… by far, the most common question I get as a VBE (Volunteer Babywearing Educator). Let’s face it: we all love to snuggle baby. But at some point, you’ve got to wash dishes/chop celery/have an actual life, and you don’t want babe on your front. You want the freedom only a back carry can give. I get it. We all do. And here’s my wholly unsatisfying answer: It depends. It depends on your baby’s age and development, on your experience, and on your carrier.
So let’s break it down.
NOTE: if possible, get assistance from a Babywearing International-certified educator, or at least a more experienced wearer. Always practice back carrying with a baby substitute (a bear or doll) before you try with your baby, and back carry with a spotter or over a bed until you feel confident in your abilities. A mirror also helps, but your bathroom floor is made of tile, so don’t backwrap there, ‘kay?
Older or squirmy babies may lie still if you provide a toy, a snack (yay, candy in your hair!), or, um, electronic distraction. As your baby becomes used to the act of back carrying, he will generally assist you by holding on, or at least lying in a position that makes it less likely he’ll fall the heck off.
Put your baby on your back at your own risk, y’all. These rules are just a guideline and for legal purposes should not be read by anyone at all and I am totally talking out of my ass here. Blah blah blah not my fault blah. Is that a sufficient disclaimer?
To back carry with a soft-structured carrier (Ergo, Beco, Infantino Union):
- Baby should be able to sit unassisted, usually at 6 months.
- Because an SSC gives you a low and relatively loose back carry, baby needs to be able to hold himself somewhat stable, and not at risk of asphyxiating if he slumps.
- Baby also needs to be old enough that you don’t need to monitor his breathing as closely as you would a newborn.
- Do not attempt to back carry unless you are familiar with your carrier. For a baby less than a year, wear for at least a month before attempting. If your baby is more than a year old, you can try more quickly, provided that you understand how your carrier works and give yourself time to practice wearing it on your front for some time.
- A hip scoot works best for your first attempts.
To back carry with a mei tai, onbu, or podaegi:
- An experienced wearer – who probably doesn’t need to read this anyway – can theoretically back carry from birth if baby is high enough to monitor his breathing (i.e. baby’s head is at the nape of the wearer’s neck) and the carrier can be cinched narrowly enough.
- An inexperienced wearer (someone who has been wearing for less than six months) should wait until baby has enough head and trunk control to sit assisted (about four months), and use a high back carry until about six months, or when baby can sit on his own.
- If your carrier can’t be used high on the back, wait until baby is about six months, or able to sit on his own.
- If you have never used your carrier before and baby is less than 18 months, wait about a month until attempting a back carry. Straps take more finessing than buckles – you’re moving fabric around and tightening it. If baby is large enough that front carries are impossible, practice practice practice with a doll, and get help if at all humanly possible.
To back carry with a ring sling:
- Imma break this down. The internet likes to tell you that back carrying with a ring sling is safe, but a RS back carry should be used as an emergency carry only, and only by wearers with advanced wrapping experience. There. I said it. A ring sling is not for use on your back. It looks cool, some retailers have popularized it, but it’s not a great idea.
- Carries that leave rings on your back can allow the fabric to slip out of the rings without your knowledge, giving you a catastrophic, sudden carrier failure.
- Carries that leave rings on your front generally only leave you with one layer of fabric over your baby, with no reinforcement. A wearer who is not an experienced wrapped may leave too much slack in the top rail, allowing baby to flip out backwards. This happened to a local mama I know, who was luckily wearing baby on her front at the time, and she caught her.
- If you have to back carry with a ring sling because the zombies are coming, the world is ending, and the Lord Jesus is coming on a cloud of glory, make sure the rings are in the front, and you move baby back around once it’s all settled down for the Final Judgement.
To back carry with a pouch:
- See previous section about “Lord Jesus coming on a cloud of glory.”
To back carry with a woven wrap:
- Experienced wearers – who again probably aren’t reading this – can back carry with a newborn at birth. But here’s the thing: it’s a royal pain in the ass. Legs are tiny, cross passes impossible, and everyone has T-Rex arms when baby is the size of a bag of flour. Do it if you have to. Newborn breath on the back of your neck – because baby has to be at your nape so you can monitor breathing – is totally divine. But be prepared to sweat for it. Use a thin wrap and a mirror.
- I generally recommend that mamas wait until baby is four months old, and they have wrapped for at least two months – whichever comes last.
- Inexperienced wearers – mamas who have wrapped for less than three months – should wait until they’re used to moving fabric around. Master at least two front carries. Get used to all that length. Wait until baby is four months old, or can sit assisted, and use a high back carry – try a ruck with reinforced cross passes, or a double hammock.
- You simply need to wrap for around a month before you try a back carry, even if your baby is two years old. It takes time to learn to handle all that fabric, and how to tighten it. You need to know what a secure carry feels like, and you don’t want to learn that your carry isn’t secure when baby is on your back.
- BWI recommends teaching a secure high back carry or back wrap cross carry with a chest belt as a first carry. However, I find that BWCC tends to be low and loose with inexperienced wrappers, and prefer teaching a double hammock because it’s multi-layered. My co-VBE teaches a ruck instead. To each his own. Just practice with a doll first.
When did you learn to back carry? Was it hard? What do you recommend to new wearers?