Baby carriers: what all parents must know!
If you are considering baby wearing and wondering where to start when it comes to choosing a baby carrier, then this article is a must-read.
Baby carriers are a convenient and practical way for parents to take their babies with them while keeping their hands free for other tasks.
While baby carriers come in a number of different styles, colours and with many features, choosing the correct one is so important in relation to your baby’s safety and physical development.
This article is all about baby wearing and baby carriers: the benefits, the types, how to choose a proper carrier and the risks of not choosing one wisely.
The benefits of baby wearing
*The information in this section is adapted from La Leche League International.
- Meets baby’s need for close human physical contact, especially with mummy and daddy.
- Wearing your baby gives him reassurance and comfort, even when you cannot focus on your little one 100%.
- Being so close to mummy or daddy makes baby calm and quiet, which in turn makes him alert and ready to learn about the world he sees.
- Baby wearing provides a continuation of mummy’s movement experienced while in the womb, bringing with it feelings of security and love.
- Baby wearing “stimulates the infant’s vestibular system, the parts of the inner ear that work like levels or sensors to control the body’s sense of balance. The stimulation helps babies breathe and grow better, regulates their physiology, and improves motor development.”
- Helps baby sleep better.
- Your hands are freed to run errands, do chores and attend to other children, keeping baby close to you all the while.
- Leaving the house doesn’t need much preparation as far as baby transportation is concerned. No bulky strollers to pack and no large car seats to carry around.
- When your baby is held so close to you, you become finely attuned to his gestures, moods and facial expressions. This gives new parents more confidence and they feel and become more competent at parenting.
- Breastfeeding mums find it easier to nurse-on-demand and can even nurse on the go with the proper baby carrier.
Choosing a baby carrier
Before we take you through the four kinds of baby carriers, do consider the following information, according to Baby Carriers Australia, that you should keep in mind when looking for a carrier.
A good, well-designed baby carrier should have the following comfort-related features:
- Made out of a sturdy, breathable fabric and should have padded straps
- It should have wide straps which will spread your baby’s weight evenly across your shoulders and back
- Should be easily adjustable to accommodate different caregivers wearing it
- Should have a lower, padded waist belt for added support and also equal distribution of your little one’s weight
- A head rest to support baby’s neck and head is also a good feature to have in a baby carrier
While there are baby carriers designed for different ages and stages in your baby, it’s a good idea to get one that will suit your little one’s (and your) needs through various growth cycles.
Look for one that is suitable for newborns and carries through right to the toddler stage (and beyond). This means that versatility in carrying position should also be present. For example, your newborn should be carried frontwards, facing inwards, while a toddler might be happier on your back so he can look around while you are mobile.
Parents usually get a baby carrier so that they can be mobile while keeping their baby close. So, it makes sense to choose a carrier that is compact and that you can easily pack away in a small space when needed.
Do keep in mind however, that sometimes comfort may be compromised for convenience when it comes to the carrier design. For example, the shoulder straps may not be padded and it might be missing a padded waist belt. And while the material might be light, it may not be breathable or comfortable.
Consider investing in one of these ‘ultra-convenient’ carriers as a second carrier, perfect for use for long shopping trips and air travel.
The beauty of wearing your baby is that it lends to the convenience of breastfeeding on-the-go, and there are some baby carriers that incorporate a breastfeeding-friendly design. However, do keep in mind that there may be a safety risk and that you should never cover your baby’s airway while he is nursing.
Check the manufacturer’s instructions carefully to find out if the carrier is suitable to use while breastfeeding.
Look for a baby carrier that is made out of light, breathable material to allow for air flow to keep your baby cool and comfortable in hot, humid weather.
Types of baby carriers
Most baby carriers fall into one of the following five categories: Wraps, Ring Slings, Pouch Slings, Mei Tais, or Buckle/Soft Structured Carriers.
While different slings will suit the needs of different parents, experts advise that the most important thing to keep in mind is your baby’s safety (which we describe on page 3 of this article).
According to Baby Wearing International, here are the characteristics of the five types of baby carriers:
Wraps are the most simple and traditional of all baby carriers. They are simply very long pieces stretchy or woven material that you wrap around yourself and your baby.
Wraps are a comfortable choice in baby carriers as the fabric can be spread across your whole back helping to equally distribute baby’s weight, and the lack of hardware means no uncomfortable pieces dig into you.
They are adjustable to meet the needs of different wearers and can be used to carry an infant, toddler or child at your hip, front and (if made of woven material), back.
A stretchy wrap is made of soft t-shirt-like material and is better suited for infants. You may need to use it with several layers in order to provide enough support. This makes it not the best option for older babies, as the many layers will make it uncomfortable in hot weather.
A woven wrap, according to the National Childbirth Trust UK, is “the most versatile form of carrier available, as they automatically adjust to the size of the carried child.” What’s more, these wraps can be used from birth, right upto toddlerhood and beyond.
While learning to wrap your baby in one of these carriers might be a bit challenging initially, you will soon master the method with practice.
2. Ring Slings
A ring sling is a modern adaptation of traditional slings worn in many Asian and other cultures for centuries.
This carrier consists of a piece of cloth with two metal rings firmly sewn at one end. The free end is passed through the rings, over one shoulder, to adjust to the wearer’s body and form a pouch for baby. The child’s weight will secure the rings and prevent them from slipping.
The tail of the fabric that hangs down can be used as a sun shade, nursing cover or even light blanket. Baby wearing experts say that this type of carrier is mostly suitable for newborns and for toddlers.
3. Pouch sling
This is a simple tube of stretchy fabric worn over one shoulder (like a ring sling, but without the ability to adjust the sling size), with the baby fitted into the pouch that is created.
Pouch slings are easy to use and convenient — you can easily stash it away in your diaper bag or car. However, because a pouch sling cannot be adjusted to different sizes, it is difficult to share between caregivers and should be correctly fitted for safety.
4. Mei Tai
These Asian-style baby carriers evolved from the Chinese mei tai (meaning in Cantonese, Mei: carried on the shoulders and Tai: carrying strap).
A mei tai is made up of a square or rectangular piece of fabric with four straps attached to it. The two shorter straps fit around the waist while the longer straps go over the shoulders. The cloth forms a pocket for the baby.
This carrier can be worn on the front, hip and/ or back. Because baby’s weight is comfortably spread out on both the shoulders and hips via the straps, a mei tai is more suitable for heavier older babies and toddlers (but can also be safely used for infants).
Present day mei tais are very comfortable, often with padded, wide straps. What’s more, the lack of hardware and easily adjustable fit makes it a good option to share among caregivers.
5. Soft-structured carriers (SSCs)
These carriers are a mix between a mei tai and a rucksack and it’s safe to say they are the most popular type of baby carrier on the market. They are an appealing choice among many parents because they provide a good mix of comfort and convenience.
Many SSCs are ergonomically designed, with a well-padded waistband and shoulder straps. They can be used for front, back, and depending on the design, side carrying. The straps are normally adjustable for a custom fit, and many of them come with added features such as adjustable seats, sleep hoods and pockets.
A good quality SSC can be used from the newborn stage to toddlerhood and beyond.
Safety and baby carriers
While babywearing has a range of benefits, it’s still important to keep some safety considerations in mind, as you would do with any product you use for your little one.
According to Babywearing International, here’s what you should remember when it comes to safety and baby carriers.
- Your baby’s airway should be open at all times while in a carrier: You can do this by ensuring your little one is kept in an upright position, high up enough for you to monitor his breathing. You also need to make sure your baby’s chin is off his chest. When it comes to infants, they should “only be held in a horizontal or cradle position while actively nursing (if desired) and return to an upright or vertical position as soon as they have finished.”
- Avoid forward-facing baby carriers if possible: These may contribute to hip dysplasia (see next point) and may not provide recommended support for your baby’s physical development. Instead, opt for a backward-facing baby carrier. These, according to experts, promote the bending and movement of the hips by virtue of the baby being pressed against the parent’s abdomen or trunk, reducing the risk of hip dysplasia and promoting healthy hip and spine positioning.
- Your carrier should properly support your baby’s developing neck, back and hips: The baby carrier you choose should support your baby so that his knees are higher than his bottom and his legs are in a spread-squat position. This is to promote healthy hip development and prevent baby carrier-caused hip dysplasia. For more on how a poor quality baby carrier may cause hip dysplasia in babies, read this article.
- Inspect your carrier often for damage: This includes wear-and-tear damage for existing carriers, and when choosing a new one, loose stitching, weak spots and poor quality fabric. The expert recommendation is that you always purchase your baby carrier from a reputed manufacturer.
- Practice babywearing: Practice all ways of carrying your baby in a carrier (especially back carrying) in a safe place low to the ground or over a bed, couch or mattress on the floor, until you are completely confident.
- Use your common sense: Only use your baby carrier for what it is designed to do — carrying your baby. Never use it as a flotation device or child restraint, and it should not be used in a moving vehicle or boat.
If you are thinking of babywearing, why not join a babywearing group in your area? This way, you can share your experiences with other babywearing parents and also get first-hand advise and recommendations related to all thing baby wearing.
We hope you have found this article useful. Do share your own thought on baby carriers and baby wearing by leaving a comment below.