I once read a story about a young woman who was showing her friend how to cook a roast leg of lamb, as taught by her mum, who was taught by HER mum. So she turned on the oven, took out the roasting dish and greased it. Then she took out the piece of meat, grabbed a knife, cut a piece off the end of the leg of lamb, put the remaining meat in the roasting dish, and popped it in the oven. “Why did you cut a piece off the end of the meat?” asked her friend. “Because that’s the way my mother always did it,” was the reply. “So why is that?” “I’m not actually sure, I’ll just ring her and ask,” replied the young woman. When she rang her mother and asked, “Mum, why do you cut a piece off the end of the roast before you cook it?” Her mother answered “Because that was the way I was taught by your grandmother”. “Do you know why you were taught to do that?” “No, I’m not actually sure, I’ll ask her next time I visit,” replied the mother. “I’ll come with you, I’m curious to know the answer too,” said the daughter. The next weekend, the pair of them visited the grandmother where she lived. They asked her if she knew why she always cut a piece off her meat before she roasted it in the oven. “Of course! I only had a small roasting dish, and the whole leg of lamb was too big for it so I had to cut off a piece to make it fit” she replied.
I was reminded of this story today while thinking about some fierce debate going on in a few different babywearing groups I am connected in, here in New Zealand. It is regarding whether someone should or shouldn’t be encouraged, or in fact should be actively discouraged from back carrying a baby or child in a stretchy wrap. The issue is that the accepted practise at present is to actively discourage back carrying in a stretchy wrap because it is deemed unsafe. Now, this accepted practice is one of a number of guidelines that are commonly used in babywearing circles, particularly in places where people are helping each other to learn. As a novice babywearer, I learned these “accepted guidelines” in one of these groups particularly, and as a volunteer baby wearing instructor, I have passed on these guidelines for several years to the people who came to my local babywearing group for advice.
Now don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of guidelines that are great, clear, helpful and keep babies safe. But there are other guidelines that I don’t think are as helpful as they might first seem because they are so buried in absolutes that the understanding of why we do what we do, or say what we say, often can’t be seen anymore. And more importantly, the best way to apply these guidelines so that they will fit to each person’s unique situation has been lost over time. It’s like a game of Chinese Whispers, but it’s not the words that are getting misunderstood as it gets passed from person to person, but the meaning behind them.
I also think that some of the current situation is due to a certain approach we often have, in the English-speaking Western world at least, when addressing issues where potential risk is involved. A decision gets made to go with either Approach A or Approach B. In Approach A, you educate people about the risks and dangers, and therefore enable them with the necessary knowledge and skill to then manage these risks themselves. This approach means that you need to then go and trust each individual to get it right. Every time. And then maybe some day someone won’t, and a person will suffer. Which is not a nice thing. So then there is Approach B, which is to strongly discourage or even ban all practise of this potentially risky activity and hence remove all risk and responsibility, and then you can sleep easy at night knowing no person will be in danger. Which only works as long as everybody gets the memo, and goes along with not doing it ever. Even if it’s something helpful or interesting to do. Now, I have written this in very general terms, and not just babywearing terms, because it applies to a number of risky behaviours out there in our world, and some are treated with Approach A while others are treated with Approach B. Driving, for example, which kills a lot of people each year, is treated to an Approach A solution. Bedsharing on the other hand, which also causes some tragic deaths, but much fewer, is given the Approach B treatment and strongly discouraged completely (which in my opinion actually increases the risk of tragic outcomes, as the knowledge and experience that would prevent these tragedies is not easily found or passed on).
With regard to the babywearing world guidelines, my opinion is that some of the situations rated with a higher potential risk are given the Approach B, strong discouragement treatment, when I personally feel that it would be better to be clear and teach about the potential risks to manage, hence allowing individuals to make their own educated decisions. Backcarrying in a stretchy wrap is one of these situations, in my opinion. In the past, there have been several key issues that are commonly raised to defend such a negative stance. In the spirit of understanding the potential risks for yourself, however, I am going to look closer at each of these concerns and see how they could be better understood. If this is too much for you, look away now….
My lovely friend, Amy Mills of WrapUps, with her gorgeous 2 and 1/2 year old son…. on her back…. in a stretchy wrap… and it doesn’t look dangerous or unsupportive… what IS the world coming to???
Concern 1: A stretchy wrap is not supportive enough, and an active child could push back and fall out.
Relevant points: A stretchy wrap has give. That’s its nature. But there are a variety of different stretchy wraps available now and they differ in several ways – one way or two way stretch (one way stretch is only stretchy crosswise and not lengthwise – or vice versa, and two way stretch is stretchy both lengthwise and widthwise), elasticity (how well it bounces back into position again), and longevity (how long the stretchiness hangs in there for). As well as that, there is also the way you use it. Traditionally, the way people are taught to use a stretchy wrap is to tie on a FWCC/PWCC type cross arrangement, pull out the front, slot the baby into the passes on the front, and pull up the horizontal pass over the top of it all. And that method will eventually get less supportive as the baby gets beyond a certain weight (determined by your particular stretchy wrap, and the factors I mentioned above). However, that is not the only way to use a stretchy wrap and not the only carry to use. In a nutshell, you can use your long piece of stretchy wrap in similar ways to how you use your long piece of woven wrap, and WRAP YOUR BABY INTO IT, using different pass combinations, and tightening as you go. A stretchy will handle differently to a woven wrap, depending on the above factors again, but that just means some different tightening techniques will be needed. It’s a pity there aren’t more YouTube videos teaching these. Hmmm maybe I should learn how to shoot video clips for YouTube some time… (Did any of you start wondering if this means that it is also possible to use a stretchy wrap for an older child, if you use it more like a woven wrap? Hmmmm, what do you think?)
With regards to the “active child pushing back and falling” point, yes. It is a potential danger. And they will push back and fall from ANY carrier that isn’t anchoring them well enough to prevent this. There are pass combinations you wouldn’t use to back carry in a woven, if you were worried about a child pushing back, and the same goes for stretchy wraps. Make sure the passes you use will keep them anchored and safe, same as you always do. Note: if your child is pushing back because they aren’t wanting to go up, maybe now is not the time to try and back carry them. Or if you simply have to, for their safety/your sanity, you might want to use a different carrier that will anchor them quicker. Just sayin’.
Concern 2: Back carrying a very young child in any carrier should only be done if you match one of the pre-approved list of acceptable reasons to back carry a very young baby.
Relevant points: What??!!!! When did we get given the right to judge and police each other’s parenting choices? The one and only major point to consider is IS THE BABY SAFE AND CAN THE WEARER KEEP THE CHILD WELL MONITORED, SO THAT THEY CAN RESPOND AS NECESSARY IN A TIMELY MANNER? Yes? THEN THERE IS NOTHING WRONG HERE!!!! Safety means that they can breathe, and continue breathing (so being careful of baby slumping right from the start, and as time passes, is important), and that they will not fall out. Monitoring can look a variety of different ways, from being constantly aware of the baby’s breathing (feel or hear), to using a mirror or the selfie option on your phone to look, to having someone else handy to sight the baby for you. Safety also includes making sure the baby doesn’t overheat, and most people can reach a hand over their heads and feel their baby’s temperature quite easily. Most babywearers, including novices, can easily tell if their baby feels secure or not, in the carrier of choice (stretchy wrap or otherwise) and you can always use mirrors, selfie features on your phone or a second pair of eyes to make sure the carrier looks to be holding the baby well. Whether the wearer’s skill level is sufficient to safely getting the baby up onto their backs and securely stowed in the carrier of choice, now that is a different matter, but I find most parents could be accused of being too timid regarding this scary step rather than not cautious enough. No one wants to drop the baby.
Concern 3: Back carrying by inexperienced people is potentially dangerous.
Relevant points: Yes. Which is why it is something that you learn how to do safely. Which goes for ALL carrier types, not just wraps. And if you can, practise with a non-child (heavy doll, small sack of potatoes, etc) first, have a spotter handy if you can, and practise over something soft and squishy like a mattress or couch in case of falls. Myself, I learned by watching a multitude of YouTube videos over and over, and in actual fact I didn’t do any of the above suggestions. My daughter was about 8 months old by then and had a bit of bulk to her, and I felt that I could hold her well and quickly feel if I was losing control of her. I’d like to think I was right, as I haven’t ever dropped her or felt as if I was going to. And also I know my daughter’s temperament, she isn’t one to try and push out of my arms or leap off my back. If she was still a squish (very young baby), I would have been too scared to try, in all honestly! If I did still want or need to try, I would definitely have done one or all three of the suggestions above, multiple times, before attempting back carrying with my real wee one. Anyway, the point I was trying to make is that yes, there are more risks for back carrying than front carrying, but that doesn’t mean we can’t learn how to do a safe, half decent job, and then a better job, and then a pretty darned good job. And how does anyone learn ANYTHING without trying and practising? We actually put Back Transferring under Approach A, like driving a car, and encourage people to learn and practise and then move carefully into doing it themselves. Isn’t it strange that when it’s a stretchy wrap, we are suddenly all Approach B?
Concern 4: Even if you know what you are doing, you should still only do this with a hybrid wrap, eg a JPMBB or a Wrapsody.
Hmmmm I own both of these wraps and they are soooooo very different to each other. The JPMBB Classic has a two way stretch and has crazy strong support and elasticity. The Wrapsody disappointed the heck out of me when I first got it out of the bag because it barely seems to have any stretch at all (beautiful colours, though!) Now I know that it has a one way stretch and doesn’t have a lot of give (either that, or the one I bought had already lost much of its elasticity!). They handle completely differently and as such I would use different tricks and techniques to work with each of them when I use them, front or back wrapping. So to say these are the only two wraps to use to back wrap is bizarre because they are very very different to each other, and the different way a wrap stretches and moves just dictates which different techniques you’ll need to work with it easily. And that goes for all the other stretchy wraps out there as well. There is nothing magical about either of these two in particular (except the JPMBB Classic is soooo strong I’d be tempted to wrap a baby elephant in it!), other than historically they were both publicly used to back carry, in situations that were difficult to criticise (ie the person doing the carrying was a well respected, highly experienced babywearer in each case, so beyond the usual criticism). And so the wraps were deemed acceptable exceptions, without people actually realising what really was going on – that the wrappers were working with the properties of their wraps, stretchy or not. The term “hybrid” in the case of these different stretchy wraps makes no sense either. Apologies to whoever originally thought it was a good idea to use that word, coz it isn’t. A hybrid is something that combines aspects of two completely different things. A hybrid car has an engine that can be powered by two completely different fuels, petrol and electricity. Mythical creatures that were half this and half that, like the centaur (half man, half horse) were hybrids. A Wrapsody stretchy wrap is a stretchy wrap that is crossed with a…stretchy wrap… nah, there’s no combining going on here, it’s just a stretchy wrap. And a JPMBB stretchy is …. also just a stretchy wrap. No hybridness at all, just an attempt to label something to contain the madness that was threatening to explode out and break all the rules…..
I collect lovely friends… this is Jess from Babywearing With Jess, tandem carrying a toddler weighted doll on her back and a baby weighted doll on her front, in a JPMBB Classic stretchy. And it’s pretty bomb-proof, I must say. Remember what I said about baby elephants???
So why would anyone even WANT to back carry in a stretchy wrap? Why not just get a pretty woven wrap? I wondered this myself, until an insightful conversation with Lorette Michallon at a Slingababy consultant training session, where she said that if she’d known she could back carry in a stretchy when she first started back carrying, she may not have bothered with woven wraps, because she really liked her stretchy wrap and would have loved to just stick with using it. What??!!! Seriously???!!! And then as we talked about it further, I learned a few things. Just because I like woven wraps, doesn’t mean everyone else does. Some people like the soft jersey feel better than the feel of a woven. Some babies don’t like the feel of a woven wrap against their skin, particularly if they are very sensitive to touch. Some mums want to back carry but another carrier just isn’t in their budget at that time. Some people may just love the stretchy wrap they have been using so much, which has brought them such joy carrying their gorgeous baby on the front, that they don’t wish to stop using this faithful friend. And there may be other excellent reasons I haven’t heard of or thought of yet.
So at the end of the day, what I am hoping people will do is THINK. Think about what is most helpful, and what is going to best meet your needs. Find out WHY people tell you to do things a certain way. Make sure you have a clear understanding of any ways it might not be SAFE and if these things can be addressed – safely! If you aren’t sure about something, ask more questions, do more research. And finally, remember that at the end of the day, the most important things are the things that ensure that your baby is SAFE, and that you two get to hang out together.
So I thought I had better add a photo of me too. Unfortunately my daughter is now 4, and my lower back is not strong (darn it!), so I don’t wrap her anymore these days or else I’d be all over it! But this photo is from 2013 when she was almost 1…