The babywearing obsession rather came about by accident – I had always intended to use a carrier with Elphie and had purchased the ubiquitous BabyBjörn (more about which later) and had marvelled so much at Alex’s tricks with a piece of cloth with Evan that she had promised me my very own woven wrap almost identical to hers in every way (I couldn’t help it – she had chosen the best wrap designs) and I fully intended to watch youtube videos and occasionally use it. My theory was that slings and wraps would be very useful for long walks and travelling when lugging around a buggy would be too much hassle and while Elphie was too small for an umbrella stroller. For everyday I reckoned I would mix it up and use the buggy as much if not more than the carriers.
When Elphie arrived rather unexpectedly our plans fell into disarray – we had the Björn but she couldn’t use it because it was only suitable from 8lbs; the woven wrap was on its way but only in time for the expected due date not a month beforehand; and as for the buggy – I was still making my final decision, so that was not an option either (buggy choices not being top of my priority list when faced rather early with a newborn baby). So Fred was sent out on a mission to our local high street to find any sling that Elphie was allowed to use so that we could actually leave the house with her in something other than the carseat. And back he came with a Caboo (I will explain what this is later) and the slippery slope to babywearing fanatics had begun.
Being forced to use a sling as the only mode of transport available opened our eyes to the wonders of babywearing. It was just so convenient! While everyone else was struggling to manoeuvre their buggies around the cafes of West London or dreading trips on the tube, we were up and away. And it felt so nice having her snuggled up against me all the time, where I could kiss her little head whenever it took my fancy to. Of course we got a buggy as we thought we needed one, but why we would use it for anything other than a glorified shopping trolley was suddenly beyond me. And once I had learnt to breastfeed in a sling, really that was the clincher – now Elphie can eat on the move and I can just continue whatever I was doing, no pitstop required!
However, despite my love of babywearing and despite the fact we now own four slings, I am but a novice in this area. Some people take this very seriously. The world of slings is a confusing place with a plethora of options with manifestly confusing names like half buckles and mei tais, and even I am still rather intimidated by it all and collectors who have more slings than I have shoes!
So to break you all in gently (and so I don’t have to work out what all the different types are) I am just going to tell you about my stash (the collective noun for slings).
The Caboo Carrier is a two part carrier made of stretchy material which is constructed with rings to make it that bit easier for a new parent to use. It has a few carries – we used a cradle once or twice, but were far more comfortable with the front cross carry where Elphie sat directly in front of us with the straps of the Caboo securing her bottom using a cross and then the second part tying around her tush and back to make it super comfy. This was a nice first wrap: the carries were relatively straightforward to master and the rings made it slightly structured so both myself and Fred used it. Elphie always seemed very snug in it and the material was lovely and soft. The only issue with it is one of longevity – we really only used it for the first four months because it simply didn’t provide enough back support for me when trekking around West London. So would I recommend it? I think if you can get a second hand one then I would.
Cost: £40 / secondhand: ~£25
Woven wraps are long pieces of strongly woven material with tapered ends which are available in a multitude of beautiful designs and have a dazzling array of types of carries. This is the most flexible type of sling because you can basically do anything with it (and thousands of videos on youtube tell you how) – but that makes it the most complicated because unlike the Caboo, nothing is pre-set-up for you. So far I have replicated the front cross carry and have tried a rucksack back carry using a santa toss to get Elphie onto my back but I really need to get a bit more adventurous!
Purchasing woven wraps can be tricky as only a few designs are stocked by retailers in the UK, so if you want a specific design then you may need to order it directly from the manufacturer who tend to be based in far flung parts of Europe. Sizing can also be tricky, if you want to do a front cross carry then that uses a lot of material so I’d follow Love to be Natural’s advice get a size 5 (4.2m) if you are size 10 or below, size 6 (4.6m) up to size 14 and above that a size 7 (5.2m).
I love my woven wrap for its prettiness, versatility and comfiness (as you can use the width of the wrap to really spread the weight across your back), but the downside is that it does take longer to get on and isn’t very practical for on and off playground fun in wet and muddy weather.
Cost: £40-£100-£££. Woven wraps tend to hold their value so you can often sell it for what you bought it for or if it becomes a rare design then wraps can sometimes go for thousands.
Floaty wraps are all well and good, but they aren’t very manly and true to form, Fred got Elphie into the BabyBjörn with its structure and clips as soon as she was heavy enough. Björns are very popular in the parenting world, sold virtually everywhere and seen everywhere, I thought it was the baby carrier to get when I was pregnant. How wrong I was. In the world of babywearing, Björns tend to be seen as the McDonalds of carriers – everywhere but probably not very good for you, their only concession being that they might introduce someone to the world of babywearing. The main concerns are around hip development – to be optimal really the baby needs to have its legs in an M position with its knees above its bottom, and legs spread around your waist always facing inwards. The traditional Björn (some newer ones are better on this) is accused of being a “crotch-dangler” and putting too much strain on the developing hip joints. The following post from the Sheffield Sling Library provides a balanced view of the risks involved and shows the difference between the position in some carriers versus the optimal “M”:
If I were to have my time again, I wouldn’t get the Björn as better safe than sorry on those hips and as Elphie got to 6 months, it just stopped providing the back support I needed to lug her around everyday. Instead I would have plumped for the Ergo I got for Christmas with its infant insert – much longer lasting (till 3 years as opposed to 1), more comfortable, more possible carries (front, back and hip) and no hip socket worries – plus it has pretty stars on it.
Structured carriers are great for errands and travelling as it’s really easy to get the baby in and out of them, but there is less choice of the carries you can do with them and you can’t spread them across your back to avoid back pain like you can with a woven wrap.
But this is just a drop in the ocean, there are stretchies and ring slings and pouch slings and mei-tais to explore – see here for a list of sling types. There are also conversions where a woven might become a mei-tai and other craziness.
If you want to explore the world of slings then it’s best to get yourself along to a local sling meet to try some on or a local sling library where you can borrow one for a small fee and see what you think. And if you really want serious advice, then get ye a babywearing consultant who will come and help you navigate the world of slings and help fit your chosen sling to you for optimal ergonomic style.
And remember, slings are for Dads too, they are going to have a Dad Camp and everything!