Babywearing (or baby carrying) is the practice of carrying your baby or toddler in a carrier. Though it may be new to some of us, babywearing is nothing new historically or globally. For centuries, moms in the West wore their children. And ditto for mamas all around the world today. It’s only in the last few decades that society has drifted away from baby wearing. But these days, natural mamas like us are brining going back to the old tradition of babywearing for a bunch of great reasons.
Welsh mama wearing her baby circa 1905, courtesy of MuseumWales. Inuit woman with baby circa 1906, courtesy Library of Congress.
What are the baby wearing benefits?
The obvious benefit of baby wearing is convenience. If baby is in a carrier you can accomplish daily chores while knowing baby is safe and happy. Also, wearing a baby can allow you to go places strollers can’t ( hiking, stairs, etc.).
But the benefits go way beyond this:
- Babywearing supports breastfeeding. When baby is held close mom can recognize early signs of hunger more easily and can begin to nurse (right in the carrier sometimes) without baby needing to cry. This awareness of baby’s needs makes for more confident parents and a closer bond as well.
- Carried babies cry less. According to one study infants who received supplemental carrying (not only in reaction to fussiness) cried and fussed 43% less overall, and 51% less during the evening hours. (1).
- May help avoid spinal and cranial deformities. Babies who spend a significant amount of time in car seats and baby swings or other equipment can develop squaring of the cranium or spinal deformities. Properly carrying baby allows for natural development of cranium, spine and postural muscles. (2)
- Babies who are held close are more able to regulate their own physiological functions (breathing, heart rate, temperature) in response to their caregiver. (3)
Babywearing does take some getting used to!
You’d think baby wearing would be as easy as falling out of bed, right? But like a lot of things with motherhood (hello, breastfeeding!), babywearing can be trickier than it looks.
Yes, babywearing can seem daunting at first. Most baby carriers have a learning curve and they require practice to become comfortable with them.
But once you’ve chosen the right carrier and learned how to use it, baby wearing will become second nature.
There are three main types of baby carriers
1. Babywearing slings
A baby wearing sling is a long piece of sturdy cloth that is usually worn over one shoulder and across your torso. Slings are ideal for newborns, as small babies can easily nestle into the fabric. Larger babies and toddlers can also “sit” in the fabric like a hip carried seat. We’ve even seen one particularly crafty mama (safely) use a sling as a back carrier for her toddler! Slings come in many fabrics, padded and unpadded, and with or without rings for adjustment. Some examples of sling carriers are Maya Wrap, P-Sling, and Comfy Joey.
2. Babywearing wraps
A baby wearing wrap is a long piece of fabric that is wrapped around your torso and usually over both shoulders. Wraps are very versatile and inexpensive. A few examples are Moby Wrap, Boba Wrap, and Baby K’Tan.
3. Soft structured carriers
A soft structured carrier is made of soft padded material but is sewn into a more structured seat with two shoulder straps and possibly buckles. These carriers tend to be more ergonomical, so they’re great for outdoor activities and other times when you’re carrying baby for long stretches. Some examples are Ergobaby, Onya, and Mei Tai style carriers.
Are baby carriers safe?
Yes! Each carrier will have it’s own safety guidelines that you will need to review before use, but here are a few general guidelines to get you started:
- Baby’s airway should be clear. You should not have to move fabric in order to see his face. His chin should not rest on his chest but instead be tipped up. He should not be pressing his face into your chest. In this case you can gently move baby’s head so his ear is against your chest instead.
- Baby should stay in an upright position (unless baby is nursing, in which case you can just return him to an upright position when finished).
- Practice with a spotter. This is key when you’re trying new carriers or ways of carrying. Practice over a soft surface or close to the ground until you are confident with the carrying method.
- Check your carrier for signs of wear or damage periodically.
- Baby should be positioned properly. Baby’s knees should be higher than her bottom and legs spread so that her spine and hips are supported for healthy development. (Newborns can be worn in a cradle position as well, but face should still be high and visible).
- Forward facing carriers and carriers where baby’s legs are dangling should be avoided, as they do not support proper positioning and can lead to hip dysplasia. (4)
You can see in the illustrations above how baby’s hips are not aligned properly. This positioning can increase force on the hip joint, which can lead to hip dysplasia.
Here you can see how pulling fabric up to baby’s knees creates a seat for her, and helps with proper hip alignment.
When can I start wearing baby?
Right from birth! Slings and wraps are ideal for newborns (check the manufacturers weight guidelines) and can be used as baby grows through toddlerhood.
How long can I wear my baby?
As long as you both want. If baby is in a carrier that supports healthy positioning, you can continue to wear her for as long during the day as you are both comfortable, and up until baby hits the weight limit (which is often around 40 lb!).
What baby carrier is right for me?
If you’re not sure which carrier will work best for you, your baby, and your lifestyle, consider joining a baby wearing group to try on a bunch. Take a look at Wrap Your Baby or Baby Wearing International for local babywearing groups.
Also check with local or online retailers who may have a rental program for trying new carriers. Don’t forget to ask other mamas who may have carriers they aren’t using that you could try out.
Consider these questions when searching for a baby carrier:
- Is the carrier comfortable for you and baby?
- Does it support babies natural spine and hip development?
- Are you able to get baby into the carrier on your own?
- Can baby nurse in it?
- How long will baby fit in it?
- Can it be used from birth?
- Does it help increase skin to skin contact?
How much are baby carriers?
It depends. A new carrier can range in price from $30 to upwards of $200. The most economical choice is the wrap style carrier, which is usually priced around $40. Soft structured carriers range from about $60 to $160. Slings really run the gamut in price.
If you’re looking to save a few bucks, buying used or making your own is a good alternative (tips on how to do this below).
Best place to buy a new baby carrier?
If you’re lucky enough to live near a store that sells a variety of carriers, that’s probably your best bet. There you’ll be able to try on a variety of baby carriers and select the one that works best for you and your baby.
If, you need to buy online, Amazon is always a great option. Amazon has a ton great baby carriers available to purchase. If you know which carrier you wish to buy, you may be able to buy directly from the manufacturer’s website too.
Where can you buy a used baby carrier?
You can also get great quality baby carriers for a good price if you consider buying used. Ask friends or visit local resale shops. If you still can’t find what you’re looking for check online baby resale sites for gently used carriers (many of these sites also offer a rental program to try out new carriers).
A word of caution
Counterfeit baby carriers (especially the Ergo baby carrier) are popping up all over. If you do buy a used carrier, it’s a good idea to buy from someone you know or to ask for proof of purchase, as you can’t be sure of the quality and safety of a counterfeit.
If you are reasonably familiar with a sewing machine, you can pretty easily DIY a carrier. Here are a few tutorials:
Here’s what other natural mamas have to say about babywearing…
- My daughter was a high needs infant. She wanted to be held all the time, so wearing her in the sling and moby allowed me to (somewhat) live my life hands free. It also helped us bond and helped with nursing because she was always so close. Once she was old enough to go on my back in the ergo is when babywearing really saved the day. I could finally do dishes and laundry and cook with her close and content. My daughter is now one and I watch a two year old. I clip the ergo around my waist and let it hang behind me all day because I’m constantly tossing one of them into it. I beieve my daughter is so well adjusted partially because of babywearing. I cant imagine parenting without it. – Karina Marie
- We used the Moby Wrap with my daughter. She did not enjoy being in it until she was 3 months or so and could face outward. You’d think a newborn would love the closeness it provided, but she hated being in it as a newborn. If I had any advice it would be don’t lose hope in baby wearing just because your newborn doesn’t like it. I got a lot of use out of my Moby in the later months and we really enjoyed using it. – Makenzie Eyler
- I’m a foster mom. Last year we got a 6 month old preemie who had been left in a baby swing with a bottle propped most of his short life (the rest spent in a nicu). He didn’t want to be held, he was sleeping like a new born and really didn’t want to be held when feeding. (reactive attachment disorder) My double ring sling became his new home. Having him on me skin to skin as much as possible, started a healing process that woke him up. We saw him start coming to life, interacting with the world. Baby wearing is a life giving, nurturing, most powerful act. – Erin Beyer
- My little boy NEVER liked it, even if I took classes to make sure his position was correct. I would have love to carry him, but I think the most important is to adapt and respect every baby and their differences. – Genevieve Lemelin
- The Moby saved my sanity with my newborn son. Wearing my son calmed him and in doing so gave me a chance to breathe, collect myself, EAT, and move forward. I was an anxious new mommy with a colicky baby; babywearing was a Godsend to both of us! – Brianna Turner
- I used the Moby ALL the time with my son. He napped in it every afternoon while I walked on the treadmill until he was about 18m. I loved our special snuggle time. I also put him in it wherever we went (grocery store, mom’s group, etc.). He has always been and still is (almost 4 years old) my big snuggler. – Mary Holleboom Voogt
- I didn’t wear my daughter very much, since she was my first. But as she got older we loved the simplicity of our ring sling vs a bulky stroller. I’m looking forward oto baby wearing with my soon to come second baby, to be hands free with my toddler! – Josh Heidi White
- I feel like I missed out on baby wearing! My daughter would only sleep if I was holding her. I tried three different types and brands of wraps and slings (and I watched how-to’s on putting them on properly) but they all put strain on my back or shoulders. I couldn’t wear it for more than a few minutes. And she weighed 6lbs!!! Haha – Caitlin Brookes
- Baby wearing saved my breastfeeding relationship. We had a rough birth and my daughter suffered some injuries due to an emergency forceps delivery. Because of her bruising and trauma we had trouble nursing. After CST and a lot of patience she finally latched while I had her in a front carrier. It was a magical moment after being an exhausted mother who exclusively pumped for 3 months. – Maura Wharton
- I am a Mama of 3 and I cannot say enough amazing things about bwing! I wish I had the means, because I would totally be the Oprah of babywearing; “You get a wrap, you get a Ring Sling, you get a SSC!” I buy a stretchy wrap for all my expecting friends..they are the gateway carriers. – Deidrea Haysel
How about you? Did you babywear?
What was your go-to type of baby carrier? Share with us in the comments below!
- Hunziker UA, Garr RG. (1986) Increased carrying reduces infant crying: A randomized controlled trial. Pediatrics 77:641-648 <http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/77/5/641.abstract?sid=a39c5a21-2706-490d-a82d-1d544614dfe5>.
- timothy littlefield, et al., “car seats, infant carriers, and swings: their role in deformational plagiocephaly,” journal of prosthetics & orthotics 15 (july 2003): 102-106 <http://www.oandp.org/jpo/library/2003_03_102.asp>.
- Susan M. Ludington-Hoe, “Evidence-Based Review of Physiologic Effects of Kangaroo Care,” Current Women’s Health Reviews 7 (August 2011): 243-253. <http://eurekaselect.com/88428>.
- “Baby Carriers, Seats, & Other Equipment.” Hip Health in Baby Carriers, Baby Seats, and Other Equipment. Web. 2 Feb. 2015. <http://hipdysplasia.org/developmental-dysplasia-of-the-hip/prevention/baby-carriers-seats-and-other-equipment/>