Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Emergency Babywearing

This past week we have all been moved by the devastation in Japan following the earthquake and tsunami.  One photo from the event that seemed to move many parents was this one of a grandmother wearing a little one in a traditional onbuhimo while trying to navigate terrain that would have been impossible with a stroller or for a walking toddler.  This got me thinking about how we might handle such an emergency.  Babywearing is not a tradition here in the way it is in Japan.  Our grandmothers are unlikely to pull a carrier from the closet in case of an emergency.  So, I'm going to show you how to pull a carrier out of your closet.

These are my supplies:

A towel, a scarf, a belt, and a fleece blanket.  All items you might have around your house, in your car, or on your person.   These are not items only a parent would have, these are items ANYONE could use to help children in case of an emergency. 

First, for a newborn or small infant a front carry is preferred.  I don't have a newborn right now, so Baloo is going to play the part today.  With a newborn, you can just tuck in your shirt, tuck baby into the shirt, and I have added the belt for extra insurance at the bottom.  If you have a higher neckline, you'd probably want to cut it to make room for baby to have an open airway.

Now, in MOST emergency situations, a back carry is going to give you better mobility.  So, these are all back carries that can be done with an older infant or toddler.  Teagan is 15mo.
This is a strap carry done with a scarf.  This is done traditionally in Asia with a strap similar to a martial arts belt.  You don't want anything TOO thin, rope or similar would dig into baby's skin.  If you are a wrapper, this is done like a ruck tied under bum, but without the same width.

Another option is a torso carry.  This is the same carry as a kanga from Africa, but I've used a towel.  Knot above the breasts in front with the top, then below the breasts with the bottom.

Another option might be using a fleece blanket and your belt.  This is borrowed from a Native American tradition. I've tied the top above my chest, and then used the belt to create her seat.
Now, some of you are currently in the middle of "baby days" and are thinking to yourself, "I never go anywhere without a carrier (or 10)."  So, let's look at what you can do with a carrier in case of  emergencies.

Many carriers have a long length of fabric.  If needing to cross a short bit of moving water, a wrap or mei tai could be secured to either side and then used as a handhold to ensure you didn't lose your footing.  Those straps could also be used to tie you or a child to a solid object out of the way of harm.  If trying to move several children, you may have to leave one somewhere that it wouldn't be ideal (in a tree), a carrier could be used to ensure they didn't fall.

What about an emergency while hiking?  Your family is on a short day hike, you brought a carrier in case the preschooler gets tired, but your teenager falls and breaks an ankle.  How do you get her back to safety?  Well, in a pinch, a carrier WILL carry an adult.
In an ideal world, no one would ever have to deal with a situation like the one in Japan.  However, we all know that sometimes bad things happen.  So, hopefully this helps you to prepare for a situation that you never face.

Edit 3/15/2011 at 1:30:

I received a message from an old school friend reminding me that some of this may not be clear to non-babywearers.  So, I'm going to post her questions here to try and help answer those questions.

For instance...
How is that scarf attached to child and adult?

Good question!  The middle of the scarf is behind her back and under her arms.  It comes up over my shoulders like a backpack.  Then I bring it back behind her and tie it underneath her bottom.  I know she won't fall out because her bottom is lower than her knees, this places the tie slightly between us.
Is the towel (next photo) just flat against child's back or up under her bum? How on earth does she not fall out the bottom of the towel?

The same thing as with the scarf, her knees are higher than her bottom, it is smoothed down her back and yes, tucked up a bit between us.
With the blanket and the belt, where does one decide to place the belt? By "creating a seat" do you just mean "a way to keep your passenger from sliding down?"

I place the belt just under her bottom, I'm creating a pouch, like a hammock chair.  Her bottom should be a bit lower that her knees (and it'll settle slightly lower than the belt) so that her bottom takes her weight and not her legs.

How tight are all of these cinches/ties?

Snug enough to be secure, but not so tight as to be uncomfortable.  You don't want them to be able to slip out or wiggle free, but you do want them and you to have plenty of breathing space.
Can one person arrange this on themselves (if so, HOW??) or does it take a second pair of hands to help?

Yes, one person CAN do these on their own.  I took all of these pictures with only my 3yr old in the house.  I put her up in each carry alone.  I'll be honest, most people would do well to have practiced a few times with a spotter before trying the first time, but in a pinch, using the scarf for example, I held it snug under her arms and then passed her over my shoulder, like Santa's sack.  Bend forward to create a table for baby to lay on while you adjust the ties.

Here's a good video of a kanga carry (like the towel) that shows another way to get the baby back there and creating the seat.   This video shows a Superman toss (my usual method for getting a baby on my back) and a ruck carry.  The ruck carry it similar to the strap carry, and it could be done with a bedsheet.

Hopefully that helps clarify some of the aspects to the non-babywearing reader. 


  1. Awesome! This is a great post. Thank you!

  2. So neat, thanks for the awesome post!

  3. Amazing! Very helpful info.

    Another possible "emergency" carrier is a long-sleeved pullover. You can tie the arms over one shoulder like a simple fabric wrap used for a one-shoulder carry, and set the child in the body of the pullover.

    I used this one when we were taking a tour of a cave, and the youngest (toddler) got tired halfway through the walk back. I should have brought the sling just in case, but he'd been going through a phase of "I want to walk!" everywhere, and I forgot it. Thankfully my husband had a fleece pullover with him, and I could improvise. Hubby would have carried him, but he'd injured his shoulder recently and physically couldn't carry him that far.

  4. I was just looking through our "improvised babywearing" photos from the first babywearing conference, and one of the fastest carriers there was a podaegi made from duct tape and a pillowcase.

  5. Also, did you notice how many pictures there were of rescue workers in Japan carrying out little old ladies on their backs?

  6. Excellent suggestions from the comments as well. I grabbed things from my first floor that were close at hand, as though it were a real emergency. There are so many possibilities, this was mostly to help you think about what they were. I will come back in a few days and talk about the "faux-emergency" as well. You know, the one where you're at the beach and your toddler is too tired to walk back to the car. Not a true emergency, but still a problem to be solved.

  7. I've used my husband's long sleeve button up shirt as a carrier in a pinch before. I unbuttoned it and used it like a kanga to carry my 3 year old in a torso carry. I tied the sleeves and shirt tails. I worked beautifully and was pretty comfortable.

  8. Overalls can work as well, though not as many people wear them these days. Put a belt or scarf around the waist and the child can go inside the top part of the overalls either in back or in front.

  9. This is a fantastic post, another reason to love babywearing! When I first saw that picture you posted, I cried. Here are a few other babywearing pictures out of Japan that have moved me:



  10. i have used a hoddie sweat shirt and a bed sheet before i tied it upside down with the arms around my waist and put the sheet through the pocket and ties it like a mei tie i have also threaded the sheet through the sleeves and tied it like a podigi (i usually do that one when the sweater doesn't have a trough pocket) the nice thing about that way is if it has a hood the baby can use it to cover them .

  11. hello, I have a babywearing Blog in Spanish and I'd really appreciate it if you'd let me translate this post in it. I'd give you all due credit and link of course.... the link is in my profile. thanks for this excellent post!

  12. I really enjoy seeing the things you immediately grabbed that were already on the first floor of your house, Ann Marie. Men's sweatpants can also be used to create a ruck under bum carry. Perhaps winter weather emergency wearing?

  13. Momoichi - you are welcome to translate with a link back.

  14. Love this post! Thank you so much for putting out this info.

  15. Flags and sheets work great as baby carriers too! Thanks for the other ideas :)

  16. Still relevant to life, thanks!

  17. Hi,
    Thanks for the post. I have been reviewing baby carriers to buy for earthquakes-I am moving to LA (sadly, no choice). All the carriers are too small for my teenager daughter whom I will be using the carrier for. I am particularly interested in the last photo -a lady carrying another lady. Do you have more information on that carrier? how to make one like that?
    Thanks very much!

  18. Hi,
    Thanks for the post. I have been reviewing baby carriers to buy for earthquakes-I am moving to LA (sadly, no choice). All the carriers are too small for my teenager daughter whom I will be using the carrier for. I am particularly interested in the last photo -a lady carrying another lady. Do you have more information on that carrier? how to make one like that?
    Thanks very much!

  19. Hi,
    How can I make or buy the one in the last photo?
    I need one for my teenage daughter.

    Thanks a lot!

  20. Susan Cho, in the last photo of this post, the mother is wearing her daughter in a soft structured carrier. For an infant or toddler, the panel of fabric will cover the bottom and back of the child. For a larger child, it will not sit as high and the straps will need to be loosened. Fortunately, preschool sized soft structured carrier are on the market, and it may be possible to contact the manufacturers to inquire about specially sized carriers for special need situations. Kinderpack is one manufacturer that you could try. I do hope this helps!