People always have something to say when they see me wearing my 3.5 year old daughter in a baby carrier. Some are judgmental in tone, others just inquisitive or slightly concerned for the both of us. I understand the curiosity. Toddlerwearing is not something that people are used to seeing in much of the western world. It can seem a little ridiculous to some people to be carrying around a 30 lb child who is fully capable of walking at this point. So, why do it? Is it something I am doing just for my own amusement? Is it still beneficial for my toddler? Is it creating bad habits in her? Is it really uncomfortable to wear your toddler? If you wanted to continue wearing your toddler, are some carriers better suited than others? This and many other valid questions about toddlerwearing are what I hope to shed some light on here.
What is Toddlerwearing?
Well, a toddler can be loosely defined as any child who has started walking. On average, we are referring to a 1-3 year old child – though I have seen people wear their much older children too. Toddlerwearing, is the act of wearing said “older” child in a cloth baby carrier. Though not as common in western cultures, this practice is currently in use and has been for generations in cultures where Babywearing has traditionally been practiced.
Culturally, we have come to identify independence as a desirable trait, meaning that young children in our society are encouraged to walk by this age. If any of you actually have a toddler (or have ever seen one in a mall or amusement park) you may have noticed that toddlers are not capable of walking the distances or sheer amount of time that adults are. This conundrum leads to the vast majority of parents I see on the streets carrying 35 pound sacks of sleeping toddler through crowds at the end of the nights’ activities, people trying to simultaneously hold said toddlers while pushing empty strollers through a crowd, or even embarrassingly trying to scrape tantrum-ing toddlers off the floors of shopping malls while juggling bags of merchandise and avoiding judgmental stares when their kids have reached the point of meltdown. Don’t get me wrong… toddlerwearing is not going to prevent your kid from doing any of the aforementioned things… but it will give you one more tool in your toolbox that is tried and true – and who would turn their nose down to that?
Is wearing her mostly for my own amusement at this point?
I LOVE baby carriers. Any excuse to wear a baby, I will take it. But my enthusiasm for strapping 31 lbs of wriggling threenager onto my back… is waning at this point. Sure, there are times when I believe that I am most certainly wearing her for my own benefit. For example, the other day we went to the Deli. I was trying desperately to look at the order form for the Sandwiches that was right in front of my face. My daughter and I were both starving, and were running late for a lunch playdate. I read the same line on the menu for the tenth time as my daughter ran up and down the aisles of the store running her hand across everything at her eye level despite a dozen requests from me to come and stand close and behave herself. I could feel my blood pressure rising, and my frustration with her for just being a normal toddler was getting the best of me. I opened my mouth to really vent my irritation at her… then caught myself. How much easier could this whole situation be if I just put her up in the Ergo that was dangling from my waist? “Come here honey” I coaxed. She tried to get away for a brief second, then settled in to the carrier with no effort and laid her head against my back. It became obvious to me that she needed to be contained at that moment just as much as I needed her to be contained. A crowded Deli counter during the lunch rush can be a really overwhelming place for a toddler – and as articulate as she is… she did not have the means to express that. Although wearing her was a convenience for me, it was a necessity for her.
When we are waiting in line for 30 minutes at an amusement park – you better believe we are mutually benefitting from having her in a carrier. When we have to walk a mile in a crowded mall parking lot – she is exponentially safer on my back than she is walking along beside me. At a festival or crowded outdoor event? So much easier to maneuver through the crowds with my toddler on my back instead of pushing around a stroller and having to deal with its whereabouts at all times (the stroller, not the toddler). The reality of the situation, is that I do not even know if I could carry her any reasonable distance in my arms at this point. She is a big kid – but she still needs to be carried sometimes.
Are we instilling bad habits in our kids by wearing them instead of letting them walk?
Any parent of a teenager will tell you that eventually the majority of children will covet independence, and completely outgrow the need to be worn. I won’t be taking my daughter to her college classes strapped to my back. The times that we are not wearing them, will someday far outnumber the times that we were.
What I am doing by wearing her now, is responding to her confidently in the best way I know how. I am able to show her compassion, even when I am emotionally or mentally exhausted. It is easy enough to respond gently to a toddler when you are at your best, but when I am completely spent… I am grateful for any help I can get. By picking her up and holding her at my level (similarly to getting down to her level) I am showing her that I see her, and am doing the best I can to meet her needs in this moment. Developing this trust with her in my ability to respond appropriately to her cues, is going to contribute to us building this relationship prior to moving into more difficult periods of development when these established means of communication will be crucial.
Does wearing a toddler hurt? My kid is really heavy!
Wearing a toddler does not have to be a painful for the wearer or the wearee. I have definitely seen some internet clips of way-too-big children in a Baby Bjorn, so I guess I can understand why some people think that the idea of wearing a toddler in a carrier is pretty ridiculous. The most ubiquitous carrier on the market is a front pack carrier, so it is difficult for someone to picture a 25 lb 2 year old being comfortably worn in something like that. Even with an ErgoBaby carrier – one of the first mainstream ergonomic carriers you could buy – I see people wearing their toddlers all the time with serious fit issues, and really looking as if they are suffering under their child’s weight.
It doesn’t have to be like that!
Yes, you are always going to feel 30 lbs of weight strapped to your back. But how your body distributes that weight to better transport it is what makes the difference between a comfortable toddler carrier, and a miserable one. Although I call myself a lover of all carriers, this is really where the front pack carriers kinda piss me off. They become uncomfortable after like 15 lbs, causing many people just give up wearing at that point… or push through it but with negative feelings about wearing. They suffer because they see how much their baby enjoys being worn, and how much more convenient it is… but they either can’t/don’t want to spend the money on another carrier, or do not realize there is something better out there. Many people are done babywearing before they have even started, thanks to an uncomfortable or ill-fitting carrier.
Even if you have “the most comfortable carrier on the market”, if you are not wearing it properly – it’s going to hurt. Most of these carriers are designed to distribute a lot of weight into the waistband, like a hiking backpack. You should not be carrying it all on your shoulders. Having the carrier fit you snugly will also contribute to your comfort greatly. Having all the weight leaning back away from you will cause your body to strain to support it, instead of just using the design of the carrier to ergonomically distribute the weight. Don’t just wing it! Get some help with the fit if it isn’t love.
What’s the best toddler carrier on the market?
That’s a loaded question. What am I wearing? Where am I going? What we will be doing? For how long will I be wearing her? Is the ground going to be filthy? What’s the weather like? Can I only bring one carrier?
There is no best carrier. It is completely dependent on your particular situation as a wearer. The shape of your body, where you like to carry the weight, the temperament of your toddler, if you plan to share carriers with various caregivers, the climate where you live, what you plan to use the carrier for mostly, what your budget is, what kinds of fabrics and textiles you like to wear… all of these things are important things to ask yourself when choosing a carrier. Just because your friend got a carrier that she thinks is the absolute best thing ever, and you totally have to get one…. doesn’t mean that you are going to feel the same way about it. Don’t let yourself down by grabbing the first carrier someone recommends to you! Ask yourself the same kinds of questions you would when selecting a stroller or a car seat. Do research, have an opinion, ask questions!
That being said…. There are a lot of different carriers on the market that can comfortably fit a toddler! I will give you a little overview here.
Standard Size Soft Structured Carriers
***Fore reference: My daughter the Dragon Baby is 3.5 years old, 3′ Tall, and 31 lbs. in these photos***
These carriers are standard size buckle carriers, but can be worn with toddlers as well. This list is by no means exhaustive, these are just some common carriers that are easy to get your hands on that work really well with older kids as well. I recognize not everyone has the budget or the interest to keep buying new carriers, so one of these may be a better fit if you are looking for something to use once you are out of that newborn stage, until well through toddlerhood.
MSRP $ 120 (7-45 lbs) 13” Height x 14” width
Features: Affordable, easy to find and purchase. Padded straps, structured waistband, hood, storage pocket.
Onya Baby Cruiser
MSRP $ 129 (15-45 lbs) 18” Height x 11.5” width
Features: Crossable straps, toy loops, structured waist (foam), built in high chair, tall back panel paired with narrower width makes these ideal for tall toddlers with shorter legs who don’t quite fit the other toddler carriers.
Olives & Applesauce
MSRP $ 150 (25-50 lbs) 19” Height x 15” width
Features: Crossable straps, hood, pocket, structured waistband, seat darts for nice, deep seat, padding on the leg openings, dual adjust straps. Fully adjustable, great for petite wearers!
Lillebaby All Seasons
MSRP $150 (7-45 lbs) 14” height (+5” with headrest up) x 16.5” Width
Features: Crossable straps, hood, lumbar support pad, structured waistband, the seat can be adjusted to fit a smaller baby, and it has an ergonomic Front Facing Out option. It also has a zip down panel on the body exposing mesh for more air circulation.
MSRP $ 149 (15-45 lbs) 15.5” Height x 14.5” width
Features: Perfect Fit Adjusters, detachable hood, structured padded straps, padding on leg openings, pocket.
MSRP $ 164 (18-50 lbs) 16” Height x 17” width
Features: Seat darts for really deep seat, dual adjust buckles, Perfect Fit Adjusters, crossable padded straps, hood, pocket, and headrest. They sell waistband extenders too!
Toddler Sized Soft Structured Carriers
These buckle carriers are called “toddler carriers”, but many of them would fit an average preschooler. I would not put an 18 month old into any of these… we are talking 2T-3T pants here! Most of them have larger panels for the child, and higher weight limits too.
Lillebaby Carry-On Air
MSRP $ 140 (20-60 lbs) 20” Height x 18” width
Features: Two-way adjustable straps, crossable straps, Perfect Fit Adjusters, lumbar support pad, hood, pockets, wide padded shoulder straps, wide structured waist band.
MSRP $ 169 (25-50 lbs) 18” Height x 19” width
Features: Perfect Fit Adjusters, detachable hood, pocket, wide padded shoulder straps, structured waistband, padding at leg openings.
MSRP $ 180 (20 – 60 lbs) 19.5” Height x 18” width
Features: Perfect Fit Adjusters, hide-able hood, 3-point safety buckle, waistband pocket, crossable wide-padded shoulder straps, structured waist, padding at leg openings, sturdy canvas panel. Incredibly high weight limit. This carrier is more like a Pre-school carrier than a toddler carrier.
MSRP $119 (15-45 lbs) 18” Height x 19” width
Featured: Padded unstructured waist, crossable foam padded straps, hood, most inexpensive Toddler carrier on the market, folds up very compact.
Toddler Lenny Lamb
MSRP $ 150 (20 – 44 lbs) 18.9” Height x 17.7” width
Features: Perfect Fit Adjusters, crossable straps, two-way adjustable straps, cinch-able hood, padded unstructured waistband, contoured body panel, padded leg openings, safety buckles.
MSRP $179 (25-50 lbs) 18” Height x 19” width
Features: Crossable straps, Perfect Fit Adjusters, two-way adjustable wide padded straps, hide able hood, structured waistband, pocket, padded leg openings. Available in Standard or XL straps.
MSRP $180 (30 – 60 lbs) 16+5” (Headrest) Height x 14-18” width
Features: Padded unstructured all fabric waistband, removable buckles on waistband, flat back panel, high density foam straps, padded side extensions Designed to sit on waist rather than hips. Available for custom order with XS or XL straps.
Kokadi Flip Toddler XL
MSRP $205 (Up to 33 lbs) 16.5″ (Height) x 20.5″ width
Features: Lightly structured foam waistband, fully adjustable body panel, very wide seat that is cinchable as well, adjustable hood, thick padded contoured straps, wrap fabric panel, Personal Fit Adjusters.
MSRP $101 (Up to 55 lbs) 18.5″ (Height) x 19″ Width
Features: Full wrap conversion jacquard fabric, lightly structured foam waistband, adjustable hood, padded straps, Personal Fit Adjusters, legs out padding, lightweight breathable airy weave – great for heat.
Standard Sized Meh Dai’s
This style of carrier originated in Asia, and has been modified by westerners to resemble the carrier that we see readily available today. It is very adjustable and versatile. You can wear it in a front carry, a back carry, and a hip carry. It can be used with an infant, or a toddler. These listed below are standard size, but work well with toddlers as well.
*Note: This style of carrier was (and still is by some brands) referred to mistakenly as a “Mei Tai”. The correct spelling/pronunciation of the carrier is Meh Dai (Cantonese) or Bei Dai (Mandarin). For more info check out this original post by those behind the #notyourpodbutai movement
CatBird Meh Dai
MSRP $ 89 (8-40 lbs) 23” Height x 16” width
Features: Lightly Padded headrest, padded straps, unstructured waist, hood, elastic to adjust body panel for a newborn.
Babyhawk Meh Dai
MSRP $ 90 (8-40 lbs) 18.5” Height x 16.5” width
Features: Heavily Padded headrest, padded straps, unstructured waist, reversible. Can be ordered with XL straps.
MSRP $109 (8 – 35 lbs) 15.75” Height x 15.75” width
Features: Removable insert for infant, unpadded wrap style straps (for extra toddler support), woven fabric, unpadded headrest/half hood, padded waist, carrying pouch, organic.
Soul Meh Dai (Linen)
MSRP $ 87 (15 – 40 lbs) 16.5” Height x 15” width
Features: Lightly padded wrap style straps, woven linen fabric, hood, unpadded waistband, lightweight and breathable, incredibly compact.
MSRP $ 119 (3 months – 33lbs) 9.4 – 18.9” Height x 4.5-17.8” width
Features: 4 way adjustable panel (to accommodate most sizes of baby), padded-to-wrap straps, padded waistband, hood, woven fabric.
Toddler Sized Meh Dai’s
These Meh Dai’s are designed with slightly larger body panels to accommodate bigger children. Though a standard Meh Dai can also be used for a toddler, one of these carriers may provide more coverage and support (and thereby comfort) to both you and your child.
Toddlerhawk Meh Dai
MSRP $110 (15-45 lbs) 23.5” Height x 19.5” width
Features: Padded headrest, padded straps, unstructured waist, reversible. Can be ordered with XL straps. The colors and prints as well as strap lengths are customizable on their website.
Lenny Lamb Toddler Meh Dai
MSRP $125 (20-44 lbs) 21” Height x 15.75” width
Features: Padded structured headrest, wide padded shoulder straps, padded unstructured waist, extra long straps, woven fabric.
This is long, very versatile woven piece of rectangular fabric ranging in length from 2.7 – 5.6 meters. Though they have a slight learning curve, and toddlers are not always the most willing wrappees… for me, nothing beats a wrap for comfort in a situation where I will be wearing for an extended period of time. It can be tied a multitude of ways, to distribute the weight to whatever part of my body I feel most comfortable wearing it at the moment. Though most woven wraps can work with any size baby, there are some that are known to be particularly “toddler worthy” either for their thickness, their support, their density, their width, or many other categories it may belong to that people find desirable when wearing their toddlers. Some work better as short wraps in single-pass carries, and others are better as long wraps where you can really spread out the weight across the fabric. Are you blinking at the screen right now wondering what you just read? You might need a primer on woven wraps.
Below are just some of my personal favorites in my few years’ experience wrapping. There are dozens more brands out there to check out, most of which I have also had great experiences with. In general I have a preference for 100% cotton or a linen or hemp blend when I am planning to be wearing my toddler, but there are a lot of other unique eco-blends on the market currently that are known to be very supportive for toddlers.
I love wearing my toddler in a ring sling! I admit it is not as comfortable at 30 lbs as it was at 20 lbs, but there are still situations in which I like having her on my hip. When we are somewhere like the bank, or an evening party, or a wedding reception, where she would much rather be on my hip and participating in the conversations that are happening – I will take the ring sling along with me. If I just need to get her in and out of the car up the stairs – ring sling for the win. If I am taking her to the doctor and she needs to be held for an exam, the ring sling gives her security while still making her accessible to the physician. Dinner parties, long-haul airplane flight, waiting in line for a table at a crowded restaurant… all of these are times that are perfect for wearing a ring sling.
The majority of ring slings on the market can be used for toddlers, but many wearers prefer Double Layer linen, a Woven Wrap Conversion, or Double Layer silk when wearing their toddlers. The shoulder style can make a difference too, a lot of people prefer a gathered or hybrid shoulder for better weight distribution while wearing a bigger kid.
Some reputable Ring Sling makers to check out: Sakura Bloom, Soul Slings, Sleeping Baby Productions, Zanytoes, Maya Wrap are all solid brands, and many of the Woven Wrap producers have their own line of Wrap Conversion slings that hold up nicely to toddlers.
There are community organizations where you can go to try on carriers, and get help with things like getting your toddler onto your back. Or why not hire a Certified Babywearing Educator to come and teach you the toddlerwearing ropes? If trial and error isn’t your thing, hire a professional! It does not have to be totally overwhelming to choose something that will work for your family. Any effort put into it will be totally worth it.
A solid toddler carrier is a great investment. The value is so much more than monetary! As toddlerwearing starts to gain in popularity as a parenting tool in the western world, we are beginning to see a lot more of it around in the media. Hopefully this will help to normalize this tried and true parenting practice for everyone. Though people are trying to spin it as a new-fangled thing, educators know that this practice is a enduring one – one that has been around as long as there have been toddlers.
***Please note this list is not exhaustive. These are some of my personal favorites. I look forward to adding more toddler carriers as they come out!***