Wearing your baby in a carrier can be a sanity saver for many parents. I am one of them and maybe you are too. I found it especially helpful in the early days when baby just wanted to be held and I wanted to do things, like eat.
Many expecting and new parents are confused where to start with carriers. There are many styles and brands out there. They may have a hand me down from a friend or been gifted with the latest one on the market. What choices do you have? There are long strips of fabric in either woven or stretch that you wrap around, there are stretch wraps already wrapped that take some guess work out, structured carriers and even combinations of woven and structure!
One brand that is popular for an introductory wrap is the Baby K’tan. This is a pre-sewn stretchy wrap that comes in sizes according to the wearer. I recommend this one for the newest of babies and baby wearers. It’s easy to use once you get the basic mechanics down and I find it fits a newborn well. With all carriers, please check manufacturers size recommendations beforehand. This one, and most, are suitable once baby is at least 8 pounds. If your baby has not reached this minimum please wait until they are just a tad bigger. If you and a partner or care giver both plan to wear the baby in a K’tan you may need more than one to fit each person. On the Baby K’tan website you can find a great instructional video on how to use. I recommend practicing with a doll or pillow (or a very compliant cat, haha. Just kidding) before putting your newborn in the carrier. I also like to practice over a soft surface like a bed, if using your baby, with a mirror nearby to check for proper placement.
My other favorite is a stretchy wrap. I personally love Solly Baby for their soft, lightweight fabrics. Moby is another popular brand and comes in a heavier weight fabric. There are many brands on the market at various price points. The stretchy wrap is the same idea as the K’tan but involves wrapping the long strip of fabric around your body to keep baby snug and secure. For many new parents this can feel intimidating. The key here is to start the wrap securely around the chest. It’s going to feel like it will be impossible to get your little bub in there but since the fabric stretches it will give enough to fit them in. If it is too tight it’s easy to adjust with a little tug and a shimmy. One downside of a stretchy wrap besides the learning curve is that after long periods of time it does stretch during the wear and you may need to take baby out and adjust.
Similar to the stretchy wrap is a woven wrap. This one does not have the give of the stretchy wrap. It can be used for tiny babies all the way up to toddlers! You can front and back and even side carry. You can even carry twins. There are numerous brands out there with cult followings and a wide range in prices. I highly recommend watching a few YouTube videos or work with a baby wearing expert to get the hang of a woven wrap. There are many different ways to wrap and it can appear complicated for a beginner but once you master one or two ways you’ll feel like such a pro! One downside is the massive amount of fabric you’ll have to wrap around your body. It can be quite warm in warmer climates or summer.
Ring slings are another choice. A ring sling is a piece of woven fabric with a metal ring that loops the tail through to secure baby. I often travel with a ring sling as I find it more comfortable on a flight than a structured carrier. It folds up small which makes it easy to pack. (I do take a structured carrier with me too when traveling for longer stretches of time as I find the back support better. Also fun fact- Baby P and I were flying across the country and he came down with diarrhea. Which covered us both and the sling mid flight. Fun times. I was thankful for another carrier and changes of clothes for us both).
The final category is the one you’re probably most familiar with- a structured carrier. This is something like an Ergo or Baby Bjorn. The carrier takes most of the guess work out of fit, leaving just a couple of straps to be adjusted to comfort. The shoulders and sometimes the waist belts are padded for extra comfort. If you have a Lille Baby, they come with a lumbar support pad which I really love when our and about all day with Baby P. The added lumbar support is also a nice bonus if you plan to do any baby wearing workouts. These structured carriers can feel like the least intimidating option and are usually what most people are familiar with seeing in regards to baby wearing. Many of the brands have come out with mesh styles which make them cooler to wear, especially in summer. They often come in fun colors and prints. And you can adjust for each wearer without needing multiples, like the Baby K’tan. Some models require an infant insert so check manufacturer directions. Many structured carriers will work with babies from 7-45 pounds! I personally have a few different structured carriers but find myself going to my Tula the most often. It’s now well loved and broken in so nicely. I’m a fan of the little hood to cover baby’s head if he’s fallen asleep or if the weather is inclement.
I find that breastfeeding in a structured carrier is easier for me than some other choices. I loosen the straps a bit, wiggle baby a bit lower and eventually we make it happen. This didn’t come without practice and I’d call it baby wearing 201 rather than 101! I’ve nursed in a ring sling as well and find this to be another good option for nursing while wearing, especially with a smaller baby. The stretchy and woven wraps are not ideal to nurse in as they needed to be rewrapped after loosening the placement.
No matter the carrier there are a few basic rules to follow for a proper fit. The acronym T.I.C.K.S will help you check that you’ve got all of the bases covered. T= tight. You want the carrier to fit snugly to your body as well as your baby’s body. A too loose carrier will allow baby to slouch down. This is not good for their spinal development as well as keeping their airway clear. I= In view at all times. You want to be able to see your baby’s face and nose, their face should not be pressed to your body. C= Close enough to kiss. The carrier should be lifted high enough that you can easily kiss the top of baby’s head without straining down. This is the number 1 fit correction I see with many people. K= Keep chin off chest. The baby’s neck should be supported enough to keep their chin from curling down towards their chest. This will keep their airway open. There should be a minimum of 1 finger width under their chin. S= Supported back. The carrier should be snug enough to baby that their back is supported in a natural shape. Newborns are not born with a natural S curve to the spine. You want to ensure that their back has ample support. To test this you can place a hand on their back with slight pressure. Their body should not move closer to you or uncurl. A final position check not covered by T.I.C.K.S is knees and hips. If baby is old enough to have their legs free, you want to ensure that the carrier fabric is stretched from knee to knee, allowing for a natural M shape with knees and bottom. The knees should rise above hip level. Without this M shape you may put undue stress on the hip joints and risk hip dysplasia. Whether front facing or towards you please ensure that baby’s legs are not dangling straight down from their body but in the M position. For a newborn their legs should be folded froggy style under their body and in the carrier.
There are also several body cues as a baby wearer to keep in mind. I have yet to find a source online that covers this in depth so I’m happy to share with you what I’ve discovered in my own baby wearing journey. Shoulders should be drawn away from the ears and relaxed down the back. Similar to carrying a heavy backpack, there’s a tendency to round the shoulders to the weight as well as in a protective position around baby. This will strain your back and neck. Another protective stance is to jut the hips forward or out to the side if doing a hip carry. We naturally feel as if we need to support the weight of the baby but that’s what the carrier is for! Draw the pelvis under your (unrounded!) shoulders with the tailbone in a neutral position. Try not to push your belly out as a shelf for baby or pop your booty out. Your body ideally is in a neutral state. Pay attention to your pelvic floor and breathing. If you’ve taken any of my classes, you know I talk ad nauseam about this. But there’s a reason! Your pelvic floor is under stress wearing the weight of your baby around your waist. If you’ve recently given birth, it’s in an even more delicate state as your uterus recovers to a pre pregnancy size. This takes a MINIMUM of 6 weeks, if not longer. Depending on the carrier and straps you may need to adjust the fit to a position that allows you to breathe fully and feel that you can safely protect your pelvic floor. From my own personal experience, even 13 months in, I am continually adjusting as Baby P grows to find our best fit. If you’ve given birth via cesarean birth, you should wait until your incision has healed and you’re able to support the weight of your baby without discomfort. This will be different timing for everyone. I also suggest choosing a carrier that does not put additional weight around the midsection. A structured carrier may need to wait until a later time if you’ve had this type of birth.
Baby carriers, like most things baby related, are a personal choice. There’s no one size fits all option. My recommendation is to do a little research and consider your needs. If you live in an urban setting like NYC where getting s stroller in the subway is not always convenient you may find yourself popping baby in a carrier more often and will need something sturdy yet lightweight. If you anticipate only using a carrier in the newborn stage something stretchy like the K’tan may be your best bet. Ask friends to try out theirs or if you have a store nearby that allows you to test wear go there. In NYC a wonderful resource is The Wild (formerly Wild Was Mama) in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. And don’t go crazy (like I did!) and buy a million options. Try one and see if that’s your jam before going all out baby wearing crazy.