Babywearing Guide: Tips on Safe and Ergonomic Baby Wearing in 2024

This guide is all about babywearing: why it’s awesome, how to do it, and picking the right carrier.

If you’re a new mom or just a beginning babywearer, this guide can be really helpful.

It will teach you how to carry your baby safely and comfortably using different types of carriers. So, let’s get started!

What Is Babywearing?

Carrying an infant or a young child using a handmade baby carrier or sling has been practiced for centuries in various cultures around the world.

Babywearing allows parents or caregivers to keep their hands free while keeping their baby physically close and secure.

Why Babywearing?

There are numerous benefits to babywearing – in short, it makes life easier for mama (or daddy!) and baby. Babywearing has been an essential part of child rearing in many cultures for centuries; in recent decades the practice has grown in popularity in Western cultures as parents have come to realize its many advantages.

Benefits of Babywearing

Just a few reasons babywearing is so fabulous:

  • Newborns NEED to be held. Close physical contact with a caregiver has physical and physiological benefits for the baby. Carriers allow a caregiver to provide the baby with the physical comfort she needs while still having hands free for other activities, including playing with and caring for older children. Check out my detailed sub-guide on baby carriers for newborns.
  • An upright position is great for babies with reflux. The slight pressure on the tummy from being worn also helps with gas issues.
  • A colicky baby is more easily soothed when snuggled and rocked in a carrier. It is also much easier on a caregiver’s arms to have the carrier help with the holding.
  • Carriers can go to many places more easily than strollers: maneuvering in crowded places, walking the dog, hiking, sightseeing, and using public transportation are all made easier by using a carrier instead of a stroller.
  • Once a baby is aware of his world, a carrier provides a better view of his surroundings. Worn babies are more easily made a part of the action.
  • Even toddlers who are walking frequently want to be held. A good toddler-tailored carrier makes it much easier to handle the weight of your growing baby while leaving your hands free for other tasks. Check out my detailed sub-guide on toddler carriers.
  • Wearing is a wonderful way to soothe and comfort a sick or grumpy baby or toddler.
  • And the list goes on!

For the most part, all babies like to be worn (after all, most babies love to be held!). However, some are more picky about what position and what carrier they like!

Always try a new carrier or carrier with a baby that is rested, full, and happy. A tired, grumpy baby is not going to care for a new experience of any kind.

Don’t be discouraged if your baby fusses at first – it is very normal for a baby to do so when introduced to any new situation. Try movement! Sometimes bouncing gently on an exercise ball will work. Other times, you may need to go for a walk. And give the baby a bit of time to adjust.

It is also quite normal for babies to go on a “wearing strike” as they become more mobile, especially as they learn to walk. Don’t put up the carriers just yet though. Most toddlers will come back around and will even ask to be worn once they master walking. With the right carrier, you can babywear just as long as you would use a stroller.

Types of Baby Carriers

Below you’ll find brief descriptions of the main carrier types. For more information on the pros and cons of each as well as information on different brands, click the name of the type of carrier you are interested in.

Many of these carriers (mostly wraps, ring slings, and meh dais) are manufactured by small companies or family-run businesses. They may only be available for purchase online or in specialty stores. It is worth the extra effort to seek them out as there’s a difference between a quality carrier and most of those you will find in big box stores.

Wrap carriers. Wraps are pieces of cloth of varying lengths. They can be used for front, back, and hip carries. Wraps are the simplest carrier in terms of structure but may take a bit longer to learn to use. Wraps are a good choice for someone who wants to do many different carries with the same carrier.

Woven wraps provide excellent support and versatility, making them suitable from infancy to toddlerhood. They offer more support and are often preferred for carrying heavier babies or toddlers.

Stretchy wraps are usually softer and more snuggly, making them great for newborns.

Meh Dais. Meh Dais are soft-bodied carries with a tie waist and shoulder straps that come around the baby and tie. They can be used for front and back carries (it is possible to hip carry with some). Meh dais are a good choice for someone who likes the adjustability of a wrap but wants something slightly faster to get on. A Podaegi is a related carrier – basically a meh dai without waist straps. An Onbuhimo is also similar to a meh dai but has rings at the waist instead of straps; the shoulder straps are threaded through these rings.

Buckle or Soft Structured Carriers. Soft structured carriers are soft-bodied carriers that have buckle waist and shoulder straps (there are some versions that have either a tie waist or tie shoulder straps); they are used for front and back carries (there are some that can hip carry as well). Structured carriers are a good choice for someone who wants a quick carrier that doesn’t require long fabric or straps to deal with.

Ring Slings. Ring slings are one-shoulder carriers – a piece of cloth threaded through rings; they are used primarily for hip or tummy to tummy front carries (experienced wearers can back carry an older baby/toddler with a ring sling). Ring slings are a good choice for someone looking for a quick and compact carrier.

Pouches. Pouches are a piece of fabric sewn in a loop that forms a pouch for the baby to sit in; they are a single shoulder carrier and can be used for hip and tummy to tummy front carries. Pouches are a good choice for someone looking for a quick and very compact carrier.

Babywearing Clothing and Accessories. There are specially designed coats, sun protection, and other clothing gear just for babywearing.

What’s the Best Baby Carrier?

There is no one answer to this question. What is best for you depends on what you hope the carrier will help you do, how often you plan to use it, who is wearing it, the age of your child, and most importantly your personal preference.

Many babywearers find that multiple carriers are helpful – one for quick, short-term wearing and one that is more comfortable for longer periods of time. Some carriers are best suited for newborns; others for older infants or toddlers. Some carriers can be used from birth through the end of toddlerhood. The information on our carrier pages may help you decide what will best suit your needs.

One great way to find out what might work for you is to contact a babywearing group in your area. Babywearers love to share their “stashes” and to meet new babywearers. Some groups offer formal classes while others may be informal gatherings.

Another option is to seek out brick-and-mortar stores in your area that carry brands you are interested in. Many will have demo carriers that you can try.

Finally, don’t be afraid to purchase a used carrier and give it a go. Quality carriers have a high resale value, so chances are if it doesn’t work for you, you will be able to get most of your money back in resale…and try something else!

If you have a sewing machine and are feeling crafty, it’s definitely possible to DIY a carrier!

What Should I Consider in Choosing a Carrier?

Choosing the right for YOU carrier, consider the following two aspects:

  • Proper Positioning
  • Wearer’s Comfort

Choosing a Baby Carrier: Baby Position Matters!

As a babywearing geek I have the opportunity to talk to lots of parents looking to find the perfect carrier for them. While I don’t think there’s a perfect answer to “what is the best carrier,” I do think there are some general guidelines that can help you find the perfect fit. So let’s explore some things to keep in mind as you select a carrier.

How to Position a Baby in a Carrier

One of the first things I tell new wearers is that you want a carrier to do what your arms do. Think about how you hold a baby and how a baby positions her body.

Babies naturally draw up their legs (newborns sometimes all the way into the “froggy leg” position) in order to “cling” to our bodies (not unlike the way our primate cousin’s babies do!). An older child will actually pull her knees up and use them to grip; in fact, your baby can pretty much ride on your hip or back without using his arms to hold on at all.

To further facilitate carrying a baby, we hold them close to our body and high on our body – just as with any heavy load, the closer the weight is to our center of gravity, the easier it is for us to carry.

We use our hands to support the baby’s bum; our arms or body provide support out to the baby’s knees. And of course, we hold our babies close enough to kiss!

Those same rules apply to what a good carrier should do.

A carrier should support the baby all the way to her knees.

  • A carrier should position the baby so that her weight is on her bum, not her crotch.
  • A carrier should hold the baby so that her knees assume a spread “W” shaped position that puts them slightly higher than the bum, allowing for proper hip positioning.
  • A carrier should allow the baby’s spine to curve naturally while preventing the baby from slumping into the chin-to-chest position.
  • A carrier should position the baby high and tight on the wearer, keeping the baby’s weight close to the wearer’s center of gravity – close enough to kiss!

If you are interested in further reading about the importance of a supportive carrier to hip development, here’s a good explanation along with some excellent diagrams from the International Hip Dysplasia Institute.

I’ve also written previously about alternatives to carriers that do not follow the above rules and how to choose an ergonomic and safe baby carrier.

Upright Tummy to Tummy – Ideal Carry for Babies of All Sizes

The ideal position for babies of all sizes (in my opinion at least!) is an upright, tummy-to-tummy position (unless the baby is nursing). Most babies actually prefer the upright position over a cradle hold, and even brand-new newborns can be worn this way in any carrier (including ring slings which many instinctively try to cradle young babies in). An upright position is kinder to babies prone to spitting or reflux. Most importantly, an upright position makes it easier to keep the baby from slumping into a chin-to-chest position. 

Newborn babies should be facing slightly upwards if they fall asleep in the carrier to avoid the chin-to-chest slump. A carrier that fits baby and wearer properly will hold baby snug enough to maintain this position without needing to keep a hand on the baby. Some mei tais and soft structured / buckle carriers come with headrests or sleep hoods that help support a sleeping baby’s head (although properly positioned in a carrier without a sleep hood, a sleeping baby can still be supported).

Cradle Carry Position Nuances

If the cradle carry is something you strongly want to do, remember that the baby should never be horizontal in a carrier. Cradle carry is more like a reclined seated position with the baby high on your chest. Baby should always be facing up and slightly out (unless nursing of course!) and the fabric of the carrier should never be over the baby’s face. Most importantly, the baby’s chin should never rest on her chest.

For good instructions and further safety tips on doing a cradle carry in a ring sling as well as information on nursing in a sling, see Jan Andrea’s information at Sleeping Baby Productions. Getting help from an experienced babywearer is also a good idea. A properly done cradle carry – and any other newborn position – will allow you to easily see the baby’s face and monitor her breathing.

Improve Baby Positioning Changing the Carrier as Baby Grows

As the baby grows, you may find you need to change the carrier or carry you use to continue to provide knee-to-knee support (you also want to avoid using a carrier that is too large for the baby and doesn’t allow the legs to swing freely at the knee).

Wraps and ring slings do vary in width but, in general, you can get a knee-to-knee carry for any size child (if you are wearing a large toddler, you may find this easier with a wide wrap or toddler-width sling).

Mei tais and soft structured / buckle carriers are more sizes specific – what works for a 2-month-old probably isn’t going to comfortably accommodate a 2-year-old. There are mei tais actually “preschool” sized and designed specifically to give knee-to-knee coverage for a growing toddler.

Just as we change the car seats and strollers we use as our babies grow, we may need to change the carriers we use to continue to get a safe and supportive fit. Read more about newborn carriers and toddler carriers, and hope you find this information helpful.

A baby carrier is a tool, one designed to take the place of a caregiver’s hands, allowing the baby to be held close while the caregiver completes other tasks. Like any tool, carriers come with safety considerations. Ensuring a proper position in a carrier not only keeps the baby safe – it also keeps the baby and wearer comfortable and happy!

Choosing a Baby Carrier: Wearer’s Comfort

When it comes to choosing a baby carrier, the comfort of the wearer is just as important as the comfort of the baby. Here are some factors to consider to ensure that the baby carrier is comfortable for the person wearing it.

Shoulder and Back Support

When using a wrap, you can create a supportive and comfortable carry by spreading the fabric over the shoulders and back. However, the comfort level may vary depending on the fabric used and the wrapping technique employed.

Since with a ring sling, the weight of the baby is primarily supported by one shoulder, it’s not the most ergonomic option for a wearer. If you’re much into ring slings, look for slings with padded shoulder areas, or consider adjusting the sling so that the shoulder strap sits diagonally across your torso.

When choosing a Meh Dai, look for one with wide, padded shoulder straps to prevent discomfort.

Many structured carriers prioritize wearer comfort by providing padded shoulder straps and waist belts for proper weight distribution, so in terms of shoulder and back support, they are one of the best carrier types.

Adjustable Fit

Wraps offer a high degree of adjustability since they consist of a long piece of fabric that can be wrapped and tied around the wearer’s body. This adjustability allows you to create a custom fit based on your body shape and the baby’s size. Feel free to check out the best baby wraps and sizing guide.

With a ring sling, you can tighten or loosen the sling to achieve the desired fit by adjusting the rings or pulling the fabric through the rings. But overall it’s less adjustability than with a woven wrap.

Meh dai provides you with an option to customize the tightness of the straps, the position of the panel, and the level of support. It has almost the same level of adjustability as a woven wrap.

Structured carriers typically have adjustable shoulder straps, waist belts, and sometimes even chest straps. It helps to fine-tune the carrier to your body size and shape. However, plus-size moms admit that it’s not always possible to create a good fit with a structured carrier.

Ease of Use

Wraps can have a learning curve when it comes to mastering the wrapping techniques. I would not call wraps an easy-to-use option at the beginning of your babywearing, but with practice, they become easy to use for lots of moms who enjoy babywearing. Overall, the high level of customization and versatility once you become familiar with the technique they offer makes wraps very popular among babywearing geeks.

Slings are generally considered easy to use. However, it’s essential to ensure that the sling is properly adjusted and tightened to provide adequate support for you both.

Meh Dais are really straightforward to use. Once you become familiar with the tying methods, you can easily put on and take off the carrier. However, compared to slings or structured carriers, meh dais may require a bit more time and practice to achieve a comfortable and secure fit.

Structured carriers with buckles, clips, and adjustable straps are the easiest to use type of carrier, especially for beginners. No surprise, they are very popular for their ease of use when it comes to putting on and taking off the carrier.

Is Babywearing Safe?

The short answer – YES! When done properly, babywearing is absolutely safe. Just as with any other bit of baby gear, carriers used improperly (or unsafe carriers) can be dangerous. Think about how much care and attention you put into selecting, installing, and using your child’s car seat. The same level of attention should be paid to choosing and using a carrier.

We have a rundown of newborn-specific babywearing safety tips here – babywearing newborns.

There are a few general guidelines on safety that are true of all carriers:

1. Clear Airway

The number one safety rule, particularly with babies under 4 months, is to make sure the baby has a clear airway. A newborn’s airway is much like a straw; when the chin falls to the chest, the straw gets pinched, and the airway is restricted. An upright tummy-to-tummy position with a snug carrier supporting the baby is ideal. Baby’s head should always be clear of the carrier and facing up and out (baby’s head will be turned sideways to rest on your chest). Unless the baby is nursing, her head should not be turned into your body. Read here for more information about infant airway safety.

2. Ergonomic Baby Position

Carriers should hold your baby just as you would. Think about how you instinctively hold an infant (and how infants hold themselves): Your hands cradle the baby’s bum and back and provide head support – your carrier should do the same.

Newborns will instinctively assume a froggy-legged position; older babies and toddlers will wrap their knees around you with their knees above their bum – again, the carrier should do the same.

Newborns should ideally be worn in an upright tummy-to-tummy position with legs in or out depending on the carrier (if you choose a legs-in position, make sure baby’s weight is on her bum and not her feet). A cradle position can be used while nursing but the baby should ideally be returned to the upright position when finished. If you choose to use a cradle carry, please have a knowledgeable babywearer assist you with proper positioning – this can be a tricky one to get correct (a proper cradle carry is actually more like a reclined seated position with the baby’s head well clear of the carrier and clearly visible. Even the tiniest newborn can safely be worn in an upright, tummy-to-tummy position; this position is preferred by many babies, provides relief for spitty or refluxed babies, and makes it easier to ensure a proper airway. Infants without head control should always be worn so that their heads are supported.

Older infants and toddlers who are riding their legs out should still be properly supported. The carrier should extend to the baby’s knees, and the baby’s knees should be slightly higher than her bum. “Front pack” carriers (such as the Bjorn and Snuggli) do not provide proper support and put strain on the baby’s developing hips and spine. There is an explanation of how improper support in carriers can lead to hip issues here.

3. Face Forward Position Carries Used Sparingly

Outward-facing carries should be used sparingly if at all (we recommend a high back or hip carry instead). It is very difficult to achieve proper positioning in an outward-facing carry. It is also difficult for an overstimulated infant to seek security or fall asleep safely when worn outward-facing.

Outward facing carries also put unnecessary strain on the wearer’s back as the baby is dangling from the body instead of snug against the wearer’s center of gravity. 

A high-back carry provides the baby with the same view but is much more comfortable for the baby and wearer; a hip carry is a great alternative for those not interested in back carrying.

4. No “bag” style slings

Avoid “bag” style slings – many of these have been recalled recently but you may find some used ones still on the market.

5. Reliable Carrier Manufacturer

When buying a carrier, look to see that the maker is a member of the Baby Carrier Industry Alliance; there are new standards for slings and carriers coming into effect, and BCIA members will be compliant. Many sellers on Etsy and eBay are not compliant.

If you are buying a new carrier, it should come with a product registration card; if not – send it back!

When buying used, ask the same questions you would of a new carrier. There are unfortunately counterfeit carriers on the market at present – most notably Ergo, Freehand, and Beco.

If you wish to purchase one of these carriers, we recommend buying only from an authorized dealer for that brand; if buying used, ask the seller for proof of purchase. More information about spotting counterfeit carriers can be found on each manufacturer’s website.

FAQ

How Old Is Babywearing?

Babywearing has a long history that dates back hundreds, if not thousands, of years.

Different cultures developed their own styles of baby carriers and slings, reflecting their specific needs and traditions.

In African countries, the use of baby carriers made from fabric, such as the traditional African kanga or kitenge, has been a common practice for generations.

In East Asia, traditional baby carriers like the Chinese mei tai or the Korean podaegi have been used for centuries.

Native American cultures have also embraced babywearing, using cradleboards, or carrying pouches.

Are there any negative effects of babywearing?

There are a few potential negative effects that can occur if certain precautions are not taken:

  1. Improper positioning. Ensure that the baby’s airways remain clear, their head and neck are adequately supported, and their legs are in a spread-squat position. Failure to achieve proper positioning could lead to breathing difficulties, spinal strain, or hip dysplasia in rare cases.
  2. Overheating. Monitor the baby’s temperature and avoid overdressing them or using carriers that trap excessive heat. Some carriers, especially those made from thick or non-breathable fabrics, can potentially cause overheating.
  3. Physical strain. Choose a carrier that suits the caregiver’s body type and preferences, properly adjust it, and take breaks when needed to prevent fatigue or muscle strain.
  4. Limited mobility. While babywearing provides hands-free mobility, it can also limit certain movements or activities for the wearer. Avoid situations that may pose a safety risk due to reduced mobility or impaired balance.

These potential negative effects are relatively rare and can usually be avoided by practicing safe babywearing techniques, using appropriate carriers, and being attentive to the baby’s needs and comfort.

Does babywearing count as tummy time?

Tummy time refers to the period when a baby spends supervised time on their stomach while awake and alert. So, babywearing does not count as traditional tummy time.

Babywearing can complement tummy time by providing additional opportunities for the baby to experience different positions and movements. It is highly recommended to incorporate dedicated tummy time sessions in addition to babywearing to ensure a well-rounded development for the baby.

When can you start babywearing?

Babywearing can typically be started from birth as long as the baby is healthy and meets the minimum weight or developmental requirements specified by the manufacturer of the carrier. Many carriers have a minimum weight requirement of around 7 to 8 pounds (3.2 to 3.6 kilograms).

Newborns have specific considerations for safe and comfortable babywearing. Choose a carrier that provides adequate head and neck support for a newborn’s developing muscles.

Remember, each baby is different, and their readiness for babywearing may vary. Some babies may prefer being carried in a carrier from an early age, while others may need some time to adjust.

How do you get your baby used to babywearing?

Here are some tips on how to introduce your baby to babywearing:

  1. Start early. Begin babywearing as early as possible, ideally during the newborn stage. Newborns are often more receptive to being carried.
  2. Choose the right carrier. Consider using soft, adjustable carriers like wraps or ring slings for newborns, as they provide a snug fit.
  3. Create a calm environment. Make sure both you and your baby are relaxed and content before attempting to use the carrier.
  4. Practice at home first. Begin by practicing babywearing at home. This will allow both of you to get accustomed to the carrier without additional distractions.
  5. Use a soothing touch. While putting your baby in the carrier, use gentle, soothing touches. You can softly pat their back or sing a lullaby to create a positive association.
  6. Start with short sessions. Initially, try babywearing for short periods, such as 10 to 15 minutes, then gradually increase the duration.
  7. Pay attention to cues. If your baby seems fussy or uncomfortable, take them out of the carrier and try again later.

How to nurse while babywearing?

Here are some tips to help you nurse while babywearing:

  1. Choose a breastfeeding-friendly carrier. Some carriers have specific features, such as adjustable straps or panels, that make breastfeeding more accessible.
  2. Practice at home first. Practicing breastfeeding in the carrier at home will help you and your baby become more comfortable with the process.
  3. Support your baby’s head. Use one hand to support the back of their head, if needed, to maintain a comfortable and secure latch.
  4. Adjust clothing. Consider using nursing bras or tops that provide discreet openings or using a nursing cover.
  5. Pay attention to cues. Breastfeed your baby before they become too hungry or fussy.
  6. Take breaks if necessary: It’s important to prioritize both your comfort and well-being.
  7. Be mindful of safety. Ensure that your baby’s airway remains clear, and maintain vigilance to prevent any accidents or mishaps.

How long can a baby sleep while babywearing?

It’s generally recommended not to allow your baby to sleep in the carrier for extended periods without breaks. It is generally recommended to limit continuous periods of sleep to around 1-2 hours.

Regularly check on your baby while they are sleeping in the carrier. Ensure that their airway remains clear, and watch for any signs of discomfort or overheating.

For newborns and young infants whose muscles are still developing it’s important to ensure that the baby’s head, neck, and spine are well-supported.

Strike a balance between the convenience of babywearing and providing your baby with dedicated sleep time in a safe sleep environment, such as a crib or bassinet.

How to prevent a baby from overheating while babywearing?

Opt for carriers made from breathable materials, such as cotton or linen, which allow air to circulate and help regulate your baby’s body temperature.

Avoid overdressing your baby, as the carrier itself provides an additional layer of warmth.

Regularly monitor your baby for signs of overheating, such as flushed skin, excessive sweating, rapid breathing, or irritability.

In hot conditions, find a shaded or cooler spot to allow your baby to cool down and take a break.

Wear them happily! 💜

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