Keep them close

Reviews and information about babywearing, slings, wraps and carriers for keeping your baby close and content


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Forward facing carriers: Ergo 360 vs Lillebaby Complete

As the practice of babywearing has rapidly grown and developed, particularly over the last 10 years, baby carrier designers have continued to add functionality and appeal to their carriers in an attempt to retain (or gain) market share in an increasingly saturated market place.

Where once pretty much the only baby carrier you could buy was a Baby Bjorn, there are now a pile of different baby carriers on the market. The original Baby Bjorn was designed to allow a baby to be carried in a forward facing position. With the growth of babywearing worldwide, the ergonomics of carrying a baby has become more and more important. The traditional narrow based carrier (or front pack carrier) like the Baby Bjorn has gone out of fashion, as it does not provide a particularly ergonomic position for baby, or for the wearer. But the ascendancy of ergonomic carriers meant the death of forward facing babywearing, as an ergonomic position meant a wide base; too wide for the child to sit forward facing.

Now, for me personally, carrying my baby in a forward facing position wasn’t something I needed or wanted to do. On the front facing me, or back carrying, or on the hip in a ring sling, gave me enough flexibility to get on with my day. I also feel there is a potential for forward facing to lead to an overstimulated baby, who has nowhere to turn away from the busy world if feeling overwhelmed. But, for some parents, forward facing is something they’d like to be able to do. Their child enjoys the stimulation, or they catch public transport and enjoy being able to sit down with baby on their lap securely, for example.

So to meet this demand, while addressing the issues of ergonomic positioning, new carriers have been developed that have a forward facing position that provides a more ergonomic seat for baby. Two of the most popular on the market right now are the Ergo 360 and the Lillebaby.

At a glance

Functionality

The Lillebaby I have used in this review is called the All Seasons Complete. It markets itself as a six-position carrier (newborn legs in, infant legs out, forward facing, toddler legs out, hip and back).

baby carrier illustration

The Lillebaby complete offers six different ways to carry your baby from newborn to toddler (source: lillebaby.com)

The Ergo 360 is a four-position carrier (facing in, facing out, hip and back). Though, to be properly comparative, the 360 does have an infant insert (purchased separately) which therefore also offers a “fifth” position for newborns with legs in.

The Ergo 360 is comfortable for small framed people and can fit an 18 month old comfortably.

The Ergo 360 is comfortable for small framed people and can fit an 18 month old comfortably.

The extra position the Lillebaby offers is legs out for a baby over 3.1kg who is happy to sit in the legs out position. The Lillebaby’s narrowest seat position is narrower than the 360, so while in a 360 a small baby would still need to be in the insert, they would likely be able to sit without an insert in the Lillebaby. This can be an advantage because inserts can be a bit fiddly to use, and can be quite warm if the weather is hot.

From my brief experience with the Lillebaby to date, I would suggest that not all babies would be happy to be in the legs out position from birth, and Lillebaby does provide instructions for keeping a newborn in the legs in position, in the event they are not happy to have their legs out of the carrier. But I envisage that the average baby would be able to use the carrier with the legs out position within the first month or two, much sooner than the Ergo 360, where the insert would generally be used until at least 4 months old, potentially up to 6 months old.

Cost

The Ergo 360 retails for AUD $239. The Lillebaby Complete All Seasons Tokidoki I’ve used in this review retails for AUD $235, though there are cheaper versions available, with plain fabric for example.

Availability

The Ergo 360 is distributed in Australia through Babes in Arms, and is available in many bricks and mortar baby stores and online. The Lillebaby is distributed in Australia through AngelRock Baby, Bellas Little Ones, HuggleBaby Carriers, The Infant Boutique, PixieMama, Nurture Nest and Wear Your Baby (online), or from the AngelRock Baby store in Ettalong, NSW.

Appearance

The Ergo 360 comes in six colours currently. The Lillebaby Complete comes in a few more colours, as well as some patterns and the funky Tokidoki print that I tried for this review.

The tokidoki prints are pretty cool (the hood rolls up into a pocket if you don't want to use it)

The tokidoki prints are pretty cool (the hood rolls up into a pocket if you don’t want to use it)

The verdict

The short version is both of these carriers are great, and chances are you would be happy with either of them, but here are a few of my thoughts on pros and cons that might help you make a decision based on what you are looking for in a carrier.

Ergo 360

  • Is readily available in lots of bricks and mortar stores where you can try it on if you’re the kind of person who likes to try things before you buy.
  • Has a wide firm waistband that secures via Velcro, which is quite unusual for a baby carrier, but I actually quite liked it, a lot more than I thought I would. It felt uniformly supportive right around my waist. The downside of the Velcro is it is noisy to remove and once you have it on it is pretty much impossible to adjust, so you want to try to get it the right tension first time.
  • The front facing position creates a slightly better leg position for baby than the Lillebaby, in my opinion.
  • Has narrower shoulder straps than traditional Ergos, which is a plus for smaller framed people, who often find the Ergo too big and bulky.
  • The method of making the seat narrower to enable forward facing is much simpler than the Lillebaby.
  • In developing a carrier with a simple but ergonomic front facing position, the maximum weight limit has been reduced from 20kg to 15kg. This is probably not a big issue, as by the time most children reach 15kg they will be too big in general for this carrier and you would want to be looking at a toddler sized carrier.
  • Needs a separate insert for a newborn/small infant.

Lillebaby

  • Comes in options including Airflow and All Seasons, which include mesh to allow greater air flow, enhancing comfort in the warmer weather.
  • While still providing a narrower base option for infants, the standard size is a decent sized carrier, and my 2.5 year old still just about fit, with the head rest up, whereas she wouldn’t really fit in the 360 at all anymore. This could definitely be a carrier that would last you comfortably from newborn to large toddler, which is a rare find.
  • Has a lumbar support piece you can thread onto the waistband for front carries. I’m not sure how much value this adds, I didn’t wear it for long enough, but perhaps it would provide some extra support when walking for an hour or so.
  • Has lovely cushy curved straps, and plenty of length in the padding so you don’t end up with webbing cutting into your armpit. Also has extra bits of padding under the buckles, including the chest clip, for extra comfort.
  • Will fit an infant without an insert before the Ergo 360, potentially from birth, if you are keen to use a buckle carrier straight away. Note: I still prefer a stretchy wrap or ring sling for a newborn, but I know some people like the convenience of buckle carriers and would like to only have to buy one babywearing device if possible.
  • Comes in funky Tokidoki prints.
At 2.5 years old, my daughter still just about fit in the Lillebaby with the hood up, it was comfy enough for a quick nap!

At 2.5 years old, my daughter still just about fit in the Lillebaby with the headrest up, it was comfy enough for a quick nap!

Just one last point about forward facing – it is not recommended until around 5 months of age when baby has very good head control, and you can probably comfortably carry forward facing til around 12 months/10kg. It is important not to carry a younger baby forward facing.

18 months is a bit big for forward facing - I couldn't find a younger model!

18 months is a bit big for forward facing in the 360 – but I couldn’t find a younger model!

How do you feel about forward facing carriers? Is it something you find useful?

PS: Thanks to my gorgeous friend Tracey and her patient little boy for helping me out with this review. And thanks to Angel Rock Baby for letting me try the Lillebaby. 


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Review: Wompat

That’s not a spelling error, they are called Wompats, not wombats. And no, they’re not Australian, they’re actually made in Finland!

A Wompat is a soft structured carrier, similar to an Ergo or Tula, but handmade in Finland, partly using Girasol woven wraps, Vanamo wraps or Marimekko designer fabric.

I had never tried a Wompat before, though one of my fellow babywearing pals has raved about them for years. So, recently, with my babywearing days coming to a rapid end, I thought I would buy one in a pre-school size as my last hurrah babywearing purchase.

I bought a pre-school size predominantly for my 4.5 year old son. We have a toddler Tula, that he still just about fits in, but I am hoping we might be able to do a few bushwalks now we have a pre-school sized carrier as well – my husband and I can carry one child each when their little legs get tired. And, I’ve never owned a Girasol, and they are really quite beautiful wraps, so it is nice to finally have one, albeit in carrier form, before the end of my babywearing journey.

Wompat carrier

My son, 4.5 years, in our pre-school Wompat

I will try to explain here about how purchasing a Wompat works. Bear with me, as it’s a little bit complicated. They come in four sizes: baby (up to 18 months), medium (1 to 3 years), toddler (2 to 4 years), and pre-school (3 to 5 years). You can order a custom wompat from www.wearababy.com in the size you want, the fabric you want and the waist size and shoulder length you want. While mostly made as semi-wrap conversions (just the panel is made from wrap), you can also order half-wrap conversions (panel and waist and shoulders are made from wrap, with a cotton inside layer). Or you can buy an in stock Wompat from authorised distributors. In Australia, the distributors are Woven Wraps Australia, Nurture Nest and KAAS Kids. I bought my pre-school size Wompat with Girasol Earthy Rainbow wrap and black cotton twill straps and waistband from Woven Wraps Australia.

Pre-school Wompat in Girasol Earthy Rainbow

Pre-school Wompat in Girasol Earthy Rainbow

So, here’s my thoughts on the Wompat.

Pros

  • Comes in pre-school size (there aren’t a huge amount of options in this category)
  • Uses gorgeous Girasol wraps
  • Can order custom carrier to suit your preferences
  • Has a seriously cute pixie hood
  • Has a soft, squishy waist band. While it can be a personal preference, squishy can feel good. As comparison, the Tula has quite a firm waist band (which I also like)
  • Has dual adjust buckles and perfect fit adjusters, allowing for a good, tight fit
  • At around AUS$270 for an in stock carrier, it is a fair bit cheaper than a semi-wrap conversion Tula at the current exchange rate (August 2015).

Cons

  • Webbing and buckles aren’t as high quality as a Tula or Ergo
  • Shoulders aren’t super-padded. Again, this is personal preference, but compared with my Tula, it is a noticeable difference in padding.

I’m looking forward to a few bushwalks in this carrier over the coming months. It fits my son nicely to the knee, and is going to soften up quickly to  be a very comfortable carrier.

wompat


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Custom conversions

The start of 2015 brings a much-anticipated new converter of custom babywearing carriers to the local Sydney market, by the name of Eridani, which has inspired me to write about custom conversions and how you can go about getting yourself one.

In case you’re not sure what I’m talking about, a custom conversion is where someone takes a woven wrap and converts it into a carrier like a mei tai, half buckle (buckle waist/wrap straps) or a full buckle (like a soft structured carrier) – there are also other carriers like reverse half buckles and ring tais, but I wont confuse you with that just yet!

And why would you want such a conversion? Well, it means you can get a one of a kind carrier just for you, you can get your absolute favourite wrap made into a carrier, and there is often a range of sizing and dimensions to choose from that you don’t get in an off the shelf carrier, which is great if you want to keep carrying your toddler or pre-schooler long after they’ve grown out of your Ergo or Manduca, or if your older child has special needs.

So where can you find one? That is the million-dollar question, as getting your hands on a custom carrier can be quite hard work – many of the converters have waiting lists, and some sell their slots by random draw, making your chances of nabbing one even harder. This is why the addition of Eridani to the market place is most welcome!

Here’s a bit of a run down on who you might like to consider for custom conversions, first in Australia, and then some overseas options.

Eridani: Eridani is based in Sydney, and has just started taking orders for full buckles, half buckles and mei tais. She has been doing ring slings for a while, and her attention to detail is amazing – I’ve had her make me a few ring slings in the last 12 months, and the quality is second to none, I wouldn’t go anywhere else. Her initial slots were snapped up, but stay tuned to her Facebook page for information on when she will be releasing more slots.

half buckle carrier

A handcrafted wrap conversion half buckle by Eridani

Maddimoo: Maddimoo is based in Perth, and has been one of the favourite convertors in the Australian market for a few years, generally offering her slots via random draw once a month. She is currently on maternity leave, but if you’re not in the market right now, she’s worth checking out in the future.

BelloBorn: Based in Bellingen, NSW, Heidi makes a full range of custom conversions including less well known carriers like reverse half buckles (tie waist, buckle shoulder straps) and ring tais (ring waist and shoulders). Heidi takes orders via a waiting list system and is booked up until August 2015 at this stage.

Sweetness: Sweetness makes mei tais, half and reverse half buckles, and full buckles from northern NSW and offers a variety of sizing options to suit the age of your baby and your size. Her waiting list is currently approximately 4-5 months long.

Chrysalis Tree: Amy is based in Adelaide and makes half buckles and mei tais. I was lucky enough to get a custom half buckle from Chrysalis Tree in 2013, and it is a fabulous carrier. Super comfortable, with fantastic attention to detail. After launching in 2013, Amy’s waiting list was full very quickly, and she has since been on maternity leave and then dealing with some health issues, but she is hopefully getting back to the sewing machine in the near future, so keep an eye on her Facebook page for updates if you have the time to wait.

half buckle carrier

My beloved Chrysalis Tree half buckle, converted from Natibaby Marine Ferns

Hipababy: Hipababy makes mei tais, full buckles, ring slings and podaegis (a baby carrier originally from Korea, with two long shoulder straps and a blanket panel). She releases slots via her Etsy store (fastest fingers) and also by random draw.

Under My Wing: Under My Wing is another recent addition to the market, launching in 2014. She offers mei tais, full buckles and half buckles in two sizes, as well as podaegis and ring slings. She also specialises in big kid carriers, for older children who may still need/want to be carried. Based in Adelaide, she sells slots via random draw on her Facebook page.

Now, if you’re in the USA or Canada, the sad news is that you can’t buy from Australian convertors – restrictions on insurance mean Australian vendors are not allowed to sell to US or Canadian customers (unless they pay exorbitant insurance premiums to have the US and Canada included, which most vendors wouldn’t do).

If you’re in Australia, and want to look further afield for a convertor, here are a few worth looking at overseas.

Bamberoo: Bamberoo is a very popular maker of carriers based in the USA, including canvas and solarveil carriers, as well as wrap conversions. Slots are sold via Etsy and Hyena Cart and sell out extremely quickly; not many Australians are lucky enough to have internet speeds fast enough to compete with US buyers, but it’s still worth a try if you’re up for a challenge!

Bamberoo OC: If your internet is slow or you’re not on the internet when Bamberoo releases slots, Bamberoo OC is a convertor in Europe who makes Bamberoos under licence. Slightly less popular than the US versions, it can be easier to get a slot. Making it even more achievable, Frangipani Baby, a vendor based in the Blue Mountains, NSW, offers Bamberoo OC slots via her website on a regular basis.

Madame Googoo: Based in Poland, Madame Goo Goo makes a range of canvas/fabric carriers as well as wrap conversions. She produces some very unique carriers with designs taken from animation and other eclectic inspirations, and includes options for special details on items like hoods and reach straps.

Obimama: Obimama has been in the market for a while and is known to be one of the best mei tai makers in the business. Based in the US, she offers a range of non-wrap mei tais as well as selling coveted, hard to win slots for custom wrap conversion mei tais. More expensive than most convertors, she offers her conversions in three price points depending on how much customisation you want.

Sling Betty: This UK convertor makes mei tais, half buckles and podaegis, with slots sold via random draw announced on her website, Facebook page and mailing list. With postage and exchange rate it can be a bit expensive to get a carrier made overseas, but Sling Betty’s prices are pretty good, so it may still work out at a reasonable price if you can pick up a slot.

Ocah: Also based in the UK, Ocah is a highly respected brand offering mei tais, full buckles, half buckles, reverse half buckles and podaegis. Slots are sold via random draw, but are more pricey than Sling Betty, so after exchange rate and postage costs they are relatively expensive conversions.

This is not an exhaustive list, and if you have a conversion by a vendor not listed here I’d love to hear what you think and where to find out more! And please keep in mind, this list includes reputable, insured convertors – but anyone with a sewing machine can try to sell you a conversion, so before you hand over your hard earned (and your wrap), make sure to check they have appropriate insurance and see some examples of their work.