Monday, 2 May 2011

Notes on babywearing (it's a long one!)

Didymos Stone Millefiore
Having been an exclusive babywearer for two years (Little Miss hasn't ever been in a pushchair/buggy) and an active member of the UK Babywearing community for longer, a few friends have asked for my advice on babywearing (and buying a first wrap). So for those lovely ladies, here are a few pointers (...and LOTS of photos).

There are LOTS of different types of carrier on the market, so before I go on to talk about my preference - wraps - here is some essential reading
  • Sling Guide is a thorough clearly-written resource, compiled by experienced babywearing parents. It is not sponsored by any manufacturers or vendors, so information there is impartial and by the real experts - people who use different carriers day-in-day-out. This is the best place to start. It has information about the different types of carrier available, useful FAQs and most importantly SAFETY INFORMATION!!!! Please do click on the link and read the safety pages - this will help you with what to look for/to avoid when making a selection. Most experienced babywearers would NOT choose the majority of mass marketed carriers available on the high street. 
  • Another great link for using a carrier safely is Baby Sling Safe - in particular the T.I.C.K.S. guide. 
That's the important 'stuff' - for everything else Natural Mamas Forum is the online home of UK babywearing, and The Babywearer is the US counterpart. There is SO much information available (and so many acronyms) on these sites it can be completely overwhelming at first, so do bear that in mind before you bamboozle yourself in your first sitting! I'd recommend coming back to these when you are ready to purchase something. 

Our wrapping journey
Koala baby in Didymos Pfau
When I was last pregnant I spent months researching "the best" carrier and decided I wanted to try four different types: woven wraps (I'd used a stretchy first time around), ring slings, buckled carriers and mei tais. Within a very short time of daily babywearing, I had switched almost entirely to wraps. For me, carrying a little one (and indeed a not-so-little one) in a woven wrap feels like they are a PART of me, but in anything else it feels like they are strapped ONTO me - it's very different, and for me, nothing else comes close in comfort to a well positioned child in a well tied wrap. 

Many people start with a stretchy wrap (I did when My Boy was little - they are supposedly easier to use, although I personally think it's easier to get correct positioning in a woven just with a slightly greater learning curve) but as they only last a few months and are not recommended for back carries, I went straight  for a woven wrap with Little Miss. This was our first one, a Didymos Eva
Circa one week old in Didymos Eva using a Front Wrap Cross Carry
You really only NEED one or two wraps (one to wear when the other is being washed, especially with a newborn) but I have found the fabrics and patterns completely addictive :) When I ordered Eva I totally intended it would be "the one" - little did I know how much we would both love wrapping and that it would be the start of a collecting/trading hobby.

A used wrap (in good condition) is much nicer to use than a new wrap
Hiding in wonderful used Girasol
Earthy Rainbow
I learned an important and valuable lesson with that first purchase - as it was "the one" and I was pregnant and nesting, I wanted a brand new one and spent £95 on it. When it arrived it was hard and stiff and I didn't ever imagine I'd want to carry a baby in it. By the time she arrived (late) I had picked up another much cheaper wrap from the used carrier section of Natural Mamas and when that arrived it felt amazing. It was well used and so soft and pliable. I mostly used that for the first few weeks as it was so much nicer to use. (In fact, I later sold Eva to another mama and bought it back from her when it was 'broken in'.)

Practice makes perfect
Most people start with a size 6 (4.7m) wrap as it is a good size for most people to do most carries (there is a great post on this here).

With a newborn, the Front Wrap Cross Carry (FWCC) pictured above is the most popular carry and is also the most fabric-consuming front carry so it can seem overwhelming to have almost 5 metres of fabric swathed about you (especially if it's a new and stiff wrap - if so, get washing and ironing it!)  The key is to practice, practice, practice. Start in front of a mirror with a teddy or a cushion and learn where the fabric goes and how to tighten it all up.

And when you are confident in using the FWCC, you will probably find you want to move on to other carries too - I can still carry Little Miss on my front but it's quite hard to see over her head now and I switched to carrying her on my back a lot more when she was about 4 months old as it was more convenient for doing other things. (Incidentally, if I were to care for another newborn now, I wouldn't hesitate to wear them on my back earlier than that.) There are loads of instructions for other carries on Sling Guide and also on the babywearing fora and on YouTube (although the quality of instructors is not always that great, so try to find a few people demonstrating the same carry!)

Wraps really are "the business"
It's like anything, wrapping properly takes a bit of time and patience. If you are willing to put a little time and effort in to learn how to wrap, I honestly don't think it can be beaten.  A good woven wrap distributes the weight evenly across your torso maintaining your centre of gravity...
Carrying my 2 year old for the 40 min
school run in a different Didymos Pfau
...there is nothing hard or uncomfortable to dig into you or the child, it's essentially a piece of cloth tied with a knot ...
Teething one-year old in Ellevill Zara
... it leaves your hands free to get on with other chores or look after older siblings...
This is how I cooked Christmas lunch for 11 people
 despite an overwhelmed toddler (in Didymos Elburg Fische)
Day out at the farm park with a c. 7 month old
in Didymos Silver Waves can wear them in so many different ways that meet different needs, when you just want to snuggle...
A bit shy at the train station in a custom-dyed Ellevill Zara
... or have them high up on your back to let them have a great view of what you're doing...
"Chatting" while doing housework in Didymos Tussahsilk Nino
... to rest tired legs after a long day at school!!!...
... and when they are really tired but don't want to give in and go to sleep... 
Oh!.... Look what happened!!!
Didymos Kapok Millefiore
Getting started
There are lots of brands and in each brand, lots of designs including a back-catalogue of limited editions and different colourways etc. Easy-to-find respected and trusted brands include (but are not limited to) Didymos, Girasol, Natibaby, Ellevill, Storkenwiege and Hoppediz. All of these should last from newborn to toddlerhood, although some designs may be thicker/ sturdier and others more delicate.

Generally speaking, if you are looking to buy used (friends, PLEASE do this to start with!) then in the UK the best place to start is the For Sale or Trade board at Natural Mamas or the UK Babywearing Swap Yahoo group. If you know the length/size you're looking for then browse the listings for something you like the look of, and then head over to the Wraps forum and use the search facility to read reviews and information about that wrap. If you can't find any information then post some questions. (You can also post an "In Search Of" if you fall for something that you can't find for sale.)

If you fall in love with something that is only available new, then you'll need to 'break in' the wrap - this means softening it up so it's easy to wrap with and some wraps take no time at all while others require some considerable effort. Wash, steam iron, knot, sit on, use as a sibling hammock and WRAP with it to soften it up.

There are LOADS of sling vendors to choose from - I would happily personally recommend  Love To Be Natural, Natural Connection and Naturally Happy Slings for excellent service and product knowledge. (There is also a vendor review section at Natural Mamas.) Hopefully that's enough to get you started, and to find the information you will need in your selection.

And finally
This is an extract from With Child by Deborah Jackson - Kabongo,  an East -African Kikiyu chief, remembers his early years:
"My early years are connected...with my mother... I can remember the comforting feel of her body as she carried me on her back... When I was hungry or thirsty she would swing me around to where I could reach her full breasts. ... At night when there was no sun to warm me, her arms, her body took its place; and as I grew older ... from my safe place on her back, I could watch without fear as I wanted, and when sleep overcame me I had only to close my eyes"


  1. They look so comfy and natural. I didn't have one when mine were little but your post has made me wish I did.

  2. Thank you for posting this. I want to start babywearing as I find the buggy quite heavy & a it of a faff or quick journeys but can't seem to get any real advice about what works best. I've been considering the wraps as they look comfy & not too bulky, so it's great to find such a detailed description. And I've registered with natural mamas. Thanks again! Great post. :)

  3. Love your great info! Anyone heard if/when the 2009 babywearing conference will be held? I'd love to make it to one some day.

    Ring Slings


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