Invaluable knowledge & top tips from a babywearing expert
Babywearing has been done for centuries, and is one of the most natural ways to carry your little one. Mother of four, and founder of The Sleep Store, Louise Tanguay answers all your questions.
My eldest son is now 19 and I still recall just how awful my first baby carrier was. I can't remember whether I purchased the awful contraption or someone had given it to me, but either way it deserved to be burnt. It felt like an octopus, it was so complicated, and unbelievably, was lined with polar fleece. This was not great for a February baby with clueless first-time parents! Our next carrier was just as horrible – a huge bulky framed backpack, which I swear weighed more than the child and resulted in putting my back out. I delegated all carrying duties to my husband, Matt for the next few years until something better came along.
Over the following years, we had three more babies and tried more carriers, searching for something that was actually comfortable, practical, and didn't make my baby scream when I used it. We started to sell carriers and slings at The Sleep Store after I had Ben, my third. He’s now 14, so that’s a lot of years of researching carriers and trying so many with my own babies, family members, and hundreds of customers who have come for one-on-one fittings or babywearing classes.
In the years since my fourth baby (Eddie, now 12) was born, the carrier options for families have exploded with many wonderful carriers available in New Zealand. However, the range can be overwhelming for a lot of people and some of the carriers sold now are crazy expensive. Carriers don’t need to cost anywhere near $400 to be safe and comfortable, a simple wrap or meh dai (tie straps & tie waist) are very reasonably priced, particularly when bought secondhand. Carrying is affordable for all families, especially with the recent launch of the National Carrier Library of NZ!
Unfortunately there are still plenty of ghastly ones for sale, just as bad as the awful one I had 19 years ago. Cheaply made carriers from online marketplaces overseas are also flooding into New Zealand, ones that have been found to fail basic safety tests. We still have no mandatory safety standard for baby carriers, which led me to launch Babywearing Aotearoa during last year’s lockdown to promote safety information and to ensure Kiwi families have easy access to affordable and safe carriers. Babywearing safety messages can be confusing for those new to using a carrier. Often they are just a list of ‘rules’ with no decent images or explanation of what it actually means for you when using your carrier. I know from experience that families often don’t read the instructions or safety information that comes with a carrier, so we have a real focus on sharing safety content and helping families understand what makes carriers safe or unsafe, rather than just sharing bullet points on a tiny leaflet.
The TICKS (tight, in view at all times, close enough to kiss, keep chin off chest, supported back) guidelines are a good example of this. It’s hard to remember what the five letters stand for and this takes away from focusing on the most important message which is ‘Keep your baby’s airways clear’. An analysis of babies in the US who tragically died while in a carrier showed that in all cases, their airways were cut off. This occurred by their face being covered by fabric, being low in the carrier pressed against the adult or poor positioning lead to their chin being on their chest. And in all cases, they had not been checked on for a period of time. Young babies are also at much greater risk when they are unwell, particularly with respiratory illness. The combination of covering your baby’s face completely, leaving baby low in the carrier after feeding and being unwell can have tragic consequences. It’s so important families understand these are the risk factors rather than giving a generic recommendation to avoid carrying babies under four months of age (which is so impractical and unhelpful!).
Babies have been carried in slings or wraps for as long as humans have existed. Human babies are a lot like other primates, they naturally cling to their adult and use their little legs and feet to help hang on. Our babies are designed to be carried, as they aren’t like baby horses who can stand and feed themselves straight after birth. Our babies are not like birds either, left alone in the nest for long periods of time with food dropped off. In cultures around the world where babies are commonly carried from birth, new parents may have already safely carried siblings or other family members. And they use very simple slings or wraps that are perfectly sized for small babies. Carriers are like a lot of baby products – they are often more expensive and complicated than they need to be. And to justify the higher price, a lot of carriers are now sold as a ‘one and done’ solution, ie suitable from newborn to toddlerhood. But for most carriers, this means a huge compromise for the first months, when a carrier that fits up to a toddler may be bulky, uncomfortable and potentially unsafe for a tiny newborn. The ‘from newborn’ message is marketing rather than coming from an understanding of what little babies need in a carrier and what is most natural in terms of how babies are held in arms.
LEARNING TO USE A BABY CARRIER
Hands-on help is always going to be best for learning to use a carrier and choosing something that is best for your family. Babywearing consulting is a relatively new profession in New Zealand. In comparison, in Poland there are over 400 babywearing consultants, and families there think it's completely normal to see a consultant to choose and learn to safely and comfortably use a carrier. Now here in New Zealand we have a network of local volunteer-run babywearing groups, where families can loan carriers and get hands-on help. Babywearing Aotearoa offers support to these groups and can also help setup and sponsor new groups to ensure families across NZ can access this help.
There is also a lot of help online to learn about babywearing. There are many excellent YouTube channels from highly trained babywearing consultants (there’s also a lot of terrible videos and unsafe practice, so ensure videos you watch are made by experts.) Things you’ll want to make sure you’re across are:
- How to prepare your carrier
- Bringing your baby to your body
- Tightening the carrier around you and your baby
- Taking baby out of the carrier
I think this 4-step process is really helpful for families new to carrying, as it keeps the focus on your baby, rather than the carrier. It helps us to think about baby’s position being safe and ergonomic, rather than the usual ‘put your baby in the carrier’ which often results in unsafe carrying with the carrier too big and loose.
CHOOSING THE PERFECT BABY CARRIER
With so many carriers available now many families just choose the one most heavily advertised or most readily available in chain stores, but this misses a huge opportunity to look for what is best for you and your baby. It also means families are often spending twice what they need to, for something that isn’t even a good fit for the age of their baby.
I love the advice from the Centre for Babywearing Studies in New York – they say the best carrier is one that you love and that meets these points:
+ Carrier allows for baby's back to be supported in its natural position
+ Carrier allows for the relaxed baby's legs to be in the spread-squat position
+ Carrier allows the wearer to distribute the baby's weight comfortably across their own body
There are many babywearing options that could meet this description:
+ Stretchy Wrap
+ Woven Wrap
+ Ring Sling
+ Meh Dai – tie straps and waist
+ Half Buckle – buckle waist and tie straps
+ Soft structured buckle carrier, eg Beco 8, Boba X, etc
WHERE TO ACCESS BABYWEARING HELP
Established in 2021 with the National Babywearing Library of NZ to offer NZ families expert help, promote babywearing safety and make carriers affordable for all families. You can contact BWA through their social media or email email@example.com. Send a fit check photo through when you start using a new carrier to ensure it is safe, or ask for help to get your carrier more comfortable. Loan carriers are available from $5.
There are many volunteer-run groups operating throughout NZ who meet regularly to lend out carriers and offer hands-on help. BWA can also help establish a new group in your area. Perhaps you would like to help set a group up to share your love of carrying and learn more?
NZ families can work individually or in small groups with their local babywearing consultant (many also offer zoom appointments). These highly trained carrier experts can help with anything from learning to use a carrier, choose the right carrier or specialist skills like back-carrying, woven wrap techniques, carrying premature babies or multiples.
The Sleep Store
The Sleep Store offers free babywearing consultations by zoom or in person in their Auckland office. You can try carriers from the library, get advice on choosing a carrier and get fit checks and tweaks with your carrier.
SPECIALIST BABY CARRIER RETAILERS
+ The Sleep Store
+ Woven Womb
+ Joy Riders Babywearing
+ Up a Bubba Babywearing
+ The Sling Lady
+ All Kanga Trainers across NZ
+ The Stork Network
+ Baby on the Move stores – some branches have a babywearing consultant in store
It’s natural to want our babies close to us, it’s what nature has always intended. I hope I've provided a thorough overview of babywearing in New Zealand, so you are armed with all the knowledge you need to make it a safe, comfortable and enjoyable experience for all involved.
LOUISE'S TOP TIPS FOR CHOOSING THE RIGHT BABY CARRIER
❧ Shop with a specialist who knows carriers and can offer after-sales service to ensure your carrier is safe and comfortable
❧ Choose a carrier for the size of your baby now, rather than compromising by buying big enough for years later (or if you don’t need one right now, wait and get one when you do!)
❧ Be open-minded about what the right carrier might be! There are so many styles and brands available that might suit you and your baby better than something available in a chain store
❧ Look for carriers that meet international safety standards
❧ Choose 2-way stretch fabric if you are buying a stretchy wrap, it's more comfortable and easy to tighten securely
❧ It’s better to buy an excellent quality carrier secondhand than a brand new one that is unsafe or uncomfortable
SOME CARRIERS TO KNOW ABOUT
Half Buckle Carrier
Hybrid Stretchy Buckle Carrier
The most versatile, best value carrier of all – a simple piece of cloth! Wraps can be tied in so many ways, depending on what you like, the size of baby, length of your wrap. Front, hip & back carries are possible. Wraps are made by lots of specialist brands in all sorts of colours, designs and fabric blends. For those starting out with wrapping, a simple cotton wrap in a size 6 (4.6m long) will be very versatile and a wrap with stripes is easiest to learn with.
Louise is the founder of The Sleep Store, NZ’s leading babywearing store. She is an internationally qualified babywearing consultant and founder of Babywearing Aotearoa, helping NZ families access affordable carriers and promoting carrier safety. She is a mother of four sons and loves to spend time exploring in the bush. If you want more detailed information about babywearing, you can find it at babywearingaotearoa.co.nz or Instagram @babywearingaotearoa.
AS FEATURED IN ISSUE 60 OF OHbaby! MAGAZINE. CHECK OUT OTHER ARTICLES IN THIS ISSUE BELOW