Monday, May 5, 2014

Baby Carriers: My reviews on three wraps and slings

There are hundreds of different baby carriers: wraps, slings, structured carriers, backpacks... and in a large variety of prices. Some will work for newborns or 8 pounds and up, and some for older babies 6 months and up. Some carriers you can use until your child is 3 or 4 years old, and some only until they're a year old. Two of the most well-known are probably the Baby Bjorn (a structured carrier) and the Moby Wrap. Though I can't review every carrier out there, I can give my thoughts on the ones I have, and hopefully it'll help someone pick their own carrier!

I currently have three different carriers. My baby boy, ("Baby G" as my doula calls him), is now 7 weeks old, so I can't speak to how any of them will work for an older baby - 6 months or older. But he is a big boy - almost 13 pounds at last check and is already wearing size 3 months clothes (and some larger).

At the moment, I don't have any "structured" carriers or back-pack carriers, like a Baby Bjorn or Ergo Baby. Maybe I'll get one down the road and add it to the list. (Anyone want to send me one?) But for now, three wraps/slings is fine. I have the Moby Wrap, Hotsling, and Balboa Baby sling.

Some notes on wraps/slings/carriers before I get into the nitty gritty:
  • Check eBay, Craigslist, and consignment shops for good deals. Some carriers can get pretty pricey (over $100 for some!) I got my Moby at a consignment shop and saved $15 and got the Hotsling on eBay for $9! The Balboa Baby sling was free from a friend that wasn't using it. (Thank you Karrie!)
  • Make sure you follow the safety instructions for your baby carrier! The Moby and Hotsling both say to make sure baby is "Visible and Kissable" - meaning you should be able to see baby and kiss their head easily. No matter the carrier you do not want baby's chin on their chest - it can restrict their ability to breathe. (This applies to all situations, by the way. Whether they're in a carseat, bouncer, swing, stroller, wrap, sling, or carrier, their chin needs to be off their chest!)




Moby Wrap




I began using the Moby wrap when baby G was about 2 weeks old (which was when I was capable of walking more comfortably... lol). My doula recommended it for newborns over the Hotsling as it is adjustable and you can do skin-to-skin with it.

There are three ways of wrapping it, though the instruction booklet that came with it only mentioned two. They are the Hug Hold, Kangaroo Hold, and Hip Hold. I began with the Hug Hold as it is the only one recommended for newborns. I just tried the Kangaroo Hold the other day and have yet to perfect it. (For the Kangaroo Hold, you wrap around baby as you hold him, which differs from the other two holds - for the Hug and Hip holds you wrap and tie first, then insert baby). I haven't tried the Hip Hold yet because baby needs to be 5 months old for that one.

This wrap is definitely intimidating the first time you try it. It is just one massive length of stretchy fabric with a tag in the center. You have to fold it in half lengthwise and then place the center at your middle and then cross it over your back, tuck under, cross over your front, and wrap around yourself and tie. The photos make it look so easy... and wrapping it isn't so hard. It's putting the baby in that was terrifying to me! It's much easier with a helper, or if you're like I was and alone for a couple weeks... it's easier if you sit down and lean back and/or look in a mirror as you insert baby. Also, if you plan to wear baby in it when you go out, put it on before you leave. Since it takes some time, you do not want to be trying to put it on while baby is possibly screaming in the car... also, you don't want to put it on in the parking lot when the fabric will be dragging on the ground and picking up who-knows-what!

When baby G was really little, he sat in the wrap with his legs tucked up between his body and mine. But now that he's bigger, his legs poke out like the baby's in the photo above. The fabric that you criss-cross over your front is what holds up the baby's bum - and one of those criss-crossed pieces also holds his head to your chest.

I found my wrap at a children's consignment shop for $30 (compared to $45). Compared to many other baby carriers, $45 is a reasonable price. But considering it's just one length of fabric, nothing extra... that can seem steep. And I've seen many great DIY "moby" wraps. Just buy a length of a stretchy jersey-knit type of cotton and done! Don't even need to sew!

Moby also sells a structured baby carrier, called the Moby Go (for babies 15-45 pounds) and a woven wrap (not stretchy) but it is much pricier (up to $140!).

Pros
  • Adjustable. Truly a "one-size-fits-all" wrap, don't need a different size for mom and dad. 
  • Versatile. 3 ways of wrapping as baby grows!
  • Skin-to-skin. Great way for Daddy to do some skin-to-skin contact with baby. Have him take his shirt off and then put baby in the Moby. Mommy can also do skin-to-skin with it... but I have not because without a top or nursing pads I'd probably leak milk all over it...
  • Provides warmth. Not worried about baby getting cold inside the Moby!
  • Hands free! Once I figured out how to wrap it tightly, then I wasn't walking around holding baby with my hands too and could just let the Moby do the work. 
  • Secure. Once I learned to wrap it tight enough, I no longer worried about baby falling out. I can bend over comfortably (though I still always put one hand on baby's head just in case).  
  • Baby loves it! Every time he's in it, he goes right to sleep! If we're having trouble getting him to sleep and nothing else has worked, one of us puts on the Moby and walks with him outside for 20 minutes. 
  • Many options. Available in numerous colors as well as patterns. Also available in organic cotton, even some with Major League Baseball logos!
  • Around $50. Fairly reasonable. The original solid color style is $45. Prints are $50 and organic cotton is $60. Check eBay, Craigslist, consignment shops and even resale groups on Facebook for good deals.
  • Easy baby removal. Though you could just try and lift baby out of the wrap, if he's asleep, I find it easier to just sit down and unwrap it from around him. He doesn't even notice since there's nothing between his body and mine with the Moby (unlike the two slings).
  • Hides what you're wearing! Spit up? Milk stains? Not wearing a bra? Don't worry, this completely covers you!
Cons
  • Hot. If it's warm outside, it gets really toasty inside the Moby, and where baby's skin touches mine, we both sweat. 
  • Complicated. Takes a lot of practice to get it right. If you don't wrap it tight enough, then baby isn't secure. And if you wrap it too tight, it's very difficult to slide baby into it (especially as they get bigger). 
  • Bulky. It takes up a lot of room in a diaper bag unless you lay it out on the ground and then roll it up tightly (which I've never done because that is just time consuming and we have dogs, so laying it on the ground is just asking for it to be completely covered in dog hair). So I don't ever put it in the diaper bag. If I plan to use it when out, I put it on before leaving. I have my Hotsling in the diaper bag because it takes up less space and is quicker to put on if I'm out and baby does not want to be in the stroller any longer.   
  • Difficult baby removal. If you just want to lift baby out, I find it difficult to do without disturbing baby since they're in there so snugly. If you want to get the wrap off without disturbing baby, you're just going to have to unwrap it from around him like I mentioned above. 
  • Hides what you're wearing. There is no point in putting on a cute top if I'm planning on wearing the Moby. No one will see it. 
His first time in the Moby
No hands!



Hotsling


Hip Carry, Cradle Carry, Front Carry

Cradle/Semi-Reclined Carry
Front Carry


As of this writing, I've noticed that the Hotslings site no longer sells the style that I have. They now sell only the new, adjustable sling (which was not available when I was looking less than 9 months ago). Since I have not tried this adjustable sling, I will only be talking about the older style which is not adjustable. Another sling that is almost exactly the same as the older Hotsling style I have is Seven Slings. For some reason though, most people seemed to prefer the Hotsling to the Seven Sling when I was doing my online research many months ago, which is why I chose the Hotsling. But now, looking at their sites, the Seven Sling seems better (on paper). The Seven Sling comes in 9 sizes, can be embroidered and can also come in gift sets with either: the sling, a diaper pod, and matching baby leggings, OR, the sling, matching baby leggings, and a matching bracelet for mom. The Seven Sling is also cheaper (normally $48, but you can always find promo codes online or in magazines for the Seven Sling). Seven Sling also has sister companies that sell carseat canopies, nursing covers, nursing pillows, breast pads, and belly bands. I was able to get the carseat canopy for free (not including shipping) with a promo code - and they have the same deals for all their sister sites. 

The original Hotsling (and Seven Sling) is essentially a piece of fabric with the ends sewn together to create a circle, then folded in half to create a pouch. There is also a small section that has padding, apparently to add structure in the Front and Cradle carries and comfort in the Hip carry.

There are 3 ways of carrying baby in the sling, but only two ways of wearing/styling the sling itself. They are the Cradle Carry (or Semi-Reclined Carry), Front Carry, and Hip Carry. I've tried the first two at this point, but baby needs to be 6 months or older for the Hip Carry. For both the Cradle Carry and Front Carry, you basically put the sling on with the opening facing up, and then hold baby in one hand and hold the sling open with the other to lower baby into. 

Pros
  • Sizing. You can get a size that will fit you! Two to choose from based on the distance from your shoulder to opposite hip. 
  • Easy. Much simpler to use than the Moby - you just put it on and put baby in!
  • Compact. Folded, it takes up much less space in a diaper bag than the Moby.
  • Versatile. 3 ways of carrying baby to suit his and your needs as he grows!
  • Baby loves it! (But not as much as the Moby). I can usually get him to go to sleep in the sling, and even if he's awake, he's usually content!
  • Not hot. I've never noticed baby getting sweaty like in the Moby, and since you aren't completely covered like with the Moby, you don't get all hot and sweaty either!
Cons
  • Sizing. Not a one-size-fits all... you have to measure the distance from your shoulder to your opposite hip in order to find the size. So unless you and your partner are the exact same size (which my husband and I are not!) then you cannot both wear the sling. 
  • Not adjustable. (Hotsling now only sells an adjustable style, but I have the older version, which is not adjustable). You can't make it any tighter or looser, which is frustrating. It's supposed to be the appropriate tightness based on your size, but for me it seems too tight and too loose at the same time! 
  • Difficult to insert baby. It's easy to put on, yes. But putting baby in is not as easy as their pictures make it seem. I've used this sling so many times, and every time it's a fight to put baby in. He does not like getting put in the sling (once he's in, he's happy though!) You're supposed to be able to hold baby in one hand and open the sling with the other... but for me at least, when I hold baby, he's still resting on my chest somewhat which then means I can't open the sling because he's on top of it! In order to lift him off the sling, I'd have to hold him above my shoulder, which I'm not going to do one-handed! So in order to get him in bum first as they say, I feel like I'm juggling him. I have to keep shifting him from hand to hand to slowly open the sling different sections at a time and lower him in inch by inch. It's a tight squeeze getting his bum through the opening - and it seems that putting him in then pushes the inner layer of fabric down so that he's no longer in between the two pieces of fabric, instead he's merely against my chest! So then I have to reach between him and me to find the fabric and yank it up between us! 
  • Doesn't feel secure. Not saying it doesn't feel safe, but I do feel like it's not as secure as the Moby. At times I feel like I have to hold him under his bum. Also, sometimes I have to hoist up and readjust the shoulder cause I feel like it's sliding off. Don't think it would slide completely off my shoulder, but it definitely slides down under his weight. Perhaps my shoulders are not wide enough? Also, though I've tried both the Cradle and Front carries, they end up the same because as I walk and baby wiggles a bit, he just kind of slides down and settles into the Cradle Carry... Also, I would never bend over with this thing. If I have to get something off the ground, I have to bend down with my knees and even lean back a little to make sure he is resting on me and not pulling away from my chest. I can barely lean forward without worrying about him pulling away from my chest.
  • Linty. I don't know if it's the fabric or the color, but my sling collects every little piece of lint, fuzz, and hair around. I lint roll it every time I wear it and the next time I go to put it on, it's covered in all sorts of stuff. (And it just goes straight into the diaper bag after each wear. And I don't have a diaper bag made of fur or anything! lol)
  • Uncomfortable. Not too bad, but after wearing I do find my neck/shoulder aches a bit since the weight of baby only pulls down on one side.
  • Expensive. I can't remember how much the original style that I have cost, but their new adjustable sling is $65! Which seems steep to me considering it's just a piece of fabric with the ends sewn together... I was able to get mine on eBay for $9 (plus shipping). 



Balboa Baby Ring Sling

I just received this sling from a friend the day before writing this, so unfortunately, I haven't used it yet to the same extent as the others. But I do love it!

The Balboa was developed and tested by the famous pediatrician and best-selling author Dr. Sears. 

This is a sling, and the Hotsling is also a sling, but they're very different. The Balboa is a "ring" sling - there is a ring on the shoulder which allows you to adjust the size/tightness of the sling. The Balboa also has a lot of padding - both for baby and mommy! There's a semi-padded elastic trim on the inner and outer edges of the sling as well as padding in the shoulder strap. The excess fabric hanging down from the ring has a safety stopper, so if for some bizarre reason the fabric were to just slide out of the ring, it would never slide completely out and come undone.

Balboa Baby also sells a multitude of other things: nursing covers, carseat canopies, bibs, shopping cart covers, blankets, etc.

There are of course, other types of ring slings. One is the Neobulle Woven Ring Sling, which is much more expensive than the Balboa ($110) - and it does not have any padding, elastic, or pockets - but you can use it until your child is in preschool! (The Balboa's weight limit is 25 pounds). 

Pros
  • One-size-fits all. Both you and your partner could wear the same sling because it is adjustable!
  • Adjustable. This means you and your partner could wear it! Also means that you can adjust the tightness for better security!
  • Versatile. You can wear baby in the Balboa sling 4 ways: Front carry, Cuddle style, Cradle style, and Hip carry. 
  • Comfortable. It has a padded shoulder strap and the elastic edges at the top of the pouch also provide comfort for baby.
  • Pockets! There is a pocket on both sides of the sling. That's one thing I didn't like about the Moby and Hotsling - if I was wearing a dress or skirt, there was no where to put my phone, keys, or a pacifier. I was always trying to stuff my phone and a pacifier in with the baby without making him uncomfortable. With the Balboa Baby sling, there's a handy pocket that fits my phone (Samsung Galaxy S4) perfectly! (Just don't bend over!)
  • Baby loves it! I can carry him cradle style if I want him to go to sleep, or facing out if he wants to see the world! (He's still a bit young/small to face out, so I do support his head with my hand as well). 
  • Not Hot. Like the Hotsling, it doesn't cover your entire torso, so you won't get too hot and baby won't either!
Cons
  • Bulky.  Because of the ring, elastic, and the padding, it's bulkier than the Hotsling (but not as bulky as the Moby). 
  • Difficult to adjust. The first time I put it on, I was lucky to have two "experts" there to help tighten it. I was at the OC Pregnancy & Beyond Fair, and two women at the baby wearing station were adjusting baby's position and yanking and pulling on the fabric. It would be very easy to wear incorrectly. I thought it was tight as it could get til they started adjusting it! There was a lot of excess fabric in the pouch area before they helped me - which would not have been secure. 
  • Uncomfortable. Because it is a narrower shoulder strap than the Hotsling, I find that my neck/shoulder aches more after wearing it - even for a short period. The Hotsling's shoulder section is the same width as the rest of the sling, so weight is more evenly distributed than with the Balboa. (Neither the Hotsling nor Balboa are as comfortable as the Moby).
  • Over $50. This sling is $60, but that is for both solids and prints.



Conclusion

The Moby is the most comfortable - I do not ache after wearing it. But, it also can become quite warm inside/under the wrap and baby and mom both sweat. Plus, it's the most complicated and intimidating of the three. It is the cheapest of them, however - the only one under $50.
The Hotsling is the easiest and least complicated. There's nothing to tie or tighten or wrap or anything. But I think that's the hardest one to get baby into since it doesn't adjust or stretch. The Balboa at least has elastic on the top edges which makes putting baby in and taking him out easier. Plus, the Hotsling I think is the least cost effective - over $60 for a piece of fabric sewn together in one place!
The Balboa sling is the most versatile - giving you 4 ways of carrying baby as opposed to the other two's mere 3 methods. It's also the only one with pockets for a phone or keys! But it does ache my shoulder a bit and can be difficult to tighten.

I'm not sure which one is my favorite - I use them all for different situations. 

Hope I was able to help somebody! :)
Thanks for reading!
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