How to Wear a Baby
What to look for in a baby backpack, carrier or sling
Nobody likes to be put down, but some babies take that literally. Newborns crave the warmth, smell, closeness, rhythmic heartbeat and motion of a parent, perhaps as an attempt to recreate the womb.
Baby wearing can help settle a fussy newborn, lull a baby to sleep, make for convenient breastfeeding or keep a child safe from harm’s way. Some believe it promotes bonding.
From a pure practical standpoint, placing your newborn to toddler in some sort of carrier is ideal for traveling parents as it makes for a safe place for your poppet to perch while your hands are free for other tasks – like holding a suitcase or another child’s hand. Rather than lugging a heavy car seat bucket or dragging a big stroller around with you on a trip, the convenience and mobility of a baby backpack, sling or carrier may be the better solution (click here for an overview of different types of carriers).
Here are some factors to consider when selecting a baby or toddler carrier for your daily life and travels:
• Comfort For You
Make sure the carrier feels comfortable on your body. A proper fit should not strain the neck, shoulders or back (although with most carriers there is a time limit before your torso muscles start to fatigue).
If you have any back or hip issues, go for a front or back carrier that allows for even distribution of weight rather than a hipster or over-the-shoulder sling. Padding can make points of contact a little cushier, but note this adds bulk to the unit and detracts from the stashability factor.
Some of the more ergonomically friendly carriers have lumbar support and strategic strap adjustments for optimum alignment. Don’t forget to factor in the weather where you’ll be – breathable fabrics and mesh can help with air flow in hot climates and cozy fleece overlays can help in cold climates.
• Comfort For Baby
Obviously, comfort for the baby is a top concern because you’ll certainly hear about it if junior isn’t happy in there. Most babies are content when held close, soaking in the body contact and familiar rhythm of the heartbeat.
For newborns and infants, carriers that can accommodate a hands-free reclining cradle hold position will allow them to slumber or feed while you walk around and go about your daily tasks – just make sure the spine is supported.
For older babies who can sit up and hold their heads high, an upright carrying position will allow them to observe the world around them and nod off when need be – some sort of head support flap and drool guard is handy for this. This upright position can be facing inward or outward on your chest, on your back or off to one side. The optimum physiological position for upright carriers is to support the baby with legs spread wide rather than with direct pressure on the crotch area.
Look for breathable fabrics, sun and rain canopies, SUV materials, mesh ventilation panels or warm fleece, depending on how the weather is where you’re going.
• Variety of Positions
There’s a baby carrier for every position you can imagine. Forward facing for chest-to-chest snuggles. Outward facing with eyes on the world. Cradle hold for reclining comfort. Perched on your hip. Propped on your back. Some positions can even facilitate discrete nursing.
Try a few carriers on for size and find a position that works best for both you and your baby. Some baby carriers are versatile wonders that can adjust to hold your child in a plethora of positions.
• Age Appropriateness
Read the fine print before buying a carrier, making sure it is appropriate for the age and stage of your child. Some are suitable for newborns, others require some degree of head control or the ability to sit up unassisted. Some can comfortably hold your tyke up to age 2 while others can go to age 4 or beyond.
While it may not be a real word, stashability is an important quality especially for travelers, meaning the baby carrier should fold compactly enough to be tucked in a diaper bag, the bottom of a stroller or in a carry-on bag. Models with bulky padding, chunky straps or reams of fabric may not be the best choice for travelers.
• Ease of Use and Adjustability
You want a baby carrier that will tie, buckle, tuck or snap into a comfortable custom fit for your body without a lot of fuss and fiddle. You’ll have a squirmy baby to contend with, so you don’t want to have to perform complex origami or finger gymnastics to secure it in place. It may take a bit of practice, but you should eventually be able to slip even a sleeping cherub into the carrier without waking.
With some models, you adjust it once and its settings remain at the ready for your next baby wearing. You’ll still want easy adjustments, though, as other people may want to take a shift carrying your little bundle around (a practice to be encouraged!).
Also, subtle adjustments may need to be made depending on what you and the baby are wearing on a given day.
Washable, wipeable, durable fabric is a must with a baby carrier as there’s a 99.9% chance your child will spit up, drool and/or have a diaper explosion at some point while in it. Removable bib flaps that can be thrown in the laundry are a good feature in some models.
• Style Factor
You don’t have to forgo fashion when you become a parent. The look and feel as well as functionality of the product can have some weight in your buying decision.
Baby carriers come in a range of colours, patterns and fabrics, from practical polyester solids to organic hand loomed cloth to trendy prints in the latest palettes. Some styles appeal to the sporty parent, others target manly dads, while others coordinate with designer haute couture.
• Price Point
A basic, perfectly acceptable baby carrier can be bought for around $20, whereas stylish designer slings and heavy-duty backpacks can cost well over $100.