Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Babywearing the heavy baby: ERGO Baby Carrier

ERGO baby carrier beachThis is the fourth and final post in my series on helpful baby carriers for the heavy baby. (Links to the first three are at the end.)

This post I'll dedicate to the ERGO Baby Carrier.

ERGO Baby Carrier:

Best timeframe: Newborn to toddler age -- there's an insert to use with very young babies so you can support them in a more sideways position, but I found we could do without it with our big guy. Without the insert, it's best for about 4 months old on up through toddler age and potentially beyond! It's very supportive. It's recommended for us up to 40 pounds but has been tested up to 90 pounds. (And even my huge 22-month-old isn't that huge yet!)

ERGO Baby Carrier hip carryAn ERGO is a structured but soft carrier with padded straps and waist and upper belts that buckle. You can wear your baby on your front and back easily, and on your hip with a little finagling. An ERGO is designed like a mei tai but with a little more structure and padding to it.

The best part of an ERGO is the support it offers for heavy babies and toddlers, particularly on your back. You can choose to take the weight spread out across your hips instead of pulling on your shoulders. It's like wearing a heavy but well-distributed backpack (but cuter!).

Tie one on

Like the mei tai, it's sooo easy to put one on once you follow the directions. It's just a matter of figuring out the buckles and adjusting them to be comfortable for you.

If you buy your ERGO new, it will include pictorial and DVD instructions. If you buy it used, it's easy to find help online, such as at ERGOBaby's own site! They've posted all the videos themselves. There, that was convenient.

Here's a basic tutorial with some tips for putting on your ERGO comfortably. When you're starting out, you'll want someone to help you position the baby and fasten the straps. If you advance, you might be able to handle it all yourself. Personally, I still prefer some help!

     1. First, fasten the waist strap around your waist. Feed the buckle through the safety elastic first, so that if it comes undone, your baby will still be safe. Then buckle it and cinch the strap tight. I like to imagine myself Victorian and think of it as a corset. Seriously, don't hurt yourself, but don't be afraid to make it snug. This is what's going to support most of the baby's weight.
     Experiment to see if you like the waist belt buckled higher up on your torso or down lower on your hips. It can make a big difference in how comfortable you are, but everyone's individual in this preference, so you'll have to try out a range if you're not satisfied at first. I find that it's most comfortable with a heavy baby if the straps are down fairly low on my hips.
ERGO Baby Carrier front and back carries     If you wanted the baby on your front, you'd have buckled the waist strap in back. If you want your baby on the back, it should buckle in front. Duh. At this point, the bulk of the fabric should be hanging like an apron. Let it.
     2. Take your baby from your helper, and snuggle him against your front, or have the helper arrange her on your back. If you have an older child who likes piggyback rides, this step will be even easier!
     3. Bring the fabric up over the baby's back and thread your arms through the shoulder straps.
     4. At this point, your baby's well supported, so you can get your baby comfortable. I like to pull up the legs and bounce my baby a bit to sort of shake his booty down into the pouch. Ask your helper to make sure the back of the fabric is up as high as possible on your baby's back.
     5. Now buckle the upper belt, either across your chest if your baby's on your back, or have your helper buckle it across your upper back if you're carrying your baby in front.
     6. Now tighten the shoulder straps and upper belt if they're looser than you'd prefer. Like the waist belt, I find that making the upper belt very tight makes things more comfortable rather than less. How tight the shoulder straps are depends on your personal preferences. I like them tight enough that everything feels snug, but not so that any of the buckles or edges are cutting into my skin. You might want help tightening the shoulder straps, because they're at sort of an awkward angle under your armpits and your baby's weight will be pulling on them. Push your baby up a bit to release the pressure before trying to tighten by yourself.
     7. Just a note: When removing your baby, undo the upper belt first, then take the baby out, and only then undo the waist strap. The waist strap is what's keeping your baby up.

Here's a video showing both front and back carries:

Carry your baby every which way

ERGO Baby Carrier nursing hands freeThat video is from The Ergo Lady, which is a wonderful go-to site for all your questions about using an ERGO. She has tips and tricks, FAQs, and videos. She'll show you how to get your baby onto your back using a couch or, a little more adventurously, swinging her into place. She'll show you how to handle wearing a newborn without buying an insert, or how to wear two babies at once. You can learn to nurse hands-free in a front carry (I've done this hiking through the woods!). She'll even show you non-ERGO-endorsed tricks, like wearing your baby facing out in front (for short periods only) or carrying your cats!

Now, the ERGO is not as compact as a fabric-only wrap or sling, because it does have padded straps and buckles. That said, it doesn't have a hard structure to it, so it's easily squishable into a bag or into the backseat of your car. It's not as versatile as a simple piece of fabric, but I think it does its job as a baby carrier very well. I will venture to say that, if you're going to buy only one baby carrier, you might as well make it an ERGO, because you can use it throughout your entire babywearing time.

I realize that the price of an ERGO is a little steep for some, but it's a worthy investment if you can afford it. I was fortunate in that I was able to sweet talk my mother into forgoing buying us a crib or expensive stroller and spend the money on an ERGO instead. Maybe you'll be as blessed! I know there are some ERGO-like soft structured carriers out there that might be just as good and perhaps cheaper, and it is possible to pick up gently used ERGO carriers at quality consignment shops and on eBay. The prices are not as reduced as you might expect, because of the lasting quality and high demand. That does mean, however, that any ERGO you buy has good resale value, or you can pass it on to a friend as a much appreciated baby gift.

The ERGO name comes from the word ergonomic, and it really is, both for you and your baby. Your baby's tush sits down low in a nice, wide pocket of fabric, and the knees are angled higher than the hips and spread comfortably around your waist, which would be the normal position if you were carrying your baby sans carrier. Compare this to the popular BabyBj√∂rn Baby Carrier — that one is better than not carrying your baby at all and is popular, cheaper, and available everywhere, but the baby is sitting on a narrow band of fabric at the crotch, with the legs dangling down. There's some debate on whether this is bad for babies or simply not optimal, but commonsense tells me the ERGO design must be more comfortable for the little one. It's better for you, too, which is why the ERGO carrier can be used so much longer than the BabyBj√∂rn without discomfort for your back or shoulders. The weight of your heavy little one is spread out over your back, shoulders, and hips, particularly in a back carry, which is where ERGO carriers shine. Unless Mikko is dying to nurse out and about, I only do back carries now, because front carries hurt my hips at his weight (36 pounds!).

ERGO Baby Carrier hiking activeHaving the baby on your back means you can do chores (hooray!) with both hands, or go on long hikes in comfort. If your baby falls asleep, there is an attached sleeping hood that helps support the head. Now, I was never able to get the hood on Mikko without waking him up, but The Ergo Lady does have some tips that might help you use the sleeping hood. When the baby's on the front, you can just kind of tip his head forward into you and that works well enough in that case.

Each ERGO carrier has a zippered pocket in front for stashing an extra diaper or a wallet. There are also accessories you can buy to be even more hands-free, like an attachable backpack or a waist pack, or my favorite hilarious extra: terry cloth sucking pads. It's true that Mikko loved him some strap chewing!

One huge plus for the ERGO baby carrier is that men don't feel stupid wearing it. It's not feminine-looking (not that that's a bad thing) like some of the other wraps out there, and most of the colors and patterns available are on the plain side. I think the canvas fabric and backpack-like buckles also help make it seem more gender-neutral, not unlike a hiking backpack. I've successfully convinced even my dad to wear Mikko in the ERGO several times!ERGO Baby Carrier dad sleeping hood

One more tip: Because your baby's legs stick out the sides and the pant legs usually get rucked up, I suggest using BabyLegs or similar if it's cold out.

Make your own

Good luck.

Just joking! I just think with something this structured and buckled, it's probably best to buy it. If you're super crafty and figure out how to make one yourself, post the pattern so I can link to it!

Buy online

You can find gently used ERGO carriers on eBay, or through the site called My Favorite Baby Carrier. Or you can buy new direct through Amazon for not much more than the used carriers available. That way, you get the latest version and get to choose your favorite color and pattern. They do improve aspects of the carrier with each generation, but don't be afraid to buy a used older generation if that's your best choice. They're fundamentally the same, and any version will work well. I've posted an eBay widget below to show current listings.

Oh, full disclosure: I realize I advertise for ERGOBaby on this site. I sought out their advertising program because I love their carrier so much, not the other way around! [Update: The affiliate program has ended.] ERGO Baby Carrier multiple babies back carry
Well, that wraps up my series on babywearing the heavy baby! If you have another favorite carrier, let me know and send me a free one (ha ha!) and I'll be sure to give it a try. Right now, the ERGO's working nicely for us and my 22-month-old 36-pounder. I wouldn't mind trying a really good quality Didymos wrap, though... Posts in this series, in order:
Read more about different baby carriers and babywearing, complete with pictorial how-tos, in my Natural Parent's Guide to Babywearing!


Rambling Rachel said...

I once used the Ergo to put my 3 year old son (probably 40+ lbs) on my back to wear him and calm him. I was amazed at how long I could wear him without discomfort.

The Ergo provides amazing support!

baby carriers backpacks said...

All of your posts have been very helpful, this one is no exception. thank you!

Lauren Wayne said...

Rachel: I know — isn't it great? It's a wonderful design.

And, um, thanks, baby carriers backpacks. :)

Arwyn said...

I'll forgive you your ERGO shilling since it helps pay the bills ;) but I'm going to use your comments section to point out that ERGO is not the only soft structured carrier out there, and that it would not be on my top three (or five) list of soft structured carriers to try out.

One great thing about the ERGO that most of the other SSCs don't have is that it has achieved fairly wide-spread market distribution, meaning that most people in the US (at least near a major city) should be able to find one in person in a box store to test out. This is fabulous.

I also love that it got the idea of a SSC out there. This is also fabulous.

However, it is not fabulous if:
*You are plus sized. I can just fit my friend's ERGO on me without the extension (unless I'm having a particularly bloated day), but it ain't comfortable. The straps fall in a weird place on my armpits, and it digs and is uncomfortable.
*Your baby is larger. Although the ERGO can hold a fair amount of weight just fine, it is too short in the body and too narrow at the legs to comfortably hold a taller or lankier kid. I've had a toddler throw a fit on my back in one, and I was seriously worried for their spine because they flung themselves backwards and the ERGO didn't come up high enough to catch them (that is, they weren't going to fall out, but they were able to bend far too far back, and not necessarily have the muscle strength to right themselves). And the ergonomics for the legs vanishes when kids get bigger; major dangly-leg going on, which can also cause pain.
*You actually like interesting prints and patterns. The SSC we did buy (hand made by a WAHM) not only was made for larger wearers and larger babies, but has a simply gorgeous print, that looks lovely and tasteful from afar, and truly shines up close (with skulls and ladybugs and deer and pigs and birds and more skulls -- man I love that print!).

So, yes, totally in love with the SSC idea. So glad that the ERGO is so widely available and works for so many people. But it's so not the only SSC out there, and I can never resist the opportunity to say so. (Anyone interested in more, go check out

Thanks for the opportunity to get on one of my favorite soap boxes! ;)

Lauren Wayne said...

Ah, yes, the whole $0 I've earned on this blog so far... Thanks for forgiving that.

Can I sum up your response in a positive light?

"ERGOs are great if they work for the adult(s) and baby(ies) involved. If they're not comfortable for you, try another great soft-structured carrier!" You know, if you're rich and can afford to. ;)

See above and note that I am not, and cannot. But feel free to loan me some of your top three (or five) SSCs to try out. I promise not to kidnap them forever.

As for me and mine, the ERGO's doing just fine still. We had a nice long walk along the waterfront on a sunny day last week.

I'd like to address a few of your specific concerns:
1. Agreed that the waist belt needs to be permanently extended. It's offended several plus-size family members of mine, and it's unnecessarily small. (We did buy the extension for their use, but they preferred not to use it.)
2. I guess it depends on how your kid's weight is arranged. Mine has a looong torso and somewhat long legs, and we haven't had a problem with fit or comfort (for either of us). I do wish the fabric came up higher in back, but Mikko's always felt secure in it to me. When I put him in, I pull on his legs (gently) and rotate his hips while bouncing him down into the seat, so that his butt's lower than his knees. I find it difficult to imagine how he could fall out and suggest that any carrier wouldn't be a good match for a toddler throwing a fit!
3. As I mentioned, the print (lack of) and color (lack of) was chosen by the male member of our babywearing team. Yours sounds lovely, and I would gladly wear more ornate prints, but Sam will not. Again, I don't have the money to buy multiple carriers to satisfy all of my asthetic desires, so I went with simplicity.

Please do consider (not just Arwyn, but anyone) loaning me any other carriers you'd like me to try out and review. You can email me at mail AT hobomama DOT com for my mailing address and my solemn promise that I will treat your carriers well and return them in pristine condition.

Kelly said...

I just bought one, I haven't gotten to use it much but I'm sure it'll come in handy

Lisa said...

I love this series -- our guy is a little chunk too, and although at almost 1 year we've settled pretty well into our various carriers, I agree with so much of what you've said.

My mei tai is SO uncomfortable now though, although I loved it for front carries when he was a bit smaller. He's at 24 lbs now and I think between his weight and the only lightly padded straps, it's just not cutting it. I've watched lots of videos and tutorials and don't think I'm doing anything wrong ... it's tempting to replace it but seriously, I have THREE wonderful carriers that I use and love -- that's two more than is absolutely necessary -- so the ring sling, woven wrap, and Ergo are wonderful wonderful.

You asked about DIY SSCs -- have you heard about the SweetPod? I haven't made or used one (I don't know how to sew!) but they look gorgeous, and sturdy.

A final note -- which I should have sent months ago -- I love your blog so, so much. I am deeply drawn to almost all AP principles but find the AP community, at least as given wing online, to be overwhelmingly self-righteous and judgmental sometimes. Your manner and style are so welcoming and humble and relaxed. Thank you so much for that.

Lauren Wayne said...

Lisa: I checked out the SweetPod, and that looks gorgeous! If I get ambitious, I'll definitely have to try making my own. So cool! And thank you for the compliment! I'm so glad you're here.

At the Bee Hive said...

I use a Beco, which is largely the same, minus the side carry and with a less-bulky and included infant insert, and my only complaint is vanity related. As in: I wish it didn't squish my admittedly largish boobs! Fortunately we're headed into cooler weather and a jacket hides it. I take my toddler everywhere in the Beco. It is the greatest for public transportation!

Alissa said...

The ergo lady website seems to have gone offiline :(

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