Tuesday, June 16, 2015

My orientation to babywearing

Over the last two months I have been learning about babywearing. At first, I didn't really understand why the act of using a baby carrier, sling or wrap needed its own name. I came to learn that the name babywearing represents not only the act, but also the babywearing community, where people share knowledge and the actual carriers themselves. There are many resources out there telling you why you should wear your baby - I am not going to add to these. However, I would like to share my learning experience, in hopes that it might assist someone new to babywearing.

Looking for an alternative to our Baby Bjorn, I found my local babywearers group, attended a couple of meetings, and borrowed a few different carriers from their lending library. I joined the Canadian Babywearing For Sale or Trade Facebook group and browsed the sales for a few weeks, cross-referencing prices with those of retailers. I found the market for carriers quite confusing, and was surprised to find most didn't depreciate in value much, if at all - some actually rose in price.

I decided I wanted both a soft structured carrier, as I had become accustomed to how convenient my Bjorn was, but it was starting to hurt my back with baby's increasing weight. I also wanted a woven wrap, as I liked its flexibility (so many types of carries with the same cloth), and had used a stretchy wrap when baby was wee.

Soft structured carriers (SSC) generally buckle on, and are relatively easy to use. They might be made from a wrap (wrap conversion or WC), which likely means they are softer and have a nice pattern, though these generally cost more. SSCs allow you carry your baby facing you, and most allow you to carry your baby on your back. When buying, look at the types of carries the SSC can do, ergonomics, fit, and weight limit (some do infant to toddler, some companies make multiple sizes). Style may be important to you as well. We own a Manduca, and a Baby Bjorn. The latter isn't as widely promoted in babywearing groups, likely because its standard option is not ergonomic. I use our Manduca for grocery shopping, and when I want to get baby up quickly and securely. I'm not experienced with back wrapping, so it takes some time and patience - both of which are in short supply when babe is crying or fussy.

my Turkish Towel wrap - big diamond weaveWraps can be stretchy or woven, the latter being the generally more preferred amongst babywearers because they continue to be supportive once your baby isn't so tiny. Stretchy wraps are good for newborns (also referred to as "squish" - my FAVORITE lingo from babywearers!), but cannot be used for back carries. There are also hybrid wraps with some stretch in them, but I am completely unfamiliar with these.

Woven wraps are made with natural fabrics such as cotton and linen (which are breathable), come in different sizes, and are tied in specific ways to support your baby. With each size you can do different carries. Longer isn't always better. Some wraps need "breaking in" before they tie easily, depending on the material and weave. When buying, look at what size you would like, how supportive you would like the wrap to be (ie. thicker or more durable fabric supports larger children), how easy you would like it to be to wrap with, and - very important - appearance. Ultimately, I decided to buy a new handwoven wrap, a Turkish Towel size 5 that I picked up on Etsy. The price range for these is similar to a higher end machine woven wrap, so quite good for a handwoven. I spent some time looking for something I really liked at a reasonable price, and I'm not too concerned about reselling it as I'd like to use it for as long as possible. We have also used a Boba stretchy wrap.

I know very little about mei tais, which are similar to soft structured carriers in that they have a square of fabric for the baby to sit in, and straps extending from it to wrap around the person carrying the baby. This carrier is also very lightweight, but seems like it would be a bit more convenient to use than a wrap. Similarly, I am not familiar with ring slings, which use rings to tighten the wrap around you and the baby. They also seem lightweight and convenient. Babywearing groups generally have both of these types of carriers available in their lending libraries.

As with any community that is built on knowledge sharing, there tends to be a lot of lingo, a serious learning curve for newbies, and the occasional person who might come across as a know-it-all. My initial experiences with the local group could have been intimidating if not for some friendly and helpful group facilitators. While the learning curve will seem steep, there are plenty of resources to help you on the way:

1. Your local babywearing group. Find it (Canadian groups here) and attend a meeting, where people can help you wrap and lend you carriers.

2. Facebook swap pages and retailers. Research prices, research weaves. Look at everything to figure out what you really want. Serviceable, stunning, or somewhere in between? Wraps can range from roughly $80 to several hundred (or even a thousand) dollars. Be prepared to see some beautiful things. Do not be surprised to see some very expensive things.

3. Make sure you are following safety precautions. Your babywearing group will be your number one resource for this, as they can observe and help as you put your baby into a carry. This site visually reviews optimal positions for all types of carriers.

4. How-to wrap videos are also indispensable. Watching the same wrap performed by different people can shed some light on what works best for you. My favorites are Wrapped LifeBabywearing Faith, and Wrap you in Love.

I started learning about babywearing to "get more stuff done," but find that wearing is soothing to both baby and myself. I'm no expert, and still have a long ways to go before I can comfortably throw little one up on my back and wrap her. We practice, I fail sometimes, we try again when we are both in a better mood. With wraps playing nicely into my love of fabric, my goal is to resist developing yet another massive stash - no matter how much handwovens, fantastic colours, or beautiful designs tempt me. And this is something you may learn: buying carriers and wraps can be addictive.

This is the first post that I am going to promote in any public way (heart thumping). I know this isn't a comprehensive review of babywearing - it isn't meant to be. But if you have any thoughts, please let me know!