in. Pouches are best for young babies because they only go over one shoulder. The bigger your baby gets, the less comfortable one-shoulder carriers are going to become. However, for small babies, pouches are good because they are easy to put on and provide an easy pop-in/pop-out for baby. Be careful with pouches, though. They must be fitted properly and you must make sure that your baby’s airflow is not limited. See the section below on safe babywearing for more info.
Brands: Peanut Shell, Kangaroo Korner, Hotslings
A ring sling is a long piece of fabric that is looped around 2 metal rings. You pull the fabric through the rings to create the pocket for your baby. Like pouches, ring slings usually go over just one shoulder, so they can get uncomfortable with a bigger baby. Ring slings take a little more time to put on, since you’ll need to adjust the rings, but they don’t need to be fitted so they’re easier to share. Ring slings can be very pretty and the tail of the fabric is great to use as a nursing cover or a sunshade.
Brands: Maya Wrap, Sakura Bloom, Sleeping Baby Productions (SBP)
A wrap is just one long piece of fabric that you tie around yourself and your baby. Wraps are probably the most versatile of all carriers. You can use a woven wrap from the newborn stage all the way up through toddlerhood. If you can survive the wrapping learning curve, a wrap can be your best friend. There are actually 2 varieties of wraps: stretchy and woven. Stretchy wraps are made of stretchy material such as cotton interlock. They’re great for newborns because they’re super comfy and snuggly and the stretchiness of the material allows you to wrap safely even if you maybe tied a little too tight. However, stretchy wraps will only last you until your baby is 15-20 pounds. After that, you may start your walk with your baby nicely nestled under your chin, but you’ll end your walk with his feet banging against your knees. Not comfy. Woven wraps are a little bit harder to tie because they don’t have much “give” if they’re tied too tight, but with a little practice, you can become a wrap-tying pro. Tying a wrap obviously takes more time than tossing on a pouch or buckling a soft-structured carrier, but some carries can be pre-tied.
Brands: Moby (stretchy), Wrapsody (stretchy and woven), Didymos (woven), Girasol (woven), Neobulle (woven), and many many others.
Soft-structured carriers are terrific carriers. They’re made of a more structured fabric with straps and a waistband that buckle closed. They’re fast to put on and great for bigger kids. Plus, dads really gravitate towards them. Some SSCs come with “infant inserts” but this makes them pretty bulky, and trying to use an SSC for an infant without the insert can leave your baby a little lost in it. Some newer SSCs come with an infant harness, which if you get the hang of it, can make it an awesome little baby carrier. However, for me, I think SSCs are really better for bigger kids (like 6 months and older).
Brands: Ergo, Beco, Pikkolo, Calyx, BabyHawk “Oh Snap,” Dream Carrier, KinderCarry
Mei Tais are similar to soft-structured carriers, but they have long straps that you tie rather than buckles. Mei tais take longer to put on than SSCs because you have to tie them, but the tying gives you more flexibility for your carries. For example, when I was pregnant, I would wear my daughter in a mei tai tied at my shoulders (called “Tibetan carry”) when I couldn’t deal with having anything on my tummy, and then tied under my belly when that became more comfortable. If you have a situation where the standard configuration of an SSC does not work for you, a mei tai might be just right. Plus they’re really pretty.
Brands: Babyhawk, Mei Tai Baby
SAFE AND COMFORTABLE BABYWEARING
Successful babywearing is safe and comfortable for you and your baby. When you’re wearing your baby, safety has to be of the utmost importance. When you’re learning to wear your baby, try practicing with a doll or a bag of rice first, and then second, try carries over a bed or couch with a spotter. Check your carrier from time to time to make sure that there are no rips and that it’s not worn to the point that it’s compromising the integrity of the carrier. Also make sure you’re using an appropriate carrier - NEVER use a stretchy wrap for back carries and NEVER use a “bag sling” like the Infantino Sling Rider.
Make sure your baby’s airway is clear. His chin should not be pressed against his chest or kinked uncomfortably upwards. His mouth and nose should have a clear pathway to fresh air – not tucked completely under fabric or pressed into your chest. Your baby’s legs should be “froggy position” (legs bent with knees above bum) and not in the “crotch dangle” position made infamous by the Baby Bjorn carrier. Support the head of small babies still learning head control by keeping them facing you rather than facing out. This will also protect them from overstimulation.
Also, make sure you’re comfortable when wearing your baby. Adjust the straps/rings/fabric so that you are distributing your baby’s weight and not creating any pressure points. Skip the “front face out” position as it will kill your back and most likely overstimulate your baby. Also, to protect your back, keep your baby high and tight to you. You should be able to kiss your baby’s head without much effort.
Finally, use common sense. If you or your baby seems uncomfortable, stop and fix it. Don’t do anything dangerous while wearing your baby – your carrier is not a force field. Make sure you take the addition of your baby into account when going through doorways or through grocery aisles. Keep sharp or dangerous items out of reach.
For more info than you could possibly want on babywearing, and to find some amazing used carriers, check out http://thebabywearer.com . Also, for hands on assistance, try to find a local babywearing group (check out thebabywearer to find a group near you). Most groups have a carrier library that will let you try out carriers before you buy and have plenty of moms who’d love to help you learn to use your carrier properly.