Now that I have a baby again, I am have re-immersed myself in the babywearing world, from which I have been absent for approximately 3-4 years.
HOLY CRAP, IT HAS CHANGED.
Or, I should say, the culture around it has grown and become more intricate, complex, and occasionally bizarre. I’m fascinated, delighted, and amused by it.
I would like to take you into the wilds of babywearing because it is a whole microculture that is entirely ignored by the rest of the world, including Wikipedia (to my surprise). So, for those of you who have never heard of babywearing, or are curious but have not yet ventured into it, here is…
my babywearing wilderness guide!
Baby wearing is simply the act of carrying your baby on your body rather than in a stroller. You can “wear” your baby in a Baby Bjorn, or an Ergo, or you can wrap your baby against you with a woven length of cloth.
There are lot of reasons why we do this.
You might babywear because your baby is a high needs baby who fusses when he isn’t held, and you just want to get the dishes washed. You might do it because you feel that it helps you and your baby bond. You might do it out of respect for the tradition of motherhood as it is practised in most non-first world cultures. You might do it simply because you want to be hands-free when out shopping and free of a cumbersome stroller.
I have occasionally seen people complain that they were made to feel “excluded” by babywearers, but usually this seems to be because the person feels inferior when confronted by the extremity to which others are willing to go.
In my experience, babywearing groups tend to accept and encourage any level of babywearing, even if they do enjoy showing off their own babywearing prowess.
That being said, if you announce that you use a Baby Bjorn, you will be accepted, but gently steered toward almost any other carrier.
You will be shown links explaining why Bjorns MIGHT be bad for baby’s bone and hip development.Have you considered a Gemini or an Ergo 360 for other outward facing choices? Better yet, why not come to a meet up and try an inward facing carrier? Or a sling. Or a wrap!
Wrapping is the heart of babywearing, for the true hard-core wearers. It is challenging to learn, but it is primal. It is how women carried their babies for thousands of years.
There are dozens of ways to wrap your baby. There are long wraps and shorty wraps, Front wrap cross carries (FWCC) and Robbins and Poppins and Kangaroo carries. There are back rucks and ties under bum (TUBs).
There are wovens and stretchies and there are pinterest/tumblr/web pages with instructions, and if you need more detailed help, there are Youtube videos showing you how to do EVERYTHING.
I mean EVERYTHING.
And if Youtube doesn’t help you figure it out, babywearers love to teach the art in person, too. So there are facebook groups and meet ups and even lending libraries GALORE.
But if you aren’t into tying your baby onto your body with a long piece of cloth, that’s okay. Carriers are considered fine, although to paraphrase Animal Farm, some carriers are more equal than others.
Certain carriers, generally any of the mainstream ones, are considered inherently inferior. Although to be fair, the inferiority is not BECAUSE they are mainstream. Babywearers are not hipsters. They don’t shun popularity.
In fact, they are fashionistas.
That is one of the many reasons why the options in your local Babies R Us don’t satisfy most babywearing enthusiasts.
- Poor ergonomics. Either they are badly constructed for baby, or badly constructed for you. Babywearers are serious about carrying their kids well into the preschool years. They have no interest in damaging their kids’ hips or breaking their own backs. Unfortunately, the most commonly sold carries rely more on advertising than anything else, and get positive reviews from people who haven’t visited hipdysplasia.org.
- Uncomfortable or low quality. Maybe a carrier is ergonomically acceptable, but they don’t have the comfort of a well-loved woven wrap or a high end European carrier.
- Unattractive. It’s called BabyWEARING. These people want beautiful choices.
Good news, though! Alternate options have come a long way since I last ventured into the babywearing woods.
When Owl was a baby, the Ergo was the deluxe carrier of choice. Ergos were, as their name suggests, ergonomically correct. They kept baby’s hips in the “M” position preferred by the Hip Dysplasia experts, and they balanced the baby’s weight well on the mother’s torso. They were well-made and resold for close to retail value. They were hard to find, too. Babies R Us didn’t carry quality like THAT.
Now, Ergos ARE available at Babys R Us and similar locations, and they are still considered ergonomically viable options, in that they are safe for baby and reasonably comfortable to wear.
I remember thinking at the time that their selection was disappointing.
Your choices were either plain black canvas, grey canvas with a few stars on one corner, or khaki. I was thrilled to get one – another handmedown that made me feel like I had won the lottery, especially since it was black, which was my preference of the few choices available – but it wasn’t something I would, say, wear to a wedding.
But that’s not for everyone, and many, many babywearers are carrier people, not wrappers. So they were doomed to drab options.
Well, as it turns out, the market has figured that out while I was away.
Several retailers in particular seem to have figured out how to appeal to the babywearing set.
The most popular among babywearers is called Tula Baby. They produce a wide range of “Soft Sided Carriers” or SSCs as babywearers call them. Their range is ever-changing, colourful, and luxurious.
Ergo Baby, meanwhile, has added a few new patterns, but not enough to compete with the sheer variety of the Tula, so babywearers have moved on.
I had the opportunity to try a Tula on recently and I can vouch that it feels a lot better than my trusty Ergo. The padding was thicker, the canvas smoother. So it isn’t just a fad – it is a good carrier.
But Tulas are more than good carriers. They are fashion statements.
Once upon the time, only the wrapping “mamas” could collect stashes of beautiful ways to carry their baby. But now the carrier mamas can feel beautiful, too.
True babywearing enthusiasts often own multiple wraps, slings, and SSCs (soft-sided carriers) for the same reason that women often own many pairs of shoes – a different one for every outfit, every errand, every mood.
In fact, babywearers will post “Stash Shot Saturday” pictures, and many of those photos contain three or more Tula carriers, purely for fashion reasons. Meanwhile, the women who can’t afford more than one $150 carrier, sigh enviously and lust over the photos.
I have heard of people who were put off by these “stash shots” and felt like inferior babywearers because they were still hauling their baby around in a Becco Gemini or some other perfectly good, if less flashy, carrier.
But I don’t think these Stash Shots are meant to shame other “mamas”. In fact, I think the people who post them are both proud and ashamed of themselves, the way a woman might feel about photographing her entire shoe or purse collection. It’s their way of saying “I might have a problem… but look how pretty they all are!”
It’s not about who has more. It’s about showcasing the addiction in all of its horrifying glory.
I can understand. I don’t collect shoes, or purses, or scarves, or hats, but if I had the money, I would totally collect wraps and carriers.
The best part is that since Tula changes its line often, and occasionally sell limited edition prints, these things sell for their full retail value OR MORE when used.
The Etsy set will even buy a plain Tula and paint it with fabric paint and then resell for high prices.
The fabric that Tula uses on its carriers is also available in certain fabric stores, so people go nuts making accessories to match their Tula.
It’s marketing genius.
Tulas have become a fashion statement, but they’re basically only known by other babywearers. Wikipedia doesn’t even have a page for Tula Baby, even though their carriers are wildly popular among the babywearing subculture. A woman can be walking around proudly wearing her squish (very young baby) in her newly acquired DISO (the carrier she was Desperately In Search Of) which arrived by fluff mail (a term borrowed from the cloth diapering set to mean baby-related gear arriving by mail) and chances are no one around her will even notice… until she runs into another babywearer.
And even then, it’s hard to recognize a babywearer. Is that woman with the Ergo a self-designated “babywearer” (the only true definition is if you call yourself one, you are one) who recognizes the value of a Tula? Or is she just a lady who got an Ergo for a baby shower gift and usually uses a stroller?
Besides, Tula-spotting has become entertainment in its own right, like bird spotting. Enthusiasts know the rare prints and get excited if they see one.
…So babywearers have developed their own way of recognizing each other’s cool carriers and marking themselves as a fellow Tula-admirer.
“Tula in the wild!” they will shout if they see someone actually wearing a Tula. And then, GET THIS, the person in the Tula is to shout, “ca-caw! ca-caw!”
It’s the babywearing way of saying, “hey, I recognize you. We both like to carry our babies in a fashionable yet ergonomically safe and correct way” but it’s more fun. And hilarious.
It makes me love people.
Oh, and remember how I said there were how-to videos for everything? Well…
Of course, Tula Baby isn’t the only company that realized that they should be making beautiful carriers for the ladies.
A number of companies (many of which are Polish for some reason – my own “Indivisibility Cloak” ring sling came from Poland) make intricate and beautiful wraps, slings, and “wrap conversion” carriers. That means that they make their Tula/Ergo style carriers out of their own wrap cloth.
Personally, this is what appeals to me. I like the look of the carriers made by a company (a Polish one – how about that?) called Lenny Lamb.
I use my trusty Ergo for walking the dog, or holding a fussy baby while I wash the dishes. Right now my Ergo is enough, but people tell me that the short back panel means that you can’t wear your baby much past their first birthday – and I did stop wearing Owl at around a year and a half.
The new generation of carriers can extend the wearing years into preschool and even kindergarten. In fact, Tula, Lenny Lamb and others have “toddler” sized carriers which really mean “up to 50 lb kid” carriers.
So I am thinking of getting a Lenny Lamb some day.
Lenny Lamb carriers look soft and comfy, and the babywearers I have spoken to affirm that yes, Tulas are very nice, but Lenny Lambs are super soft.
But don’t worry, I don’t have to give up the potential joy of being recognized by a fellow babywearer. If you see someone in a Lenny Lamb, you are supposed to yell “Lenny on the loose!” and they will “baa!” back at you.
In the meantime, maybe I’ll get spotted while wearing my Ergo or my Ring Sling, and they’ll send a generic “wear all the babies!” call at me, and I can jazz-hands back.
Because people are like that.
And I love it.