Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Baby Carriers: A Review & How I Made My Own

I knew even before I got pregnant that when I had a baby, I would hold him as much as possible. I also knew that this would be hard! That's why, when I did get pregnant, I went ahead and bought a baby carrier. I've now tried several and read many reviews about all the types of carriers. I thought it would be wrong of me not to share the results with those of you who may be interested in using a carrier, because figuring all this stuff out was a pretty painful process (both literally and figuratively). These have been my findings. I hope you find them useful.

First off, you can get more information about different types of carriers here. Below are the carriers I used (type and brand) and what I thought of them. Search Youtube for any type you are interested in so that you can see people use them, how they use them, and what they think of them.

I advocate baby wearing because it keeps babies happier, and using a carrier helps you hold your baby hands free, because you've got things to do! Please note that there are many types of carriers, and for a specific kind, there are many different companies that manufacture that kind of carrier. You can even find many hand made.


The carrier I bought first was the Maya Wrap, which is a ring sling (sling that adjusts via rings). I like its ethnic look, that it's 100% cotton, has a pocket, it is adjustable so Stevie can wear it too, and the tail can be used as a breast feeding cover. However, I did not even think about how a sling carrier, which goes over just one shoulder, would inevitably make my back very sore! Then, I sorely regretted purchasing this carrier.

BUT, before I realized this about one shoulder carriers, I also purchased a pouch sling from Seven Slings. (I really only did this because I had a promo code for a free sling and only had to pay shipping!) A pouch sling is different from a ring sling in that they are not one size or adjustable. Needless to say, I had the same shoulder/back/neck pain problems with this one.

Comparison of Slings (Maya Wrap and Seven Slings):
The ring sling has adjustability, which is great if you plan to share it. If not, I would go with a pouch sling for simplicity. However, the wider fabric on the particular ring sling I purchased (Maya Wrap, and probably many others) in comparison to the pouch sling (Seven Slings, and probably most other pouch slings) did make it slightly more comfortable because I could spread the fabric farther over my shoulder and across my back. On the other hand, with the Seven Slings sling, the fabric is too stretchy in my opinion. I think fabric that stretchy would make it even more uncomfortable for carrying a bigger baby. The fabric of the ring sling I used was just right in my opinion. There are also slings that simply tie, which makes them adjustable. I have used a wide, long cotton/silk blend scarf as a sling and tied the ends. It is not as easily adjustable as a ring sling.

Summary on Slings:
The positions you can carry a baby in are (I believe) a cradle carry, hip carry, kangaroo carry (baby sort of faces out from you), and some say you can carry a baby in a sling on your back. I personally would not advise back carrying with a sling though. If you plan to carry baby until they are crawling and then some, being able to back carry that big baby is going to make world of difference for your comfort. Most slings will support a baby up to about 30lbs. You can nurse in a sling, I have done it with some success, but it is tricky and I think difficult for baby to stay latched on without help if he isn't able to sit up yet. Most slings are machine washable. You can put baby in and out without removing the sling, though an adjustable sling may need to be loosened a bit first. I think slings are okay for newborns, but, for me at least, once baby got over 8lbs. (which happened quickly, not to mention lots of babies are born at or over that weight), it was just too much for one shoulder to handle, even when I made certain I was using correct posture. You could buy a sling for that early, very small baby stage or wear it only for very short periods, but in my opinion that would just be a waste of your money.

Asian Style Baby Carriers

In this category of carriers, I only tried one - the Mei Tai. I had a Toys-R-Us gift card and desperately needed something that used both shoulders, so I purchased the Infantino Mei Tai. (It has padded shoulders and a padded head rest, but not all mei tais do. I personally prefer the one I got my friend as a baby shower gift - it was hand made - that has no padding but wide shoulder straps. It's just as comfortable and easier to fold compactly. This holds true not just with mei tais but all carriers.) The Mei Tai is a very comfortable carrier and I was extremely pleased with it, until I realized that it makes it very difficult to practice Elimination Communication! I realized that Stone needed to use the potty and started trying to get him out to hold him over the bowl but couldn't do it in time. The result was a lot of frustration on both our parts and a dirty cloth diaper for me to wash by hand. (If you've read our laundry post, you know we do the wash by hand here at our house!) If you don't intend to practice EC, then I would recommend the Mei Tai as an easy to use and comfortable choice. Just be aware that it is a little cumbersome to get baby out of because you can't just lift him out of it.

No comparison really here, I only tried one brand, unless you count my friend's hand made Mei Tai. I will just say I personally prefer no padding. That probably makes washing and drying simpler, too.

Summary on Mei Tai carriers:
There are 3 holds with the Mei Tai; facing in, hip carry, and back carry. That's pretty good for a simple carrier. Weight ranges vary depending on manufacturer, but most support up to about 35lbs. You can not nurse while baby is secured in this carrier. Mei Tai material is usually 100% cotton and is not stretchy. These carriers are relatively easy to put on, though tying it must be done while baby is already in the carrier, and it must be untied to take baby out. This can be inconvenient if you just need to take baby out to nurse quickly or to put him in the car seat. Then when he's done nursing or you get to the grocery store and want to pop him back in, you have to put the whole carrier on again. However, the Mei Tai is a comfortable carrier which goes over both shoulders and around the waist. Most Mei Tais would be machine washable.

Structured Carriers

"Structured carriers" refers to a general type of carrier. They do not all look the same or have the same features, but generally they have a lot of padding (and therefore are structured), go over both shoulders, some may have a waist support as well, and they have some type of closures, usually buckles. These carriers are not based on any traditional ethnic carrier. The one that I tried was also from Toys-R-Us. I exchanged the above mentioned Mei Tai for the Infantino Flip Carrier because you can take baby out from the front without taking off the whole carrier. Well, not only were the straps and buckles confusing, but many carriers of this type, the Flip included, hold baby with legs dangling down. Pediatricians recommend that young babies sit with their knees at the same level as their bottom for proper pelvis and spine development. I was in such a hurry for a carrier solution that I quite forgot about that when I bought this carrier. Another major flaw of this carrier (and many of the other structured carriers I've seen) is that there is a buckle in the back that is very difficult to secure without a helper. I plan to return this carrier as well.

Well, I only tried one structured carrier. However, I did note that there are structured carriers which provide a better seated position (such as the Infantino Support Ergonomic Carrier). I would recommend something like this if you go with a structured carrier. I would also recommend one with not only shoulder straps but a waist (or "lumbar") strap as well. This will help distribute weight more evenly and be easier on your back. Try to find one that you think you could put on by yourself with minimal hardship.

Summary for Structured Carriers (Infantino Flip in particular):
Structured carriers vary a lot within their category. Some provide more support, some less. Some allow only 2 carrying positions and some allow 3 or more. The Infantino Flip allows for facing in, facing out and back carrying. Structured carriers have differing maximum weights; the Flip supports up to 32lbs. Some structured carriers support a little more, and some as little as about 20lbs. You can nurse in some structured carriers, not many though, and not the Flip. Structured carriers are adjustable and thus "shareable," but adjusting is cumbersome and confusing, and often difficult. I would not suggest it if you plan to share it with your spouse or someone else routinely. That would require too much readjusting. The Flip was easy to get baby in and out of quickly. Otherwise, I really see no benefit to structured carriers over a carrier such as the Mei Tai. Many structured carriers are not machine washable. Depending on the straps, structured carriers can be pretty comfortable. The Flip was fairly so when we finally got it adjusted well.


After much consideration, I decided to make my own wrap. I got directions and guidance (on length/width of fabric and fabric choice) from Wear Your Baby. This site also has instructions/videos for pretty much all the baby carrying holds our there, how to make other types of carriers besides a wrap, as well as a handy list of what carries you can do with different lengths of fabric. If you are serious about baby carrying, check this site out and bookmark it for future reference. I think they mention using cotton gauze as a wrap fabric though, and I just want to say that I would advise against this. I just wouldn't trust such thin fabric that tears so easily. Anyway, since 5 yards of cloth allows you to do all the types of carries, that's what I went with. I also decided to make my carrier 30" wide and since the fabric I chose was 60" wide I got 2 wraps out of the 5 yards. I hemmed the edges by hand and that's all there was to it. I chose a lightweight 100% cotton with a linen like weave. It is not too hot but not too thin to be supportive.

I have to admit, at first I had ruled out wraps because I thought they were crazy complicated and it wouldn't be easy to get baby out fast enough. Well, I was wrong. I have let go of my wrap prejudices and decided that they are the best carriers ever. Period.

I considered buying the Moby Wrap, but was turned off by reviews complaining of it being much too stretchy and thus not supportive enough for bigger babies. And if you watch the instructional videos you can see, it is very stretchy. Reviewers complained of it getting stretched out and saggy after a little while and having to re-tie it frequently to take up the "slack."
I did find The Portable Baby Wrap, which claims to stretch only a little and only across the width and not the length, but at 96% cotton and 4% spandex I wasn't sure if I trusted that. The maker says the way the fabric is woven, it does not stretch too much. It is on sale as of right now for only $25 +s/h, which is very inexpensive for a wrap. It looks like the instructions that come with it say that it only supports babies to 20lbs. and only includes directions for one carry position. But have no fear, unless it is in fact super stretchy, this wrap will support much higher than 20lbs. comfortably and you definitely can do all the wrap carries with it, because it is 5 yards long, 23" wide. (Minimum wrap width is 20".)
I ultimately decided to make my own so that I could choose exactly the type of fabric I wanted and it's dimensions. This was also, as usual when DIYing, the cheapest option. The result is a wrap that is extremely comfortable, unbelievably versatile, and easy to use. I bought fabric that was on sale, and one wrap came to under $20, but I did have to hem it myself.

Summary on Wraps:
Don't be intimidated by the wrap, it is not hard to use. I used it correctly on my first try, though I do believe it helped to first watch some videos, which can be found easily on Youtube and lists of all the different holds found on Wear Your Baby. The wrap is the most comfortable carrier I have worn as it uses most of the shoulders and back to ditribute weight very well. If it happens to become uncomfortable, you can choose a diffierent hold or simply make an adjustment so that the weight distributes a little differently. I wear my 11+ lb. baby in it on the front for hours without getting uncomfortable. Wraps come in different materials and in different lengths (the shorter, the fewer holds you can do with it). They have no buckles, snaps, zippers, rings, etc. You just tie it. You can breast feed in a wrap, and in more than one position, too. Wraps allow for the most variety of holding positions and, depending upon material, support up to about 35lbs. With most holds in the wrap, baby can be put in and removed without taking off the wrap. I just wear mine most of the time, and baby goes in and out as needed without taking it off. Baby also comes out quickly and easily! Young babies can be held in a developmentally appropriate position (with knees at or above level of their bottom). Wraps are completely adjustable and easily shareable. The tails of it can be used as a burp cloth (I found that out fast!) and when not used as a carrier they can be used as a blanket. If you decide on a wrap, Wrap Your Baby may also have some helpful videos and tips.

I also considered the My Baby Nest "wrap." It consists of two loops and a belt that secures via rings. But it seems too stretchy as well, and looking at the pictures on the website you can see that many of the babies seem to be sagging so that their bottoms are at or below the navel of the person carrying, which is not a comfortable position (for you). Baby's bottom should always be, at lowest, at the level of the navel. And, although not truly a wrap, it seems not to have any true advantage over wraps. It is not adjustable (except for the belt) and so you have to buy one of 3 sizes. You can not do all the variety of carries as you can with a true wrap.

Here is my home made wrap. Baby is fast asleep and as you can see has head support.


Bye Bye!

UPDATE (2/1/12)
I decided to try out The Portable Baby Wrap since it is being liquidated so cheaply and seemed lighter weight than my home made wrap, which can get hot down here in the south. (We're having a record hot winter here by the way, with temps as high as 78F and it's February!) My verdict is that it is a good buy for the liquidation cost. I'd not have bought it at the original retail. It does stay cooler than my home made wraps, but it is stretchier than I would prefer. It only stretches across the width, as the maker says. And it's not nearly so stretchy as the Moby. It is nice that the middle of the wrap is marked. I thought the stuff sack it comes with might be neat, but I never use it. It's faster to wad the thing up and shove it in a diaper bag or purse than stuff it in that tiny bag. The fabric also wrinkles horribly, even if you fold it to put it away because it wrinkles while you're wearing it. This can be annoying when you're trying to half it lengthwise to wrap it around you (my preferred method of wrapping). The instructions only show one way to wrap but point you to the TPB website for more ways to use it, though I would recommend the above mentioned sites (Wrap Your Baby and Wear Your Baby) for such purposes. One more complaint....since the fabric is thinner, you can definitely feel "pressure points" on your shoulders and back more easily where the fabric can sort of "dig in" because it's kind of bunched up there. I find myself adjusting it more frequently than I do my hand made wrap, which generally feels cushier and more supportive. I would usually rather use my home made wrap but wear less clothing to keep from getting hot. The TPB Wrap is my wrap of choice for going out though. It is more compact when folded up and more lightweight. It's also prettier than the one I made. All in all, great wrap for $25 + s/h. But whoa! I just now checked and she is now liquidating for $35 + s/h...$10 more than when I got mine which was just a couple of weeks ago. Go figure. Glad I went ahead and bought one! Anyway, still an okay wrap for the money. At that price though, you could make 2-4 wraps, depending on your fabric choice, for the same money. 

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