Carriers, slings or wraps: How should you wear your baby?

One of the biggest differences between our parents’ generation and ours is the way we carry our children. Back when we were kids, we’d sit on our parents’ hips or be carried on their shoulders - neither of which sound like a very comfortable experience for the parents. Today, we carry our infants in carriers, wraps and slings - and this has multiple benefits.

For one, both hands are free for other work. Secondly, when we carry our babies, they are practically up against our bodies entirely, which definitely helps the physiological, psychological and emotional needs of the baby. Yet another benefit is, these new methods of carrying a baby, rather, wearing a baby, is more ergonomic and reduces strain on our bodies.

There are multiple ways to wear a baby. This article will help you decide the best way to do it, and you can choose a method that you think is most suited to your body.

1. Carriers

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Carriers are perhaps the most commonly seen ways of wearing a baby. Carriers have two shoulder straps that support a fabric seat. When your baby is very small, you can have your baby face you in the carrier when you wear it in the front so the baby can snuggle up close to your chest. When the baby gets better control of his neck, you can make him face forwards, and for even bigger babies, you can wear the carrier on your back for better weight distribution.

Baby carriers have a number of advantages, such as:

1. These carriers come with multiple safety buckles that ensure your baby is held snugly without the chance of slipping out

2. Since these are very common, it is possible to find carriers in a lot of shapes and sizes and there is usually a wide spectrum in terms of pricing. While quality is of utmost importance, you can still get excellent carriers in any price range, size or colour you want.

3. Baby carriers can be adjusted to different sizes so you can carry your baby across multiple ages in the same carrier

4. The carrier is worn on the shoulder like a backpack, and therefore, weight distribution is better. Of course, as your baby gets older, you will start to feel the strain on your back, but overall, these are more suited for a more comfortable babywearing experience.

However, there are also significant disadvantages of these baby carriers:

1. One of the biggest issues with these carriers is that they don’t lend themselves well to breastfeeding. The positioning of the carrier and the baby inside makes it nearly impossible to breastfeed while wearing it.

2. In most cases, carriers hold babies in a very uncomfortable “crotch dangle” position. This means that the baby sits in a fairly narrow seat with legs dangling straight down. Most pediatricians believe that if the baby is worn this way for extended time, it may harm the development of the baby’s hip and spine. However, this problem is minimised if the carrier has a wide leg position where your baby’s legs are spread wider.

2. Ring Slings

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A ring sling is a long piece of non-stretchable fabric such as cotton that is attached on one edge to two small rings. The free end of the fabric is threaded through one ring and then through the other to fasten the sling so it sits diagonally on the body from one shoulder to the hip on the other side.

The benefits of a ring sling include:

1. These are available in different materials, ranging from water cloth to cotton and linen to silk. So even if you are dressing up to go some place, you don’t have to stick with just one material

2. They are quite cheap, and often come at a fraction of the cost of carriers.

3. The sling keeps your baby very close to your chest. This means that the baby is comforted by constant contact to you, and having the baby so close will also help with your own postpartum depression.

4. Breastfeeding is a great deal easier and more discreet in slings

5. Slings are easy to fold and put away in a bag, making them easier carry options

However, there are significant disadvantages of ring slings too.

1. By slinging the baby across a shoulder, you are now prone to severe shoulder, neck and back pains. Unlike carriers, these slings only hang from one shoulder, making them difficult to wear beyond a point

2. In most cases, the fabric is a thick cotton, which might make the baby hot and irritable in warm climes.

3. For a beginner, wearing a sling, adjusting the tension, and ensuring the baby is safe in a sling is not very easy.

4. There is nowhere to put down the baby if you are wearing a sling Taking it off and wearing it back again might take a while

5. For smaller women, the extra length of fabric can prove to be a hassle. Even for larger women, there is always the chance of the extra length getting caught in something

6. If you are carrying bags in your arms, you stand the risk of muscle injury because your shoulder and back are already strained from carrying the baby

7. You can only comfortably carry smaller babies up to a certain weight in a sling.

3. Baby Wraps

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Wraps are a great deal like slings but can be worn in many ways. There is a lot of online help available that teaches you to wear a wrap in a way that is most suited to your comfort as well as your baby’s liking.

Advantages of baby wraps include:

1. They are extremely versatile and can be customised so there is never any strain on any one part of the body

2. They are as good as, if not better than, slings for breastfeeding

3. You don’t even have to buy an expensive wrap. Any fabric of sufficient length can be used to carry the baby, right from infancy to toddler stage.

4. In terms of aesthetics, wraps do not make you look frumpy even when you are not carrying the baby in them and can help hide a good deal of pregnancy fat

5. Wraps give more a ‘swaddle feel’ to the baby, keeping him more comfortable

6. They are better than ring slings at weight distribution so the pressure is never on any one shoulder

Some of the cons of a baby wrap include:

1. Deciding on the right length of fabric may require time and trial and error

2. Since you are tying and untying the wrap every single time, there is no perfect configuration for it. Every single tie might be different from the last time and even if you thought the last time was best suited to both of you, there is no way you can replicate the exact same tie

3. Because wraps are tied and knotted and there is a way to wear them, they do not lend easily to being taken off and reworn multiple times on the same day.

4. The baby’s wiggling and your own movements may render the tie loose and you may need to readjust multiple times

5. They may not be comfortable for bigger children because they don’t have any additional padding

6. It isn’t the easiest to wear in a car or in a public restroom

4. Mei Tais

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Mei Tais are a cross between all the other forms of baby carriers. It is basically a soft fabric pouch that is easier on your baby’s skin (compared to a carrier) and have shoulder straps for easy carrying and better weight distribution (unlike ring slings). They are also easier to wear and take off compared to baby wraps. At the same time, they provide the soft comfort of slings and wraps while giving you a lot more freedom to use your hands for other work.

Advantages of Mei tais include:

1. Better fabric for the baby’s skin

2. Better weight distribution because you can wear the baby on your shoulders in the front or the back so it isn’t just one shoulder that takes the pressure

3. Can be adjusted easily because your baby is secure in the pouch while you adjust straps

4. Can be taken off and reworn without any hassle

5. Can be used for babies right from infancy till they are toddlers

There are fewer cons of a Mei tai if you compare it to the other forms:

1. The soft fabric may not be very reassuring for parents who think the baby is not getting enough support

2. Breastfeeding can be slightly difficult

3. The weight of a bigger baby can strain your shoulders, back and neck if you are carrying him in a soft-structured carrier

Choosing a baby carrier might require a fair amount of trial and error because as new parents, you likely don’t know what to expect or even what’s comfortable. Some parents buy more than one type of carrier and then use the one that feels most comfortable for both the baby and themselves. Ideally, try out all the different types before you decide on one that offers you best value for money and makes your baby most comfortable.