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Choosing a carrier for your family

Updated: Apr 7


a woman with her blonde hair blowing into the sky holds a child to her and wears another on her back

This article was first published in the Natural Parent Magazine, 10th Anniversary Edition, Issue 42, Spring 2021. This beautiful artwork is called "The Queen and her Children" by Gioia Albano and is here with permission.


Families have held their babies close for millennia, with myriad methods and carriers across cultures. And yet I knew almost nothing about babywearing when my son was born. I had little family or cultural exposure, few friends who wore their babies and I had really no idea of the different types, names, options, or things to consider when choosing a carrier for my family. I just knew I wanted to keep my baby close.


This article describes what I wish I knew as a babywearing novice and explores the carriers commonly available in the Western world. It is not definitive nor representative of the diverse cultural babywearing practices around our planet.


Types of carriers


If you were to look in your average Western baby store, second-hand trading place or new family household, you might find, starting from least structure to most structure:

  • Woven wraps – a long piece of woven fabric that only stretches on the bias.

  • Stretchy wraps – a long piece of fabric that stretches in all directions.

  • Ring slings – a piece of fabric with two rings sewn in at one end.

  • Meh dai – an East Asian style carrier with a panel and four long straps that can be tied.

  • Half buckle – a panel with four straps, the waist band buckled, and the long shoulder straps tied.

  • Onbuhimo – a Japanese style carrier, panel with two buckled straps, no waistband, worn on the back.

  • Full buckle – a panel with four straps, all with buckles


Weight limit


This is an important safety consideration for your selection. It also impacts the longevity of your carrier and whether you will need to upgrade once your baby grows. Check the manufacturer’s instructions, which will specify the weight limitations of your choice.


Less structure generally means less weight restrictions – woven wraps for example, have no minimum weight restrictions and can safely carry tiny newborns up to adults! Woven fabric ring slings and some meh dais can also be used for tiny newborns although tend to have a maximum weight of between 15-20kg depending on the brand.


Stretchy wraps are an exception to this rule, as three passes of the fabric over the baby are required for safety reasons. As a result, they generally have a 3.0kg to 15kg weight range and some wearers may find them uncomfortable once their baby reaches 8kg and beyond.


More structure means more weight restrictions – all soft-structured carriers have minimum weights, for which the majority is 3.0kg or 3.5kg and the maximum anywhere from 20-25kg depending on the brand and size.


Increased structure may mean carriers become sized or accessorised.


This is another safety consideration, as a standard carrier without accessories may fit neither safely nor comfortably. More structure reduces the flexibility of fit as your child grows. Some brands adapt to this by selling separate baby, toddler, and pre-school sized options. If you are not aware of this, it can be a shock to find that your beloved baby-sized carrier suddenly does not fit, and you need to look at purchasing a bigger size.


Many soft-structured carriers that fit from newborn to toddler will need additional items to optimise fit. Some carriers have inserts and cushions, others have cinch straps and zip sections.


Adjustability


Adjustability involves using the features of the carrier and knowing how to wear the carrier to make it fit. Woven wrap fabric is the ultimate in adjustability as you just take out all the slack from your carry to perfectly fit you and your child. The same technique applies for stretchy wraps and ring slings.


More structured carriers can be adjusted by using the inbuilt features of the carrier like toggles, buttons, elastic, strands, and hood to change the size and support of the panel to suit your baby. Meh dais can be worn apron style and the shoulder straps can be flipped to reduce the panel size. Wearing the waist band high and tight and sitting your baby deep into the panel will also help to optimise fit.


Some structured carriers have ‘perfect fit adjustors’ or PFAs at the top of the panel and these are a handy feature to reduce slack in the shoulder straps, which keeps baby close and supports a high back carry.


Why; when; how; who will carry?


Knowing the answers to these questions helps you choose and determine your budget. If you are keen on being outside, then knowing that wraps, meh dais and half buckles have long straps which will dangle on the ground might influence your decision.


The environment in which you will be using the carrier will also influence your choice. If you live in a hot, humid climate, then fabric composition may be important for you. Many families avoid synthetics in these conditions and seek thin, natural fabrics instead. As stretchy wraps require three layers over the baby, some people also find these hot.


Many people love the look of the woven wraps and upon seeing how much effort and skill is required to learn how to don and doff the wrap, then decide that there are better choices for them.


Some carriers have a small waist band for petite frames, and others offer better fit for plus sized frames. Onbuhimos can be a great option for pregnant women also carrying small children.


As a result, many babywearing families find themselves with a couple of different options as different situations and wearers will have different needs. Some options stay on the couch for anyone to use, while others fit the specified wearer’s requirements.


Unique combination of you and your baby


My 4.7kg newborn presented quite different needs to those of a pre-term or smaller infant below 3kg. And there are similar things to consider for a toddler carrier. You will not know what you and your baby prefer until they arrive. Many families new to babywearing find it useful to learn about and explore different carriers prior to birth and then try again once their baby arrives. You may wish to connect with your local babywearing meet, other babywearing families or a babywearing consultant to discover what is available to you and what you might like to try when keeping your baby close.


Enjoy this incredibly special time.

Kato x

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