Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Babywearing - What Carrier Is Right for You?

"It’s all so confusing!!!"

I hear this a lot when people first get into baby wearing.   “Which carrier is better?”,  and “Which should I use?” are two of the most frequently asked questions.  I’m going to break them down by category and give you the pros and cons of each type of carrier.

Pouch carrier:   One large loop of fabric. (Think Hotsling)

Pros of the pouch carrier:
*Can fold up very compactly to fit in small spaces.
*Baby can be put in and removed quickly and easily.
*Can be used from birth.
*Can be used for front, hip, and back carries.

Cons of the pouch carrier:
*Size specific for the wearer.
*Not adjustable.
*Can be easy to use an improper position in.

Ring Sling:  One long piece of fabric that uses 2 rings to secure around the wearer.  

Pros of the ring sling:
*Relatively inexpensive.
*Can fold up very compactly to fit in diaper bags/purses.
*Baby can be put in and removed quickly and easily.
*Can be used from birth.
*Easy to breastfeed in, and the tail can serve as a cover.
*Endless fabric/color/print combinations.
*Can be used for front, hip, and back carries.

Cons of the ring sling:
*Widely not available locally.
*Slight learning curve for correct positioning. 
*May not be suitable for larger babies/toddlers, depending on material choice.
*May be less comfortable than 2 shoulder carriers.

Knit wrap, AKA “stretchy wrap”:  One piece of knit “stretchy” material that measures several meters in length. (Think Moby wrap)

Pros of knit wraps:
*Certain brands are available in several retail stores.
*Easy to make yourself with the right material.
*Fold, braid, or roll up for easy storage.
*Baby can be put in and removed quickly using pre-tied carries.
*Can be used from birth.
*Easy to breastfeed in, and cross passes can be used for a nursing cover.
*Many color/print options.
*Available in several sizes.
*Can be used for front, and hip carries.

Cons of knit wraps:
*Not ideal past about 15 pounds, as the material starts to loose it’s stretch and sag, as well as become uncomfortable for the wearer.
*Generally not safe for back carries.  There are a few brands that are, but they are not available in brick and mortar stores.
*Material may be uncomfortable in warmer weather.

Woven wrap: One long piece of woven material, measuring several meters long.

Pros of woven wraps:
*Can be used for front, hip, and back carries.
*Easy to breastfeed in.
*Available in many sizes.
*Endless color and print options.
*Can be made yourself with several different materials.
*Fold, braid, or roll up for easy storage.
*Hold resale value well.
*Can be used from birth.
*Has no weight limit.  As long as mom and child are comfortable, you’re good to go.

Cons of woven wraps:
*More expensive than other options.
*Not available locally for most people.
*Learning curve for carries can be quite large.

Mei tai: Traditional Asian carrier with 1 panel and straps from each corner.

Pros of mei tai:
*Easy to get baby in and out quickly.
*Can be used for front, hip, and back carries.
*Inexpensive options are available in retail stores.
*Many color and print options.
*Hold resale value well.
*Easy to breastfeed in.

Cons of mei tai:
*Learning curve for tying.
*Not ideal until 4-6 months.

Soft structured carrier: Soft bodied carrier with straps and buckles.  (Think Ergo.)

Pros of soft structured carrier:
*Easier to use that wraps.
*Can get baby in and out quickly.
*Easy to breastfeed in.
*Available in many colors and prints.
*May include accessories like a sleep hood, foot stirrups, toy and cup holders.
*Can be used in front, hip, and back carries.

Cons of soft structured carrier:
*May not be available locally. *
*Not ideal until 4-6 months, even with infant insert.
*Higher cost than other options.
*Weight limits for safe carrying.

Harness carrier:  A more structured carrier that uses straps and buckles.  Primarily used for front carries, with the option of facing baby out.  The panel is typically narrower than a soft structured carrier’s. (Think Baby Bjorn.)

Pros of harness carriers:
*Available in most big box stores and many other retailers.
*Even though it’s not an ideal carrier for various reasons, baby is still getting the benefits of being worn.

Cons of harness carriers:
*Do not allow for ideal positioning for baby’s hips and back.
*Can be hard on the wearer’s neck, shoulders, and back, and a woman’s pelvic floor, especially when facing baby out.
*Generally not recommended for back carries.
*No hip carry option.

So to answer the question “which carrier is better?”, in my opinion, it’s a complete personal choice.  I have found all of the above carriers to be helpful at different points of my baby wearing years, even a harness carrier before I was aware of the other options.  My recommendation is to find a baby wearing group near you, a friend that has a carrier you can borrow,  or a vendor that has a rental option, and try them out to find out which carrier style best suits your needs.  If you are looking for a site to learn more about baby wearing, I recommend www.thebabywearer.com .  It’s a virtual Mecca for all things related to baby wearing, including links to video tutorials for assorted carries with all styles of carriers, buy/sell/trade boards, advice forums, and more.  There is also a chapter of Babywearing International starting up in Sioux Falls, and we will hopefully be able to help you with any further carrier questions you may have by fall of 2012.

Jessica Tebben
Naturally Empowered Birth Services

*Editor's Note: Elegant Mommy carries Ergo AND Boba (both soft structured carriers), so you can find them in Sioux Falls! You may not be able to find them where you live, but if you are interested in one, you can always order them online...just check out our website!

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