Monday, February 10, 2014

Let's Get Real...

I've observed a disturbing trend lately in the online babywearing world.  A parent says, "I have a new baby, I've heard of ring slings and mei tais, which ones are good?" and the immediate reply is "you need a custom wrap conversion from *high end maker*."  Or a parent will say, "I have a 6mo old and a *standard carrier*.  How long can I expect this to work for my pumpkin?"  And someone immediately jumps in with, "you should get a toddler *brand* because pumpkin is going to outgrow *standard carrier* very soon."  Or "wow I can't believe your 6mo old can fit that carrier, mine outgrew it when she was a month old."  Or my favorite, "you need to get a REAL carrier, like a woven wrap made of *special fabric blend*.  I truly believe these folks really do want to be helpful.  I think, like a game of internet telephone, they are repeating what they heard from someone who heard it from someone else who also heard it from someone else and it grew (or shrank) with each retelling.  So, I'm hoping to help reset the telephone game and provide a reference point for when you hear the game getting out of control again.

Here are a few babywearing truths you need to know BEFORE you can adequately share the love:

1.  If you wear your baby... you are a REAL babywearer. 
 I've had so many people say to me at meetings, "I want to learn more so I can be a REAL babywearer.  I only have a frontpack or big box store soft-structured carrier."  Babywearing isn't like the Velveteen Rabbit.  An expensive German-style-woven doesn't shed a thread into the ground to grow a fairy and make you into a REAL babywearer.  You ARE a real babywearer, don't let anyone tell you that you aren't.  Even if you measure in yards or inches.  Even if you own "only" one carrier, and even if you made that carrier in your kitchen or bought it from a BigBox store, you ARE a real babywearer.
A "REAL" Babywearer
Also a REAL babywearer with her real DIY mei tai (and awesome matching headband)

2. Babywearing is a SKILL and not a product.  Let me repeat, Babywearing is NOT a product that you buy.
Towel kanga at the beach
Pillowcase and duct tape podegi from the
first Babywearing Conference Emergency
Wearing class

You do not need a carrier to babywear.  You're shocked right now, aren't you?  It's true, a product may well make it EASIER for you to babywear, but it isn't the end all and be all.  If you have the SKILL of babywearing, you can use any carrier, as well as a large variety of *not a carrier* to carry your baby/toddler.  For example, a sheet,  towel, or pillowcase and duct tape can be used in a pinch.  For more examples, check out my emergency babywearing posts.

3. No carrier works for everyone.
  Have you ever had a friend tell you, "omigosh, I just got the most amazing shoes, you HAVE to get some."  You head to the store and the shoes pinch your toes or your feet swim in the shoes, or you just think they look like boats on your feet?  Carriers are like that.  The one I think is awesome may be misery for you.  Brand doesn't matter. The Latest-Greatest doesn't matter. Does it fit your child?  Is it comfortable? Does it fit your aesthetics and more importantly budget? If so, it's a good choice for YOU.
Ouch that rubs!

4. Toddler carriers are not made for the moment your baby can toddle.
    Most toddler carriers don't properly fit children in the 90+ percentile for height/weight until after 2.  So, most kids have been running for a long time before they fit a toddler carrier properly.  A too small child in a large carrier is at risk of over-extending their knees and hips.  I'd go so far as to say this is much MORE not ideal than a baby/child in a narrow carrier, and a too small baby is certainly at risk of getting lost in the fabric and possibly suffocating.  In this way, smaller is better than bigger.
Too tall: Bamberoo, 5mo

Toddler Kinderpack, 13.5mo, has been walking for 5mo
Carrier is too tall and too wide.  You can see the side of the carrier
where the buckle is sits well past her leg bend

5. Toddler carriers aren't necessary to wear a toddler, or preschooler, or elementary schooler, or high schooler.... and there is no such thing as "toddler worthy."  If a toddler is in it, it's worthy.
   Okay, I'll admit, wearing a high schooler wouldn't be my first choice, but if I had a standard carrier and I had an injured high schooler I needed to carry, I'd make use of that standard carrier like a boss.  In general, you don't wear big toddlers for multiple hours a day like you might with an infant.  So, if the carrier/wrap isn't the MOST comfortable carrier to ever hold a kid, so what?  You're wearing for 15-20min, maybe an hour tops.  Are there situations where a toddler carrier makes sense?  Sure.  Special needs kids who might be worn more often, kids who struggle with new situations and might be worn more often, parents with an injury that requires more support, or even a parent who just wants one for their toddler, all of these might make a toddler carrier make sense, but let's stop saying everyone needs one, and especially not with a 12mo old.

ErgoBaby  15yr old, Diane is SO Boss
I want folks to share their babywearing knowledge.  I want them to share how awesome it is to wear their babies, toddlers, and preschoolers.  However, I implore you to not let your want for a new carrier sound like a NEED to a new wearer.  Do you want a new carrier because it's pretty?  Awesome, if you have the means, buy it.  Do you want a toddler carrier?  Awesome, if you have the means, buy one.  Do you want a wrap made of unicorn hair?  Awesome, if you have the means, buy one.  Do you want a wrap conversion carrier made with the latest-greatest wrap du jour?  Awesome, if you have the means, buy one. There's nothing wrong with wanting a carrier or wrap, but PLEASE, stop telling new wearers they NEED those carriers. This discourages people from trying babywearing, it makes it seem like it must be very expensive and exclusive. The consumerist attitude also pushes out and discourages long term educators.

Recently, I've heard of folks telling women who founded the modern babywearing movement, women who are leaders in advocacy and the establishment of babywearing as an acceptable universal practice that they aren't REAL babywearers.  To be frank, How DARE they?  Even if she was a new mom who'd been wearing for a week, where does anyone get the right to tell others their babywearing isn't real enough for them? 

Remember as advocates, our first goal should always be to help them work with what they have.  If what they have truly won't work for them, start with a few examples of carriers that will do the job that are easy to find at a reasonable price point.  If someone wants to jump down the collector's rabbit hole, they can make that decision on their own without feeling pressured to do so.  So, I ask you to take this time to become familiar with these carriers that I have heard "can't" carry a child over 8-12mo.  Notice the wide variety of sizes that children of the same age are.  Notice that all of the pairs seem to be wearing and at the very least content with their *not specifically toddler* carrier. 
Kozy Mei Tai
Kozy Mei Tai, 4.5yrs 48lbs

Kozy Mei Tai, 4yrs old

Onya Baby

Onya Baby, 4yrs old

Onya Baby, 7yrs old

Onya Baby, 4yrs 40lbs

Ergo Baby
Perhaps the carrier MOST often disparaged as "too small"

Ergo Performance, 5yr old 
4yrs, 42lbs

5yrs, about 35lbs
3.5yrs, 99th percentile height/weight

Ergo Sport, 4yrs, 40lbs, 42"

But what if s/he is a leaner?
 It's true, a leaning kid can be uncomfortable, but kids can be taught. 
I teach them that there is no climbing out of the cart at Target,
I teach them that they can't run into the street,
and I teach them that if they want to be carried, they can't lean.

Assorted SSCs

Beco Butterfly, 4yrs, 40lbs, 42"

Beco Gemini - often seen as a "small baby" carrier, but it can still do the job at 4yrs, 40lbs

Action Baby Carrier, 5yrs, 35lbs. 
Pikkolo, another notorious "small baby" carrier,  4yrs old, no support belt added
Boba, 3 yrs, 29lbs, 34.74"

Boba, 5yrs, 35lbs

Assorted Mei Tais and Half Buckles

Babyhawk 4yrs, 40lbs, 42"

Kindercarry Standard, almost 6yrs old, makes any hospital trip better

Nuzzle Me, Recruit size, 4yrs, 40lbs, 42"

Ring Slings

Ring Sling 4yrs, 40lbs, 42" 
Also an example why the crazy long sling craze is not a good plan


I often hear that certain materials or brands of woven wrap aren't "toddler worthy."  Nonsense.
 Didymos Standard line, cotton, 4yr old
 Little Frog, cotton, one of the most inexpensive wraps you can buy, 5yr old
 Girasol, cotton, 6yr old
Old Girasol, the one with a "wrong side," these were already considered
not "toddler worthy" when I started wearing. 50lbs.

Little Frog, cotton, inexpensive, 60lb 6yr old 48", and her 4yr old sister who said, "I wanna go up in the rainbow too!" 

Traditional Inuit Amauti, 8yr old 
Admittedly, this isn't a "Standard" carrier for our area, but it is SO cool (or warm),
and can carry a wide variety of kid sizes

Thanks for reading, and happy baby-toddler-and-big-kidwearing!

 Thanks to the babywearers from around the country (and Canada) who contributed photos for this piece.


  1. Love this article, but I do have one caveat. Any arrier that is sewn is going to have a weight limit. They are guidelines and the occasional wearing is fine, but if you're going to put a 50lb child in a carrier with a 35lb weight limit then please be extra sure to check all stitching when you're done.

    1. If manufacturers are not making their carriers withstand pull tests of at least 100+ pounds they are doing a disservice to their customers, IMO. Most carriers are perfectly capable of supporting several hundred pounds worth of weight before stitching fails. Most people, however, are not going to be comfortable wearing a heavier baby for long. I'm not saying be cavalier about it, checking stitching is great practice anyway, but having done a ton of product testing, I can tell you these things NEED to be able to withstand the forces involved with picking up a child from the floor, swinging them over a shoulder, and bouncing them into place while tugging on straps. If you do that with a 30 pound child, there are points in that process where the force on the straps is well over 40-50 pounds, due to the pull/gravity/tug combined with the child's weight.

      I've had carriers fail with a 20 pound child due to fabric or stitching weakness in the santa-toss or "bounce into place" part of the process. If a carrier is only rated for 35 pounds and they mean "if you put a 40 pound kid in here the thing will fall apart" it's not safe to use with any child.

      (in general, the bigger a kid gets, the less bouncing you have to do to position them, in my experience. A 15 year old in a carrier is mostly sitting on the hips, the carrier is just steadying.)

  2. Thank you for writing this! When I entered the baby wearing world 18 months ago I felt very similarly. In response I started the blog "Where We Wear" a project that features the baby wearing stories and moments of parents with a focus on why, where, and how we wear, instead of WHAT we wear. :) Two posts that I think you will find of interest are "Letter from a Disillusioned New Babywearing Mama" and "Babywearing is Something You Do, Not Something You Buy".

    I thought you would appreciate 2 posts in particular:

    All my best!
    ;) Lizzy

    1. Thank you so much for writing this article, I started babywearing 5 yrs ago and have since got into tge facebk pages, the "craze" seems so much more money orientated than it was back then ! Creating yet another new mother hang up and competition, moving away from the main reason for babywearing in the first place , whats best for child and mother is completely different for everyone !

  3. <3

    More about the duct tape baby carriers:

    Babywearing is a skill. It is a skill for mother AND for baby, interestingly enough. The older they get the better they are at "helping" and clinging and the less you need any carrier at all. I "wear" my son down the stairs all the time...I sit down, he gloms onto my neck, I walk down, he slides off. He's two and has been doing this for months. I only wear him (in a calyx designed for smaller kids but which is still the most comfortable thing I own) taking him to the bus because it is the best way to keep us both warm and keep him out of the road while I"m pushing his special needs sister. Can he sleep in it for 3 hours? No, but he never wants to.

    I had someone ask me if I was a CERTIFIED babywearing educator once. I pointed them at this:

    If 20 years of wearing, designing, testing and teaching with over 200 carriers going through my hands is not sufficient, whatever. Babywearing is a skill. It is best taught peer to peer, best experienced rather than read about, and it does not have to be perfect, it just has to get the job done. It is a tool, not a medal.

  4. I love this so much. As someone who wears every day in her DIY carriers, I get tired of the "you NEED handwoven X" or "check out my HTF/HSA/unicorn hair stash!" Yes, the fabrics are beautiful. But you know what? I learned to wrap with gauze. I don't feel I need to try 20 wraps to find a "toddler worthy" one. Honestly, I don't even wrap most of the time, I prefer a ring sling. :p But I worry about so many new babywearers that feel they *have* to have a collection to babywear and may be turned off of babywearing. So THANK YOU for writing this!

  5. Bravo bravo bravo!! This is such a much needed post in the babywearing world right now.

    BWI of Phoenix

  6. I love this! I still wear my 2.5 year old in my homemade ring sling, even over my 8 month pregnant belly! We all need to do what works best for us.... Thanks for posting this, I'm going to share it!

  7. Thank you SO much. My first baby carrier ever was handmade and my second a gift because I really cannot afford the expensive handwoven or ssc carriers. This is a really, really important post. I don't like the condescending attitude of some moms when it comes to babywearing. Just because I don't know 50 different types of carries doesn't make me any less of a babywearer. Thanks a lot for this post!! <3

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  9. thanks sooooooo much for this article!!

  10. thanks for this page. i love carrying both my girls just my elest now 3 is getting too heavy not to have additional support, now will try find onethat suits us, my youngest still fits my tomy origional

  11. I would love to know where you got your Amauti and how it works!

  12. Wonderful post! So well-said. I'm an "old-timer" in the babywearing world, and I've seen and heard a lot of what you're talking about over the past few years. I wore my oldest (who is almost 10) in the same carrier for almost 2 years straight--a padded ring sling. Around here, almost nobody had ever seen a sling before. The comments I got were usually something like, "Wow, where did you get that thing? Is it comfortable? Your baby looks so happy! Where can I get one for my pregnant daughter?" My simple sling was a big deal. Fast forward a decade, and now, it isn't "real" babywearing. I remember when many of these brands you've pictured here were new and "all the rage", and it's really sad when new moms with limited budgets are persuaded to believe that they must have the newest, latest, trendiest carrier if they want to be "real" babywearers. With 5 babies, I've tried a lot of things--from DIY to wrap conversion--and I do have a little bit of a stash (because it's a fun hobby), but if we really want to spread the babywearing love we need to give mamas the message that it is not only possible, but perfectly acceptable, to happily wear using one simple, inexpensive carrier. Bless you for saying as much! :)