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Sunday, August 5, 2012

Budget Baby Wearing- Homemade Carriers, Extremely Frugal Baby Carriers

Anneliese in my purchased, not so frugal,
but oh so good investment baby carrier.
It's a cross between a mei tai and a wrap,
(like a mei tai, but instead of shoulder straps, there are
shoulder panels,  made of fabric that stretches in just
 one direction), is very comfortable, and versatile,
not to mention pretty.
My friend, Daniella, a mother of 3, approached me, asking if she would be able to write a guest post on the topic of baby wearing. Baby wearing is something that I think all mothers should know how to do, as it often means that you can do without an expensive stroller if you have a good carrier, or at the very least, baby wearing allows you to be more productive at home and in general. 
Baby wearing is something that I have invested money in, as a good carrier was important to me, but as you know, I'm into saving money, while at the same time, not compromising (too much) on quality of life, which is why I was very excited to get this post on frugal, and extra frugal, ways to baby carry. I hope you'll enjoy it as much as I have, and find it educational and useful.

Disclaimer: I am not a babywearing consultant, nor am I any type of expert; just a rather obsessive curious mom who has done a lot of research and experimentation. I do not have experience with all the different kinds of carriers either, but I have explored the options and I know a thing or two about the types of carriers I don't have experience with as well. I hope you find it helpful!

Babywhat?
So no one told you that your newborn would not be content to lie in her crib and watch her mobile while you spent your maternity leave writing the next great American novel, huh? Babies are funny that way; they want to be held. All. The. Time. Preferably with nursing involved. 
 Well, who can blame them? Not long ago they were being held 24/7 in the warmth and comfort of their mothers'; wombs.
 Problem is, you need to Do Stuff. Like eat. And go to the bathroom. And maybe even (gasp) throw a load in the washer. 
 Well, this problem has been around for as long as babies have, and fortunately, our ancestors came up with a solution centuries, perhaps millenia ago. Yes. The solution to your problem has been around for eons. 
 It is called babywearing. You may have seen some parents walking around with babies strapped to them using all kinds of fancy contraptions. Well guess what? Our ancestors did not have Baby Bjorns or Ergos. They just had scraps of cloth or leather lying around. In traditional cultures you’ll see mothers wearing their babies all the time, using the same scarves, shawls and wraps they wear on a regular basis. They use what they have. 
 You can too! You do not have to spend a small fortune on a fancy carrier to wear your baby! In fact, you can probably wear your baby right now with materials you already have at home! Want to know how?
 
First, A Brief Lesson in Physiology
Um, what? My baby is screaming and you want to teach me physiology?! I assure you this part will be quick and have lots of pictures, and it is very important! If you have been thinking of getting a Baby Bjorn or similar style carrier, this is why you may want to reconsider:

 

Bjorns, Snuglis, Infantinos and the like are designed like the carrier on the left. They carry the baby by the crotch. Not only is this uncomfortable, it is not conducive to proper hip development:
 

Let me make this clear however: it will probably not harm your baby to wear him in a Bjorn. This is because, quite frankly, it will not be comfortable to wear your baby for extended periods in a carrier like this, nor will it be comfortable to wear when he gets bigger--two or three months, or even six weeks. Also, if your baby is uncomfortable, trust me, he will let you know... so, no, wearing a baby in a Bjorn is not a crime against humanity as some babywearers may imply. 
(So if it’s not good for the baby and not even that comfortable for very long... why do people spend so much $$$ on this thing? Totally beyond me. I suspect it is because the sleek backpack-like design is less daunting to parents than the crunchy look of a traditional carrier. Maybe it seems a lot simpler to just buckle the kid in and go.  Still, there are plenty of physiologically correct carriers out there with buckles--the Ergo, the Beco and Manduca, to name a few--if buckles are your thing. I tried an Infantino and to be honest, it was not any faster to put on and secure the baby in than my stretchy Sleepy (now called Boba) wrap--and it was much less comfortable!!! So I guess I’ll chalk it up to extremely successful marketing.) 

 Anyway, the point is, make sure your baby is positioned correctly in whatever carrier you use. Forgive the Spanish; you’ll get the gist:

   
 From the side:
   

 In words: baby should be in a seated position with her knees above her bum. The cloth should extend from knee to knee and there should be a safe amount of cloth beneath her bum to create a nice pocket for her to sit in. (Note that in the second picture the lady is wearing the baby too low. That is why she looks so uncomfortable! The baby should be high on your chest; you should be able to kiss the top of her head.) 
 If she is a newborn, you will find that when you place her on your chest in the upright position, she’ll naturally tuck her knees up underneath her tummy. This is perfectly healthy as well, as is the cradle position, which should look like this:

 
  Not this: 
   
 Or in the USCPSC’s rather overwhelming graphic:

Wearing your baby incorrectly in a sling can result in suffocation or injury from falling. Make sure he is secure, his face is visible and facing upwards and he has a clear airway. Got it? Great! Onwards!

Emergency Babywearing
Colicky baby? Read that a carrier can help relieve symptoms of colic but you don’t have one? Need to sweep the floor/do the laundry/type two handed? In other words: need a carrier RIGHT NOW? This section is for you. Think a minute about the types of cloth you have around your house, and see if any of the following options are available to you:

Emergency Rebozo Sling
A rebozo is a Mexican woven scarf, 2-2.75 meters long (80"-110") and about 62-76 cm wide (25"-30"). It is used as a sling by tying it around the shoulder and torso using a slipknot. But since you’re probably not planning a trip to Mexico in the next ten minutes, guess what? You probably have something you can use instead. Got one of these?
They are perfect. A long, wide scarf or shawl or wraparound skirt can do the trick.
 You can even use a bedsheet folded in half!

 Now do this:


Voila! You have a sling! You are now free to do this:


Or this:


Now go forth and do your laundry!

Do note, however, that these emergency rebozos are not nearly as comfortable as an actual Mexican woven rebozo. Don’t judge all babywearing according to your experience with this, okay? This is just to get you through the next few hours or days until you can make or buy something more comfortable! As with any sling, switch shoulders often!
 To soothe a colicky baby, the upright, knees-tucked-up position is best. Try walking around the block or bouncing on an exercise ball. The movement combined with the tightly gathered, embraced feeling, the contact with you and the sound of your heartbeat and your breathing--all remind your baby of the womb.

Emergency Wrap
If you happen to have a longer cloth, you can use any of the carries that match its length as listed here or here. YouTube has a wealth of instructional videos that can teach you how to do all types of carries. It is possible to tie your baby on your back in a rucksack carry using something of similar length to the emergency rebozo (a pashmina scarf, a sheet): if it's not long enough to wrap around and tie in front, you can just tie under the baby's bum. But I can't vouch for how comfortable that will be!
Important safety note: never use a stretchy wrap to carry a baby on your back. The only exception to this rule is the Wrapsody Stretch Hybrid, because it only stretches in one direction. And of course, all back carries should be practiced several times over a soft surface and/or with a spotter until you gain confidence.
Emergency Faux Stretchy Wrap
Got 3 T-shirts, a piece of yarn and a pair of scissors?


 

 Is that brilliant or what?!
 BUT: Here is a follow-up video on using it correctly. Note that in order to be the correct size the T-shirts should fit you, not be two sizes bigger like in the original video; also, the T-shirts should not have seams down the sides. Also note that these types of faux wraps carriers are not adjustable, so if someone else wants to use one, you may have to make another that will fit him or her.

 
 Now that she mentions it...

A Tangent on Facing Out
There are three reasons it is not recommended to wear your baby in an outward facing position:
  • The baby is being held by the crotch and not in the correct physiological position (see "A Brief Lesson in Physiology" above)
  • The position shifts your center of gravity, making it less comfortable for the wearer
  • Your baby might become overstimulated
However, placing your baby outward facing with her legs tucked up and crossed lotus-style (also called "Buddha-style" or "froggied"), rather than dangling down, neutralizes Issue #1. (This can be done in a sling as well.) Many babies love that position as it helps relieve gas. And again, if your baby is uncomfortable or overstimulated, trust me, she will let you know!

DIY Baby Carriers
This section is for those of you who can spend some more time and money on a carrier but would rather spend as little as reasonably possible. Some require a sewing machine. 
 If you don’t have a sewing machine, you can always take the cloth to your local seamstress or tailor and have him or her do the sewing for you. It will most likely still come out less expensive than buying a commercial carrier. You could theoretically sew by hand as well, but... I dunno about you, but the very idea of hemming a 5-yard wrap by hand makes me want to strangle something. 
 Onwards:

DIY Slings
There are lots of good reasons to own a sling.
 They are ridiculously easy to use: super quick to put on and take off.
 Ring slings specifically are a breeze to adjust.
 You can nurse in them and use the tail as a cover, and you don’t have to do a lot of awkward adjusting to get the baby in and out of position.
 You can carry in a variety of positions, including tummy-to-tummy, cradle, hip and even back (with an older baby)--and can even swing the baby over to side or back for a moment if you need her out of the way.
 You can use them with newborns all the way up through toddlerhood.

 The big disadvantage of slings is the uneven weight distribution. The bulk of the weight falls on one shoulder and your upper back. There’s no lower back support. Some babywearers solve the first problem by wearing two slings at once, and hey, if you’re making your own, you might as well make two!  Still, for long-term carrying, slings can’t hold a candle to woven wraps or mei tais (see below). You’re supposed to switch shoulders every so often while carrying for long periods, which is annoying.
 You have three options here: a pouch sling, a no-sew ring sling, and a yes-sew ring sling.

 As for pouches, there are plenty of tutorials online, like this one, but quite honestly I don’t think they’re worth the effort. They are super easy to use, but their lack of adjustibility makes them obsolete very quickly, and you can’t nurse in them.
 I say go for a ring sling. Whether you’re sewing or not, you’ll need a cloth that is of similar dimensions to the rebozo above, and a pair of sling rings. You can order sling rings from here, or--especially if you don’t live in the USA--dig around and see if there are any local ring sling producers in your area. They buy them wholesale so they can probably sell them to you for about the same cost, without waiting for shipping.

I happen to have such a lady in the neighborhood next to mine, so I bought mine from her. The advantage of the no-sew is self-evident. It’s a great option if you want to try it out but are not ready to "commit" to a particular cloth yet... or if you don’t sew. The disadvantage is that it’s a little sloppier to use and you can get confused about which end is which, making it more awkward to put on.
 Here is how it’s done, as demonstrated by Jan Andrea, whose amazing work I’m going to be linking to a lot:
 

 There are lots of YouTube tutorials on proper use and adjustment of the sling.  Once you’re ready to commit and tired of futzing around with the shoulder end, you’re ready to sew the rings on.
 IMO this could totally be done by hand, though it may be somewhat tedious.
 There are many ways to arrange the cloth to fold neatly around the rings, many of them listed here by Jan Andrea. I made my one-layer sling according to her method. She has tutorials for other kinds of slings as well as other carriers: pouches as above, and Asian-style carriers (discussed below).

DIY Wraps
Wraps are my personal favorite.  They are super comfortable, they fit everybody and they are extremely versatile, suitable for babies from day one through toddlerhood. They are made out of either stretchy or non-stretchy (woven) cloth.
 There are a gazillion ways to tie a wrap, depending on your personal specifications (what’s most comfortable for you and baby), and you can wear your baby in front, on your hip, on your shoulder (in newborn burp position), and on your back (only with woven wraps).
You can nurse in them, too, but this requires retying and/or adjusting, depending on the carry you are using.

The disadvantages: the bulk of the cloth and the learning curve (particularly with woven wraps and particularly with back carries). Depending on the type of cloth, it can be unsuitable to wear in very hot climates; however, there are lighter wraps available, and some of the carries are cooler than others.

 IMO it’s totally worth spending the time to learn. It’s a whole new world of comfort and ease wearing your baby and it really isn’t that hard once you gain confidence. (And dude. You can wear your baby--yes, even your newborn--on your back. Imagine the possibilities!!!)

 Making a wrap is very simple. You just need a piece of cloth that is about 25"-30" (62-76 cm) wide and 4-5 yards/meters long. Certain kinds of cloth don’t need to be hemmed; otherwise, you’ll need to hem or surge the rough edges to prevent fraying.
Here is a comprehensive guide to making a wrap, including how to choose cloth.
Stretchy wraps are the most popular--think Moby Wrap--and reason for that is that they are very forgiving and extremely "poppable" (babywearing lingo for easy in-and-out without retying or adjusting the wrap).
They are usually worn using the pocket front wrap cross carry; you just tie the wrap around yourself, insert baby and go. They’re wonderful for newborns, but as the baby gets heavier he will start to sag and the wrap will be less supportive.
If you’d like to make a stretchy wrap, buy 4-5 yards/meters of T-shirt fabric and cut it in half lengthwise so you have two pieces 25"-30" wide. You don’t want it too stretchy because otherwise it won’t support your baby.

Woven wraps are a little trickier to use because in most carries you have to put them on around the baby, tightening and adjusting as you go. But it’s totally worth learning. You can do anything with these wraps, and they are extremely comfortable and supportive, even for heavy toddlers. Of course, a simple piece of cloth is not going to be as comfortable as a fancy wrap that retails at $100, but it will definitely do for a small baby.
Cotton gauze (muslin) is a great material for these because it is light and breathable, soft and flexible with some give, but quite strong. Wrapsody BaliBaby Breeze and Calin Bleu wraps are made of cotton gauze.

I made a pair out of stuff I ordered on sale at $3 per yard. That’s less than ten bucks per wrap. And I use them all. The. Time. Super comfy. Definitely my favorite.
The fancy, expensive wraps (referred to as German-Style Wovens) are made of very strong material (usually cotton, but sometimes with a blend of linen, silk or wool) that is woven on the diagonal, lending them some give which makes them really mold to the shape of the wearer and baby without being stretchy.

Again, check out YouTube for tutorials on the various ways to tie them. My personal favorites are FCC (front cross carry; super easy and just as poppable as a stretchy wrap) and DH (double hammock) for back carrying.
 Speaking of back carrying, there are also numerous methods for getting the baby on your back which you can also learn from YouTube. I recommend the Santa Toss for very little guys and the Hip Scoot for older babies who don’t need to be carried quite as high. The Superman Fly was worth learning just to show off. :P

DIY Asian-Style Carrier
The most popular of the Asian-style carriers is the mei ​tai. (MT)  I’ll first insert a disclaimer here and say that I haven’t actually tried one, but many of my babywearing friends have one and love it. A mei tai is a square or rectangle of fabric with straps on each corner. It it almost as versatile as a woven wrap in terms of how you can carry your baby: front, hip, and back, newborn through toddler (with a caveat on the newborn; newborns and small babies will have to be carried with their legs tucked under until they are big enough to spread their legs comfortably, making the standard-size mei tai not ideal for very little babies. You can make the mei tai smaller for this purpose, but of course, that means making a new one when baby is bigger).

People in warmer climates tend to prefer them over wraps because there is less cloth. (IMO a rucksack or kangaroo carry with a gauze wrap is probably on par if not cooler, since MTs tend to be made from thicker cloth and/or several layers of it. But again, I haven’t tried.)
They are more simple to tie, which is both their advantage and their disadvantage over wraps. You won’t be drowning in a pile of cloth, but you won’t get the kind of support you’ll get with a double hammock carry either. Some mei tais are made with buckles (phew, buckles!) and/or extra padding for the shoulder.
 SSCs (soft structured carriers) like Ergo and Yamo are made basically along a similar principle, but make use of adjustable straps and more buckles to make a modern backpack-like thing for you wrap-phobes.
 I have not tried these carriers either, but I suspect they are not any more comfortable than a high-quality, properly tied mei tai is; also, they can only be used for front and back carries and are only suitable for newborns with a special insert.

Homemade Mei Tais require less cloth than ring slings or wraps do, but more work.
 Jan Andrea has a tutorial for a basic mei tai here, with links to other patterns below.
Among them you’ll find a pattern for an onbuhimo, which is the Japanese verson of a mei tai, with rings at the bottom corners instead of straps. Not sure what the advantage is; if anything it seems like it would be more complicated to put on. Maybe it’s that you only have to tie it once, making it easier to adjust. Anyway, they sure look snazzy!
The podaegi is a Korean carrier made of a wide panel attached to a long strap on top. It is primarily used for back carries that are tied over the chest ("torso carries"), making it suitable only for older babies who can hold their heads up... though I have seen some YouTube videos demonstrating a high newborn back carry with a podaegi tied over the shoulders. Here’s Jan’s tutorial for making one.

When to Invest in a Commercial Carrier
You can totally wear your baby comfortably and long-term with any of the above solutions. Don’t get me wrong.
 However,  there are good reasons why commercial carriers are so expensive. They are, of course, professionally made; the material is hand-selected and tested for durability, strength, and support. Overall, they are likely to be more comfortable and last longer than homemade versions. So if you find yourself babywearing often, but wishing for something more supportive, maybe it’s time to buy one.

 But you don’t have to buy them new. Woven wraps, specifically, last a very long time and even get softer and nicer to use when they are pre-loved. For this reason they have good resale value as well, so you can probably get a decent percentage of the investment back when you’re ready to sell it to someone else.
 I recommend visiting the For Sale or Trade forums on TheBabyWearer.com, or finding an online forum or Facebook group of local babywearers and asking if anyone’s interested in selling (or giving away!) a used carrier. Occasionally you can find used carriers on eBay.

Happy Babywearing!

I highly recommend paying a visit to TheBabyWearer.com, joining the forums and learning the little tricks of the trade. There is so much information out there and so many parents like you who are eager to share it and learn from each other. If you are not the type of person who can learn this kind of stuff on the Internet, there are professional babywearing consultants who will probably be happy to help you out. Keep an eye out for advertisements for workshops in your area. Enjoy!

[From Penny]- This post reminds me of when I went to a homeschooling get together with my kids, and brought along my stroller. The group wanted to go for a foraging walk, in a place where strollers wouldn't be able to go. Of course, I forgot my carrier at home, but I took a sheet and ended up tying a rucksack carry on my back to hold the baby. It worked, even if it wasn't the most comfortable carrier ever.
I just wanted to add three more "in a pinch" carrier possibilities. 
My husband grew up in South Africa, and he remembers being worn on the back of Angie, his family's maid, carried in a towel, while she was washing dishes. Apparently, this is one of the standard ways of baby wearing in Africa, as evidenced by a whole bunch of videos on Youtube of African ladies baby wearing like this.




You can do this same carry with a sheet or a large piece of non stretchy fabric.

In a real pinch, you can also make a carrier from sweatpants or even wear wear your baby in your shirt!

I've worn my baby, as mentioned, in a sheet, in a stretchy wrap, and in my hybrid wrap/mei tai, and a borrowed mei tai. I've also tried wearing my baby in a towel, like above, just to try it out, and while it was ok, I think my favorite way of baby wearing is in my hybrid baby carrier. It gets so much use, it was a terrific investment! I've baby worn all three of my babies, and I have to say, it certainly has saved my sanity, not to mention, lots of money! It is also much easier to live without a car if you have a baby carrier- getting on and off buses is so much easier wearing a baby, and I am able to put my baby in the carrier and put groceries in the stroller when needed.

Are you a baby wearing mama? How many kids have you baby worn thus far?
What type or types of carriers did you use? Which was your favorite? Did you ever use one of the "in a pinch" carriers? Did you make your own carriers or buy them? If you own some, how many do you own (or have owned total at some point in your life)? (I own two stretchy wraps, got one really uncomfortable Snugli corduroy carrier which I never wore so gave away, and my current hybrid wrap.)
If you haven't baby worn yet, do you think you'd try out any of these, especially the frugal options, especially the ones you can make with the stuff you have in the house?


If you liked this post, you may also like these posts:
Cloth Diapering For Penniless Parents
Easy Homemade Nursing Pads
Homemade Cloth Postpartum Pads

Linking up to Monday Mania, WFMW

12 comments:

  1. Im a total baby wearer (sp) I dont even know if thats a word. Anywho, I have "worn" all 3 of my babies. Its awesome! I actually miss it. My oldest is 5 my middle is 3 and my little is 1. They all get excited when I get the wrap out! Lol! I'm going to get a mai tei bc I'm hot. And I want to continue with my middle and little ones. This is an awesome article! I wish more moms knew this. I see babies screaming in the bjorn type carries alot. I think well that's because their legs are killing them.
    Thanks for writing this!!!

    ReplyDelete
  2. I'm a baby wearing addict! I have lots of DIY wraps and slings as well as purpose bought ones :) Woman have been wearing their babies since the beginning of time in anything! Love the post, what a great resource!

    ReplyDelete
  3. addicted, advocate, and teacher of babywearing! Every mom should know about babywearing and all babies should be carried! LOL! this was a great article! I am sad that my almost 3 year old son isnt very interested in being worn anymore, but I still teach others at local meetings to help spread to word!

    ReplyDelete
  4. I use the baby Kat'an (i think that's spelled right). It is easier than the moby wrap and just as versatile. My LO is a small 3 and I still can use it when she gets tired.

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  5. What wrap are you wearing in the picture? I love it!!

    ReplyDelete
  6. I tried a carrier and a horribly designed "sling" with my first two babies... we all hated it. I have another baby due late Sept/early Oct and I am really wanted to do this! I'm a busy homeschool mom and I don't like relying on a swing all the time when baby is real little, but I need to have my arms free for some housework and schoolwork. I'm interested in buying and/or making 1 or 2 carriers. Right now I'm interested in the Moby Wrap, K'tan, and making my own ring sling. I would like to be able to nurse with whichever carrier I end up making/buying. Leaning towards buying since money is tight. Also... I hate strollers. The only thing I ever liked about them is the storage compartment on the bottom for diaper bag/purse or whatever else. Thank you for this great information! -Kate

    ReplyDelete
  7. Thanks for the very helpful info. A scarf can make a great DIY sling when you're on the airplane with a lap baby, have no sling in your carry-on bag and want your hands free. More on that, and a link to your helpful roundup, here: http://hintmama.com/2014/01/27/todays-hint-a-diy-sling-for-traveling-hands-free-with-a-lap-baby/

    ReplyDelete
  8. A friend sent me a Moby when DS was 6weeks old (I wish I'd had it from day 1). We used it from the moment it arrived until he was around 14 months and it was amazingly versatile and comfy. We switched to a Boba carrier around 14 most as it was much more comfortable to back carry while traveling. At 3 years, DS will still ask to ride in his backpack on occasion. Looking ahead to baby #2 later this year and hoping to try out some DIY slings and wovens.

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  9. Thanks so much for all the advice!!!

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  10. I am very happy to read your articles it’s very useful for me, 
    and I am completely satisfied with your website. 
    All comments and articles are very useful and very good.
    Your blog is very attention-grabbing. I am loving all of the in.
    turn you are sharing with each one!….

    ReplyDelete
  11. Which carrier are you using? It's beautiful and looks like exactly what I need...

    ReplyDelete
  12. Lovely post. I use my scarf quite often when I've forgotten my sling never heard Of rebezo knot. So will be trying that.

    ReplyDelete

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