I swore I would never be one of ‘those’ people.
I’m hardly what you’d call an earth mother. I stopped breastfeeding after less than two weeks, and I’ve never been averse to frisbeeing the odd biscuit towards Teddy’s face to keep him quiet. When I weaned him, I used puree pouches when we were out and about to save time. I’d sooner eat my own left leg than use cloth nappies.
When I was pregnant, I thought that attitude would translate entirely to ‘babywearing’. I even scoffed at the word. Hippy-dippy claptrap, I thought. Why give it a fancy title? It’s just wrapping your baby up in a complicated piece of material and thinking you’re it.
We decided we’d get some kind of baby carrier – just a cheap one, but definitely a structured one with plenty of reassuring buckles, clips, velcro, whatever it took to keep the baby firmly strapped on. I wasn’t really keen on the idea at all, but having to rely on public transport to get around, and our local train station being up four flights of stairs with no lift, I thought it could come in useful.
The first time I bit the bullet and strapped Ted in, he was about two weeks old. And I’ve not really looked back since. Over a few posts, I’m going to discuss my adventures in babywearing – I’m going to review a few different slings and carriers, and explain just how they’ve made my life so much easier since I became a mother.
Carrier Number 1 – The Dreaded Aldi Carrier
Remember how, just a minute ago, I said I’d get a cheap baby carrier, plenty of buckles and straps, just as a tester?
Yes. I bought the now infamous Aldi baby carrier.
That’s one of the reasons I’m doing this post now. There’s an Aldi baby event coming up, and I feel like I should give a bit of information about the carrier they’re selling. It’s a bargain, it’s only £13.99 (which is a sore point, as I didn’t actually get mine from Aldi and paid closer to £30 for it before it went under the Mamia branding, but I wasn’t to know) but if you’re considering it, you should really look beyond the price.
I suppose it has its good points. For a start, it taught me that Ted actually rather liked being strapped into a carrier, and it was a lot easier to haul around than lugging a pram down two flights of stairs.
But bloody hell, was it a pain in the arse.
Its straps were awkward, and with random patches of velcro in there too, and a strange piece of white fabric that was apparently some kind of dribble-barrier… more often than not, I couldn’t actually get Ted in it on my own and needed an extra hand to flip a strap round, or balance Ted in place while I wrestled with a stiff buckle. Not entirely useful.
It was so solid-feeling, too, and not in a good way. There was no give whatsoever, and scratchy straps that rubbed on my neck. The way the carrier worked, it was letting Ted’s knees hang straight down, pulling him down and out, meaning my natural position was somewhat hunched over. Not only was this bad for his tiny hips, it was starting to kill my neck and back.
The ideal position for a baby in a sling, especially one so small, is to have them supported ‘knee-to-knee’. Definitely not something that was achieved in the Aldi carrier. It’s the best position for the baby’s spine, for their hips, and for the person doing the carrying.
The main mantra across the babywearing community is ‘TICKS’. This stands for: Tight; In view at all times; Close enough to kiss; Keep chin off chest; Supported back. The Aldi carrier failed on most of these. No matter how tight I tried to pull the straps, the big plastic ring that held the straps crossed at the back of the carrier could only be tightened so far. The baby always seemed somewhat loose, which meant, when he was a newborn, it was difficult to keep his chin off his chest. Equally, he was automatically quite low down, and most definitely not close enough for me to kiss – an important point, as if the baby is close enough that you can plant a nice big smacker on them, they’re close enough that you can monitor their breathing and their temperature, and just generally make sure they’re OK.
For all these faults, the Aldi carrier did just about get the point across, though. I immediately loved having my tiny Ted so close to me – I loved the warmth of his little body against mine, how he seemed to fall asleep right away, so snuggled up. I loved how I could go and sit upstairs on the bus with him, or get up the stairs to the train station on my own. I could get him on my front, sling my rucksack on my back, and off I went.
Through a lot of middle-of-the-night googling and consultation with other mums, I stuffed the Aldi carrier in the back of the wardrobe and got myself a Close Caboo Lite, and my husband chose a Connecta. We’ve hardly looked back since.
In the interest of fairness, not long before Ted turned one, I dug the Aldi carrier out of the back of the cupboard. I’ll give it a go, I thought. Why not? Ted was that much bigger, and still allegedly within the weight limit. The failings it had when he was a newborn might have become wins now he was bigger.
The Aldi carrier can allegedly take a baby facing in, facing out, and being carried on your back. As you can see, facing outwards, Ted was so far away from me you can hardly see me in the background (OK, I blurred myself out a bit because there was some SEVERE double-chin issues going on, such was my displeasure at the sling situation, but he really was held far away). I could feel right away that my neck was being tugged in a particularly painful manner, and Ted was hanging so loosely he could practically climb out by himself. It was the same situation for facing in, and Ted hated it: it was pretty obvious he felt insecure, like he was about to fall out. He was indeed more or less dangling down, and despite being within the carrier’s weight limit, he was clearly stretching the straps to the limit. I would certainly not have trusted the little velcro panels to have held out for more than a couple of minutes.
I also tried to put him on my back, as it had a picture on the box of a toddler in the carrier, on someone’s back. Very low on someone’s back, I hasten to add – it’s much better to have the child peering over your shoulder, than to have them staring at the small of your back. But it didn’t make much difference to me. There was no way in hell I was going to manage to get Ted on my back by myself. Was I supposed to somehow strap him in and fling him over my shoulder? Put the carrier on without him and somehow slot him in? It was definitely a two-person job, which is not a thing with any of the other slings and carriers I’ve tried. But as the carrier doesn’t actually come with any instructions, I had no way of knowing. And with a baby who was screaming just being held in a normal, facing-in front carry, I wasn’t about to experiment.
Would I recommend this carrier?
Can you guess? It’s a big fat no. Like I said, it fulfilled a purpose: it made me realise my baby was a babywearing fan, and so was I. It inspired me to look up a better option, and that better option properly opened up the world of babywearing to me, to the point it’s something I’m now quite passionate about. Can you tell?
I see so many babies in either this Aldi carrier, or even the more expensive Baby Bjorns and the like that are essentially the same thing, just more expensive, and I have to bite my tongue. Tiny babies facing outwards, their legs hanging straight down, dangling so low down they can almost kick their parent in the knee. It’s not my place to judge, and it’s certainly not my place to say anything.
An argument could be made that if, like me, you’re not sure about babywearing, and you’re not loaded with cash to experiment, you could get this and give it a go. But there’s a better option.
Go to a sling library. I can’t emphasise that enough. If you’re a parent and you even have the slightest inclination to start babywearing, don’t try out the Aldi carrier. Go to a sling library.
They’re all over the place: I went to two different ones in Manchester, and even now I’ve moved to the middle of nowhere, there’s a travelling sling consultant who sets up her library around the area. If you live anywhere there’s mothers, there will be a sling library somewhere nearby. They all have specialist, trained consultants who will be able to fit you with a decent sling or carrier and give you all the advice you need. They hire out slings, too – for less than you’d pay for the Aldi carrier, even in the baby event, you could try out something more ergonomic, more comfortable, and a lot more safe.
And even if a sling library is beyond reach, there are postal options too. I’ve had particularly good experiences with It’s A Sling Thing. While they won’t be able to fit you in person, they have a fabulous, friendly service and they’re very reasonably priced: a massive selection, too.
This has turned into a much bigger rant than I was anticipating. But it’s a subject I’ve become somewhat evangelical about, since becoming a parent, and if I influence even one person to get to a sling library and give babywearing a go, I’ll be happy.
So that was my experience of the bad carrier… look out for my next posts, where I’ll actually talk about the good ones!