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Babywearing and Baby carriers
Babies have been worn for thousands of years in pieces of cloth tied to the parent's body.
Babies who are worn cry less, experience less colic, learn more, and are easier to get to sleep. Babywearing helps regulate the baby's breathing, temperature and heart rate. Parents who wear their babies are more productive, have less stressful outings and travel. Babywearing is good exercise. Breastfeeding is more convenient when baby is worn in a sling.
Types of baby carriers
A ring sling is basically a long rectangular piece of fabric with 2 rings sewn on one end. The tail of the sling is threaded through the two rings and back through one of the rings. The baby's weight creates dynamic tension and locks the fabric in placed between the two rings.
The way in which the rings are attached to the fabric will change the way in which the fabric sits on the shoulder. There are infinite combinations of pleats, gathers, and folds that can be fed through the two rings. Different methods will create a wider or narrower shoulder, and more or less spread on the back.
Open Tail VS Closed tail
The tail of a ring sling is the fabric that hangs down loose through the rings. The fabric may either be left loose, which is called an "open tail", or it can be folded into a "closed tail", a narrow strap of fabric. An open tail sling is more adjustable, you can pull on each edge of the fabric to tighten either the top rail of the sling (around the baby's shoulders) or the bottom rail of the sling (between your and the baby's body). A closed tail sling creates a handle that you can pull on to tighten the entire sling at once. Tightening the individual rails is more difficult in a closed tail sling.
Padded rails, padded shoulder, unpadded
Ring slings are available either unpadded, with padded rails, a padded shoulder, or any combination. Most common commercially available ring slings have a closed tail with padded rails, which is the least user friendly combination. Overly padded rails are more difficult to adjust, since the padding can not be pulled through the rings easily.
Pouch/Ring Sling Hybrid
The pouch/ring sling hybrid is a combination of a ring sling with a curved seam like a pouch sling (see pouch sling category below). The hybrid sling can have any shoulder type, and may be padded or unpadded, closed or open tail. Hybrids are usually narrower than ring slings, since the curved seam creates a deeper pocket for the baby. Hybrid slings are sometimes folded in half like a pouch sling, before attaching the rings at the shoulder, which also creates more of a pocket for the baby.
Ring Sling Fabrics
Ring Slings can be made of almost any fabric. Commonly available slings are made of bottom weight woven cotton and cotton blends, twill, sateen, denim and linen. Less common fabrics include jersey knit cotton, silk, wool, cashmere. The wrong side of the fabric will show in the tail of the sling, so if a ring sling is made of a single layer of fabric, it is important that both sides of the fabric be attractive. Ring slings can be made reversible and more supportive by using two layers of fabric.
The rings used for a ring sling should be tested and made specifically for the purpose. Thin rings, or those with weld marks, are not appropriate and may bend or break under the pressure. Thin rings can bend and slip through one another. Rings with rough weld marks may be abrasive and weaken the fabric.
Ring Sling length is largely based on the wearer's preference. Ring slings can be as short as above hip level, or as long as knee length. If your sling has a pocket, it is good to have the pocket positioned at approximately hip level so that you can reach it easily. Most ring slings are one size fits most, so unless you are very petite or plus sized, you can probably wear almost any ring sling.
Fitted, or sized, pouch slings are a simple tube of fabric with one curved end where the baby's bottom is positioned. The tube is folded in half in on itself to form a pocket for the baby. Fitted pouch slings are typically available in 4 to 10 lengths depending on the brand. The more sizes the better, because a snug, high fit is important for the comfort of the wearer. The size of the pouch is determined by the size of the person wearing it, not the size of the baby. It is common for new pouch sling users to wear the pouch too loose.
Adjustable pouches are the same tube style of sling as a fitted pouch sling, but they have a method of adjusting the length, so that one pouch will adjust over 3 or 4 sizes. This makes the sling wearable through weight gain and loss, and sharable between different caregivers. Each brand will have it's own method of adjustment, available adjustment methods are snaps, zippers, Velcro, or drawstrings. There are also some "semi adjustable" pouches that have a smaller degree of adjustment with a single button.
Pouches can be made of almost any fabric. Twill, sateen, and polar fleece are the most commonly used fabrics, but you can also find pouches made of jersey knit, silk, wool, hemp, or many other fabrics. If the fabric used is stretchy lengthwise, it is necessary for the length of the pouch to be shorter because the weight of the baby will stretch the sling out. A less stretchy fabric is more supportive for a heavier baby, and you always want the more stretchy direction of the fabric to run widthwise, not lengthwise. Pouches can also be made reversible, with two different fabrics.
Most pouches are unpadded, but there are some available that have light padding along one edge of the sling. This is mainly used in the hip carry, it cushions the back of the baby's legs. The padding is also useful for young babies without head control, the padding is worn on the outer rail of the sling and can prop the head up slightly.
Pouch/Wrap Hybrid carriers
Generally made of a very stretchy knit fabric, this type of carrier system usually is made up of one or two fitted pouches, and a short support sash that can be wrapped around the torso, or over one shoulder. Usually more comfortable for lightweight infants, they aren't supportive enough for babies over about 18 lbs. A more versatile alternative to the pouch/wrap hybrid is a stretchy knit wrap.
A wrap is a long narrow piece of fabric that can be used in many different positions and can be wrapped around the wearer's body in many different ways.
Stretchy wraps are made out of cotton or cotton/lycra knit fabric. They are 5 to 6 yards long by about 25 inches wide. Stretchy wraps are most suitable for newborn front carries. Because of the stretchiness of the fabric, you can wrap your self first, and then stretch the fabric and pop the baby in an upright position against your chest. Stretchy wraps aren't suitable for a heavy baby; they tend to sag very quickly.
Woven wraps are probably the most versatile, supportive and comfortable carrier of them all. They also take much longer to master, but for a dedicated babywearer with an older child, it is worth it. Woven wraps are available in all lengths from 2.5 to 6 yards long. The length of wrap that you want will depend upon both your size and the positions and wrapping method that you want to carry your child in. They are made of cotton, wool, silk, or hemp. You can find excellent online instructions for the many different methods of wrapping.
Asian Inspired Baby Carriers
The Mei Tai consists of a usually rectangular center body piece, with 4 long straps, one coming off of each corner. The top two straps go over the shoulders, and the bottom two straps go around the wearer's hips/waist. There are different methods of tying the shoulder straps. They can go over the shoulders like back pack straps, or be crossed over the chest or back of the wearer. The mei tai is typically worn on the wearer's front or back with the baby facing in toward the wearer, though it can be used on the hip or facing out on the front for short periods. Straps can be narrow or wide, padded or unpadded.
The Onbuhimo is similar to the Mei Tai, but it has just shoulder straps, no waist straps. There is a ring or loop at each hip that the shoulder straps are threaded through after being wrapped over the wearer's shoulders. The straps can be worn like the Mei Tai, either ruck sack style or crossed. The onbu is usually used as a back carrier with the baby facing the wearer, though it can be used on the front as well.
The podaegi and Hmong are similar to the Mei Tai, but generally have a larger, wider body piece (called a blanket) that extends past the wearer's hips, with very long shoulder straps and no waist straps. The Podaegi can be tied over the shoulders like the Mei Tai, or just around the torso above the bust.
Usually have an aluminum frame with a nylon seat for the baby to sit in. They are suitable for babies that can sit up unassisted. Bulky and heavy, and usually requires assistance to get the baby on the wearer's back.
Mei Tai style carriers with a buckle around the waist, and a single shoulder strap designed to be worn diagonally across the body, with an older baby on the hip. Many can only be worn on one specific shoulder or the other.
Structured Asian Inspired Carriers
Basically a Mei Tai with buckles, snaps or clips on the waist band and shoulder straps. Widely available for newborns, there are also structured carriers that are suitable for toddlers and preschoolers. Very mainstream looking and accepted by a wider audience than the more traditional baby carriers.
Sara Gower, President, Slinglings Baby Slings
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