Here’s everything you need to know about babywearing, including how to choose the right carrier and why it’s important to start slow.
Toronto’s Allie Dennis requested a stretchy wrap and a buckle carrier when she was creating her baby registry. But once her son was born, she found she was too nervous to actually try babywearing. “I didn’t know anything about how to use a carrier properly,” she says.
When her son was two months old, she joined a mom group where volunteer babywearing educators demonstrated how to easily use a variety of carriers. As soon as she wrapped her newborn against her chest, she was hooked—so much so that shortly after, she trained to become a babywearing consultant herself, and opened the Little Zen One, an online shop for carriers and accessories.
According to a study in the journal Pediatrics, carrying your baby throughout the day can reduce crying by up to 51 percent. Using a baby carrier also allows you to hold your baby while you do other activities, like prepare dinner, tidy the house, care for other children or even just eat lunch. Many parents with babies who struggle to sleep in their cribs find babywearing especially helpful at naptime, as it allows them to hold their babies for naps without being stuck in bed.
Babywearing is also a wonderful way to bond with baby, especially for parents who aren’t breastfeeding. And it was a game-changer during the cold Canadian winter, when Dennis couldn’t get her stroller down her apartment stairs or push it through the snow.
Tanya Barrett, a paediatric physiotherapist in Toronto, says babywearing is incredible for your little one’s development. While putting babies on their backs for sleep is essential, they tend to spend a lot of awake time on their backs, too. This puts pressure on their heads, which can lead to flat head syndrome, torticollis and neck tension. Babywearing is a simple way to prevent and treat these issues, as it removes that pressure and may allow for more free movement of the neck and head. “The most important thing for babies’ development is being in a variety of positions,” she says, which babywearing can help facilitate. It also gives infants the opportunity to look around. This helps them gain neck control and promotes eye contact and interaction, which aid in their cognitive development.
Ready to try babywearing but don’t know where to start? Here’s what you need to know.
Choosing a carrier
The best way to choose a carrier is to try one on at a local retailer or with a babywearing group or babywearing consultant. The right carrier for you will be one that you feel comfortable wearing. Many consultants also offer virtual appointments, where they can make sure you’re getting the best fit. Keep in mind that carriers with buckles, like those from Ergobaby and BabyBjörn, aren’t the best option for everyone. Buckle carriers have more structure, which can make them more difficult to adjust to your unique body. Stretchy or woven wraps and ring slings involve a learning curve, but their simple design ensures a custom fit. Half buckle carriers, like the Didymos DidyKlick, offer the convenience of a buckle with the adjustability of a wrap, and are increasingly popular choices that offer both ease and comfort.
Once you’ve decided on a style, Dennis recommends that you consider aesthetics. “You want a carrier that you love the look of, since you’ll be wearing it,” she says.
Many parents learn how to use their baby carrier by following tutorials on YouTube or participating in one of the many Facebook groups dedicated to babywearing.
It’s hard to master any new skill, especially one that involves corralling a wriggly baby, so practise before they’re born or during naptime, using a doll or a bag of sugar, beans, rice or potatoes. You’ll be more confident when it’s time to sub in your baby, which will keep them calmer and more co-operative.
Many babies fuss at first, but that doesn’t mean they won’t end up loving carrier life. They just need more time to get used to it. Feel free to pause before your carrier is fully fastened, support your baby with your arms and soothe them before continuing. If they don’t settle, just take a deep breath and keep going. Once they’re secure, start walking or bouncing, as babies find movement comforting and some babies will just cry until you get going. At first, aim for just a few minutes of babywearing at a time, and build up to wearing your baby for longer chores and outings.
Position baby properly
The main risks with babywearing are that a baby might slump down and rest their chin on their chest or that excess fabric could cover their airway, which can both inhibit breathing. Fortunately, this is easy to prevent with proper positioning.
Your carrier should be positioned so that your baby is high on your chest, their head is close enough to kiss and you can see that their airway is clear. If you experience discomfort or back pain or feel like you have to keep a hand on your baby for extra support, the carrier is too loose. Adjust your baby’s position right away if you hear them grunting, as baby may be having trouble breathing.
The other concern with babywearing is overheating. You’re sharing body heat, so dress your baby in only as many layers as you’re comfortable in and remember that the carrier counts as a layer, too.
Barrett also advises parents to keep their baby’s knees above their bum, with their hips tucked and the fabric spread from knee to knee, as this position facilitates optimal hip development.
Dennis is glad she’s worn her babies and says her favourite part has been the freedom it provided her. “You’re meeting your little one’s needs while meeting your own,” she says. “What could be better than that?”