Tuesday, May 31, 2016

#lendinglibrarylove: Helping You Find Your Perfect Buckle Carrier

Babywearing International is running a quarterly chapter challenge encouraging all chapters to show their #lendinglibrarylove. Join BWI of Cleveland for a series of blog posts on why we love lending libraries!

"Carriers are like Jeans" infographic courtesy BWI of Hampton Roads 

If you’ve stumbled your way into the wonderful world of babywearing, you may have asked the question “But what’s the BEST soft structured carrier?” or “How can I tell the difference between an Ergo and a Tula and which will work for me?” In our FB group, you’ve probably had a few educators chime in to suggest coming to a monthly meeting and explain that buckle carriers, also known as soft structured carriers, fit different body types very differently and that “like blue jeans, the brand that your best friend loves may not be the perfect brand for you.” We LOVE lending libraries, because they give people a chance to try on lots of different kinds of buckle carriers and make sure they work in real world settings.

You may wonder why buckle carriers get singled out for being such a personal preference. Buckle carrier structure can be broken down into a few different categories: shoulder strap style, waistband style, panel size, panel material and fit. Finding your perfect buckle carrier is all about which variation works for you and your wearee. Even if the exact carrier you’re looking for can’t be tried on in person, you can figure out which features feel most comfortable on you and get help figuring out a brand that combines those features. Let me show you some of the options available in our lending library!

Shoulder Straps
Shoulder straps one of the biggest factors in terms of finding a perfect SSC fit for you. They also determine what kinds of carries can be done with the carrier. Straps fall into 2 categories: curved and straight.

Left: Boba 4G with curved straps Right: Beco Soleil with straight straps

Straps with buckles on the side have the ability to be crossed in the back, which some wearers find more comfortable, and the ability to be worn as a hip carry. For many wearers, the combination of buckles that are closer to the panel, rather than at the end of the padded part of the strap, and straight straps make for the most comfortable hip carries.

Left to Right: Beco Soleil buckles attached at panel; Ergo Original buckles attached to end of strap padding; Lenny Lamb Ergonomic Carrier buckles dual adjusting

Strap thickness also varies a lot by brand. Some people prefer thick, cushy straps with lots of padding, while others prefer thinner padding that is more compact for packing and molds more to the wearer’s shoulders.

Top: Beco Soleil shoulder padding Bottom: Connecta shoulder padding

Straps can also have perfect fit adjusters (PFAs) which allow the wearer to tighten the space between the straps and the panel. Some wearers also like PFAs for their ability to quickly lower a child to breast height to nurse.

Top: Beco Soleil with PFAs Bottom: Beco Gemini without PFAs

Different buckle carriers also have very different waistbands. They can range from thickly padded to lightly padded to no padding at all. Waistband buckle placement can also vary, from sunk into the waistband and adjustable on one side (single-adjust) to centered and adjustable on both sides (dual-adjust).

Left: Lenny Lamb Ergonomic with lightly padded waistband and dual-adjust buckle Right: Ergo Original with thickly padded waist band and single-adjust buckle

Carriers with no padding in the waistband and unstructured waists are often preferred by those who like to do a high back carry. They can also usually be scrunched similar to a mei tai to fit a smaller child and do not require an infant insert. This is unsafe in carriers with padded waists, because it puts stress on the stitching connecting the panel to the waistband.

Left: Standard Connecta waistband Right: Standard Connecta waistband scrunched and flipped to fit a demo doll

Panel Size
Panel size is also crucial when selecting a soft structured carrier. Panels that are too tall for the child can be a suffocation risk. Panels that are too wide for the child overextend their legs in an unsafe manner. Because buckle carriers are less able to be adjusted to the child’s size in order to provide appropriate airway support, compared to, for example, a wrap or ring sling, an infant insert may be necessary when using a buckle carrier for a child who is unable to support their own airway yet or is too small for the panel.

Standard Tula laying on top of a Toddler Tula

Different brands handle the issue of panel size in different ways. Some brands offer different sizes of carriers that fit different sizes of children. Others offer infant inserts that provide additional support for newborns and young infants. Others offer different methods to adjust the size of the panel.

Left: Beco Gemini adjusted with wider base for older child Right: Beco Gemini adjusted with smaller base for younger child and forward facing out

Left: Standard Tula with Tula Infant Insert Right: Standard Tula without Infant Insert

Some panel sizes are also adjustable so that children can be worn facing out once they have solid head and neck control. Buckle carriers without a structured waist can be worn facing out similar to a mei tai.

Beco Gemini adjusted for to face out

Here are some additional resources for the importance of using buckle carriers that fit the child:
To Size Up or Not to Size Up from Beltway Babywearers
Toddlerwearing from Babywearing International of Austin
Kinderpack Sizing from Babywearing International of North Central Illinois
Toddler Carrier Comparison from Dirty Diaper Laundry
Toddler Tula Comparison from Biddle and Bop

Panel Material
A final consideration in terms of carrier structure is panel material. Some buckle carriers are made out of canvas, while others use woven wraps. Some brands have a panel made out of a relatively thin layer of canvas. Others use padding in the panel. Some brands offer an option with mesh sections to improve airflow. For those living in a hot climate and wearing outdoors, selecting a carrier made from thinner material or with materials to promote airflow can help keep you cool while strapping a tiny heater to your body. Still others are made out of material that can get wet and be worn in water (always on your front!).

Left: Lenny Lamb Ergonomic Carrier made from a woven wrap Right: Tula made from canvas

Sometimes finding a buckle carrier is less a matter of finding the perfect brand for you and more a matter of getting the perfect fit. This is where your fabulous neighborhood babywearing educators can provide you with lots of assistance.

Top: Front Carry Positioning Bottom: Back Carry Positioning

Also relevant to fit is the importance of selecting a carrier with an appropriate weight limit. Panel size is usually the most important factor for determining whether a child on the lower end of the carrier’s range is able to use it, but weight limits are often the most important factor for determining when a child is growing out of a carrier, unless you or your child is uncomfortable with the height or width of the panel. Lending libraries can be an amazing resource for testing out whether your child is ready to change carrier sizes.

Our Favorite Buckles!
As you can see here, our educator team has a wide variety of favorite buckle carriers. Feel free to share a photo of yours in the comments below!

Photo: Collage of favorite buckles

Want to learn more about buckle carriers? Check out our Pinterest or come to one of our monthly meetings! Want to see everything in our lending library? Check out our current inventory.

Curious about which buckle carriers have which features? Check out this amazing spreadsheet from BWI of Colorado Springs.

Written by Sarah Miller-Fellows, BWI of Cleveland's VP of Outreach, an Advanced Babywearing Educator and is also a BWI National Research Committee member. Sarah is happily married to Spenser Miller-Fellows and together they have an adorable son, Oliver.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Get On Base, or What Size Woven Wrap Should I Buy?

from left to right:
Double Hammock Double Rings Base -4, Front Wrap Cross Carry Base size 6, Double Hammock with a Candy Cane Chest Belt Base -1

The world of wrapping is overwhelming to enter for several reasons. Using a woven wrap is a challenging physical skill that takes practice to acquire. Wraps are expensive. Wrappers speak their own language full of arcane acronyms and confusing shorthand, and before you know that language, you feel like an outsider. And it’s difficult to even figure out what wrap to buy in the first place because there are so many variables from blend to brand to color to used vs. new to length. And all of those are tied into the mysterious jargon and secret code besides. I want to help you with that last bit, deciding what size you need and introducing you to the language we use to talk about sizes, but let me say from the outset that this is going to be long. Really long, like a long, long wrap.

Wraps range from size 1 to 10, but 2 through 7 are the most common. A 2 is 2.7 meters long and a 7 is 5.2 meters long. Each size is half a meter longer than the previous one. (Note: some people say a 2 is 2.6 meters and a 7 is 5.1 meters long, and different brands may have their own sizing systems. This standardized system is a good basis for understanding wrap sizes, though.)

I wear size 16 and have a bra size that's only barely in the first half of the alphabet, and I have used wraps in all sizes from 2 to 8. I just can't do the same carries in each of those sizes.

Here's an example. There's a carry (method of tying a wrap around you and your baby) called front wrap cross carry (FWCC) that is often the first carry someone learns when they start wrapping. To do FWCC comfortably, I need a size 7 wrap. Other people, however, can do FWCC comfortably in a 6, a 5, or an 8. 

I can still use size 6, 5, or 8. I just have to do a different carry with them. In a size 6, I might do a carry called double hammock with a candy cane chest belt. In a size 5, I might do a ruck tied Tibetan. This is because some carries have more passes around your body than others, so they use up more length. 

Double Hammock with a Candy Cane Chest Belt, base -2

There are many, many carries that have been named and described and for which you can find tutorials and videos. But you need to know what size wrap to pick up before you start. That's where the base system comes in.

The size you need to comfortably do an FWCC, the carry I mentioned earlier, is called your base size. I don't know why FWCC was the carry picked for this; it's probably just because it's a very common carry. So my base is 7, but someone else might have a base that’s a 5 or an 8. Generally, base sizes start at 5 or so and go up from there.

Ruck with a Candy Cane Chest Belt, Base -3 and Base -4

I can relate the size of other wraps to my base. A 5, for me, is base -2 (because it's literally two numbers smaller than my base). A size 3 is base -4 for me. An 8 is base +1. Using this system, wrappers with different bases can easily recommend carries to each other, knowing that we'll be able to figure out what size wrap to use. If I say “What size do I need for a ruck tied at shoulder?”, someone can answer, “Base -4.” I’ll know to reach for a 3, and you’ll know to reach for whatever size is four less than your base, too.

Most people find that they like some sizes more than others. My favorites are my base and base -3 (which are 7 and 4 for me). If someone whose base is 6 likes base -2 best, that means she has the same favorite size as me—4—but will do different carries in it.

One more thing to know is that your base size can change. Sometimes it will go down when you become a better wrapper and can tighten your wrap jobs better. And often, it will go up when your baby becomes a hulking toddler. You can still use your same wrap, you'll just need to try a different carry.

Angela had a base size size 4 when her son was an infant but it increased to a size 5 as he grew. She can still FWCC in a 4, but as you can see in the last two pictures she is tying on the very tippy tails.  Because of this she prefers her base as a 5 now.  

Many people start out with a wrap in their base size. I did. This is often a good move because there are carries, like FWCC, that use your base size, are relatively easy to learn, and will help you build a good foundation of skills such as seat-making and strand-by-strand tightening (there’s that jargon). But you don't have to start with your base size. If you're a larger wrapper, you can still use a 4 or a 5 or whatever size you want. If you're smaller, you can still try a 7 or an 8. You’ll just need to learn specific carries for that size as it relates to your base.

Traditional Sling Carry, base -5

When you understand this language, you’ll be equipped not only to shop for a wrap, but to talk about wraps and get recommendations for new carries to try, too. Resources such as Wearing Wiki organize carries by what size you’ll need relative to your base size, and you’ll quickly see that any size wrap has something to offer you. Once you wrap your mind around this way of thinking about sizes, you’ll be able to decide what wrap to try based on the carries you’re interested in, and I hope the wrap world will seem just a bit more welcoming.

Written by Jennifer Rae Kinyak, Guest Blogger

Jennifer Rae Kinyak has been wrapping her baby, Elliott, for just shy of two years. She's a member of Land of Enchantment Babywearing in New Mexico and an admin for the Facebook group Base Love, where topics like this are discussed in great warmth and detail. She's working on drawing all 5,000 mammal species, and though the project is on a long hiatus, you can see her progress at http://dailymammal.com.

Thank you so much Jennifer for you insightful post!  It is a fantastic resource for all babywearers and we are lucky to have you as a Guest on our blog.