Thursday, September 10, 2009

Strap 'em on: A Review of Baby Carriers

It's been about 4 1/2 months since Pooka was born and I have to come clean: we now own 5 different baby carriers! Why so many? Well, one reason is a logistical one. Our family splits our time between NYC and CT and we got tired of lugging all Pooka's gear back and forth every weekend. Also, the first sling I had purchased ended up being too large for me and I had to purchase a smaller one. Each purchase became an opportunity to try out a different model of baby carrier, and we actually use them all regularly.

Slings: We currently have three brands of sling. Our first purchase was a gorgeous, organic Serena and Lily Market Sling. It is a fixed length with padded rails that make Pooka feel secure in the sling. Unfortunately I sized the sling while pregnant, and the medium ended up being too large. It fits my husband perfectly and Pooka spent hours in the first weeks nestled in the soft organic flannel while he worked on the computer or did housework (he's a good man!). She would sleep in the cradle position, and it was perfect for taking her out in public because she was hidden from curious bystanders. We even took her to a cocktail party when she was two weeks old and she slept right through it! Similar fixed length slings that are popular are Hotslings, Peanut Shell, and there are dozens more.

I needed a smaller sling, so I decided to try out a different style and settled on a Zolo Wear ring sling. While I found adjusting the rings daunting at first, I watched the instructional video that came with the sling and then a few more videos on youtube to help me get comfortable. Pooka and I fell in love with the Tummy-to-tummy hold. It keeps Pooka in an upright position (helpful if your baby has reflux or gas) and mimics holding her tight in my arms. For a while it was her Kryptonite, she couldn't fight falling asleep. When she was really tiny I would roll up a burpie and place it behind her head so she had extra support in this position (when they are little their heads are almost below the edge of the sling). Now we switch between the kangaroo hold, which allows her to face forward and enjoy the view, and the tummy-to-tummy when she is tired. When she gets bigger I can wear her on my hip or on my back. I like the Zolo because it has a pocket in the front where I can keep my keys, wallet, phone and burpie when we are running errands in the neighborhood. This sling folds down small enough to fit in the bottom of Pooka's stroller, and I always have it with me in case she gets fussy and needs a change of scene. You can also use a ring sling to nurse the baby, but I haven't treaded that path yet! I would not recommend using a sling for a long jaunt: despite their comfort they don't distribute the weight evenly because they are worn over one shoulder. There are dozens of other ring slings out there that you can try. Maya Wraps have a padded shoulder (Zolo's are lightly padded as well), or try P-slings New York for a more lux option (their fabrics are gorgeous, check out the Avant Gradation style). Both these lines have organic options.

We also purchased a Roundhouse Sling that is adjustable but uses a buckle closure rather than rings. I really like the styling, and it also has a pocket and a nicely padded shoulder. The rails of the sling are also adjustable to make the pocket larger or smaller. This was the sling we had bought to leave in CT to use on the weekends. We've used this carrier the least because it seemed to have too much fabric for Pooka when she was small, and when she got larger she didn't want to be in cradle position anymore. We haven't tried the kangaroo position in this sling yet, but I think it will be a nice option when she is larger and will be great for the toddler years.

Front Carrier: Our front carrier of choice is the Belle Baby Carrier. We have the organic carrier in black. It was created by two dads who were rock climbers and engineers and the design of the carrier reflects that. The hip belt is very similar to a rock climbing harness with a padded belt and d-ring style closure. The Belle also has comfortable padded shoulder straps and buckles easily at your sides (rather than in the back like some carriers). The carrier portion is a simple piece of fabric lined with a soft flannel against the babies skin. I love that the baby is held directly against you with no fabric to separate you. There was a period in time when Pooka's head reached above the top of the carrier but she wasn't quite strong enough to hold her head up on her own. During that time we used our other types of carriers, but I imagine if you have an extremely long baby (Pooka was 50-75% for height during this time) it may be more of a problem. Now we use the carrier with Pooka facing forward and she loves it. The Belle is completely adjustable and Daddy also likes using this carrier (it was created by two dads, so it has a clean aesthetic). Similar carriers in this category are old favorites like the Bjorn and the popular Ergo Baby. The Bjorn allows tummy-to-tummy and forward facing babies, the Ergo does tummy-to-tummy or the baby can ride on your back (no front facing).

Mai Tai Carrier: A Mai Tai is an Asian style carrier and looks similar to other front loaders like the Belle or Bjorn, but uses ties rather than buckles. We have a Baby Hawk Mai Tai and it is is a favorite right now. It distributes the weight evenly with padded shoulder straps, has a padded headrest and you can choose from custom fabrics. They even have organic fabric options. I choose custom fabrics for Pooka's and added a pocket and toy loop. While these were additional costs I find them invaluable. I leave a toy attached at all times and a spare diaper and burpie in the pocket so I can just grab the carrier and go. You can also purchase a minkee liner insert and an attachable hood for cold weather. I liked that when Pooka was small she could ride in the carrier with her legs tucked under her rather than having them dangle like in some other front carriers. Once she was bigger her legs straddled me in a more ergonomic way then most carriers on the market. This carrier looks darned cute with the ties and is more unique than other carriers on the market. Pooka can ride tummy-to-tummy, or on my hip or back when she gets larger. Unfortunately she can't face forward in the Baby Hawk. Similar carriers are offered by Mai Tai Baby, or you could try a hybrid carrier like the Becco Baby Butterfly which is Mai Tai style but uses buckles instead of ties.

Just like a stroller, you may never get one carrier to cover all your needs. If you live in a urban environment you may choose to have more than one in order to cover all the bases. Trust me, I'm not the only mama to have a closetful of carriers! If you are in a suburban or rural area you may not have as much cause for schlepping the baby and can more easily find one that suits all your needs. There are tons of fantastic carriers out there, and I hope to to try more of them in the future and share the results. If you have had good or bad luck with a particular carrier please share your insights in the comments area!

Photo credit for the first picture of Pooka and I in her ZoloWear sling goes to Hannah Hardaway Photography

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