I began writing this article in October of 2014 but hesitated to finish writing it. A recent conversation with a friend reminded me that it is an important conversation that can help someone to feel more comfortable with their choices. I hope you find things that apply to you as I tell you about when I began to use a baby carrier and the lessons I have learned along the way.
As an educator and experienced babywearer, I don't want you to own a wrap or a buckle carrier, a ring sling or a mei tai, a kanga cloth or anything in between. I don't want you to buy online or go into a store. I don't think you should buy a handwoven wrap or a machine woven one, the product of a large corporation or the product of a trustworthy work at home mom. I don't want you to buy any specific product at all; what I want is for you to buy the product that will actually work for you.
When I began babywearing, I chose a mei tai that I bought from Kijiji (an online swap site) because a) my friend had one and I admired her babywearing relationship so much that I just assumed that mine would walk the same path, b) my knowledge of carrier options was very limited and c) because I was totally ignorant of the resources (stores and educators) in my area and the benefits they offered. I don't think that I'm alone in thinking that way, either. I think that a lot of babywearers (at least, a lot of the people that I've spoken to) have struggled with their carrier because they just got the same one as their friend. Alternatively, once they get into babywearing and join any online communities, they see wraps and assume that woven wraps must be the "next level" of babywearing. That somehow what they are doing is a novice form in comparison. They also believe that price has no correlation to quality. And to be honest, sometimes it doesn't, but there are questions you can ask to find out when the price of a carrier is worth the extra expense.
You & Your Friend Are Different People
You may be able to finish each other's sentences and borrow their shoes and give their baby one of your spare diapers and lend them your favourite drill with the extra long battery life, but that does not necessarily mean that you are both going to be as comfortable in your carrier. Comfort in a carrier is not just about body type or baby's size. It can also be if one of you got whiplash and have some lingering issues from that. Or perhaps one person had a vaginal birth and the other had a caesarean (if you're both women who gave birth). Or even if person's posture and muscle tone is a bit better. All of these things can affect how happy you are with the carrier you use. Not to mention that one of you may be happy to pay a little extra but the other one is not. Friends are amazing helpers when navigating parenting. They might be the only reason you chose to even attempt to wear your baby and that is such a meaningful impact! It's a lot of fun to match your best bud but if something isn't working for you the same way it worked for them, you can be grateful for the introduction and walk your own path alongside them instead.
Not All Carriers Are Alike
There are so many different types of carriers. Really, there are 5 main categories you would see in stores in Canada. Buckle carriers, Wraps, Ring Slings, Pocket Slings, and Mei Tais. Even within each of those categories, things can differ. Let's assume you already know you want a buckle carrier. They are the most common carriers available and used by many parents all over the world. So you register for one as a baby gift or go buy one yourself. It is the same one your friend has and she loves hers. You even did some research online and it comes highly recommended so that seals the deal. After baby comes, you decide it's such a nice day outside, you'd like to go for a walk on one of your favourite trails but it can be a little bumpy so you dig your carrier out from its box at the back of your baby's closet. It's exciting! You haven't used it yet and you're looking forward to getting some sun. On your walk, your lower back starts to ache. Then your shoulders. Now your baby is fussing. By the end of it, you have decided that you might just enjoy an evening watching your baby carrier slowly burn to ashes as you have a drink and let a hot water bottle soothe your back. In short, you did not enjoy your sun-filled babywearing walk. Why was this highly recommended carrier such a sadistic contraption!? Have all those parents tricked themselves into enjoying pain? Not that you're judging but you're not a whips and chains kind of person so maybe babywearing is not for you. Well, even two carriers that look very similar have different features for fit. Some are especially suited to slender people, others are good for those who are very tall. And even some carriers that can suit both might not work for you. I've gone into a store and tried on the same dress I just saw on someone who had the same build as me, but it becomes extremely unflattering on my body! As though I have angered The Gap Gods and they are punishing me through an unflattering drop waist. Sometimes it could just be a simple matter of adjustment but different people suit different carriers and the one that you chose might not have been the one for you. Do not feel that this prevents you from wearing your baby ever again. A lot of companies are making wonderful instructional videos for their carriers. You can hire an educator, like me. You might also want to invest in a different carrier and with so many options, there is a carrier that can suit anyone these days.
Options, Options, Options
It can be difficult to know where to turn for a new carrier. Not everyone buys from a store and they are happy with purchases they make online. Personal one-on-one support can be what many people need to be happy with their purchase and succeed in the vision they have for babywearing. In Edmonton, we are really lucky because we have so many wonderful ressources. Alberta has experienced a baby boom the last ten years or so, which has contributed to a thriving baby industry. Two Mothers is a local store that specialises in baby carriers (amongst other things). As carriers are one of their main focuses, all their staff are trained extensively on the products they sell. You can go in and talk with them about what works and what doesn't. Then they choose just a few carriers they feel might suit you. Staff is not on commission here. Their only desire is to make sure that you take home the best carrier for you, which is why returns don't happen often there. They help you find the right carrier and show you how to use it properly as your child grows. Accessing the right ressources will save you money and time in the long-run because you won't be buying multiple products, none of which satisfy your needs.
As an educator, I don't sell any products professionally. I really enjoy testing products and getting to know companies on a deeper level so that I can make recommendations not only on fit but on ethical business practices and production as well. If I can help someone enjoy wearing a baby, it can improve their relationship with that child. A child who is secure and whose needs are being met contributes to healthier families and a healthier society as a whole. The proper use of baby carriers facilitates a child's needs being met. Beyond satisfaction, I want to show people how to enjoy using their carriers safely and comfortably because it directly contributes to my communities. It is counter-productive for me to try to convince someone to use a specific product if it does not help them to be safe and comfortable, so I just will not do it. I do not get paid by companies to endorse them and often, those I meet with already own the carrier I am there to help with. I help them to learn how to use good quality products in the most effective ways. Adjusting the fit of a carrier and learning how to use it properly on the front, hip and back will lead to a more fulfilling babywearing relationship. That's what I want.