We all know that parents and care-givers come in all shapes and sizes. This might come as a surprise for someone who has only ever seen an instruction manual for a baby carrier. In this post I would like to explore a few questions:
- How does body type affect babywearing?
- Are certain carriers better suited for certain body types?
- What else should be considered in terms of body type and babywearing?
There are many classifications:
- Somatypes: ectomorph, mesomorph and endomorph
Before labeling yourself as one of these types, keep in mind that the vast majority of people are a combination. You might have the short stature and round hips of an endomorph but the slender shoulders of an ectomorph.
- Apple, Pear, Hourglass or Rectangle
- BMI and BVI
Body Mass Index (BMI) is a number calculated with a person’s height and weight. It is widely criticized as being useless, and rightly so. Women of extremely different body types and levels of health can have the same BMI. Healthy, averagely proportioned women are frequently labeled as over-weight or obese. SO, a new system called Body Volume Index (BVI) has been created which utilizes 3-D scanners to take into consideration a person’s body type (how they carry their weight and abdominal capacity*) in addition to weight and height.
* belly fat– visceral fat, that is fat between the organs is much more damaging to health and well-being than fat on, say, one’s butt or thighs. This is what BVI is concerned with.
And of course– pregnancy is it’s own classification. We’ll touch on that briefly, with a longer post on babywearing during pregnancy and postpartum at a future date.
|Me and 16 month old “Buzz” in my first attempt at a
reinforced double hammock while we wait for the bus. (2008)
I have always been more or less of an average stature. A 5’7″ mesomorphic muscle/fat ratio and ectomorphic bone structure with a longish torso: the coveted hourglass. The majority of off-the-rack clothing and baby carriers fit me very well. So I am less than qualified to discuss the topic at hand– so let’s turn to some of our moderators:
|Leslie is 5’7″. A true mesomorph.|
“I noticed that curved waists on SSCs never ever worked for me and always gap away from my body at the small of my back, top of my bottom area. … I haven’t noticed that body type has much to do with whether someone will be a natural sling user, wrapper, or ABC user–what is easy for people to learn… Might be a difference in kinesthetic form/intuition.“
|Kelsey is 5’10”. True Ectomorph.|
“As a true ectomorph here are my thoughts. I have always been able to find at least one carrier of each. Type that fits my body. But other than wraps it’s a lot of trial and error. Ring slings need to be just the right combo of narrow but cushy. Sscs need to be able to conch down tight without losing length. I agree with Leslie on the non fitting of curved waistbands. Stiff canvas mei tais never seem to knot close enough to my body to be comfy so I prefer wrap conversions. Passes waistbands are just completely unworkable. Wraps are great. If they’re super thin I might get digs easier but not really. My only concession there is ruck straps are evil. I need the wraps to cup my shoulder or to be pulled inward like a Tibetan finish.”
“For me, wraps have been a godsend, since they’re pretty universally accommodating, other than perhaps needing extra length – my “base” is a 7, where an average woman would use a 6 and a petite might use a 5. I’m not using a size 2 wrap for anything other than a shirt…no room for a child! Anyhow, I got my start using SSCs, and found many of them were either too short in the waist belt (some brands sell an extender, but I found the one I tried to be uncomfortable due to multiple buckles in the wrong place), and, a bigger issue, the padded area of the straps ended at the middle of my shoulder, leaving only webbing in my underarms which led to a lot of pinching and chafing. For a guy with a belly, we found that an SSC in a front carry served only as a belly cradle, with no room for a baby to sit! Mei tai’s also had a tendency to cut in for my husband, resulting in awkward enhancement of man boobs in a way that was quite comical.
“Funnily enough, I feel like ruck-style straps are always falling down my shoulders as well – I always assumed my shoulders were too rounded/padded to suit rucks, and that a smaller person would do better! Is there a perfect middle group where rucks work well?”
Many a meeting has been focused around why ruck-style straps just won’t work for so many people. Which came as a huge surprise to me (I love them!) But many a babywearer- from the super skinny to the full-figured have trouble keeping them in place. It may have more to do with length/ slope of shoulder than over all size. My shoulders are long and straight– very little slope to them. A swan-like neck I have not. Quite boxy. So ruck-style straps work well for me.
|Hai is around 4’11” tall. Endomorph by height, mesomorphic build.|
“Being very petite, I have to do lots of modifications for different carrier styles to be comfortable & secure. Most SSC don’t fit well on me since the shoulder straps are almost always too long (even with the pfas tighten all the way and the webbing tighten to the maximum). I just have to keep in mind what I am wearing for then adjust accordingly. For wraps, I can ruck for a short time but have to check on my shoulder straps constantly in fear of them slipping off. I do a lot of carry with CCCB or Tibetan like Kelsey.“
|Cami is around 5’7″ and 120 lbs|
“Pouch slings do not work for pear-shaped ladies. They just don’t fit right.”
When Cami’s daughter was a few months old we tried getting a pouch sling to work for her. It’s not uncommon for people to have trouble getting the right size when it comes to fitted pouches. Having made certain the size was correct we tried to get it to work. The seat of the pouch was perfect, the shoulder was far too big. Flips, twists– all the tricks in the book– did not fix it. She needed a smaller size for the shoulder than for the seat of the pouch owing to wider hips than her chest/shoulders.
“I feel that pretty much any babywearing makes for awkward enhancement. Just gotta work oat the image and do what’s right four you. I really hate how my shirt creeps up, no matter what I use. Wrapping, Mei Tai, or ssc…if my shirt doesn’t reach my knees, my belleh shows.”
“I finally got my onbu in the mail today! I literally had to chase the mail truck 5 blocks but I got it! They forgot to drop it off with the rest of our mail. Ugh. Anyway, does it look like I have it on correctly? It seems wrong somehow.”
|She noticed that the rings were touching and pinching.|
Body types have an effect on posture and gait. Posture is how you hold your body, people who carry a lot of weight in their waist tend to have a sway-back and head-forward posture. Very tall, thin folks might slump their shoulders. Certain ways of babywearing can exacerbate bad posture: someone with stooped shoulders and forward head posture would do well to avoid long-term front carrying; someone with sway back might consider avoiding low-sitting torso carries. There are ways to correct posture with babywearing: slumped shoulders get pulled back with a high back carry. A sway back can be corrected by wrapping the abdomen with carrier (sans baby) using rebozo, ring sling, or wrap.
Gait is the way we walk. Women tend to take short steps, narrow steps with more movement in their hips, whereas men take longer wider steps. This has to do with our center of gravity/mass– which is an imaginary point around which body weight is distributed. Women tend to have a lower center of gravity (i.e. wider hips) than men (wider shoulders)– thought obviously this will not hold true for all men and all women– nor will it hold true for one person throughout their lives.
This can affect what kind of babywearing position and carrier is most comfortable. Men tend to feel the most comfortable with a high back carry– sometimes even preferring the metal-framed canvas hiking backpacks* that hold the baby high above the wearer’s head and away from their back because their center of gravity when walking forward will tend to be between their shoulder blades. Whereas many women feel the most comfortable with their baby on their front or hips, as their center of gravity tend to be near their pelvis. Obviously this doesn’t hold true for everyone– I for one (a woman) feel the most comfortable with a high back carry. In short: If you had a man a baby or child, generally that kid is going on his shoulders; if you had a woman a baby or child it’s most likely going on a hip. Most chiropractors will suggest that everyone try for distributing weight evenly across the hips for spinal health.
*not really “babywearing” as baby is in a stand-alone baby-holder away from the carrier’s body, similar to a carseat that has been strapped on to the carrier’s body.
Body types (therefore center of gravity and gait) change with age and for women during pregnancy and breastfeeding.
“I never wore before my first child, but I knew I wanted something like a sling or carrier before I had any BWing experience or even a newborn. I did wear during the second and third pregnancies, but reduced amount if time just due to fatigue and loose joints. Also, depending on the carrier type, it became mor important during pregnancy to wear the waist ties or buckle waist below the belly. Some women prefer above the belly just under the bust, but no one should have an ABC waist tied or buckled on the belly in such a way as to cause pressure or discomfort. When wearing a newborn, it became important to have flexible higher front carries–because your lower belly is an unstable jello type area, and especially if you have a cesarean incision to heal–and because the chest between the breasts is a newborn’s natural habitat and he or she constantly needs to be nursing…” — Leslie
Wraps must be the most versatile for all body types and all positions of carrying. Wraps, though they have a learning curve, are in essence made for modification. Sizing may be the only difficulty– a carry a ectomorph can do with a two may require a 4-6 for an endomorph.
ABC’s perhaps just as versatile as a wrap, but perhaps easier to learn (less finessing of tension and rails). However, torso carriers such as the podaegi, don’t necessarily work very well as front carriers, nor do the work terribly well for people with flat chests– or sway backs. However they can be modified to become two-shoulder carriers. Shoulder straps may need modifications (Tibetan tie finish or scarf used as chest belt) for people with shorter, sloping shoulders. As the straps are typically tied on they can be rolled/folded to suit different size babies or children, wearers and they can be tied lower or higher on the body with ease.
- Note on Onbu’s: One of our members recently ordered an onbuhimo (see member comments above) She was super excited for it but when it came something seemed wrong. The rings (which should be at her sides) touch and pinches her badly enough that she needs a different carrier. If you are very thin, make sure that the width of the onbu’s body panel isn’t wider that your waist circumference otherwise they might overlap and pinch. If you are very wide make sure the ring extend far enough from the body panel to reach your sides, otherwise they may dig into your skin.
Pouches: Unpadded ring slings are great for nearly all body types as they are fully adjustable (though it can take practice). However– fitted pouch slings! They seem to get the lowest score of adaptability for body types (not working at all for pear shapes) and if they are not adjustable they will not grow or change with you. Even when they are adjustable, adjustments tend to be fairly tricky and prevent the use of carrier hacks like shoulder-flips.