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.

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