by Michael Kabel

            Would you rather put your child in a selandang or a rebozo? Or maybe a papoose is your kind of thing?

            All around the world, for thousands of years, baby carriers (also called baby slings or child bearers) have been a motherhood staple for thousands of years. Many carriers are nothing more than a simple swath of cloth tied around the mother’s neck. Some are elaborate wrap-around carriages, designed to provide maximum comfort for mother and child alike. While carrying the child on the back or chest is most popular, some child carriers were designed to be worn at the hip or suspended from the forehead. At least one was designed so that the child could be safely hung from tree branches if the carrier needed a break!

There are two basic types of baby slings: the ring sling and the pouch sling. Ring slings use dynamic tension, a length of cloth, and several metal (or plastic) rings to create a comfortable vessel for the baby to sit. In a ring sling, one end of the cloth is attached to both rings; the other end is then looped through the rings, creating a buckle effect not unlike that on a backpack or purse. The sling can be adjusted for the carrier’s height or weight for maximum comfort. The rings also allow for greater sturdiness and dependability. When worn, the sling often looks from a distance like a sash or ceremonial banner tied around the torso. Ring slings may also sometimes feature padded shoulders to increase carrier comfort, or even a padded seat for the baby.

A pouch sling, sometimes referred to as a “tube sling” or “pocket sling”, is created by sewing a wide swatch of fabric into a tube shape. The most common pouch slings do not have rings but rather have a curved side closest to the parent’s body where the child can ride in comfort. When slipped over one shoulder and under the opposite arm, the tube creates a pouch wherein the child sits or lies, close to the carrier’s stomach. A pouch sling is easy to affix, using only a sturdy knot to create the looped sling shape; however, pouch slings differ from ring slings in that the lack of rings hampers stability and increases the odds of the sling coming apart. Some “hybrid” slings merge pouch construction with metal rings, presenting a “best of both worlds” result.

A third type of baby carrier, the wrap, is created by wrapping strips of cloth around the baby and then the carrier, creating a snug fit. While the wrap offers maximum stability and safety, it sacrifices some comfort for baby and carrier alike. One exception is the Chinese mei tai, which binds the baby securely to the carrier’s chest without sacrificing comfort. Mei tais have in recent years become fashionable in the United States, especially among young and fashion-conscious parents.

Some baby carriers are often made simply from available clothing. In fact, many women’s clothing pieces in various cultures serve the added purpose of carrying children. In Africa, the khanga, a type of colorful skirt, can also be used as a wrap or as part of a ring sling. In Mexico and parts of South America, the rebozo, a woman’s decorative garment, often takes the role of a sling. The selendang of Indonesia, a very colorful and ornately decorated cloth, can be configured into a wrap on a moment’s notice. Such simple wraps are sometimes referred to as Simple Pieces of Cloth wraps, and are among the most common – but also least sturdy – forms of baby carrier.

Other forms of baby carrier are not worn around the carrier’s neck or chest but on the back or even the waist. In Inuit cultures, a special parka called an amauti allow mothers the ability to carry their children slung over one shoulder. A hammock-styled sling used in New Guinea allows the children to be temporarily suspended from trees, if the carrier needs to rest of perform other chores. In the United States the distinct papoose, a “cradleboard” worn on the backs of many Native American mothers during the 19th Century and before, remains a vivid symbol of the nation’s frontier history.

In recent years, the same lightweight, heavy-duty titanium construction applied to hiking, biking, and mountaineering equipment has also become repurposed for child carriers. These technologically advanced carriers provide many benefits of the above types of wraps with a maximum of safety.