While we’re huge fans of babywearing thanks to its countless benefits for baby and mama, we also know that it can be easier said than done. For many a first-time mama, a carrier can be confusing and complicated--throw in a crying baby during that first try, and well, there just might not be a second.
But don’t give up, mama! Just like birth and breastfeeding, babywearing is much easier when you’ve got a little knowledge going into the process. So to help get you ready for your own babywearing journey, we asked Sarah Longwell-Stevens, babywearing educator and owner of Small Things NYC , to answer some of the most common babywearing questions out there.
When can you start babywearing? Is there a required weight or age?
From birth! Generally if the doctors cleared the baby to come home from the hospital, they are usually fine to put in a carrier. Most carriers have a lower weight limit of 7 lbs. That is the lowest limit most manufacturers will allow. While I think some fabric carriers are probably still safe for a smaller baby because they get custom fit as they are put on, I would definitely respect that limit if you are learning. Also, you want to give yourself some time to recover from pregnancy and birth. Generally, if you are able to hold your baby's weight, you are able to wear them. Babywearing is a physical skill though and just like some people need a little hands-on breastfeeding, getting some help in how to use your carrier can make a world of difference.
When can you babywear until?
Until you can't or don't want to carry them anymore! That will be a different age for everyone depending on their needs for it. Most families wear their babies anywhere between 3 months to 3 years, but all families are different! Three years sounds big and heavy but you build the strength gradually as you go. Plus you don't need to go to the gym! There are carriers for preschoolers and older that are fantastic for families with children in wheelchairs.
How do you know if baby is breathing?
You can feel it! The nice thing about babywearing is the baby is right there and we pretty naturally lay our hands on their bodies. The rise and fall of their chest is easy to feel. To ensure a clear airway in any device you put your baby in just make sure their chin isn't laying on their chest--you want to be able to get a finger or two in between.
What's the most ergonomic positioning, no matter what carrier you are wearing?
We like to see babies supported in the same way we would naturally hold them upright in our arms. High enough to kiss the top of their head, a finger between their chin and chest, and their knees a little higher than their bottom in a squat position. Ideally the fabric of the carrier will reach from the back of one knee to another. This helps to support the baby in the squat and makes carrying them much more comfortable for the parent. Just changing that one thing can make a baby feel 10 pounds lighter!
How do you know if you're doing it right?
I always like to do a head to toe check for the positioning elements above when they are first put in the carrier. But another good question is: "Do I feel comfortable being hands free?" Usually when I see babies poorly positioned in a carrier, I see the parents holding them around the carrier supporting their body in a more ideal position. If you don't feel hands-free, get some help adjusting the carrier. Even if you feel like the baby is secure if they are in the carrier in a way you would never hold them in your arms (like down by your hip), then don't do it. The carrier should feel like holding.
Any babywearing no-nos?
Babywearing and most sports are not compatible---horseback riding, biking, skiing, rock climbing and so on. If you wouldn't feel safe doing it while holding them in your arms, I wouldn't do it. Be careful with hot liquids and cooking, both are probably safer with a baby on your back if at all. Babywearing in cabs is particularly dangerous because you feel like they are secure but in an accident their weight will exceed the upper weight limit of the carrier several times over. You also don't want to experience whiplash with your baby's head right under your chin.
Can you babywear part time?
People have been using a wide variety of carriers to care for babies for thousands of years in every nook and cranny of the planet. It is a way to get things done and a great tool to have at your disposal. Like all tools, you might find you have more use for it than others and it will be more suited to certain situations. Not all babies need or want to be held all the time.
Can anyone babywear your baby? Does it provide the same benefits for Dad, Grandma or caregiver?
Absolutely! Babywearing can be a great way for anyone to form a close bond with your baby. In many cultures, babies are passed around and everyone wears them. We tend to have smaller, more nuclear families, but there are still great benefits to other people wearing your baby. It is a really great tool for anyone who might care for your baby as it can still have that same centering effect and can help a baby adjust to new caregiving environments.
Can you babywear twins?
Yes! I recommend that you get comfortable wearing one baby in a carrier at a time first, but it is totally possible to wear both babies at the same time. You want to really be aware of each baby individually and feel comfortable with how your carrier works first. I prefer using one carrier per baby so that when possible you can share the load with a partner. It is a more flexible arrangement than a carrier that only carries two. Find a carrier you like, learn how to use it, and when you feel ready get some help on how to wear both.
Is it safe to breastfeed while babywearing?
Yes! Especially in the city, babywearing can be a lifesaver if you need to feed your baby in an awkward time or place. It can be especially amazing for second time mamas who are trying to keep up with the activity of an older child. It is another advanced skill and one that gets way easier after about three months. You want to get comfortable breastfeeding and comfortable using the carrier separately before you start trying to put the two skills together.
How do you choose the right carrier for your baby and lifestyle?
I really recommend trying them on with your baby or with some weight in them. I bring weighted dolls to people so they can feel what a baby will feel like if they haven't had their baby yet, or they are feeling nervous about using their real baby right off the bat. It is so hard to get a feel for what you will like without trying it first. Buying a carrier is really a lot like buying jeans--they all do the same thing but everyone has their preferences in terms of the very small details.