Since some of you asked, and since it's a subject that I feel passionately about, I thought I'd share my experience with babywearing. But I do want to first say that I'm not an expert on the topic, nor do I think there's one right way of doing anything parenting-wise — and every baby is different. Every mama gets through the first year with their child (especially those first tough 8 weeks) in their own way, and making it through with a happy child makes every mama such a hero. This is just my experience and what I learned that worked for me, as well as some insight I've gained from talking to other moms who are experienced in babywearing. I'll be totally honest, some of my family disagree (and seem baffled) with my choice to use a baby carrier with Juniper a large majority of the time when we're going places. Finding your own way to get out with your baby and explore, see friends, and do errands is an early challenge as a new mom. I can't thank Adriane at Caribou Baby enough for helping me discover the wonders of babywearing. Here's how I navigated through our first seven months with Juniper — I hope my experience can help some of you.
Babywearing is one of my proudest achievements as a mother, simply because it has given me so much confidence, independence, and bonded me and Juniper in this remarkable way. Think about it this way. How many people have you spent consider time belly to belly, where you're so close you can touch noses? Probably just your partner. And that's probably the same person whom you can read what they're thinking without them saying a word. That's what babywearing has given me with Juniper. I quickly learned what this expression or that whine meant because I could literally feel the shifts in her energy. But that's not how our story started...
(top photo by my friend Charlotte Jenks Lewis)
I had a really tough labor with Juniper, and it left me anemic and exceedingly weak and fatigued for the first three months. My midwives advised me to not leave my apartment for two weeks and to avoid lifting heavy things for a good long while. We're also in a third floor walkup (typical New York apartment living) where there's commercial space downstairs, so we can't leave our personal items in the entryway like some of our friends who live in brownstones. Before she was born, we had bought a light stroller that we could use with her right away (since newborns can't go in the umbrella strollers until they're 3 months). But even a light stroller felt like too much for me to go up 3 flights of stairs with a baby and diaper bag.
We were lucky to receive an Ergo carrier and one of their infant inserts as shower gifts. I was eager to put them to use once she was born. Juniper was born in June, during last summer's endless weeks of heat spells. The first time I had to go out with her alone was for her pediatrician checkup. It was 91 degrees that day. I had reviewed the YouTube videos for how to use the Ergo infant insert a dozen times, but it looked and felt like a taco-shaped sleeping bag to me. All I could think was how I was sweating and feeling overheated before she was even in the carrier, so what was she going to feel like inside a sleeping bag on a summer day? That day I walked her in my arms to the car and vowed to learn how to use my wrap (which I had bought from Caribou Baby a couple weeks before she was born.) I didn't realize my wrap would become such a lifesaver.
So I went back to Caribou Baby with Juniper and my Girasol ikat wrap and asked Caribou's shopowner, Adriane, for help. She showed me how to wrap Juni in a front cross carry. She felt snug and secure, but the material breathes and there was no thick sleeping bag on my chest. We both felt comfortable. I went over the tying method several times with Adriane. But tying a wrap is often not something you pick up in one try. Or two. Or ten. It took me a few weeks to really master how to tie my wrap in a way that she felt super secure to me and I could truly walk hands-free. I remember feeling really frustrated in the beginning and wondered if I'd ever feel like a natural with tying the wrap. Adriane talked a lot about muscle memory and how once you practice and have done it awhile, the steps feel natural to you and you know how tight to wrap your baby. It's true — don't give up if you're starting out. It will click after a while. I knew my wrap was the best solution for my circumstances and I was determined to learn how to be mobile with Juniper.
For the next couple weeks, I got out with Juniper but we stayed in Brooklyn and most of the time, I'd pop by Caribou Baby to have Adriane check that I'd tied up the wrap correctly. (I am a perfectionist after all.) She'd do little adjustments, and every time I learned a little something new. After a couple weeks, I had the front cross carry down. I felt confident wrapping her and it was so easy walking around with her. I also started wrapping her at home so that I could get some laundry done or make myself lunch when she wanted to be held. The wrap soothed her in this magical way. As I wore her in the wrap more, I noticed that she fussed very little in the day — which was in line with what we'd read in the book The Happiest Baby on the Block. Juniper loved being swaddled when she was young, and the wrap created that same cocoon like feeling. She'd also easily fall asleep in the wrap — it felt so cozy having her nap on me, and I could work on the computer or get something else done since my hands were free.
But I hit another bump just as I was getting comfortable working my Girasol wrap. We had problem after problem with nursing. And while Juniper was thriving, we had to make a bunch of appointments with her pediatrician (and lactation consultant.) I was using our car to get her places and it was a lot of work to get her into the wrap for a 2 minute walk to the car or to the office (especially since it took about 5 minutes to get her in the wrap!). I wanted something that would be faster and easier when I was standing on a street corner in Park Slope next to my car in 90 degree heat, hoping the fabric from my wrap doesn't get dirty from the sidewalk. That's when Adriane introduced me to the ring sling.
The ring sling is the fastest carrier to put your baby in and take her out. You put your baby over your shoulder and then slide her in, scooping the fabric under her bum so it creates a hammock seat. Then you tighten the sling pulling the seams of the fabric running through the rings. When they're little, babies are not as wriggly and it's easy to get their legs to be in the optimal frog-like position where the fabric is stretched under their seat from knee to knee. You can feel when it's secure. I wore my Sakura Bloom linen ring sling constantly through the summer — it was the perfect solution for us. It was fast to get on and off and Juniper was obviously comfortable hanging out in the sling. We went with a linen ring sling because I loved how light and breathable the linen felt for the summer (and ring slings are less material than a wrap, so they'll naturally feel more comfy to wear on those super hot days.) We met up with friends at a bar for dinner and drinks for the first time with Juniper in her ring sling, and she slept easily nested inside.
The main downside of the ring sling is that it's a one-shoulder carrier. So as Juniper got heavier, I noticed my back starting to bother me (especially since I had back problems to begin with.) Around the middle of her fourth month, I stopped using my ring sling for a couple months. I just pulled it out again because it's great to quickly scoop her in and have her on one hip when I want to grab something from another room (now that's she's crawling and we don't have gates yet in our loft.) It's definitely harder to get the secure hammock seat now that's she's older and more wriggly though. I've spoken to moms who find the ring sling to be a great carrier to have around with a toddler (when they're tired of walking) to scoop them up and carry them for a bit and then easily put them down when they want to get back out and walk.
Around the end of Juniper's fourth month, we started to use her Ergo carrier. Dan wanted to start carrying her and he wasn't up for a wrap or ring sling. Most guys aren't — though there are the few guys who can rock a wrap ;) It took till Juniper was about five months old for her to be tall enough to spread the seat of the Ergo carrier. To comfortably fit a baby (and keep them in proper alignment), you want to see their knees popping out of the sides and they should spread the seat of the Ergo. That's why whether a baby fits in an Ergo carrier is about their height and not their age or weight — and that's why you wouldn't want to put a newborn straight into the Ergo. The reason wraps and ring slings work from when babies are newborn to when they're toddlers is that the fabric is adjustable to your baby's size and shape. Structured carriers, like the Ergo, come in one size — so if your baby (or your body) doesn't meld to its shape well, you're stuck.
One key point I've learned from Adriane is that wearing your baby in a front carry (baby facing out) puts a lot of stress on their hips. With the Ergo, I can see that she's comfortable. Her legs are floppy and her behind sits lower than her knees so she's in a comfy frog position — her weight is in her seat and not her knees or hips. We've loved our Ergo carrier and we take turns carrying her around. The sleep hood is fantastic (especially now that she's older and gets more distracted by things), and I rely on that zip pocket to hold my phone, Metro card, a wipe and a teething toy — so convenient! But I'll be honest. I don't wear my Ergo everyday, and I'm happy I have other options. The Ergo feels like you're wearing a backpack. And while Juniper sits in my center line of gravity in the carrier, so she doesn't feel as heavy, the straps go straight over my shoulders, which can get tiring if you're going to be walking around for a couple hours.
Then I saw Adriane demonstrating the Mei Tai to a couple, and I knew it was the solution for me.
If I'd known about the Mei Tai from the beginning, I probably would have picked the Mei Tai as my first carrier (and skipped the ring sling.) If I had to choose one carrier that feels the most versatile — it would be my Mei Tai. It feels to me like a cross between my wrap and my Ergo. It's about as comfortable as a wrap. But rather than one long piece of fabric, there are two sets of fabric straps attached to the fabric carrier. The straps criss-cross your back like a wrap, which feels so much more comfortable to me than the backpack straps of the Ergo. There are toggles you use to adjust the Mei Tai once your baby is wrapped inside. You can create a sleep hood, too. I find that my Mei Tai is about as fast as my ring sling. I wore it throughout my trip to California. It's my carrier of choice for when I'm going to be walking around with Juniper for an afternoon. I'll choose my Ergo if I know I'm going to be taking her in and out a lot (because I think the buckle is faster for those times.) One thing I also love about the Mei Tai is that it's like a shortcut version of the wrap — it's definitely easier to learn. The hammock seat is built-in, and the four straps make it a faster method for tying.
So I have four carriers, which some may find excessive. But I wear her everyday, and I have gotten great use from all of the carriers. My advice to friends looking for a carrier, now that I'm seven months in: I'd hold off on buying a structured carrier until they're a little older and can fill it out comfortably. For the newborn stage on, I'd highly recommend a wrap or Mei Tai. I'd also suggest having it before your baby is born. You want to try on wraps and slings since they feel different on each person and you want to pick a fabric that feels good on you — plus they're sized. I've found with my carriers (except for the Ergo, which doesn't really change) that they break in well and get better with wearings and washings.
We do have a stroller, and I'm certainly not opposed to strollers. But we honestly don't use ours often, and I don't anticipate it'll be getting a lot of use until she's a bit bigger. For now, it's so fast and easy to get out with her in a carrier. She's happier in the carrier and doesn't fuss. We don't have to worry about where the stroller will fit in some teeny New York restaurant. Five minutes and she's in a carrier and we're off — and I'm hands free and can walk around pretty much as easily as I did without a baby. I love that about carriers. When Juni was 3 months old, I asked Dan to help me bring the stroller down so I could do a long solo shopping excursion with her in the stroller. I thought it was going to feel so freeing to have her in the stroller and just push her as long as I wanted to walk. I wound up feeling like it was a bit of a drag. The shops around here are so small and it was so awkward to maneuver around with a bulky stroller (plus you often have the step up to the store where you need to lift the stroller to get in and out.) And she fussed a lot. I came home feeling like I never wanted to do that again — and I haven't.
As Juniper gets older, I hope to learn how to wrap her in different carries. That's the other bonus of wraps (which you can't really do with ring slings or structured carriers.) You can wrap your baby in different ways — on your hip, on your back — there are literally hundreds of different ways to tie a wrap. Juniper has been happy facing in to my chest in a front cross carry so far. But when she's older and can sit on her own well, I'd love to learn how to do a back carry. We got a peek into alternative carries in an advanced babywearing class that Adriane offered a while back at Caribou. But I need to actually practice it a bunch of times before I'd feel comfortable wearing her in a hip or back carry. Here's Juniper in a back carry with Adriane (that's a Mei Tai carrier.)
Babywearing helped Juniper and me so much more than I could have anticipated. Yes, it made us mobile. But it was also a really effective way of soothing her during those first three months of life. Wearing your baby in a carrier also counts as tummy time — because there is pressure on their stomach. And it's time not spent on their back, so you're helping to avoid flat head (something I was terrified about!). Once we were in a groove with babywearing after the first few weeks, I noticed Juniper's comfort level with being on her tummy suddenly shift. She loved being on her tummy by the time she was 10 weeks, and soon after she started rolling around, and then she started sleeping on her tummy (which helped her sleep sounder and she started sleeping through the night.) I do think all that time on her belly in the carriers helped move her along faster.
And then there's that amazing perspective you get looking down at your baby in a carrier and watching her expressions while you're walking down a street or riding the subway (feeling her excitement at seeing all the new people around to watch.) I was just inches away from that sweet face the first time she rode a train, the first time she experienced a rainstorm, and through countless giggles. I wouldn't trade that perspective for anything. And I know that when my sweet Juniper is a three-year-old running around and all grown up, one of the things I'll miss most will be our walks together, with her snuggled against my chest and looking up at me with those big brown eyes.
Here's info on my carriers:
+ my ikat wrap is designed by Girasol. The wrap is made of a Guatemalan fabric that feels amazing. Can't say enough about how much I've loved this wrap.
+ my purple striped Mei Tai is made by Didymos. It's my new favorite carrier. The fabric feels like a lightweight cotton blanket.
+ my striped linen ring sling is from Sakura Bloom. I'm obsessed with that pretty striped linen, and it was an amazing help over the summer. Although linen does not hold weight as well as silk — so in retrospect a silk ring sling would have been more practical. But linen feels lighter and more breathable if you're having a summer baby.
+ and my structured carrier is the organic Ergo carrier in navy. That's my go-to carrier when we're running late because it is a cinch to put on.
+ my gray wool poncho that you see in some of these photos is a babywearing poncho. I adore it! And it's been getting almost daily use since the end of the summer. During the fall, I'd wear the poncho with a sweater and felt comfortable. Now that it's winter, I wear it underneath my coat to keep her warm and keep my chest warm. There's a separate head hole for Juniper (and arm holes for me) and it's a really thick wool that does keep us warm.
All of these carriers (and the poncho) are available through Caribou Baby. The Girasol wrap and Mei Tai are not easy to find elsewhere, but if you're outside New York, I know Caribou takes phone orders and creates registries.
My suggestions for babywearing:
+ I think a backpack is your best diaper bag when you're using a baby carrier. The weight is evenly distributed and it seems to balance out the weight of your baby in the front. Plus then you really feel hands-free which is awesome for getting around.
+ Try out your carrier before buying it, if at all possible. I didn't know this until recently, but there are a bunch of structured carrier alternatives to the Ergo that feel more comforable on some women. And with wraps and ring slings, you want to see how the fabric feels on you.
+ Don't get discouraged if it takes a while to learn how to tie your wrap. I think an in-person demonstration is invaluable, but if that's not an option where you are, definitely check out YouTube for video demos.
+ The fabric does make a difference. While Caribou Baby stocks an entire wall of different carriers, what you won't find are the jersey wraps. The reason, I found out, is because jersey fabric stretches — so you often need to readjust your wrap and it will be difficult to carry your baby once she's bigger. Silk does not stretch at all (it's not a shiny silk, more of a silk twill), and my wrap is made of a cotton blankety fabric that also holds up well with Juniper's weight.
+ This isn't a purchase to make on Etsy. A baby carrier is not the accessory to buy handmade. You can find people making slings out of bedding sheets, which is really dangerous because the fabric is not grippy or strong enough to hold a baby. You also want to think twice about choosing a carrier that's one kangaroo-like loop of fabric you sling over your shoulder — and isn't adjustable. With those carriers, the baby reclines in a cradle position which can be dangerous if it doesn't fit you just right.
+ If at all possible, have someone experienced in wraps or slings demonstrate how to wear one in person. It really does make a difference. And you do want to be sure your baby is in good alignment, so she's comfortable and there's no stress on her little back or hips.
+ Give yourself permission to not get it the first time. There's a million ways you can charge yourself with failing in those first weeks of becoming a mama. Problems nursing. Feeling frustrated figuring out what your baby needs. Problems keeping up with your laundry or getting healthy meals together for yourself. It's ok if babywearing doesn't click right away. It didn't with me, and I think that's a pretty common experience.
+ Your baby will change, and so will the way you carry her. By that I don't mean to say you'll necessarily need multiple carriers. But babywearing has been like nursing for me, in that it's constantly changing as she awakens to the world and grows. It's taught me to be flexible. Like many elements of motherhood, once you master one thing, something shifts and you have to learn something new. That's why I hope to learn how to hip and back carry Juniper, since soon she'll want to be seeing the world from a more grownup perspective.
+ Get yourself a full-length mirror if you don't already have one. It really helps to be in front of mirror when you're learning how to work your carrier. I still always opt to be in front of a mirror when I'm putting Juniper in a carrier. When you're out and about, the reflection from glass works as a makeshift mirror (I used that trick a lot with our car windows over the summer.)
Do you babywear your little one? What's your favorite carrier? What's been your experience with babywearing? I'd love to hear your stories!