Friday, February 20, 2009

To Buckle Or Knot To Buckle...

...that is the question! There are two types of Soft Carrier - structured Buckle Carriers and the more traditional Tie-On. Both are based on the design of traditional Asian carriers such as the Chinese Mei Tai (even though many Tie-On carriers retain the name they have been westernised) and are very comfortable, distributing the weight of even heavy toddlers well. Basically both types are a square (ish) panel with straps that come off the corners - the bottom two tie/fasten around your waist and the others go over your shoulders. They can be used on your front and back and, in some cases, hip as well.

Why choose a Soft Carrier? There are a few situations in which we would recommend a soft carrier, either alone or alongside another type:
  • one of the wearers has back/shoulder problems - soft carriers distribute the weight well and don't place unnecessary strain on your back or shoulders
  • for long periods of use such as a long walk and/or carrying a heavier baby/child
  • for use in the house/while doing chores - these support the baby well and leave the wearer hands free
  • a quick to put on carrier - buckle carriers tend to be marginally quicker than a tie-on but both are pretty quick to put on and certainly quicker than a wraparound
Okay so a Soft Carrier seems like a good idea, but which type? Quite often people find they can comfortable use at least one carrier of each type but there are differences which might make one type more suitable than the other. The obvious difference is the way they are fastened but there are others that might be relevant.

The age/weight range of the carrier is the most important aspect to get right to ensure the safety of your baby as well as the comfort of the wearer. There have been a few new buckle carriers on the market in the last few years such as the Pikkolo and Manduca which means there are now buckle carriers which are suitable from birth without the need for a separate insert. These carriers enable a facing in with legs out position from day one. All Mei Tais are suitable from birth although most do not allow a legs out position straight away, instead a baby is carried with the legs "frogged" inside the carrier until they are big enough to have their legs out (usually between 4-7 months). As an inbetween stage some babies who want a bit more freedom can have one leg in and one leg out. Both types can comfortably carry a child up to minimum 30lbs, some much more than this (for exact weight limits see the individual product page or refer to our Comparison Chart)

The design of a buckle carrier is often quite different as they have a padded waist belt which offers additional support for the wearers lower back. In contrast to this a Mei Tai is usually worn 'apron style' (short straps tie around the waist and the body hangs down like an apron then the body of the carrier is folded up to form a seat) and has no padding. As with all slings this tends to be a very personal choice - some sling users prefer using a carrier with a waist belt, others prefer one without. Both types have varying amounts of padding in the shoulder straps. There are also carriers such as a Connecta (right) which, although fall in the category of a buckle carrier (for obvious reasons!), are technically a hybrid known as a Buckle Tai. They have no padded waist belt and are worn apron style but do fasten with buckles. Buckle carriers used to be pretty plain in design but there are now carriers which come in prettier fabric options. Mei Tai have a pretty fabric on the body usually but have the added bonus of being reversible to a plain side which is good for dads! It may come down to simply aesthetics rather than comfort why someone chooses one style over another and every style will have its fans.

The size of the wearer can have an impact on which carrier is most suitable. Buckle carriers tend to be much more personal in terms of the way they fit and some people find that certain buckle carriers don't fit them as well as others, particularly people who are bigger or smaller than average. Women who are petite/short and/or have narrow shoulders or people who are very tall and/or very broad sometimes have problems with some types of buckle carriers. The padding on the straps can restrict how far a carrier can be tightened which means it can be too loose for small people. Larger wearers may find that straps dig in under the arms and are not as comfortable. Because this depends on several different factors there are no hard and fast rules and it is a case of try it and see (good job Big Mama has such a good returns policy so you can swap it if you find it doesn't suit you!). Tie-on carriers can be tightened as much as necessary, petite wearers may find straps slip off their shoulders in a back carry although there are tips to prevent this.

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