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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Review: Beco Soleil soft structured carrier

My local babywearing group was fortunate to be given a Beco Soleil to try out, and while I am firmly a member of Team Tula, I thought I’d give the Beco a go and share the results with you.

To be honest, I haven’t really tried a lot of soft structured carriers. I’ve tried a few different versions of the Ergo, and the Tula. I find the Tula so comfortable I haven’t been inclined to try anything else. But the Beco Soleil pleasantly surprised me; it far exceeded my expectations.

Beco soleil baby carrier

The Beco Soleil with my 18 month old daughter

Here’s what I liked:

  • My daughter is 18 months old and above average height and weight (we’re using a Toddler Tula now), but she still fit in the Soleil quite well, better than she fits in an Ergo.
  • The waistband is slightly narrower than the Tula, which I liked because it didn’t push the waistband of my jeans down like my Tula can sometimes.
  • The top of the body panel has a padded, peaked design that provides nice firm coverage over baby’s upper back, which I also think is an improvement on the Tula design.
  • It has a removable hood, and also a large removable storage pocket (something the Tula is missing, and something many people like about the Ergo).
  • I could get a nice high back carry, much higher than the Ergo.
  • The straps felt a lot more comfortable than the Ergo, and didn’t feel too bulky or wide for my narrow shoulders. There are also perfect fit adjusters, similar to the Tula.
  • I liked the classic pattern; understated and subtle.

If I had to pick some downsides, I’d say:

  • The shoulder straps aren’t particularly padded, certainly less padded than the Tula, and with my almost 13kg big girl I could do with the extra padding. I did find this slightly less comfortable for me than the Tula.
  • At $179, it’s the same price as a standard canvas Tula. For the same money, I’d pick a Tula. But if you’ve found the Tula isn’t really for you, then this is a better option than an Ergo, in my opinion.
  • It has a similar buckle mechanism to the Manduca, which requires two hands to open. This irritates me, but that’s because I’ve only used Ergos and Tulas that have a one-handed buckle.

Some other things to know:

  • You can cross the straps for front carries.
  • It has a long waist belt, longer than a standard Ergo and Tula. A larger mum who uses the Ergo Xtra tried this on and found it much more comfortable than the Ergo Xtra.
  • It requires a separate infant insert to use from 3.5kg to approximately four months old.

If you’re in the market for a soft structured carrier and the Tula isn’t really for you, then I would definitely recommend the Beco Soleil. It can be purchased from a number of online vendors in Australia.


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Ergo vs Tula

I’m going to put it out there that if you don’t own an Ergo carrier, someone you know does, that’s how popular they are. Ergonomic (hence the name!), easy to use, comfortable, dad-friendly – they’ve got a lot going for them. Ergobaby (the company) has done a marvellous marketing job and has significant market share.

An Ergo is a soft structured carrier (SSC). Ergos have been around for more than 10 years, so together with the Baby Bjorn, have long been the carrier of choice for parents.

Babywearing has come a long way in 10 years and with its popularity on the rise, there have been many new players join the market. One of the most popular newcomers in the SSC market is the Tula, which was been on the market for around four years.

I didn’t own an Ergo until my first-born was about 15 months old and I wanted to start wearing him on my back. It was a revelation! I loved it and used it all the time until I was pregnant with his sister and wasn’t comfortable to wear it anymore. When my daughter was born in 2013, I started to get more involved in the babywearing community online and the talk of the town was the Tula. I was intrigued – how was it different to my Ergo? Why would I buy one? They looked basically the same to me at the time. (I have since become a Tula convert, for transparency!)

And I’m certainly not alone in my musings – one of the questions I see repeatedly in babywearing circles is what is the difference between the Ergo and the Tula? Which one should I buy?

So without any more ado, Ergo* vs Tula: the great debate!

* Disclaimer: this post does not include any information on the new Ergo 360 baby carrier, as I have not tried it and it is quite a different fit to the other Ergo carriers being a four-position carrier, including the option to forward face, which is not something I particularly recommend.

Price

The Ergo comes in a range of different models including Original, Performance and Sport as well as special edition fabrics and an organic edition. They range in recommended retail price from $169 to $269. They are, however, sold in many retail chains and are regularly on special so can be picked up for much less. They are also often sold second hand for reasonable prices, potentially even under $100 if you’re lucky.

The Tula comes in two sizes: standard and toddler. It also comes in two formats: canvas or wrap conversion (which means it is made wholly or partly from a woven wrap). A standard canvas is $179 and a toddler canvas is $189. Wrap conversions on the other hand, range from USD$199 for a semi to over USD$350 for a full, depending on the wrap used. Tulas are currently holding their value incredibly well, and are very rarely sold second hand for much less than the retail price. Wrap conversion Tulas are very limited and therefore often demand higher than retail price in the second hand market.

An illustration showing the different types of Tulas.

An illustration showing the different types of Tulas (source: tulababycarriers.com)

Availability

This is where the differences really come out to play. The Ergo is available in just about every baby store in Australia, as well as many online retailers. This is one of the reasons why they are so popular and widely used.

The Tula is not available in a bricks and mortar store in Australia, and has a handful of Australian online vendors. Limited numbers of canvas Tulas are generally always available, but can sell out for periods of time. They can also be purchased directly from Tula in the US or a few US online vendors. Wrap conversion Tulas are sold directly from the Tula website, with limited numbers released once a fortnight, and are sold out within minutes. There is a very active Facebook trading community for pre-owned Tulas, though, which is often the best place to get a wrap conversion Tula.

The ability to try an Ergo on in a bricks and mortar store is one of the reasons why many people choose the Ergo over the Tula. Some people like to see and feel before they purchase. Babywearing meets are often the best place to try a Tula, most groups have some members with Tulas that they’re happy to show interested people.

Fit

One of the main reasons Tulas have become very popular is that many babywearers feel they fit better than an Ergo. The main difference in the fit is the shoulder straps. Tulas have a narrower, curved strap with quite dense padding, compared with the Ergo’s wider, straight strap. The curved strap is often a better fit for smaller framed people, who may feel the Ergo straps are a bit too wide or bulky for their shoulders.

The Tula also has what are called Perfect Fit Adjusters where the shoulder strap meets the body panel. By tightening this adjuster it provides a snugger fit, particularly for smaller babies or back carrying, when you want baby’s weight as close to you as possible for balance.

Ergo comes in a number of models including an X-tra model, to fit larger and taller people. You can also purchase a waist extender that fits on the original Ergo. Men often find the fit of the Ergo suitable, as they are generally a lot wider through the shoulder so the strap width is a better fit.

The standard Tula has a slightly bigger panel size than the Ergo, by a couple of centimetres, and has deeper seat darts. The Tula also comes in a toddler size to fit children 18 months plus, when most children are starting to grow out of the standard Tula or Ergo.

Both the Ergo and the Tula require an infant insert to carry a newborn up to around four months old, which has to be purchased separately.

The Ergo (left) and Tula (right) are both comfortable, quality carriers for babies right up to toddlerhood

The Ergo (left) and Tula (right) are both comfortable, quality carriers for babies right up to toddlerhood

Extra bits and pieces

While there are a few print options available on Ergos, another one of the reasons for Tula’s popularity has been their array of cute, funky and classic designs on their canvas range. That you can get a soft structured carrier made from your favourite woven wrap is another big selling point, despite the higher price.

Most models of the Ergo include a zip up pocket on the body panel. It’s big enough for a purse and a nappy. To be honest, I never used it, but I know lots of people do, and are disappointed that the Tula does not have a large pocket. The Tula has a small pocket on the waistband, which will fit an iPhone, some cash/cards, or a small set of keys.

The hood of the Tula does not have any reach straps, which makes it basically impossible to reach when back carrying, so if you want to use the hood when bub is on your back (and you haven’t got your husband/friend/older child to help you) you would need to make or purchase reach straps.

Quite possibly the most important difference between the Ergo and the Tula that everyone needs to be aware of is that there are many counterfeit Ergos on the market. They are available from online eBay stores, or second hand from Gumtree or other trading sites, and are cheap. They seem too good to be true, and they are. Besides the fact that buying from a counterfeiter is unethical, there is no way to know whether fake Ergos have been safety tested or that the fabric has used child safe dyes for example. It is not worth the risk – the only way to know for sure that an Ergo is real is to purchase from an authorised vendor, or see proof of purchase if buying second hand. To date, there are no fake Tulas on the market.

Both the Ergo and Tula are great quality, comfortable baby carriers for women and men, and can be used from birth until toddlerhood. If all you had to carry your baby was one of these, you’d be doing great. Whatever you decide, these carriers will help you keep your baby close and content, and that’s the main thing!

PS: If you weren’t confused enough already, remember, Ergo and Tula are only two of a number of great soft structured carriers on the market. Got your eye on a soft structured carrier and interested to know how it compares? Drop me a line.