Thursday, March 31, 2011

Choosing the Right Carriers from Newborn Stage through Toddlerhood

This is a guest post by Diana

Once your interest in baby carriers has been fired up, it's easy to feel overwhelmed by the vast selection of carriers out there. Don't be afraid! These are waters that have been navigated by many women who love the sailing and are more than willing to help you aboard and teach you the ropes. Many baby carrier stores have friendly owners who are prompt in replying with helpful information. Babywearing is more available than ever, thanks to the internet. Let the variety inspire you!



One thing you can do is to start out simple with a couple of highly-recommended carriers. For newborns, they are small, light, and sleepy. It's nice to start out with something very easy to use, like a pouch or ring sling. A wrap is just dreamy to use with a newborn, because it's snuggly and adjusts infinitely to any body type. If your baby has a strong preference for being upright and is long in the body, then you can look into a soft-structured carrier or a mei tai. For my fourth I decided I wanted one of everything. It's easy to practice wearing newborns because you're around the house all day recovering from giving birth and they want to be held constantly anyway. So you'll have plenty of opportunities to try out your carriers and find what works best for you.

There are three elements in choosing a great carrier: The mommy's body, the baby's body and the carrier itself. The first two are subject to change, especially the baby. The carrier, while rather sturdy, can be tweaked in different ways to work for you depending on what carrier you are using. In the case of pouch slings, many are sized, meaning you need to carefully choose the right size pouch using the manufacturer's sizing guide.

Keep in mind that not all carriers work for every person. There's the style issue, with mommy just preferring the use of one over another. Some mamas rock the easy pop-in and pop-out of the pouch sling, some love the structure and no-nonsense support of the buckle carrier, some love the snuggly support of a wrap, and some love the way a mei tai is a wonderful blend of structure and adjustability. And some people love all of the above, but it's hard not to have favorites. And it's normal to change favorites. For instance, the pouch sling that was so easy for the newborn stage will get a lot more uncomfortable for long-periods of wearing baby because as baby gets heavier, it's hard to have all that weight on one shoulder. If you tend to wear baby while out and about frequently, you may not want to deal with mei tai straps in a parking lot. So don't get set on one carrier for the newborn stage and expect it to be perfect through your entire babywearing career.

My first major favorite was the Beco Butterfly. I'd first started using it when my third child, Sweet Pea, was a few weeks old and wore her in it until she was 18 months old and I was too pregnant to buckle it comfortably. So with Scooby, my next baby, I started using it right away. I found out that the size of the baby can make a big difference in carrier usage. The Beco worked great until Scooby prooved to have an immensely long torso. The Beco was 16 inches tall, without enough body height to be supportive for a tall little guy with a wobbly head. So I went back to researching about carriers. I found that my mei tai was tall enough and still very snuggly. I also got an Angelpack soft structured carrier for when I didn't want to deal with tying the long straps.


If you find you are experiencing frustrations with a carrier, first look around and find ways to tweak it. Check the carrier maker's website for tips on using. Check thebabywearer.com for questions that aren't answered there. Email the retailer you got it from. Other people before you have had the same questions, and there are many things you can do differently to make a carrier work. For example, Scooby kept slipping down when I was tying him in the mei tai. I found out two other different ways of tying it, experimented, found a way that worked, and was able to make the mei tai work for us.


However, if the style of the particular carrier is what's bugging you, it may just be time to try a different type. Take what bugs you about what you are using and find something else that helps. For example, if your baby wishes to be upright, tummy to tummy, and that hold isn't comfortable with only one shoulder in a ring sling, it's time to look at something that will work tummy to tummy with supports on two shoulders. And what if your Moby wrap worked wonderfully, but now that baby's getting bigger it's too stretchy and not supportive enough? It's time to try a woven wrap! If you want to wrap, keep in mind wraps come in different lengths. This is both for people of different sizes and different ties that use more length than others.


If you love the style and use of the carrier but it's not comfortable, then it could be that the carrier itself isn't a good fit for your body type, and it's time to try a different brand. For example, I have narrow shoulders. The first mei tai I tried with my second baby worked great for back carries. However, when I wanted to use it for my third baby in a front carry, the straps were placed too widely for me to wear it comfortably. It kept slipping off my shoulders. While I was expecting my fourth, I was looking for new carriers to try and knew to check for strap placement and carriers recommended for small-shouldered wearers. I later found a mei tai that fit wonderfully and made wearing it a snuggly comfortable experience.

As baby ages, you may find the fit of your carrier changes, and you need to change the way you wear it or change the carrier itself. When baby gets taller, you may find that back carries are more comfortable for you. This also completely frees up your arms to do almost anything you can do without baby, like reach the rice box on the top shelf, unload the dishwasher. I found that one particular soft structured carrier worked perfectly until baby got to be around 21 pounds, then I suddenly got shoulder aches. I realized it was time for a bigger carrier that distributed weight better. I found one rated well for toddlers, keeping in mind my narrow shoulders and normal torso length. When I tried it on and got it adjusted, it was a perfect fit and baby felt light as a feather on my back and front. I could wear my thirty pound toddler in it with ease as well.


If you have access to a local babywearing group, a local store that sells baby carriers, or a friend with a nice stash, you have the added bonus of trying before you buy. You should try on carriers with a well-rested, fed, and calm baby. However, even without anywhere local to try carriers, I've found the internet to be a wealth of useful information on carriers and have been pleased with every one I've researched well.

It helps to think of carriers like shoes. Even not accounting for the difference in sizes, feet are shaped very differently from person to person. There's a lot of overlap and some shoes work good for the majority of people, but not every style suits every person. For instance, when Chuck Taylors were all the rage, I found that my feet were too wide for the Converse style. Sketchers, on the other hand, fit very nicely. And just like flip flops are perfect for the beach and athletic shoes are best for basketball, you may have different needs with carriers. I have a pouch sling for quick grocery runs when I'm just grabbing a few items. But when I need to do the 2.5 hour weekly shopping for my family of six, I want my Dream Carrier SSC that holds my huge, heavy eight month old so he can take a nap when he needs to. When I had a newborn hanging around the house, I loved snuggling him in my wrap. But when I'm going out running errands in the rain (and here in Oregon that's 9-10 months of the year) I don't want my wrap or mei tai straps touching the soggy grody parking lot pavement.

The bottom line is in order to find a carrier that is useful for you, you will probably wind up owning a few. As your needs change, sometimes your carrier must as well. The good news is that carriers have resale value. And because you are going to spend more time wearing baby, you will be more efficient at your job of being a mommy, wherever it takes you. Your baby will be more content, and need less of the plastic baby entertaining toys that rock, sing, stimulate, and cost a bundle! You will be free to go forth on new adventures with less limits when baby rides easy. When in your carrier search, you find one that wears like a dream come true and meets your needs perfectly, you will feel great satisfaction and freedom.

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