Monday, October 22, 2012

Baby Carriers Part Two: Things With Straps, Buckles, and Ties

All right, picking up where I left off and beginning the other half of my completely arbitrary categorizing of baby carriers. Let's start with mei tais. I recently learned it's correctly pronounced may tie. As in the month, not the drink. You learn something new every day.

This is my mei tai. It is another thrift store find, also for about $10. It is extremely bizarrely proportioned; it appears to have been designed for someone with my torso and about three times my hips. The straps are made from an odd and very heavy canvas-like fabric. Also, it has a cell phone pocket dangling near the end of one of the endlessly long hip ties. Let's put it this way: I understand why it ended up in a thrift store.

What I love: I wish I had had a mei tai earlier. It is super easy to put on, and I think Peregrine would have liked it as a tiny baby. My sister-in-law has one (an expensive, much higher quality one), and she would swaddle Peregrine tightly and sit him upright in it. He could see, and he wasn't scrunched. But I didn't want to buy one new. Peregrine loves it now though, and I use it a lot, especially when running the vacuum cleaner or the blender, neither of which are his friends. He hyperventilates with excitement when he sees it, and always has.

Also, it works well for front and back carries. And it isn't bulky (unless you count the ridiculous canvas-y hip straps on mine).

What I don't love: Aside from the obvious manufacturing deformities on my particular mei tai, there isn't much I dislike about this carrier. Most parents I know really love theirs, too. Mine is a bit feminine for Andrew's taste, but I know dads who find mei tais really comfortable. The length of the straps does matter, though; and I've read plenty of complaints from women who have had difficulty finding mei tais in bigger sizes (they make them, you just can't guarantee any particular one will fit you unless you measure).

Also, it's worth noting: when you're wearing a baby on your back in a mei tai, it makes your belly pooch out. Just be prepared.

Next up, we have soft structured carriers. There are several brands and styles of these, and they can get pretty pricey, mainly because they are, for the most part, extremely supportive and well-made. 
Okay, so not a very clear picture of the Ergo. But it does prove that it's a great hiking carrier.

What I love: The Ergo is perhaps the most versatile baby carrier out there. It works for tiny newborns and three-year-olds. It is comfortable for working around the house, and for hiking all day. It's (simply and easily) adjustable, and wearable by almost all shapes and sizes. It's self-explanatory and easy to give to a babysitter or grandparent without a lengthy tutorial. It's not feminine at all, and the vast majority of dads I know feel completely comfortable wearing it (it's a backpack, not a flowy piece of fabric).

Andrew and I got our first Ergo as a gift, and when Peregrine was just a few months old, we left it at the airport. Despite multiple phone calls, filing a lost and found report, knowing exactly where in the terminal we left it, and knowing that if an actual person could just physically look for it they would find it, we never got it back. I hope it's been donated somewhere and some lucky mother got it for cheap (or free!) instead of it rotting in a lost and found forever. I searched for months to find one used. I tried Craigslist, Facebook, local thrift stores, everywhere. Finally, we decided to just buy a new one. They're expensive, but so worth it. We do a lot of trail hiking as a family, and neither strollers nor slings are good when you're hiking up a mountain. So we bought one, and, as Murphy's Law mercilessly dictates, my sister-in-law called a few days later, excited, saying she'd found us a used Ergo at the thrift store I had been to less than a week before, at half the new price. We'd already used our new one and gotten it dirty. Murphy: 1; Nelson family: 0.

What I don't love: I know a lot of moms use the Ergo around the house for general lifestyle babywearing. I don't. It feels like a backpack to me. I would much rather use something lighter. As Peregrine has gotten older, I do use it more around the house, but I tend to go for the mei tai first. I'm not sure exactly why. It just feels heavy. I seem to be the exception here, though, not the rule.

My sister-in-law doesn't like wearing the Ergo in front with a baby past a couple of months old. I've never minded at all, but she feels like the baby's head is too high and gets in the way. As always, it's worth finding a carrier and positioning that are comfortable for both you and the baby.

There are other soft structured carriers, such as Beco and Boba carriers. There are some differences, but they are essentially the same. I have heard of babies who hate the Ergo and love the Boba. Go figure picky babies. If you have a baby who seems uncomfortable in a specific type of carrier that you love, it can be worth finding a similar carrier you can borrow and try out, just to see if your baby likes it better. Facebook is full of babywearing swaps and support groups that are great for this type of thing.

Okay, there are few different types of carriers I don't own that are worth mentioning as well. Hard-frame backpacks are great for hiking and longer walking trips if you want good back support (although my parents had one and used it around the house all the time). Obviously, you can't stuff them into a diaper bag. Hip carriers are similar to mei tais, but the baby sits on your hip instead of resting against your chest or back. If I'd had one, I probably would have used it, especially since Peregrine has always loved being on my hip. They can be goofy-looking, and are obviously not as versatile as most other types of carriers, but they have their niche. 

And finally, a word about the Baby Bjorn and similarly-styled carriers. There is a lot of Baby Bjorn hatred in babywearing discussions online. When I first discovered this it felt, to be completely honest, like walking into the high school cafeteria and realizing that even among the cool kids, there are cooler kids, and that the popular table has a popular side. I know, though, that a lot of the discussion about Bjorn-style carriers is fueled by parents who had no idea there were other carriers out there and are honestly sharing their experiences. So let me boil some of it down, as I understand it.

Baby Bjorns can be uncomfortable when worn all the time. Okay, all carriers can. But if you're babywearing for hours, and especially if you tend to choose on-the-body carriers over strollers for walking, going to the store, etc, comfort is critical. If you have back problems, shell out the money for a carrier that will really support your back. Moms who wore their baby in the Bjorn for hours and hours and hours and then discovered the Ergo or the Boba are usually floored by the difference in comfort. Some of the anti-Bjorn vehemence is simply passionate excitement at having discovered a more comfortable carrier. But for some, the Bjorn is really quite comfortable. People have different bodies. 

Some people object to the way the Bjorn supports the baby's spine, hips, and legs. This has earned Bjorn-style carriers the unsavory label of "crotch-danglers" in some babywearing circles, and there is a lot (a lot, a lot) of discussion about whether or not this is beneficial for babies. Most of it is on personal websites, blogs, and parenting forums. As I understand it, there is not a lot of truly medical research. The Hip Dysplasia Institute does say that the "dangling" position is not as ideal for a young infant (under six months old) as a position where the knees are above the hips. But again, I think it's worth considering how often you use a carrier. Constant exposure to one position is very, very different from occasional, or even frequent exposure. Babies can get flat heads from constantly lying in car seats. That doesn't make car seats themselves bad. As always, if you're concerned, talk to your actual doctor.

Some people think the Bjorn looks uncomfortable for the baby. Again, the crotch dangler thing. I don't know how many times I have read the phrase, "How would you like to be carried around by your crotch?" A few things are worth noting here. First, adult crotches and baby crotches are different. I sat on fence rails (crotch dangling all the way) quite happily as a child. As an adult, that would not be at all comfortable. Second, the Baby Bjorn does not sit the baby on a piece of rope strung between the legs. There is a fair bit of support. And finally, I think if your baby is uncomfortable, she will let you know this. Some babies may not like it. If your baby doesn't, by all means, find another way of carrying her. But I see happy, comfortable babies in Bjorns all the time (and I crotch-dangled Peregrine in the Moby; he loved it). In fact, I know babies who prefer the Bjorn over any other carrier. I don't think there is any reason to worry that your baby is uncomfortable unless she is acting uncomfortable. Which she might do in any number of carriers.

To conclude all this talk of baby carriers: ultimately, the goal of babywearing is to hold your baby while having your hands free. If the baby is safe (i.e. breathing), and you are both comfortable, and you can still get work/shopping/exercising done, babywearing is doing its job. And if it's doing its job, it's a fantastic resource.


  1. Just stumbled upon your blog and can't wait to catch up on what you've been up to!

    I'm working on baby boy number three, and out of all the carriers I have used, the Ergo is my favorite. I have used it with my second and third, and sometimes my second (he is newly three) still rides in it piggy-back style! It is the only carrier that doesn't make my back and neck ache after hours of use.

  2. Thanks Lauren!

    The Ergo is amazing. My husband carried our almost-four-year-old niece in it on the better part of an 8-hour hike, and said it was as comfortable as a backpack the whole way. That's pretty much what sold us on getting one.