There are lots of different options for babywearing in and around water. The most common to find are ring slings, but there are carriers out there for every preference. They also come in different kinds of fabrics; some offering sun protection, some stretchy, some not, some mesh, some solid. Which carrier works best for you will depend on several different factors.
Some things to consider when looking for a water baby carrier:
How do you plan to use the carrier? You need to decide if this is a carrier you will only be using once in a while for short periods or if you plan to use it often for hours at a time. Some people buy water carriers for the shower where a ring sling would be best because it's easy to pop baby in and out of and allows you to more easily wash around it. But if you are planning to wear your baby twice a week at the pool or for hours at the splash park or beach, then you will want to consider which one you and your little one will be the most comfortable with.
Do you have another light/cooler summer carrier? If you already own a lightweight, airy baby carrier for summer, then you can focus on what exactly it is you want in a water carrier. But if your current baby carrier is too hot and you need something lighter, you may want to find a water carrier that will fit your overall summer needs.
Do you want sun protection? This is more important if you have a very young baby you are not putting sunblock on. Some fabrics offer UV protection, although be aware that Solerveil (not the same as SolarWeave) does not offer the UV protection it had claimed, so look for fabrics that have been third party tested if this is important to you. (see our post on Solarveil) The tail of a ring sling or the sleeping hood on a mei tai or buckle carrier can also offer sun protection for a sleeping baby.
Do you have a heavy baby/toddler? A stretchy carrier might not offer enough support for larger babies when you are out of the water. If you plan on spending most of your time wading in water, than gravity will be less of an issue. But if you plan on wearing your baby while out of the water, like at a splash park or walking along the beach, then you will have to decide if a stretchy fabric will be supportive enough for your child.
Are you on a budget? There is a large range of prices depending on the products you are considering. Since most of us are on a budget, there is a good chance price will be part of your decision and may even trump any other preferences you might have when selecting your carrier. One thing to consider when buying any baby carrier is if you plan to have more kids. If you do, then it is easier to spend money now knowing you will be able to use it with future children. If your budget is really tight, you can find some lower priced mesh ring slings as well as used carriers. You can also make your own ring sling or wrap. Any piece of fabric can be used as a water carrier, it just may be heavy when wet or take longer to dry.
What's your preference? Ultimately, one of the biggest factors to consider is your personal preference. If you love ring slings, then it would be silly to buy a buckle carrier. If you buy a style you know you don't like using, then you may not use it as often as you would a carrier you are more comfortable with. If you've never used a carrier, then research the different styles available and figure out which one you think you'd like best... or ask me!
Water Carriers for Everyone!
There are several brands and style of water carriers available.
Ring slings are the easiest carriers to find. They are often made out of a stretchy mesh, sports jersey type fabric. SweetPea Ring Slings, Comfy Joey and TaylorMade Slings all make mesh water slings.
If you prefer wrapping, there are water wraps you can find. Wrapsody has a wrap water carrier called the Wrap(Du)O. Unlike the mesh, sports jersey fabric many water wraps use, the Wrapsody wrap is made with a silky, slinky fabric similar to bathing suit material. It offers sun protection with a UPF 45 rating. Some people also choose to use a Wrapsody Bali Breeze wrap for the water since the light gauze fabric makes it a good overall summer carrier, but you would probably want to check with Wrapsody before regularly using one of their gauze wraps in chlorinated water since the fabric was not designed to be used that way.
Mei tai and full buckle carriers are harder to find, but they are out there. Some use Solarveil, a fabric once believed to offer sun protection (see more about Solarveil), but since this light weight, open weave material is no longer being made, it is very hard to find these carriers and they are most often found used on For Sale Or Trade boards. SolarWeave is easier to find and a great option for summer since it has a UPF 50+ rating. Connecta makes a SolarWeave full buckle, but they are harder to find in the US.
If you want to make your own water carrier, wraps are the easiest to do since they are just one long piece of fabric. Bathing suit material and sports mesh can both easily be purchased, but any fabric can be used, it's just that certain ones will be more comfortable and dry more quickly. Also, some fabrics will need to be hemmed to keep from fraying, where others will not. Designs for ring slings and mei tais can also be found on-line if you have a sewing machine.
DIY water carriers are a good option for some people, but if you plan to use your water carrier a lot or are going to use it with more than one child, then it's worth the investment to buy something that is comfortable, well made to last you through your babywearing days.
While enjoying water play this summer, please keep in mind that these carriers are designed for wading in water and should NEVER be used for swimming. No matter which carrier you use, you must always be mindful of baby's head and water level. Your child should never be submerged under water and it is important to be constantly aware of their breathing. These carriers are NOT a flotation device.
Water carriers are great, whether you are in the shower, pool, at a splash park, the beach, or just playing in the yard with a sprinkler. These carriers are designed to allow you to be hands free, but you have to watch your child just as carefully as you would while you held them. I know this seems like it should go without saying, but I feel like it should be said anyway. Babies move, bend, wiggle, and squirm and therefor need to be constantly monitored. Just be safe and have fun!
A water carrier can let you enjoy activities hands free, so don't let a little one slow you down this summer!
Check out our other summer related posts:
Warm Weather Babywearing
2014 Guide to Summer Baby Carriers