Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Baby Carrier Reviews & Resources

Some women have closets full of shoes. Others have a generous stash of cosmetics, scarves and other fashionable frills. These days, my favorite and most-used accessory is a baby carrier, and watch out, ladies because I am baby carrier rich! I’ve been given several hand-me-down carriers from various people and I also have two carriers that were given to me as gifts. Rachel Marie, unlike her big sister who much preferred having her own space than being toted around close to her mommy, loves to snuggle against my body and to stay close as I go about my day.

I’m thankful for the plethora of carriers to choose from; however, they’re not created equal. I’ve included some comments on the carriers I’ve used (or use). Just in case you’re wondering, I’m not receiving compensation for endorsing any particular product over another. Consider these informal reviews based on my baby-wearing days. And let me offer you one caveat: What type of carrier that works for one mom and child may not work for another pair. To really find the right fit for you and your babe, I suggest borrowing a carrier you’re considering purchasing from a fellow mom, if possible. Give it a test run before making an investment, but bear in mind that in my personal experience, it can take a few weeks to get accustomed to any type of carrier. I’ve also included some general resources for baby/toddler-wearing below.

Baby Bjorn
Description: This is a traditional soft front baby carrier. It’s one that many parents-to-be add to their baby registry. I have the most simple version sans the extra back support. It’s a hand-me-down that “carried” five bambinos.

What I Like: It’s really easy to pop your baby into the Baby Bjorn – even if you’re a sleep-deprived, newbie mom who doesn’t have the nerves or the energy to figure out an elaborate baby-wearing contraption. Although Madeline didn’t like it until she could look outward, Rachel Marie was happy snuggling in it as soon as she reached the minimum weight (I think it’s about 8 pounds). The Baby Bjorn is a great carrier for first-time parents because the baby sits upright and you really do feel like your precious cargo is very secure. I’ve used my Baby Bjorn in all sorts of places – from grocery store trips to strolls around the zoo.

What I Don’t Like: My back starts to ache if I use the Bjorn for too long (over an hour or so), but again, I have an older carrier and one without the added support. I’ve heard the more expensive model is really comfortable and provides great support. The other drawback is you can’t use this type of carrier for toddlers or even bigger babies. Rae’s on the petite side and still fits in the Baby Bjorn quite nicely, but Madeline was a chunker and I can remember it being more a tight squeeze for her.

Ergo Baby Carrier
Description: This is also a soft baby carrier, but you can “wear” your baby on your back and on the hip. Baby sits upright (unless you use an infant insert that's sold separately; then your baby can be sideways like in a traditional sling). It’s made of a more lightweight material than the Bjorn.

What I Like: Love it! I just received this for Christmas from my parents, but it’s definitely my favorite carrier. I’ve only worn Rae in the frontal position so far. However, it’s the first carrier I’ve been able to nurse in, hands free. She feels very secure in it and its ergonomic design alleviates most of my back discomfort. It also has a privacy hood; I used it when I was in Wal-Mart the other day and no one would have known I was nursing my baby. Another perk is its versatility— it can accommodate newborns (you do have to buy a newborn insert accessory) and older children. I’ve actually carried Madeline in it (she weighs around 30 pounds), so she could be the “baby” for awhile. The website actually says there’s no upper weight limit: “Our carrier will accommodate you as long as you would like to carry and/or your baby would liked to be carried.” Apparently, some customers even carry their dogs in it. I love dogs, but that’s a little strange… I can’t imagine myself toting around a yellow Lab in a baby carrier.

What I Don’t Like: I really haven’t had any complaints yet, except that I’ve tried to get Rae on my back and can’t seem to do it on my own. I’m going to see if Dave can help me and then practice doing it by myself. It’s also rather costly ($92) – a good gift for grandparents. Thanks, Gaba and Papa!

Maya Wrap
Description: This is a baby sling/wrap that consists of an unpadded swath of material with a metal ring on one end that allows for adjustability. You thread the fabric through the loop and position the rings on one side of your chest (one website aptly described positioning the rings where you’d wear a name tag). Baby sits on the pouch of fabric. Several positions are possible.

What I Like: I like using this sling on my hip when I’m doing easy chores around the house. I can position Rachel Marie perfectly on my hip and she feels safe and secure, so I can be hands-free. I received this wrap as a hand-me-down once she was no longer a newborn, so I haven’t used it as a sleeping pouch or to nurse, but I’ve heard that babies find it comfortable to sleep in and that it works well for nursing newborns.

What I Don’t Like: Although my specific wrap is a beautiful fabric, it has some pretty wild, vibrant colors. Not that I care about being super-chic or anything, but the flashy, varicolored print wouldn’t mesh well with certain outfits. I prefer to not look like Walt Disney threw up all over me. (I know this is really silly and definitely a little vain, but I’m trying to be completely honest and there are lots of moms who are way more fashionable than moi.) One friend told the wrap doesn’t work well if your baby’s on the bigger side, but her baby is like a sumo wrestler – really, really big. Rachel Marie is long, but she’s on the smaller side when it comes to weight (around 14 pounds at 7 months; she looks plumper than that to me, but that’s what the scales say). Thus, she fits perfectly into the sling, wedged onto my hip.

Over-the-Shoulder Baby Sling (no brand name)
Description: A soft sling with a ring that allows for adjustability. This is different than the Maya Wrap because its material is thicker yet shorter in length (thus, its range of adjustment is more limited than with the Maya Wrap since you don’t have as much material to work with). Several positions are available.

What I Like: This wasn’t the carrier for me. (See below.)

What I Don’t Like: I could never get the hang of this one, although I’ve seen moms using them. Madeline hated this one as a newborn – too confining, I think. I didn’t try using it with Rachel Marie until she was bigger and she didn’t seem to really fit into it well. Maybe it would have been a good one to use when she was a newborn since she seemed to like being in close spaces, snuggled close to me.

The Ultimate Baby Wrap
Description: A 5-in-1 baby carrier consisting of a long, stretchy piece of fabric that you wrap around your body in different ways, depending on the position you want to carry your baby in (outward facing, frontward facing, back, side and nursing positions are possible).

What I Like: It’s versatile. It can carry newborns to children age 3. Rachel Marie loved the nursing position as a newborn, although I couldn’t position her right to actually nurse. It must have simulated the womb for her, being close to me in a dark cocoon of fabric. There are no loops, straps, etc. to deal with.

What I Don’t Like: Even though Rae liked this wrap, I never felt like she was really secure. (Once her head even slipped out of gap in the fabric while I was at the playground with Madeline. I wasn’t doing anything crazy like swinging from the monkey bars and I’m sure it was simply user error, but it was a little disconcerting to see her floppy head fall out.) Also, although I liked not having metal rings or straps to deal with, trying to figure out how to correctly “wrap” the material around me was no small feat for a tired mommy. I had to watch the instructional DVD several times to get it right. In addition, there’s only one size and I found that I had a lot of extra material hanging down. It was almost a tripping hazard for me (I wrapped the excess material around my waist several times, but there was still a trail of cloth dangling precariously close to my feet). A friend of mine loves this wrap, but she’s really tall (5’9”). I felt like there was way too much fabric for my 5 feet and almost 4 inches. The material’s really stretchy as well and Rachel Marie sort of seemed to sink into it – good for when she was a wee one asleep but not so good when she became older and more inquisitive and didn’t want to descend into an abyss of material. But like I said I have a friend who LOVES this wrap.

NOTE: Although I don't own an adult sling from this manufacturer, Madeline is very happy with her Slingling! They sell kid-sized slings, so your child can "wear" her baby, too.

The bottom line with all these carriers: To each her (and her baby’s) own. You just have to try several out and see what works for you and your bundle of joy. In addition, stick with baby-wearing for a few weeks before you give up. It can be tough to figure out the best way to carry/wear your baby. You’ll want to try placing your baby in a sling/carrier when she’s happy and well-fed for best results.

Finally, you may find that despite your best intentions, baby-wearing doesn’t work for you (or a particular child). Madeline just did not like being that close to me. (Read more about this and my attachment parenting wake-up call here.) Likewise, I know of one mom who nurses, co-sleeps, cuddles frequently with her tots, etc., but she just can’t wear her babies. She’s a small lady who has big babies and her body just can’t physically endure carrying around what feels like a sack of potatoes all daylong.

Baby-Wearing Resources:

Attachment Parenting International
Discusses a baby’s need for nurturing touch and how wearing your baby makes this easy for moms on the go.

Here’s a one-stop resource for baby-wearing. The site includes everything from a forum where like-minded moms can network to tips on how to choose (or even make) the right carrier for you and your baby.

The Mamatoto Project
Although this website isn’t easy to navigate, it’s a wonderful resource on baby-wearing and includes benefits of wearing your baby/toddler, how-to guides, information about different types of carriers as well as other baby-wearing resources available. An interesting note: Mamatoto means “mother-baby” in Swahili. In this culture, babies are never seen apart from their mothers, so the two are considered one.

Mothering Magazine
Mothering Magazine shares tips on baby-wearing here and includes a thorough list of helpful websites related to the art of wearing your child. In addition, the magazine featured a wonderful article called “Baby Wearing Bliss” in its January-February 2007 issue. The article outlined the benefits of baby-wearing and answers common questions and concerns. A pictorial primer illustrates the basic ways of carrying as well as the types of baby-wearing devices. Also included is a list of dos and don'ts and instructions on correct positioning of infants. Back issues are available at Mothering.com.

The Sling Directory
A great place to see what other parents think about different types of carriers. You can compare carriers side by side and read customer reviews.

Do you have a particular carrier you love (or hate)? Any baby-wearing tips, photos or anecdotes to share? Drop me an email at kmwicker[at]gmail.com. I'd love to hear from you.


*Jess* said...

I just got a mei tai carrier because I heard you can put kids up to age 3 on your back with them. However, jayce is scared to use it! I'll just have to have another baby with it!

Gerry said...

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