Stop five babywearing parents on the street and ask why they wear, and you’ll get five different answers. City moms don’t want to deal with a giant stroller on the subway, outdoorsy parents want to veer off paved paths, and homebodies love being able to make their cold brew without a baby crying in the background. Basically, all babywearing parents love convenience.
The practice can also be life-changing for parents with disabilities, people with multiple kids, and people who want to shop for groceries without a huge infant seat taking up most of the space in the cart. So basically... everyone.
Everyone’s (been) doing it.
As babywearing goes more mainstream and the number of carriers on the market (and on baby registries) grows, the act of strapping a kid to yourself feels new and hip… and while that’s kind of true, we’re just the most recent generation to tap into an ancient, global tradition.
Moms around the world have always kept their babies safe, happy, and hands-free by finding ways to wear them: The Yanomami use a simple strap to support their babies' weight, Inuit mamas wear their babies in special coats called amautis that feature a built-in baby carrier, and the Welsh traditionally wore their babies in woven nursing shawls. In fact, this tradition goes back thousands of years (and that’s a conservative estimate), and some argue that babywearing actually helped shape human evolution.
And it's not just for attachment parenting enthusiasts.
Who wears today? Attachment parents led the charge, citing the importance of secure childhood attachment on future emotional health. But these days, babywearing has extended across parenting philosophies and is making the lives of parents everywhere easier, as evidenced by the growth of the products: Small, boutique brands like Tula have moved into Target, and Walmart has hundreds of baby carriers listed on their website. Whatever your lifestyle or personal brand, there’s a carrier for you.
It’s great for your kid too.
There are huge physical benefits for the baby and parent too. Research on "kangaroo care" (a simple but sometimes life-saving technique where parents hold young babies directly to their naked chest) tells us that spending time skin-to-skin is good for a baby’s heart rate, temperature, breathing patterns, and development. There’s evidence to suggest that carried babies even cry less! Keeping your baby close can also increase bonding, help promote successful breastfeeding, and some moms have even found that babywearing significantly decreased their postpartum depression.
As they get older, the benefits continue. Babies learn from interaction and are drawn to faces, and by wearing babies (especially facing in toward you), they’re given access to adult faces and conversation and are exposed to the type of stimulation their brains are best programmed to receive.
In addition to positive effects on brain development, babywearing can also provide baby workouts; instead of lying in a semi-reclined, supported position in a baby seat, babies are engaging their neck and core muscles to look around at their own pace, providing some of the same benefits as tummy time.
Of course, sometimes your baby becomes an inconvenient space heater.
Babywearing has its drawbacks, of course. For instance, no stroller means no place to stash your diaper bag. Carrying a pared-down backpack works great for short trips, but toting lunches and a change of clothes on a day trip is more of a challenge. Plus, babies are heavy! This is usually less of an issue with infants, but if you’re not used to babywearing and suddenly strap a sweet little 20-pound bowling ball onto your back, you’ll feel your workout the same way you did after your first postpartum run.
Along the same lines, if you’re wearing a carrier that’s poorly designed or adjusted wrong, your back and shoulders will let you know. And of course, there's that snuggly, cozy little person that you love sharing body heat with all winter... which turns into your own personal space heater in the summer. While there are tricks to keeping cool (like using evaporative towels between you and your baby), some moms are happier to reach for the stroller until the heat breaks.
And what happens if you just want some time to yourself? Some people worry that babywearing will feel claustrophobic, and truthfully, everyone has a different tolerance for snuggles before they start feeling touched-out. Luckily, there’s a simple solution to this one: Put that baby down! Babywearing doesn't have to be all or nothing, and you’ll find that your sweet spot changes as your baby grows.
Wear your baby when it makes your life easier, and when you need a break, that’s not just OK, it's completely normal. You know that one mom who’s fluent in baby sign language, makes adorable kiddie bento boxes, and never raises her voice at her four perfect kids? Yeah, even that mom needs some moments when she’s not physically attached to anyone.
Myth-busting time: No, babywearing won’t break your back or make your kid super needy.
Babies may be heavy, but contrary to popular belief, babywearing isn’t going to wreck your back. In fact, it might even relieve some back pain because the carrier makes it easier for you to stand normally instead of adopting bad postures by slouching to accommodate the infant on your front or pushing a hip out to carry a toddler.
You may also have heard that you’re teaching the baby to be needy by wearing them but this myth gets a big old NOPE, as well. Until the day they’re born, babies live literally surrounded by you, cozy and warm, and listening to your heartbeat. When you wear them, you’re decreasing their stress levels by letting them stay in a comforting place while they deal with the enormous transition to the outside world.
As they master things that we take for granted, like eating, using their neck, and seeing beyond a foot in front of their nose, they’ll naturally be ready to spend more time exploring and will need their safe place less and less.
Worn the right way, they’re super comfortable.
Ready to wear? There are carriers for all body types, so for size 00s as well as you beautiful mamas with 60" waists, no worries: You’ve got lots of options. Look for something with wide straps and multiple points of contact. You know how hikers use backpacks with shoulder straps, chest clips, and hip belts instead of cute bags that put all the weight on one shoulder? Whether your baby carrier wraps, ties, or buckles, it will be more comfortable if it spreads out the weight.
To make it just as comfy for your little one, look for something designed for your baby’s size and age range that will hold them in their natural position. For instance, if you’ve got a newborn who curls up on your chest with their knees in, that’s the position your carrier should hold them in.
Some carriers will work well from birth through toddler, while others are geared toward specific ages, so think about your needs before committing. While there’s nothing wrong with forward-facing carriers in general, they shouldn’t be used until your baby’s neck is strong enough to keep their head from falling forward.
And they’re safe.
Safe wearing is critical, and with a few pointers, it’s also easy. But if someone gives you an old hammock or bag sling, I’d recommend you politely thank them, then throw it away. Carriers like the recalled Slingrider can cause suffocation because of the baby’s positioning and limited oxygen. Upright carriers are much safer… plus it’s easier to keep an eye on your baby when they’re close enough to kiss.
Make sure that your baby’s nose is clear of any fabric so they can breathe and keep an eye on their neck position: If you see them slouching down with chin to chest, readjust them so that their airway remains extended, just like you would if you were holding them in your arms. You can read more about safe positioning too.
You can do it!
The great thing about modern babywearing is that there’s an option for everyone. This doesn’t need to be hard or complicated. If you’ve watched a friend cocoon herself and her baby in a five-meter piece of fabric and thought that aerial silks looked easier, try a soft structured carrier that buckles on with two snaps: It’s simple, secure, and klutz-proof.
If that’s not your style, try a ring sling that holds your baby with a beautiful, adjustable loop of fabric. And if you want one carrier that can do everything, choose a gorgeous woven wrap that you’ll use as a carrier, accessory, picnic blanket... There’s something to fit any lifestyle. Whatever you choose, you’ve got this.
If the whole thing feels intimidating, there’s an entire community to help.
The goal of babywearing is to make your life easier, so if you’re not comfortable or can’t figure something out, ask for help! While babywearing is natural, it’s not always self-explanatory (just like labor, breastfeeding, and negotiating with toddlers). To start, look through the different types of baby carriers and see what suits your needs and aesthetic.
If you ever need help, there are entire organizations (like Babywearing International) devoted to giving free advice about what carrier to get, how to breastfeed in a carrier, why your baby is fussing, where to put oxygen tubes for your preemie, or simply how to wear your kid in the most comfortable way. You can find local groups through Wrapyourbaby.com’s finder for hands-on help or to try on popular carriers before you buy your own. Whatever your approach to babywearing, there’s support for you.
Galen Duffy is a work-at-home mom of three with a passion for fitness, good food, and enjoying her wonderfully chaotic household. She has volunteered as a babywearing educator, building resources to help make babywearing accessible to everyone with a baby.