Note: This was originally written as a guest blog post for Babywearing With Jess, if you feel like you have some déja vu going on….
So here in New Zealand right now, it’s a beautifully hot summer. Prohibitively hot if you like stretchy wraps. Usually at this time of year, babywearing consultants and group instructors might not recommend stretchy wraps until the weather starts to cool. It’s that “three layers over the child” bit that causes all the heat issues. Like wearing three t-shirts at once. But Jess and I have been wondering “Is there a stretchy wrap that is particularly well suited to hot weather?” And so the Great Stretchy Wrap Comparison Challenge began!
As we really started to look at all the stretchy wraps we could get our hands on, we discovered that the amount of variation there is among stretchy wraps was broader than I thought! Here’s a quick list:
- Do they stretch just in one direction or in both? (1-way vs 2-way)
- How stretchy actually are they? Do they all stretch the same amount?
- How light or dense are they?
- How long are they?
- How wide or narrow are they?
- What are the ends like? Blunt squares, slanty triangles or long, narrow tapers?
- What do they feel like? Soft and marshmellowy or shiny and synthetic?
- How supportive do they feel? How boingey? (I think I made that word up but it fits)
- Would you use it with little babies, bigger babies, toddlers?
- What type of fibres did they make it from?
- Can you machine wash it? Tumble dry it?
- Does it stay stretchy for a long time? Like multiple children?
So Jess and I came up with some ways to answer these questions as consistently as possible, trying to put numbers to as many things as we could, and give reasonable comparative statements when we couldn’t. The data is all in a table, so you can compare to your heart’s content, if you like comparing numbers. But before we show you our “data”, we wish to make something very clear. We did this in the lounge, on a coffee table, with a tape measure and digital kitchen scales and our brains. We did not test on analytically certified, temperature controlled equipment, or measure 5 times and average the number. We just measured well enough to get a pretty good idea. To those who know about scientific error and quality assurance and stuff (and trust me, both myself and Jess’ husband have degrees in this sort of thing and totally know how rough and ready our processes are) we were very clear in our aim. It was ONLY to gather some information to give people a general idea, so that they have something useful to go on when working out what they want in a stretchy wrap. This should be taken as a rough guideline only, a starting place, something to help narrow down your ideas about what you want or don’t want. But ultimately, at the end of the day, if you can, try on the ones you think you will prefer and see how they feel to YOU.
So who won? Which one’s the best? Which stretchy should everyone rush out and buy for summer babies? I’m sorry, we are going to disappoint you if you want us to say “Go buy this one, it’s way better than all the others” because we can’t. I know which one I really liked if I was having a wee baby in summer, but if I wanted to keep using it as my baby got bigger and heavier, I wouldn’t pick that one, I’d pick another. And Jess might actually go for another brand to me, although we’d both totally agree with each other’s choices. No help? Sorry, but everyone’s a little bit different in what they need from their stretchy. Is it organic? Made from natural fibres? Does it feel super soft against your skin? Is it as light as possible? Does it need to be able to be tumble dried? Does it only have to last 3 or 4 months or do you want to use it longer, or even be still using it with a toddler? Do you have good air conditioning where you live so it doesn’t have to be super thin if it has all the other properties you want? Is price a factor? Plenty of people will agree with my favourite and plenty of people will find one of the others a better choice for them. And that’s one of the awesome things about humans, we are all a bit different and love different things about our things. Which is also good for the businesses that make all the different carriers, coz it keeps them in business.
So have a look at the data, and see which aspects are important to you, and how the brands you are interested in compare. And underneath this data table, I will write some more, and explain how we measured stuff (or otherwise) and how it might be relevant.
Measuring Width and Length: With a tape measure. Relevance: The length is about how much fabric there is to tie around you. If you have a broader torso, you want to have enough to go around you and do the tie you want (like the traditional PWCC). If you are particularly narrow, sometimes all that length is a pain. Plus you are wearing it, so you are carrying it. Although stretchy wraps do mostly come in all the same length, and they aren’t really that heavy. Now width, that is a different story. A narrow stretchy wrap means as your baby grows taller, you will struggle to carry them securely as there isn’t enough width to use properly. So a narrow wrap becomes too small sooner. But less fabric is less fabric across you if it’s hot. A particularly wide stretchy makes back carrying easier and safer, particularly with toddlers, so your child won’t outgrow it. But there is more fabric to be wrapped across you.
Blend and Washing Info: We copied it all off the label. Relevance: Blend is about if it matters to you whether it is synthetic or natural fibre (predominantly) as synthetic fibres usually trap heat more and natural fibres are usually more breathable. The 4-6% of elastane or spandex is the tiny amount added for stretchiness, it doesn’t impact breathability. Bamboo is considered softer and lighter than cotton. Washing info is whether it can go in the machine or be handwashed, needs to line dry or can go in the drier.
Relative Density: We grouped them into three piles, Heavy, Medium or Light, based on both of us feeling the thickness and heaviness of the fabric itself, and agreeing with each other. It is more a continuum, so some Mediums are lighter than others, for example. Relevance: a rough way to get an idea of how warm these layers would feel when wearing the stretchy (thick t-shirt vs thin t-shirt).
One Way or Two, and Stretchiness: One way or two was done by pulling the fabric and seeing if it was stretchy in one direction only or both. Stretchiness was measured by getting a 10cm length of fabric at rest, and then pulling it as far as I could (the same person pulled every time) and we recorded how far it stretched in excess (e.g. if we recorded 6cm then the 10cm length could be stretched to 16cm and no further). L means we pulled in the direction of the length of the wrap and W means we pulled in the direction of the width of the wrap. Relevance: personally I find a two way stretchy wrap massively easier to work with, for a pretied carry. A one way stretchy wrap is not as easy to work with, it doesn’t move as easily and is harder to get perfectly comfortable and get the baby in place, in my opinion. If you are wrapping as you go, like a Front Double Hammock, then a one way stretchy is a bit easier, in my opinion, because it’s easier to tighten supportively with only one direction of stretch. But that also depends somewhat on the wrap brand as well. But most people buy a stretchy wrap for the pretied carries like a PWCC, so I would look for a two way stretchy for that.
Weight: We rolled each wrap up and weighed it on a set of digital scales. Relevance: while the wrap is wrapped around you, you are carrying that weight as well as the baby. Stretchy wraps don’t add a great amount of extra weight but in hot weather, that might be a relevant factor to consider.
Toddler Doll Test: A 5kg* toddler sized demonstration doll was worn on the front in a PWCC by the same person (myself) who reported back on how comfortable it was at this weight and how secure the doll felt – I called it the Diggy and Boingy Test. Again, a relative and subjective test but I tried to be fair about how it felt. Comfort level was if it felt uncomfortable (I wouldn’t want to keep it on for 5 mins), reasonably comfortable (could have been better but I could tolerate that like that just fine for a while) or comfortable (felt like I could do it for ages). Note: the doll was only on for 5 minutes each test, we had 16 stretchies to get through and I did have to go home and cook dinner later. Security level was about whether the doll felt like it was held safely and securely, or if it felt boingy (bouncy) and the doll could move around too much. Secure means the doll was held pretty solidly. Reasonably secure means there was a bit of bounce but it wasn’t much and the doll seemed safe still, and insecure means the doll could bounce easily and there’s no way I would be carrying a real child like that. Note: I was just standing and walking around, I wasn’t running after children or doing anything bouncy myself which would put more boing on the wrap.
* This test used a 5kg demonstration doll, with all the arms and legs of a toddler. Toddler dolls feel way heavier than their 5kg because they have no life force and no muscle tone (have you heard the term “deadweight”? Makes sense when you’ve picked up one of these). Usually the fact it is only 5kg doesn’t matter, it feels so much heavier and has long limbs to work around so it is the perfect practise doll for carrying an older child. However, for this test, even though it felt like a 8-9kg child, it still only weighed 5kg as far as the fabric was concerned, so we are aware that this wasn’t the best representation of carrying a heavier child in these wraps. If we were doing this again, we would find some heavy weights to stick down his pants to actually give him 8-10kg. Having said that, we figured that if a wrap is diggy or boingy with the 5kg doll, it’s not going to hold up well to a real child. So again, this can only be a beginning guideline, please be aware that those that felt comfortable and supportive with a 5kg doll might also be comfortable and supportive with a 10kg child… or they might not.
What We Didn’t Test For: Longevity of elasticity. That’s a time thing, or you have to pay for fancy machines that stretch it in ways that mimics continual or ongoing usage and we ain’t got any of those in our kitchen! Some stretchies are as good as new after ten years of wear, others lose their stretch after a few months of use. Chat to people who have used a particular brand for a while, preferably several children, to see how well they hold up over time.