Monday, July 5, 2010

Hot-weather babywearing: Summer babies in slings

Lisa at My World Edenwild asked me a good question about hot-weather babywearing over email because a relative is having a summer birth, and I thought I'd rework my answer into a post here.

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Nordic Festival

Mikko was born in June, so I know about summer babies but still wanting to wear a ring sling or baby wrap. Then again, we live in Seattle. It doesn't generally get hot here till July (still waiting…), and even then it's not, you know, Texas. So take these recommendations with whatever size piece of salt you need.

Babywearing in hot weather

First of all, some allaying of fears:
  • Are you going to get hot if you wear your baby in the summer heat? Well, yes, but you were going to be hot anyway.
  • Will your baby be overheated next to you? In all but the rarest cases, no, if you're both dressed appropriately (as in, less is more). Women in even the hottest of locations on earth wear their babies, so obviously it's doable.
  • Will you be more comfortable not wearing your baby? I'm going to suggest no, because you'd be carrying him or her anyway. At least with a sling or wrap, you'll have your hands free to fan yourself and sip an iced tea!

Using the regular-weight wraps you have

The fam with baby in fleece mei tai by HoboMama, on Flickr
The temperature was in the 90s this day on our vacation in Ohio. I am wearing a fleece mei tai and surviving, despite my hate-hate relationship with hot weather.

I found the fleece mei tai I made was fine, because the amount of fabric touching/encircling the wearer is really limited, and there's a lot of air flow through the sides. I know fleece seems like a counter-intuitive warm-weather choice, but it's not a whole lot of fleece (and you could cut it skinnier as you wish), and it allows for a no-sew option to make your own mei tai easily.

picking berries in the ERGO baby carrier on Vashon Island
Picking berries in the ERGO. Having an older baby on your back can be more cooling.
I would think any mei tai would be similar in allowing a lot of breezes to reach the baby and not be too binding on the skin. We used the ERGO Baby Carrier, too (seen to the left), which has tons of support, perfect for heavier babies and toddlers. Other good options are the Beco, BabyHawk, Kozy, Boba, and Freehand.

As far as wraps go, although we loved our homemade stretchy wrap (similar brand-name stretch wraps are the Moby and Sleepy Wrap, for comparison), I think cotton gauze wraps would be lighter than a stretch and would probably allow more air circulation.

You can make your own cotton wrap by buying cotton gauze at Jo-Ann's or wherever, about 4-5 yards depending on the parent's height and desired wrap carries. Then just hem the non-selvage sides/ends. Look toward the bottom of this page for "Make a No-Sew Woven Wrap" on for more info. At the very end, you can even find a no-sew cheater's way to hem the ends with rubber bands so you can wear it right away.

You can obviously purchase a cotton wrap or sling, too, or use one you already have. Some popular ones are Didymos (wrap), Maya Wrap (ring sling), Storchenwiege (wrap or ring sling), and Zolowear (ring sling).

Going to mesh for ultra-lightweight babywearing

For really, really lightweight, though, if it's sweltering, I've heard that mesh wraps and slings are ideal. They can also be worn into the water (bonus!), which is usually what they're sold for (i.e., showers or swimming). Remember to follow water safety rules, even with (especially with) your baby strapped to you.

I've never used one, so I don't know how breathable the fabric is if isn't natural, but they clearly have a lot of air holes! I've heard good things from hot-weather folk, so it's the way to go if everything else is much too much fabric.

Here are some commercial options of mesh or other lightweight fabrics for ring slings and wraps:
BabyEtte gold mesh water wrap
I haven't personally tried any of the above wraps or slings so can't vouch for them. I just think they look fantastic. If you have any experience with them, please share!

If you can sew, it's quite possible you could find a sling pattern (e.g., Jan Andrea's from Sleeping Baby) and some mesh fabric at the store and give it a go. It would be even easier to make the mesh fabric into a wrap style, though I don't know offhand how slippery the mesh is. Be sure any mesh or other lightweight fabric you choose is sturdy and doesn't have too much stretch to it, and if you make a ring sling, you need to order the special reinforced rings (I would choose nylon over metal if you expect to wear it into the water).

For UV protection, remember that any fabric covering skin is a good start, but fabric alone, particularly mesh fabric, is not going to have a high SPF. If you want or need sun protection, look for fabrics like Solarweave. If you're making your own, you could buy the fabric itself.

To find potentially cheaper sources for mesh and sun-protection slings, try eBay and Etsy, as well as secondhand and consignment shops. Or do the legwork yourself and ask local and online friends in similarly steamy locales for hand-me-downs.

Other tips for hot-weather babywearing:

  • Dress lightly, both of you. Indoors, Mikko lived in a diaper and t-shirt, sometimes
    ring sling 12w 200708 by HoboMama, on Flickr
    When possible, wear just enough clothing to be comfortable — both wearer and wearee.
    without the t-shirt, sometimes without the diaper. I lived in a camisole and shorts, sometimes minus one or the other. We did some absolute skin-to-skin, but sometimes in the heat, that gets too sticky. I found a light layer of clothing between us was usually the best bet for comfort.
  • If you're breastfeeding, drink a lot of water. Tell anyone helping you out that making sure you always have a cool drink at your side can be a special job to show they care.
  • Make sure your baby stays hydrated. Let her drink to thirst, whether from the breast or bottle. If she's breastfeeding, your breast milk and your baby's instincts will adapt to the warm temperatures and the slightly more watery foremilk will provide all the liquid needed, so don't ever worry about needing to supplement young nursing babies with water or other drinks (particularly under 6 months, but really at any time with an avid nursling). Formula-fed infants might need additional water if dehydrated, but supplement only under a pediatrician's care, because it can be very dangerous if not done in the proper amounts or with very young babies.
  • Keep moving, or unwrap as needed. I found that I did most of my wearing while walking, which sort of provided its own breeze. When we sat down, I tended to take Mikko out of the wrap or sling (he wouldn't allow it any other way, actually, because he demanded movement), so I got a break from any trapped heat.
  • For older babies, a back carry might allow you more air circulation. I know I feel more wrapped up if my front is covered than my back. So it's worthwhile to figure out how to do a back carry and try it out if you and your baby are ready for it. (Some people feel comfortable doing high back carries with newborns, but most prefer to wait till the baby has more head support. I enjoyed front carries up until the distribution of weight up front was uncomfortable for me, at around 30 pounds, and then switched to back carries.) Here's a mei tai version of a back carry; here's a back carry for a ring sling; and here's a rucksack carry for a wrap, which doesn't put as much fabric over your chest in front.

What are your hot-weather tips for wearing a baby? What are your experiences with staying comfortable? Anyone not living in the mild Pacific Northwest is particularly invited to contribute!

Read more about different baby carriers and babywearing, complete with pictorial how-tos, in my Natural Parent's Guide to Babywearing!

Photo of Shimmery Gold Water Baby Mesh Baby Wrap courtesy BabyEtte on Etsy.
The rest are of me being hot. Not like that.

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TopHat said...

I have a really lightweight wrap that I'll use for the baby when it comes. Because it's lightweight, it can't really old a baby 6 months or older, but it'll work for the littlest ones. I do have a solarweave sling, but I only use it in the shower when my daughter isn't feeling well and needs to be held, but I need a shower.

Mallory said...

I've been really wanting to make my own cotton gauze wrap lately...I just need to go get the fabric! And now that you've outlined some of the mesh carriers...I want one! :D Hopefully this baby that is coming in a couple months wants to be worn more often than my first! He was (and is) SO independent!!

geeks in rome said...

People should remember that if they use a back carrier to have a roof or overhead covering of some sort. We had a Kelsey pack that came with a sunshield/roof. When I wore my babies up front I would tuck a sheer cloth into my shirt and spread it over them when they slept.

Before I had kids I once saw a 1 yo-ish child on a couple's back and he was burnt to a crisp. We were hiking in the Dolomites and they hadn't noticed the sunburn because the one parent was walking ahead of the parent carrying the baby (who was unaware of what was happening with the child on his back).

Shana said...

I live in the desert southwest and, whew it does get hot. I'm currently in love with the Ergo I bought second hand off the baby wearer FSOT forum, but you listed a number of great suggestions. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

I am Lisa sister who asked about the wrap for summer weather in the first place. I am so glad you turned this into a post. I made a fleece mei tai last week and it was so easy! I can't wait to try it out. Baby should be here in a fortnight or so. I was going to post a tutorial linking back here on my blog later this week.

Lisa C said...

I'm glad you wrote this post, too, because one day I might need it! Boy I wish I had this info before Michael was born, but at least I'll be prepared next time.

Darcel @ The Mahogany Way said...

Love the babywearing pics!

I use the regular wraps I have. I have an Eva Didymos, a Miami Hoppediz, and I have a Didymos Color Grown Waves on the way to me.

The last two I listed are thinner wraps, and the Waves from Didymos has a airy weave to it.

Other great wraps for summer that are very thin are Vatanai and Ellaroo.

When we go out to some place like the zoo, Samuel would be in a diaper only and I wore a tank. If your using a wrap, one layer carries are great.

Unknown said...

I've had so many people ask how we survive babywearing in the 90's. It's just easier to keep life moving when baby is happy and I'm hands free. I drink plenty of fluids and baby BF's more so we both stay hydrated.
I find my strechier wrap (sleepywrap) is much much heat-forgiving than my moby. And I plan on making a very lightweight Mei Tai when our youngest gets a little more head and torso stability.

Lauren Wayne said...

I wanted to thank you all for your comments! I recently edited a version of this for Natural Parents Network, and I incorporated your suggestions, so thanks!

@Mrs.Smitty: That's interesting to know the SleepyWrap is lighter than the Moby. We only have a SleepyWrap (for this baby, not with Mikko), so I wasn't sure what the differences are. I also made a lightweight mei tai, and we lurve it. :)

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