With the increasing popularity of babywearing, the variety of carriers available on the market has exploded. Mei tais, stretchy wraps, Ergos, Baby Bjorn, ring slings – it’s enough to do your head in. So I thought I’d help clear up some of the confusion. Below is a very brief guide to what makes a good baby carrier. Here I’m dealing with general principles that should apply to all baby carriers. I’ll outline the different types of carrier (ring slings, mei tais, woven wraps, stretchy wraps, and unsafe/suboptimal carriers) available on the market in future articles.
Knees higher than bum, splayed/frogged legs, supported to the knee: This automatically disqualifies Baby Bjorn-type carriers (known as “crotch danglers” in the vernacular) from being called a good carrier. (Better than no carrier at all, certainly, but not a good one.) Babies, especially newborns, need to be properly supported when they’re carried. Think of how you would pick up a baby in your arms – how do you hold their weight? Where do you position those little legs? A good carrier will support your baby just as your own arms would – but leave them free to do other things.
C curve to the spine/straight back: Newborns start life with a C curve in the spine; the two curves that make up the S shape of adult spines don’t develop until babies become mobile. Any carrier you use should properly support this natural C curve. It’s more comfortable for bub and prevents spinal issues from occurring.
As babies get older and their spine starts to straighten and become more “adult”, you want the carrier to continue to support them well. For this reason, it’s important to make sure your baby is close and tight to your body.
Heads off chests: Keeping the head up off the chest allows bub to breathe easily and unhindered. If their head drops, baby is more likely to suffocate.
Close enough to kiss: When worn on the front or the hip, you want your baby’s head to be close enough to kiss at all times. This applies to any carrier, and any age baby. You need to have your baby close so you can check on them and stay aware of how they’re feeling – too hot, too cold? Head up and airways clear? The high positioning will also make carrying your baby more comfortable, as they’re closer to your centre of gravity. Being up high on your chest makes them feel less heavy.
Sakura Bloom has a great post showing optimal baby positioning in ring slings. Much of the information crosses over to other types of carrier, too.
Provides proper support for the wearer
A good carrier will spread the weight of the baby it’s holding, reducing the strain on the wearer. Some types of carrier will do this better than others. For instance, ring slings will spread the weight from one shoulder across the back, whereas a soft structured carrier will support baby from both shoulders and around the wearer’s torso. Woven and stretchy wraps offer a lot more options for weight distribution, as there are many, many different carries that can be done. Each one will spread the weight differently.
Safety testing carriers
Mei tais: The top straps on a mei tai are what keeps baby up. They need to be strong enough to take all the weight of a jiggling, bouncy toddler. Unfortunately, some cheap brands skimp on adequate stitching. A simple way to test the carrier is to lay it on the ground and stand on the mei tai body. Then grab the top straps and pull upwards. A well made carrier will be able to laugh off even the most determined tug.
Also check out the quality of the stitching. Mei tai straps should be sewn to the body panel with an x box. Keep a lookout for loose or frayed stitches, or tears in the fabric. Most babies like to chew on the fabric near their mouths, so pay particular attention to top rails, tops of panels, and straps where they meet the panel. (You can make or buy chew rags so your tyke doesn’t damage the carrier.)
Ring Slings: Make sure the rings on ring slings are well sewn in. Generally speaking, metal rings are a safer and sturdier option than plastic ones. They also tend to grip the fabric better, so you end up having to readjust less. Slings that are made of one piece of fabric will be stronger than anything made of two pieces sewn together. (This goes for woven and stretchy wraps, too.)
So, there you go. Hopefully this little guide will help you when it comes to babywearing safely. Let me know if you have any other tips for safety testing in the comments!