While most people can understand and appreciate the benefits of babywearing for little babies and their families, there are a lot of good things to be said about wearing big kids, too.
My older daughter (now age 7) was a baby who loved to be worn. She would settle into any carrier I had and snuggle right into me. She went through a few months on "wearing strike" around the time she learned to walk, where she preferred walking to hitching a ride on my back. After the strike was over, she continued to love our daily walks or snuggling in a carrier around the house.
As she got (much) older and (much) heavier, I wore her less, but still found that wearing was a great tool: it was still a convenient way to carry her when I needed to keep her safe or she was tired of walking, it helped her relax when she was fighting sleep, and wearing seemed to bring her some calm and us both some connection, after an all-too-frequent preschool meltdown. In addition, it was still a wonderful way for us to have close interaction - as we took a hike or a long walk, she engaged in the constant stream of consciousness chatter for which preschoolers are famous. And when she was sick, it brought her comfort to be held close to my body. Now a "big kid," she still asks if she can ride on my back, and on occasion I indulge her. She still loves it (so do I!) and it still resets our connection if it's been strained.
Wearing can also be a special tool for parents of big kids with special needs. Parents of kids with low muscle tone, visual impairment, or sensory needs (and many other special needs) may find that using a carrier can be convenient, calming, or enriching for their child. If you have questions about using a carrier with your child with special needs, please consult with your child's health care professionals. Many babywearing professionals will collaborate with health care professionals to help families find the right carrying solution for their child.
Woven wraps and ring slings can be used with bigger kids, for varying lengths of time or dependent on the caregiver, child, and the situation. Many people prefer mei tai or buckle carriers for "big kids." Most toddlers can still be worn in standard size soft structured carriers like Ergo, Boba 4G, Tula, Beco Soleil and Lillebaby Complete. Some caregivers (and toddlers) find "toddler size" carriers to be more comfortable for a variety of reasons (taller and wider panel being the usual reason). Some toddler and preschool carriers are also tested to a higher weight limit than standard size carriers.
Here is a list of some of the current specifically toddler or preschool size carriers (buckle carriers and a couple of mei tais) on the market today. Most of these are only available from specialty stores or direct from the manufacturer.
- Tula Toddler
- Beco Toddler
- Angelpack MAX
- Kinderpack Toddler
- Kinderpack Preschool
- Kanga XT
- Kanga XTP
- Lillebaby CarryOn
- Soul Slings Full Buckle Toddler
- Lenny Lamb Ergonomic Carrier Toddler
- ToddlerHawk mei tai (from select retailers, limited supply)
- Fidella Fly Tai Toddler size mei tai
What if I told you that there was a wonderful type of carrier that is:
Would you jump at the chance to try it? Guess what? There is! It is the mei tai.
A mei tai (pronounced "may tie"), simply put, is a baby carrier constructed of a panel (often rectangular) with four straps, one strap at each corner. Two of the straps are tied around the waist, and two of the straps go over the shoulders, cross the wearer's back, and back around to the front, where they may be tied. For a back carry, they may go over the shoulders, cross the front (some men prefer this way) or straight down like backpack straps, back across the baby's back, and back around to the front where they are tied off. The mei tai originates from China, and this source tells us the name means "to carry on the shoulders with a strap."
Adjustable, Easy, and Versatile
Mei tais are much more adjustable than buckle carriers, which are more "fixed." For a newborn or small baby, you can safely and easily narrow the bottom of the panel, if needed to provide a comfortable seat without spreading baby's legs too far. You can roll the waist to make a shorter panel so baby isn't swallowed by the panel like he would be in a standard size buckle carrier. You can change the angle and function of how the straps cross over and support your baby so you can easily and comfortably trade a mei tai between wearers. Mei tais are generally easier to use than wraps and ring slings, and fairly comparable to buckle carriers for ease of use.
Mei tais can be used as baby grows. You can change how the straps support your baby. If you want to venture away from front carries, you can do a hip carry that is generally more comfortable than doing one with a buckle carrier, and you can do a back carry high enough to allow baby to peek over your shoulder while awake, or to rest his head on the back of your neck when he falls asleep. If you want to have only one baby carrier for newborn through toddler days, this might be a great option for you!
Types and Brands of Mei Tais
There are very simple mei tais, made from canvas or other heavy cloth, with minimal padding. Some mei tais have padding at the waist or on the shoulder straps, and some have wide straps that mimic the function of a woven wrap. These are typically made with woven wrap material, though occasionally linen or other fabric that performs similarly. You will occasionally see a few extra features on both types, including headrests, sleep hoods, toy loops, infant inserts, cinching mechanisms, and more.
Some of the more commonly available and popular simpler canvas mei tais are: Catbird Baby, BabyHawk, and Infantino Sash. Catbird Baby and BabyHawk are generally described as more comfortable and able to be used longer than the less expensive Infantino. All of them function the same and are perfectly safe when used correctly.
There are a variety of easily obtained mei tais made from wrap material on the market. Currently, these include: Soul's Soul Tai, Girasol's MySol, Didymos' DidyTai, Babylonia USA's BBTai, Fidella's Fly Tai, Lenny Lamb, Chimparoo, Topatop, BaBySaBye. and more! The price point on these is comparable or a bit higher than the higher quality canvas mei tais. Many of these have wide straps that can provide extra support around your shoulders and under baby's bottom.
In summary, if you are looking for a carrier that is adjustable from newborn through toddler wearing, adaptable to various body types, and fairly easy to use comfortably, consider a mei tai!
Beth. The babywearing lady.
copyright 2016 Beth Secrist
All photos used under the Creative Commons license through Flickr. Photography by: littletuesday12