Thursday, October 4, 2012

Golden Rule of Babywearing

Lately I have been hearing a lot about the "rules" of babywearing.  While most people just mean to educate and help others wear the babies, the focus seems to be moving more and more away from what babywearing is really about.

Babywearing is about carrying your baby.  It's about holding them close.  Letting them hear your breath.  Making sure they feel safe and loved.   Letting them fall asleep to the sounds of your heartbeat.   Smelling their sweet little heads.  It is not about the carrier you use or being a perfect babywearer.   Just wear them.

The message

Some of the things I  am going to say in this blog may not be very popular.  I am not trying to offend anyone and this post is being written with the best of intentions.  Please remember that while reading and if something can be taken the wrong way, give me the benefit of the doubt that it was not intended that way.  And I want to ask that everyone reads this fully, and with an open mind.  I know we all have kids and who has time to read lengthy posts right?!  Heck, I don't even have time to write it!  But I feel it's an important topic that need to be discussed and to really get the point of this post, you must read it in it's entirety.  So if you find yourself annoyed with me, hang in there and try to appreciate the message.

I am writing this post because many people in the babywearing community are noticing a sad trend in the community we love so much.  Babywearing is turning into a very black and white topic, you're either doing it wrong or right.  But the reality is that there is no wrong way to wear your baby as long as you do it safely (e.i. not chin to chest).  There may be more ideal positions to carry your baby, more comfortable carriers, but all babywearing is good.  Instead of wrong and right babywearing, it should be good babywearing and better babywearing.  Every parent that wears their baby is trying.  Trying to be closer to them.  Trying to bond.  Trying to wear them in the best way they know how.  That should be celebrated, always, in any form it comes in.

But before I get too carried away, let's take a look at some of the rules I am talking about.

Safety:  Though I do not believe in "wrong or right" babywearing, there are safe and unsafe ways to babywear.  Always make sure you are wearing your baby safely.  Visit for more information on safe babywearing.

The "Rules"

Facing forwards/out
Wearing your baby facing out is a seriously hot topic in the babywearing community.  Experienced babywearers don't like wearing baby facing out because it throws off the wearer's center of gravity making it less comfortable, doesn't support the baby's spine properly, and can cause your baby to be overstimulated and unable to regulate the input by looking away.  These are all good reasons not to wear your baby facing out and I personally don't do it or recommend it.

So what's the problem?  Facing out is bad right?  Well, like it or not, most people's first experience with babywearing will be wearing their baby facing out.  I have heard/read many mothers being attacked for wearing their baby facing out.  Now ask yourself, is this mother likely to stay around these babywearing discussion boards to learn more?  Is she likely to feel welcomed by the babywearing community?  Does shaming her and telling her to sell her carrier ASAP make her feel good about wearing her baby?  Chances are she will walk away from the community, and maybe babywearing all together.  After all, that carrier was uncomfortable and her baby is perfectly content in the stroller, so why bother?

The reality is that facing out is not ideal, but that doesn't make someone a bad parent or babywearer just because they do.  Some people argue that it could hurt the baby's spine.  But as Babywearing International recently pointed out on their Facebook page, there is no research to show facing out is bad for baby in the long run.  Is this position ideal for spine development?  No, but neither is overuse of a car seat or stroller or even a crib!  Wearing your child facing out for a couple hours a week is not likely to damage their spine.  Telling people they are harming their baby by wearing them actually harms the babywearing movement, labeling babywearing as "unsafe" when it is simply not ideal.

The "Crotch Dangler"
This topic is closely related to the first one since carriers that allow a baby to sit facing out are made with a narrow base.  This lets the baby's legs dangle underneath them, leading to them being referred to as "crotch danglers".

Ideally, a carrier should put the baby in a seated position to decrease the pressure applied to their spine and hips.  Their knees should be supported and their butt sitting down into the carrier.  This makes it much more comfortable for the baby, especially for larger babies that weigh more.  But this is an ideal and a carrier can be perfectly safe and not fit this standard.

I was shocked when a huge controversy broke out over Babywearing International receiving a donation of carriers from Britax, a sponsor for the International Babywearing Week celebrations.  People were outraged that Babywearing International would support that kind of carrier, but they support all babywearing as long as it's done safely.  When people stated that these carriers harm the baby's spine, Babywearing International said this:
There is NO research that shows that this type of carrier causes any of the problems you mentioned. Do people think those things? Yes. Is there research to back it up? No. By stating things that aren't fact as fact, (hypothetical) you are damaging the babywearing industry.
Many people do feel like these carriers are not good for babies and feel they need to warn people, and I'm not saying it's not okay to tell people there are better options.  I don't personally recommend these types of carriers and do not carry them in my store, but I owned them!  Two of them!  And they were horribly uncomfortable and I didn't like using them.  But if someone had run up to me and told me my baby carrier would damage my baby, emailed me a link showing me the "evidence", I would have never worn my baby again!  There is no way I would have kept looking and ultimately found so many amazing carriers out there.  But if someone would have told me it wasn't ideal and that there were way better carriers out there, I would have been so grateful for the tip.  No judgement.  I wasn't a bad mom, I just wasn't using the best style of baby carrier.  Now, I may have had to wait a while, I may have continued to use what I had until I had the money to afford a new one, but at least I wouldn't have felt like babywearing was bad, unsafe, and harmful.

Knee to Knee
Okay, I am sorry, but this one drives me CRAZY!!!  Knee to knee is a guideline to help people find the most supportive carrier for their baby.  A carrier that goes from the underside of one knee to the underside of the other knee will give a baby the ideal seat for their body, supporting their legs and putting their body in the best position for prolonged sitting.  This may be best, but it does not make it RIGHT!

Again, knee to knee is a guideline, a tool, an ideal and does not mean a carrier is bad or wrong for not fitting this way.  In fact, knee to knee is pretty much an impossible goal.  Anyone that has a baby knows they are an inch bigger every time you leave the room!  Unless you plan to buy a new baby carrier every three months, it is going to be pretty much impossible for someone to have a carrier that fits their baby knee to knee.

Imagine, your toddler is 18 months old.  You love babywearing, you've been babywearing since your baby was born.  You bring a pregnant friend to a babywearing meeting so they can see the different kinds of carriers and learn how to use the ring sling you bought her, but when you're there, you are told your favorite carrier doesn't fit your toddler any more.  They explain the knee to knee "rule" and you can obviously see how far your toddler's legs sick out, it's not even close.  You're sad.  Your toddler never seemed to have an issue or be uncomfortable, but you don't want them to be harmed by sitting in a carrier that doesn't support their body properly.  You look into toddler carriers, but they are expensive, way outside your budget, especially since you don't know how much longer you'll be babywearing anyway.  Your toddler is big and getting heavy.  They love to walk now and they can always ride in the stroller if their legs get tired.  You haven't been wearing them nearly as much as you used to and this just seems to be one more sign that your baby is growing up.  So instead of investing in an expensive new carrier, you figure it's just time to be done anyway and pack your carrier away for the next baby.

This actually happens.  People are told all the time that their carrier doesn't fit their baby anymore and they need a new one.!  A carrier can still fit and be comfortable for everyone even if it's not knee to knee.  I was just showing someone the other day how one of the carriers I own fits my almost 2 year old despite having a narrower body than some other brands.  Even though the carrier was no where near her knees, it was obvious to all of us that her legs were still in a good seated position with plenty of support, the carrier didn't cut into her legs at all, and she was perfectly comfortable in it.  Knee to knee should be a guideline or tip to help someone find an ideal fit, but it should never rule out a great carrier or make someone feel like their carrier is not good enough.

"That's a horrible carrier"
So this time, you are a new mom and are super excited about babywearing.  Someone gave you a carrier at your shower and you just used it for the first time.  You post a picture in the on-line babywearing group you found and are so excited to share with the other babywearing moms.  Then the comments start and your heart sinks.  You're doing it wrong.  You are breaking your baby.  Your carrier is awful, dangerous, and you need to return it right now to the store!  But you didn't keep the gift receipt because you were so sure you would keep it.  Now you're crying and pissed at these damn postpartum hormones.  You spend the next 3 months researching to make sure you get the "right" carrier.  When you find the "right" carrier, it's so big, you just don't feel comfortable using it until your little one is a little bigger.  In the mean time, your baby sits in the bouncy while the "bad" carrier lies crumpled at the bottom of your closet.

I cannot tell you how many times I have seen/read someone being told to return their carrier, it's awful, and don't use it!  I have even see people say those things to moms about a brand I loved!  Not because it was a "bad" style, but because some people don't like the way that brand's material feels.  Are some brands better than others?  Absolutely, hands down.  But as long as a carrier allows you to wear your baby safely, then they are all good carriers, even if some others might be better.

There are so many factors involved in which carrier someone is using.  Maybe it was a gift.  Maybe it was the only one they could find at the store.  Maybe it was all they could afford.  Maybe they couldn't afford one at all and they are borrowing their friend's carrier.  We don't know and it shouldn't matter.  What matters is that person in the picture holding the most precious thing to her in the whole wide world with a beaming smile.  Why do we want to crush that?  Why does it matter if she's not starting out with the ideal carrier?  Why would we want to do anything other than shout "way to go mom"?  Making someone feel like their carrier is inadequate doesn't help them no matter how good your intentions are.

Golden Rule of Babywearing

Treat all babywearers with the respect we would like to be treated with.  Whether new or experienced, all babywearers are parents that love their babies and want to wear them.  They deserve to be treated kindly without judgement.

Why we need it

I don't know if it has always been like this or if I am just noticing it now, but the babywearing community does not seem like the inviting place it should be.  Maybe it's because the internet makes it easy to see people as just words on a screen and not for the caring parents they actually are.  Maybe it's because education on safe babywearing has been merged with ideal babywearing.  But for what ever the reason, it's been nasty out there.

We were all new

Every babywearer starts somewhere.  Some are lucky to have great mentors around them that expose them to awesome carriers right from the start.  But most of us start off with less ideal carriers.  I went through several pretty uncomfortable ones before finally finding a stretch wrap that I loved.  But even then, I wrapped horribly and it took a long time before I got "good" at babywearing.

Luckily, when I finally did find other babywearers to interact with, they were all super nice and supportive.  Not one told me how horribly I was wrapping, or made me feel like I was doing something wrong.  They were great examples of ideal babywearing and I learned a ton from them without ever feeling bad about myself.  I seriously doubt I would have had the confidence to continue to babywear at playgroups if I had felt judged or intimidated by them.

So stop for a minute and remember what it was like to be new.  How would you have felt to hear that you weren't wrapping right because your wrap was twisted?  You had just been super proud you didn't need the instructions anymore.  How would you feel if you were told your carrier was bad?  Or even worse, that wearing your baby would harm them?  You might have rolled your eyes and never talked to that person again, or you might have felt too shamed and embarrassed to go to another babywearing meeting.  Would you feel welcomed?  Would this be a community you wanted to be a part of?  How many of us started out perfect?  Let's be supportive and help babywearing grow, not scare people away by making them feel not good enough to hang with the cool babywearers!

Room in the tent

I don't know if there is a topic more polarizing than parenting.  As a parent, we are constantly made to feel like we have to defend our parenting choices.  If people aren't openly judging us, we often still think they are!  And face it, no one judges us more than we judge ourselves.  I don't know a parent out there that thinks they are doing a great job.  Maybe that's why it's easy to judge others, because it makes us feel like at least we are doing it better than that person.

I don't want to see babywearing become just another way to judge parents.  Babywearing is babywearing.  Ideal or not, it should be celebrated in all forms.  Babywearing is becoming more and more "mainstream", which is great!  It means that more and more babies will be carried instead of spending so much time in strollers or swings.  Let's make room in the tent for all babywearers.  Let's spend our energy focusing on the joys of babywearing instead of worrying about who is doing it "right".

What Babywearing is really about

A recent photo posted in a babywearing group was such a powerful reminder of what babywearing is really about.  It was a photo of a mother, at the hospital, wearing her baby while she rested.  She has cancer and was at the hospital for her chemotherapy treatment.  The treatment left her too weak to hold her baby and she didn't have her carrier.  So she took a blanket and fashioned a sling out of it.  She put in the description that it was definitely not a "hands off" carrier, but it let her cuddle with her baby.

That's what babywearing is about.  It's not about the kind of carrier you own.  It's not about the "rules".  It's about being close to your baby.  That's it.  Simple, but so, so important and something that should be encouraged.  Even a simple piece of cloth can be used as a baby carrier.  A blanket.  A towel.  Anything that can safely be used to help you keep your baby close when you otherwise wouldn't be able to.

So next time you see that baby facing forward with their legs dangling beneath them, instead of cringing or being irritated, be happy that that baby has parents that love them and want to be close to them!


  1. I could not agree with you more! When I first started wearing I was scared to meet other wearers because of bashing I had read in the group forums. I love the babywearing group I am in but it is very overwhelming at first

  2. What a great article! It made me a little teary eyed. I'm new to all this, my first is only 5.5 mos old. I'm learning something new about babywearing every time I pop him in his carrier. I must admit, I was so intimidated, and still kind of am, that I still haven't gone to a BW meeting. I agree with you more, BW'ing is done so we can be closer to our babies, bottom line! I work from home so I can be with my son, however, my mom takes him once a week. She laughs about how much he likes to be held, snuggled and spoken to....what a huge compliment, and it all started with a book I read while I was prego (Happiest Baby on the Block). Thank you for writing this article. Coming from someone who is still a little intimidated about all the "rules", this may give me the confidence to finally go to a meeting!

  3. This is an awesome article. As a first time mom, I am figuring it out as I go and all of the groups can be pretty intimidating.

  4. I've been wearing my daughter since she was a few weeks old (my baby shower had been snowed out ... twice ... so I didn't get the wrap & soft-structured carriers I'd so carefully researched and registered for 'til quite a bit after she was born) and I still do.

    She's 2.5 and still doing well in our Ergo, but she leans so I'm looking for a new SSC for back carries. Thanks to a babywearing group near us, we were able to test a brand I wouldn't have heard of without the group in the first place!

    I've learned how to express my excitement (and my opinion) a lot more tactfully in the 2 years we've been learning ... and I'm still learning. Thank you for articulating what I'm trying to project as I get wiser!!

    1. We can all be a little overzealous at times, especially when it's something we are so passionate about! It's coming from a good place, but it's easy to forget how it can come across. (I am guilty of this too!) So I just thought it was good to remind people to take a step back and look at the big picture.

      Your daughter is so lucky to have been worn from the begining! I hope you enjoy to continue wearing her for a while!!

  5. Preach it. Beautifully said, every bit of it.

    The minute we forget that babywearing is a parenting tool, one tool in a large kit, and a tool that can range from a piece of duct tape and a pillowcase to a $500 custom wrap converted appliqued half buckle whatever... that's when we've failed. Babywearing is a means, not an end, much as I love it.

    I've dedicated much of my adult life to babywearing, and it make me sad when people think it has to be fancy to be good. It was not a fancy wrap that converted me to a babywearing evangelist, it was a bedsheet.

  6. Great article :D - nice for a bit of a reality check as slings can take over with the obsession of collecting a pretty/perfect stash and you can totally forget why your doing it all anyway! Love it :)

  7. Great article! I am fairly new to babywearing, as I only had a baby bjorn with DS, and well-meaning babywearers have told me that it didn't count. DD is 5 months and has been worn every day of her life (first a Moby, now woven wraps), but I am horribly unco-ordinated, so my wraps aren't always perfect. I'm also often wrapping while trying to hustle a 3yo out of the house. I love wrapping but a little bit of me dies inside every time anyone criticises my technique. I'm just cack-handed, OK? This article has made me feel just a little bit better! Thanks!

    1. So glad it helped! Just keep her! It doesn't matter if you're perfectly wrapped, I was so bad at it in the beginning. Just enjoy!

  8. I wish I would have read this 2 years ago when my 1st baby was born! It is a scary world to enter into, especially when I live in a more rural area and I have NEVER seen anyone wear a baby before.

  9. Brilliantly put. One thing I would add from my expeience is that facing out in a ring sling, mei-tai or wrap is or can be seated rather than dangling. The argument against it then becomes about over stimulation. Nine years ago when I started there was much less European influence and facing out was perfectly acceptable with a stronger US influence. Whilst some carriers were looked down on it seemed to be more about feeling sad that parents didn't know about the more traditional options and parents giving up because they found the mass produced carriers uncomfortable.
    I am so glad I had my eldest then because she is hypersocial, an extrovert. The kind of baby that would refuse to be worn past about three months if she didn't face out. She got all the cuddles from being snuggled and cuddled on my front, but she needs to see and talk to both me and strangers - always has. I would hate to be in the position of having to choose between listening to her and giving in to pressure of worrying about being judged and having to justify myself to other babywearers. DD2 was of course completely different and being an introvert never wanted to face out.

    1. Yes, facing out is controversial. Many people believe it is cruel to wear baby facing away. But there are also babies that refuse to be worn facing in, so those babies end up not worn at all. I think much of it depends on the baby and their personaity, like you said. And it's really just a theory. It could be true, but it could also be true that riding in a stroller could stress babies out, or being in a carseat in the car and not being able to see their parents. We just have to do the best we can and make the choices we believe are right for our family. And even though I don't wear my babies facing out, I don't find it comfortable and my babies never get the chance to try it, but I don't believe they would be psychologically damaged by it either. That being said, some brands have removed facing out carries from their directions and no longer encourage it. But just watch your child for signs that they don't like facing out and wear them according to their preference.

  10. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

    I adore babywearing, but the constant 'bjorn-bashing' that goes on within the BW community leaves me with a sour taste.

    Thank you, again, for highlighting what is actually important about babywearing. Happy babies.


  11. I completely agree, we are not immune over here in Perth WA. As above 'bjorn-bashing' is rife with the Baby Wearing community, so much so I have to stay away at times, as it becomes no better than the bottle/breast or vax/none vax online fights between mothers. Its so sad that women are so judgemental of each other. I hope this makes its away around all Baby Wearing communities, as Im sick of comments like "why dont peopole research before they buy things for their children!!" when 'bjorn-bashing' and mentioning they went somewhere and only saw 'prams and Bjorns's'. Why is is a crime to use a pram? I babywear and use a pram, does that make me less of a mother? Should I now fear going out and using a pram in public incase someone from the local BW community spots me... prams and Bjorns are the society norm, hence you do see them everywhere...I doubt there are local 'pram' and 'bjorn' FB pages, and if there were, would we like if they bitched about the Babywearing community - no we wouldnt. BW is not the society norm (unfortunately) and wont be if womens egos and spite get in the way. Embrace BW for everyone, not the select few that can afford an expensive carrier or wrap.

  12. Hey!! Ang here with Action Baby! Fantastic!! I love it all- I have been trying to figure out a way to put things blunt without making such a stir, and I think you did it just beautifully- congrats!!

    Love the knee-to-knee section. We get asked this all the time- esp. with our toddler carrier and I am always telling people it is nearly impossible, (ok, who am I kidding) totally impossible, to have one carrier that is knee-to-knee for a 5 month old and for an 18 month old.

    You just have to find what works best for you!

    Way to go!! Well said.

  13. Love this! This can be compared to the photo that popped up into my feed that was well-meaning, but so condescending. Someone borrowed a still shot of the popular baby waking up in her car seat and dancing to a song. They proceeded to criticize and point out all the problems with the car seat choices. I think it was well-meaning, but wouldn't encourage anyone to come to that resource for help. As you've said, the same applies in babywearing, cloth diapering, or any communities. Let's support each other in the steps we're taking, educate when appropriate and asked for, and not be have an "all or nothing" mentality.

  14. Hi, I love your open inclusive attitude, and I think you're so right about encouraging, and not criticising. But I'm having a hard time getting my head around how parents will ever hear about more comfortable carriers if those of us who use them say nothing - because it's not easy to find out about these things were I live. Would very much value your thoughts on how to strike a balance.

    1. Hi! Sorry I didn't reply sooner! I think it is totally okay to say "Hey, you love babywearing?! If you find that carrier starts getting less comfortable when your baby is bigger, you should try one of these!" Or let them try your carrier. Or something that doesn't make someone feel defensive or like they are doing it "wrong". It just makes people either feel bad or think people are being snobby and elite. It's not than we are, but I am sure every mom can remember a moment when someone said something that made us feel judged. I have seen people who were so excited to be babywearing post a picture just to get, "You should not be using that carrier anymore, your baby is too old. You need to sell it and spend $100 to get a real carrier." It's better to focus on sending an informative message while recognizing that people may not have the option of replacing their carrier and you wouldn't want to make them feel bad about the only option they currently have. And sense it is rarely black and white, even some carriers many people find less than idea for specific ages, as long as there is not a true safety issue and they are following the manufacturers directions, most carriers are still perfectly fine to use, even if it may not be as ideal as other options.

      Sorry! Didn't mean to have such a long reply! Hope it was helpful! :)

  15. Thank you so much. I am a new baby wearer, and don't want to get it wrong, but also don't want to be judged. I follow the babywearing facebook sites, and buy from them, but don't post pictures of me wearing so that I am not judged. Thank you so much for being real!

  16. I am a baby wearer. I Find it conformable for both me and my child. She loves it. It is a good post. Thank you! :)

  17. Why I just wear the baby and stay away from groups. Same with nursing groups. And diaper groups. And attachment parenting groups. Gawd. So done with it. We figure out what works best for us, then we go do things like music and hiking and other stuff. I cannot figure out why parents have to be so judgmental.

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  19. I love this article, my wife will be so happy to read that , I msharing it to her ,
    thx again .

  20. May be your need a baby monitor ???