This baby wearing for beginners guide is for parents who like the idea of baby wearing, but who feel a bit confused about how to get started.
There are so many carriers! So many ways to use them! You’re probably already tired and overwhelmed and nobody needs an epic challenge here.
So let’s break this down, because babywearing can be great for so many reasons.
What is baby wearing?
When I was pregnant with my first child, one of the things I was the most excited about was the idea of “baby wearing.” It sounds a little exotic, but basically:
Baby wearing (also called “baby carrying”) is the practice of carrying your baby or toddler in a wrap or structured baby carrier.
I think the title “baby wearing” kind of gave that away, but just in case some of you thought we were, like, turning our babies into scarves or something I thought I should be clear.
Baby wearing has become increasingly popular in Western culture, but it’s been a common practice around the globe for centuries.
And since we have Amazon Prime this seems like as good a time as any to catch up with the rest of civilization and get ourselves some carriers, amiright?
When you first start exploring the idea of baby wearing, it can be a bit intimidating.
On the one hand, it’s simple: you want to find a convenient, cozy way to be able to hold your baby while keeping your arms free.
On the other hand, the variety of wraps and sometimes complicated wrapping techniques can make the whole thing seem a bit daunting to a beginner.
But! It doesn’t need to be all that hard to get down the fundamentals.
This post will cover the basics of baby wearing for beginners to get you the information you’ll need to get started.
If over time you become really interested in baby wearing and all of the communities that surround it, that’s great! But today we’re just going to go over some basics, easy enough for really any new parent to work with.
Why Should I Consider a Baby Carrier?
If I were going to recommend one item to new mothers, it would be a baby carrier!
Ok first you should have a crib and diapers. But then a baby carrier.
With all 3 of my children I’ve found baby carriers to be completely indispensable. And baby wearing for beginners (even if you don’t know all the fancy wrapping techniques!) offers a ton of benefits.
Benefits of Baby wearing
There are so many benefits to baby wearing! And this holds true whether you’re a real baby wearing enthusiast, or just a new mom looking to make life a little easier.
Let’s take a look at some of the main benefits to babywearing, so you can decide if it’s for you.
Baby carriers allow you a flexibility that you simply can’t get with a stroller. Carriers allow you to move quickly, and they are far less cumbersome than a stroller.
Don’t get me wrong, both have their place! But the carrier simply allows you more options than a stroller alone, especially in challenging circumstances (like going through security at the airport with a baby carrier and flying with a lap baby). Having a carrier on hand is invaluable in situations like this.
Chores like washing the dishes and dusting (ok fine I’ve never dusted anything in my adult life) can be much more manageable if you’re able to keep your baby in a carrier. And figuring out how to handle essential tasks – like how to grocery shop with a baby – becomes simpler if using the carrier is a tool at your disposal.
If you have an older toddler at home, it’s great to use a carrier so that you’re not leaving the baby in a position to be trampled. Your toddler might as well be a buffalo in this scenario. Keep your infant out of the buffalo’s way!
I’m not saying all toddlers are reckless monsters. I’m just saying mine is.
Especially when I had my 3rd child, I worried about having her on the floor when her older brothers (then ages 2 and 5) were playing around her. They were not always playing gently, to put it mildly.
So, having the option to scoop her up and keep her in the baby carrier while the boys played freely was a big relief for me.
Carriers also make it much easier to manage your other children, if you’re outnumbered! This is particularly true at parks, on errands, etc. when you need to be able to move quickly and keep an eye on more than one kiddo.
Protection from strangers
I’m not talking about randoms trying to snatch your baby from the grocery store. I’m just talking about shielding your baby from the friendly touch (to the face! during flu season!) from the elderly women in line in front of you.
If you’re breastfeeding your baby, baby wearing can be a significant help.
When a child is held close, it becomes easy for a mother to recognize the signs of hunger quickly. This allows you to nurse without the baby needing to cry to get your attention. I mean all babies cry sometimes, even if they’re velcro-ed right onto you. We’re just trying to get a little advantage here.
Some moms are able to nurse right in the carrier! I’ve pulled this off once or twice in my time, and it made me feel like a really advanced mom. I mean come on, that’s a high level move right there!
I personally never got in the habit of doing this regularly, but I could see how others moms might (especially with a fussy baby at, say, the grocery store when your cart is already full and ain’t nobody about to leave all of that produce there in the aisle).
Babies tend to cry less when held
Most babies enjoy being in close physical contact with their mothers. Babies are more able to regulate themselves physiologically when their are in close contact with their caregiver’s body, and this, in turn, helps reduce the amount of crying from a young baby.
Decrease in postnatal depression
Studies have found that women who practice babywearing may feel better about their struggles post delivery.
What are the types of baby carriers?
There are several different types of baby carriers. Which you choose depends on personal preference. There is no single “best” carrier, but rather each type of carrier has pros and cons and works differently.
Let’s take a look.
Soft Structured Carriers (SSCs)
Appropriate for babies 7-50 lbs., depending on the carrier
This type of carrier is the go-to for a lot of new moms, particularly once your baby is out of the early days of life as a newborn.
A soft structured carrier is made of soft material, but it’s sewn into a structured seat. These carriers have shoulder straps and likely buckles as well.
What these carriers might give up in “coziness” (when compared to some wraps) they certainly make up for in convenience and ease of use, particularly for outdoor events, long walks, etc.
Some of the most popular brands of soft structured carriers are the Ergobaby, Tula, Beco, and BABYBJORN.
Appropriate for babies from birth to 20 lbs.
Baby wearing wraps, or “stretchy wraps”, are basically long, stretchy pieces of fabric that can be wrapped around your body and over your shoulders. Wraps are relatively inexpensive (especially compared to SSC’s) and very versatile. They are especially good for younger babies, and they have a great “cozy” factor.
Strechy wraps go onto your body before putting the baby in. The fabric criss-crosses multiple times in order to keep your baby secure.
If you’re interested in a stretchy wrap, you’ll want to consider the climate and time of year that you’ll most be using it.
Some of the wraps feature very warm fabric (I’m looking at you Moby). This is great for a winter baby, but if you’ll be having your baby in the spring or summer, you’ll want to consider a wrap made of thinner material, like the Solly.
Once your baby gets larger than 20 lbs., stretchy wraps begin to sag and hurt your shoulders. That’s your clue that its’ time to move along, likely to an SSC or woven wrap.
Appropriate for babies from birth to 35 lbs. depending on the carrier and material
Slings are worn over one shoulder, which is the main difference from the other carriers we’re looking at.
HotSlings and Maya Wrap are two brands you can check out if you’re interested in purchasing a sling carrier. The Moby Sling is a great option for breastfeeding
There are two sub-categories of slings: Ring Slings and Pouch Slings.
Ring slings resemble short woven wraps. The fabric is gathered on one shoulder and attached together with two metal rings (hence the name “ring sling”).
The material gets looped across your body and threaded through the rings, which end up sitting below your shoulder.
If you’re wearing a ring sling, your baby will be placed between the sling and your body, and the top and bottom edges of the sling get tightened to make a seat for your baby, who will be sitting securely against your body.
Ring slings can be either “single layer” or “double layer” depending on how many layers of fabric are used. Single layer ring slings tend to be easier to adjust.
Double layer slings can accommodate heavier toddlers, up to 35 lbs. Single layer slings typically go up to a 25 lb. weight limit. You need to check your individual sling to confirm the weight limit, as it can differ from product to product.
Pouch slings are basically large circles of fabric that get curved into a pouch for your baby. Babies sit in a deep pouch that’s in front of your body, and are in a semi-reclined position either in the pouch or on your hip.
You need to take extra precautions when using a pouch sling. It’s extremely important to make sure that your baby’s airways are clear when they’re in a semi-reclined position. To be honest, I’ve personally always been a bit nervous to use a pouch sling for this very reason.
A popular brand of pouch slings are HotSlings.
Mei Tais (MTs)
Appropriate for babies from birth to 44 pounds depending on the carrier
I know this really sounds like a tropical drink. Go ahead and try to order it at a bar, but also remember that it’s a real type of baby carrier and that you can find them on Amazon.
Mei Tais (also called Meh Dais) are Asian-style carriers that work as sort of a hybrid between soft structured carriers and woven wraps.
Mei Tais have straps that go over your shoulders and typically cross, then wrap around the wearer and the baby so that they can be tied at the baby’s back or your waist. These carriers have a belt that ties around your waist and is attached to a panel that works as both the seat and back for the baby.
Mei Tais do not have any buckles, which can make them easier to adjust and customize to your particular body type. Some people also find them to be more comfortable than SSCs.
Mei Tais might seem a little more intimidating at first, but they are not as intimidating as woven wraps! This is mainly because there is a clearly defined seat for your baby, so you’re not just staring into the face of one giant strip of fabric.
Which brings me to….woven wraps!
Appropriate for babies from birth to preschool
Woven wraps are the most versatile and long-lasting of the carriers – they can be used from birth straight past toddlerhood! That’s quite a long run.
Woven wraps are for the Usain Bolt’s of motherhood – this is some advanced baby-carrying, and it takes practice. At first I wasn’t sure if woven wraps should be included in a babywearing for beginners guide, because it is on the more advanced end of the spectrum. But, wrapping is appealing to many people, and everyone needs to start somewhere!
The main thing to distinguish woven wraps from stretchy wraps is the fabric. Woven wraps, like stretchy wraps, are long pieces of material that are used to wrap your baby to your body. However, woven wraps are thick, woven fabric that is not at all stretchy.
Woven wraps are commonly made of cotton, but there are also blended wraps that combine linen, silk, wool, or bamboo with cotton.
With woven wraps, the baby is wrapped onto the wearer, vs. being put into a carrier that’s already attached to your body. This is part of the reason these particular wraps take more practice, and can be more intimidating to get started with. The yards of fabric don’t really help in the whole “intimidating” department either. Just saying.
All this being said – people love using woven wraps! Finding a local babywearing group to get hands-on instruction from an experienced instructor is invaluable. YouTube also has lots of videos if you can’t get to a group.
Like with anything else a bit complicated, you’ll need to take your time and practice. I find that it’s best to practice with any sort of carrier over a soft bed, until you feel really confident. You don’t want to give one of these bad boys a go for the first time in the mall parking lot, all I’m saying.
Sizing Woven Wraps
Unlike the other wraps we’ve discussed, woven wraps are sized with numbers 2-8. The numbers correlate to the different length in meters of the wraps. Woven wraps need to accommodate a wide variety of body sizes of the baby wearer, and they also need to be able to do a variety of different carries. Hence the sizing issue.
If you’re interested in a woven wrap, you’ll need to find out your base size and go from there. The blog Wrap Your Baby has a handy sizing guide that can help you figure out your base size, and will also give you an idea of what carries you’ll be able to do with each wrap size.
Choosing a Woven Wrap
There are so many types of woven wraps – this is really its own world! The Didymos Woven Wrap Baby Carrier is highly rated, made of organic cotton, and available on Amazon. That’s a triple threat right there, like the J-Lo of baby carriers.
Here is a comprehensive guide to buying a woven wrap, if you think this might be the route for you!
How do I decide what kind of baby carrier to buy?
There’s really no clear cut answer here. This will depend on a lot of factors, including your body type, preferences, what your baby likes, and even the climate!
Stretchy wraps tend to be best for younger babies, and soft structured carriers are a great option for an older baby.
Some of this will be trial and error, and a lot of people (myself included) end up with a few different carriers. I loved having a stretchy wrap for the newborn months, but after that point was most comfortable using a soft structured carrier.
With this in mind, let’s take a look at some popular baby carriers to give you an idea of what’s out there.
Popular Baby Carriers
The most commonly used baby carriers, especially when it comes to babywearing for beginners, tend to be the soft structured carriers and stretchy wraps.
I’ve used both with my own kids, so I’m going to highlight a few here.
There are loads of options for all of the other types of carriers, but for the sake of this beginner’s guide I’m focusing on some of the more commonly used carriers.
Soft Structured Carriers
I had my eye on a TULA for a looong time before getting one. There is a VERY enthusiastic following around this carrier, bordering a bit on cultish.
I don’t want to be in a cult. And if I did want to be in a cult I don’t think I’d pick a cult for baby carriers. Hard to say though because I think cults pick you, no?
Anyway, the Tula fabrics are SO CUTE, and it’s a lovely carrier, and I can see why it has such a fan base.
Anyway, the Beco. I’ve had this carrier for all 3 kids, and only started to really appreciate it recently! It’s lightweight and for warmer weather I like to have it on hand. It’s very easy to use and not at all bulky.
I myself feel a bit bulky since birthing 3 children, so I appreciate that my carrier isn’t adding additional heft!
You might notice this isn’t me in the photo. Correct! It’s my sister Catherine. She’s stylish, eh? She uses the Stokke with her son.
I didn’t find this carrier to be especially comfortable, but it’s the only carrier that worked well for her and her baby! Go figure. That’s the thing about carriers – what works well for one baby and with one body type might not be what works well for someone else.
I loved the K’tan with all my babies. Also, I loved enchiladas. This was not specific to the postnatal period. I always love enchiladas.
I’d highly recommend the K’Tan if you like the idea of carrying your baby in a cozy fabric, but don’t feel like challenging yourself with learning how to “wrap” your baby. K’Tans are super easy and there’s barely any learning curve here.
I should also mention the Moby as a close cousin to the K’Tan. I’ve had, and really liked, both of these carriers.
The Moby is slightly cozier and softer, but the ease of putting on the K’Tan is superior, and for me this was enough to make it my preferred soft carrier when my kids were infants.
The Moby is extremely cuddly but it does drag on the ground and wrapping it can be a hassle, especially in the rain. For me ease of use on the fly is paramount, so for my money I’d stick with the K’tan.
Solly and Boba
The Solly Baby wrap and the Boba wrap are both very popular and highly rated brands. I’ve never used them with my kids, but only because I already had a Moby and K’Tan and didn’t need another carrier so similar.
I’d love to own both of these, but I’m done procreating and probably shouldn’t have another baby just so that I can try out a new carrier.
When can you start using a baby carrier?
From birth! Although not with every carrier. Slings and stretchy wraps are perfect for newborns. Some soft structured carriers can also be used for newborns (some of these will require an infant insert). You’ll need to check the manufacturers guidelines on any wrap or carrier to make sure it’s safe for an infant.
How long can you wear a baby?
Depending on the carrier, it’s possible to “wear” your child up until pre-school! Now, I don’t think a lot of us particularly want to wear our preschoolers around, say, the house while we do chores. But at the tail end of a day at the amusement park it might be nice to have a little assist in the piggyback department.
In general, the weight limit for carriers is around 40 lbs. And just for an idea, my Kindergartener only recently hit 40 lbs!
Is baby wearing safe?
If done correctly, yes.
Safety is extremely important here, like in anything with a baby. Accidents can and have happened in baby carriers, so it’s important to make sure you understand how to use your carrier properly.
One notable example of how not to carry your baby: the mom who tied her baby to the back of her wedding gown and dragged him down the aisle. Yes this really happened. But I highly doubt you’ll make this mistake because really, it’s just so weird.
Ok, back to the safety issues for the rest of us who aren’t tying babies to our dresses.
T.I.C.K.S Rules for Safe Babywearing
The U.K. Sling Consortium created this helpful infographic to help you easily remember the pillars of safe babywearing.
A few other cautions:
- Be careful around the stove. Oil can splatter and of course you don’t want your baby on the receiving end of that.
- Believe it or not, if you use a baby carrier often, you can forget you have a baby on your baby! This can lead to banging into things you don’t want to bang into.
- It’s important to make sure your baby is positioned properly in order to avoid hip dysplasia. Your baby’s knees should be higher than her bottom, and the legs should spread so that her spine and hips have the correct support. The International Hip Dysplasia Institute has some useful graphics to give you an idea of healthy positioning:
Baby wearing really does have a lot of significant benefits, both for you and your baby. While there is a learning curve, particularly with woven wraps, it is quite possible to learn this skill!
Trust me, if I can do it, you can do it.
About the Author
Liz is the mother of three, and a Licensed Independent Social Worker (LICSW) with a Bachelor’s in Child Development from Tufts University, and a master’s in Social Work from Columbia University. She writes this blog as a way to help other busy moms along their parenting journey.
Need more camaraderie in your day? Follow A Mothership Down on Facebook!
Want A Mothership Down delivered to your inbox? SUBSCRIBE HERE.