The New Mama's Guide to Baby Wearing: Safety & Basics

    Baby-wearing was one of those things I never really gave much thought to, until I was pregnant with my son. In fact, there's a LOT of things I didn't give any thought to until I became a parent (but that's a whole other post, haha). I knew baby carriers existed, but the only type I'd ever seen was the big backpack style with the metal frames, and when I found out I was pregnant, I knew the LAST thing I wanted to do was wear my baby if it meant having a big metal contraption strapped to me all day long.

   It wasn't until a friend of mine tagged me in an Instagram giveaway on the Solly Baby page, that I realize baby-wearing was actually SO much more than just convenience and frame backpacks. In today's post, I wanted to create a guide for new moms, addressing not only the different types of carrier and their uses, but also the maternal (and infant) benefits that come from wearing your baby. I have two types of carrier myself, and I plan on writing a follow-up post on each of those specifically, so stay tuned!
baby wearing guide pinterest

     Other than the obvious convenience of being hands-free while keeping your baby close, there are actually several benefits for mother and baby when it comes to baby-wearing. For instance, this study  published in the Pediatrics journal in 1985 found that babies who were carried more throughout the day were 43% less fussy during the day and as much as 51% less in the evening. Every new mom is familiar with their baby's "witching hour" - usually a time of evening or night where baby seems inconsolable and irritable no matter what you do! Thankfully, baby wearing has been proven to decrease crying and increase contentment in otherwise fussy babies.

    Although there's no magic woven into the threads of your favorite carrier, there's a reason your baby feels more calm when close to you. You may have heard of what many people call the "fourth trimester" - the first three months of your baby's life outside of the womb - which is an extremely trying time for your baby, where he or she is rapidly developing and experiencing all sorts of new things that didn't exist in the comfort of your womb. Carrying your baby against your body, where he or she can feel your heartbeat, and the warmth and smell of your skin can not only make baby more calm, but it can even help balance baby's blood sugar levels, according to this article published by The Cleveland Clinic Foundation.

       Although baby-wearing isn't JUST for moms (dads and other caregivers can wear baby too!), this infographic from the Baby Wearing International website gives lots of great info on how baby wearing can actually help make moms and dads more confident, and decreasing the impact of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders.

baby wearing international

    When I realized there were a few different carrier styles to choose from, I reached out to my friends in a Facebook post asking for advice, and as you can probably imagine, I got a TON of feedback in regards to type of carrier, different brands, different materials, weight limits, the list goes on and on. Although most of my friends had recommendations, a lot of them agreed on one thing: that there was no "right" or "wrong" carrier for me and my baby, and that I'd just have to figure out what worked for us. I started doing a little bit of research on each one, and learned that most carriers fit into one of five main categories of carriers:
(including the Ring Sling and Pouch Sling)
Soft-Structured (a.k.a Buckle Carriers)
Mei Tai
Frame Backpack

    My first thought was "gee, I hope I don't need ALL of these, and surely they can't all be that different" - but they are! I will go over how to choose your carrier in the next section, but for now I wanted to give a brief overview of each type.

     Wrap carriers are exactly that - a woven piece of material which is wrapped around the caretakers body in such a way to properly support and carry an infant, or even an older baby or toddler. Depending on the length of the fabric, this wrap can be worn by multiple caretakers. Wrap carriers come in a huge variety of colors, lengths, and materials, such as cotton, wool, bamboo or linen. The idea of a wrap might seem daunting at first, but most wraps come with instructions on the best way to wrap your baby. The Instagram page for SollyBaby wraps (shown below) frequently posts tutorial videos on how to use their wraps, which are very helpful!

every day kate wrap carrier
Bethany carrying hew newborn in a SollyBaby wrap.
Click here to visit Bethany's blog!

     Ring slings are another type of woven carrier which are worn diagonally across the body, and secured at the shoulder with a pair of rings. The fabric is woven through the rings and pulled tight by the weight of the child being carried. The carrier can be adjusted to fit multiple caretakers and different body types. Infants and toddlers can both be carried in this type of sling. The pouch sling is also a one-shoulder carrier, in which the child sits in a "pouch" against the caretakers body. This type of sling is not as versatile as the ring sling.

every day kate sling carrier
Sarah carrying her infant in a ring sling
Click here to visit Sarah's blog!

      The soft-structured carrier is probably the easiest to use, and can be used to carry infants and toddlers. While these carriers offer a couple different carrying positions such as front, hip and back, there is no fabric to tie or wrap, but instead there are straps and buckles that secure the child into the carrier while being worn. Most of these carriers can be adjusted to fit multiple caretakers, and are definitely user-friendly for even brand new parents. Many soft-structured carriers on the market come with additional accessories such as rain guards or breathable mesh material, that make baby wearing easier throughout any season of the year.

every day kate lillebaby carrier
Danielle carrying her older infant in a soft-structured LILLEbaby carrier
Click here to visit Danielle's blog!

      The Mei Tai (or mei dai) is a Chinese style carrier that is somewhat of a cross between the wrap and soft-structured carrier. This type of woven carrier involves straps that are tied together to secure the carrier, and does not solely rely on wrapping the fabric or securing buckles. Infants and toddlers can both be worn in this type of carrier.

mei tai mei dai
Sarah carrying her older infant in an Infantino mei dai

    Frame backpack carriers are most likely not a carrier that would be used for everyday use, but are popular among families who do lots of walking, hiking and traveling. The frame backpack is not ideal for small infants but older babies and toddlers can be carried easily as long as they are within a specific weight limit. Most frame backpack carriers are built for carrying the child as well as other supplies; the frame of this carrier is typically made of metal, and helps to evenly distribute the weight of the child, as well as any other gear stored in the backpack portion of the carrier itself.

every day kate backpack
Maci (left) wearing her newborn in a Lenny Lamb wrap
Kali (right) wearing her toddler in a phil&teds frame backpack

    As with any product being used by infants or toddlers, there are a few important safety guidelines to follow when baby wearing, to ensure that your baby is kept safe and comfortable.

1. Be sure to keep baby's head tilted up so their face is towards you, to ensure their airway is open. Their face should not be against your body or their chin to their chest. If you are using a fabric carrier such as a wrap, be sure that the fabric is not covering the baby's face. If your carrier comes with accessories such as a sleeping hood (such as some LILLÉbaby soft-structured carriers), be sure to follow the instructions on proper use, to be sure the additional fabric does not obstruct airflow.

2. Be sure to carry your infant or toddler in such a way that is appropriate for their age level, and level of head and neck strength. Most carriers will come with their own set of instructions on which carry is correct/best for each stage. In general, baby should be secured in an upright position. Some wrap carriers give instructions on how to properly tuck an infants feet into the wrap, but if the child's legs are free the fabric or material of the carrier should extend to the knee, supporting the baby's weight and protecting the hips and spine by bringing the baby's knees above his or her bum.

3. All carriers go through some wear-and-tear as they are worn throughout the years, but be sure to periodically check for damage to your carrier, such as fabric tears or loose straps or buckles that will endanger the safety of your baby.
The Baby Wearing International website has a few amazing printable graphics about baby wearing safety, including information about winter wearing and layering your baby's clothes appropriately when they will be worn in a carrier.

    As I said in the very beginning of this post, when it comes to choosing the right carrier for you and your baby, there really is no "right" or "wrong". One factor to take into consideration is you and your family's current lifestyle; do you travel often? Do you have other kids to keep after? Do you plan on wearing your baby on outings such as hiking trips, or just to the mall and the grocery store? Are there any instances where you might need to baby wear for an extended period of time? Another factor might be the climate where you live. If it's typically cold or cooler for most of the year, it might be better to invest in a warmer carrier that will allow you to keep your baby in light layers while still keeping him/her warm. If you live in a warm climate, a lighter carrier might be more comfortable for you and baby, such as a pouch or ring sling.

     I personally have a wrap and a soft-structured carrier, and I have gotten great use out of both. The wrap was difficult for me to get used to as a first-time-mom, but it was more comfortable for me when Ezra was a tiny newborn. When he was a few months old, I invested in the soft-structured LILLÉbaby carrier, which was very easy to use and allowed me to wear Ezra for an extended period of time. One of the first times I wore him was on our trip to the pumpkin patch last year, and I was so thankful to have this carrier during the several hours we spent walking around that day. It's all personal preference! So talk to your friends, family members, and do some research online. The Baby Wearing International website is a wealth of information for all-things-baby-wearing and they even have information available as to where you can find a lending library in your area. The lending libraries are a great way to test out different carriers before investing in one of your own!

every day kate pumpkin patch
Ezra in our LILLÉbaby All Seasons carrier at the pumpkin patch last year.


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