Sunday, May 20, 2012

May is for mei tais

For anyone who missed Isa's great mei tai talk at the May slingmeet, here it is (thanks Isa!):
Kozy carrier
Our road to babywearing was long and far from straight. I made a simple woven wrap when I worked as a nanny for an 11 month old, and loved it; it made life so much easier, and I was a babywearing convert. But when my little girl was born she couldn't stand the lovely Storchenwiege wrap we'd bought for her, and it took many months before I could get her into it (usually facing out, as anything else was unacceptable to her). She still didn't like it, and getting her into it was awful. Instead, we stuck to the Mountainbuggy, until she suddenly stopped sleeping in it at 8 months. Luckily, a friend lent me her Ergo, and my baby went straight to sleep! We bought the Ergo, and it made life so much easier. But I had loved wrapping, and found that so much more comfortable. By this time, it was obvious to us that our daughter hated being restrained (she always wanted to be held, but just loosely), and the wrap was too much for her. I'd joined a Swedish babywearing forum online, and found out about mei tais there, and there were mums there who made their own mei tais. I got the pattern from one of them (it is adapted from the FrankenKozy pattern), and I adapted it a bit more, as I liked the look of the BabyHawk mei tais, with panels. This way I could get a mei tai with spreadable bands, like a woven wrap. I love the mei tai, as it takes the weight much better than the Ergo, so I can wear my 3 year old without trouble. When she was younger I used to wear her for hours, for her sleep, and we went out at night (it can look really stylish with evening wear!), and I wore her sleeping at parties. It is a lot thinner (although made with double fabric, for strength), and is therefore much cooler, which we both prefer. I also like that it takes up very little space - nowadays it lives at the bottom of my bag, and it is just really practical to always have it with us when we need it.  
Oyako mei tai

In it's simplest form, a mei tai is a rectangle of woven fabric, with a waistband attached at the bottom (like an upside down apron), and with two long bands (around 2 m long) attached to the upper corners. They have been used for hundreds of years in Asia, and are sometimes called Asian baby carriers. The fabric can vary - there are mei tais made of various materials, including corduroy and canvas, but also softer cottons. They may or may not have a hood, which can be handy to support baby's head when asleep, or to shut out light. One big benefit is that your mei tai will fit mum, dad, grandma and the nanny or babysitter, without any need for adjustments. And they are very easy to learn to use.
There are two main types of mei tais, ones with spreadable shoulder bands, which you spread out over your shoulders like a wrap, and ones with padded shoulder bands, like a back pack. I really like the spreadable bands, because it gives the carrier the very best of a woven wrap, and an SSC, like an Ergo or Manduca. With no straps or buckles, a mei tai is very comfortable (some mei tais combine a buckled waist strap with the long shoulder straps. Sometimes referred to as a half buckle carrier, these can be good if you don't like having two knots to tie).
Mei tais can be used with a newborn, but also with a toddler or much older child (a friend of mine used to carry her newborn in a stretchy wrap on her front and her big 6 yo on her back to get him home from school).  
You can wear the baby on your front, back or side. It is very easy to use, just tie the waistband around your waist, and move the panel to where you like it, pick up the baby, pulle the panel up, and toss the shoulderbands over each shoulder. Hold baby with one hand, and cross the bands over your front, back or side, depending on how you want to carry. Then pull the bands around the baby. If the baby is quite light still, you can tie around the baby's back (we did this until my daughter was over 18 months, but she was quite light weight. It is more supportive with a heavier child to cross the bands again over the child's bottom, and pull each band under each leg, and tie on the opposite side to the baby.
Hop-tye mei tai with spreadable bands
If the mei tai is made out of a more light-weight material it may over time wear out, and this may happen quicker than with a harder material. As long as you check for wear and tear before using you should be fine. Ours is quite lightweight, and we've used it all the time for nearly two years, with no issues (and we've used it a lot, as I don't drive, and we haven't used a pushchair since my daughter was 8 months old).
For those of you with DIY skills, it is quite easy to make a mei tai. You need a waisband, about 1.70 m long, padded with fleece in the middle. And two shoulder bands around 2m long - if they're spreadable they need to be about 30 cm wide, but you taper them off at the ends to tie easier. The front panel, however designed, can vary in size and shape. You can make it a bit smaller to fit just a newborn really well, or quite a bit bigger to hold a toddler or preschooler really well, or something in between, to fit most (around 40 cm high, 30-40 cm wide, preferably tapered to 30 at the bottom). At the top it can be rounded, or have square ends in various ways. You can add a hood or head support. Most important is to sew on the shoulder bands and the waistband really securely (if you do a search on mei tai patterns there are loads to choose from to suit all tastes/crafting ability).

We have several mei tais available to hire from the Babywearing Wellington carrier library:
Other mei tai brands available in NZ are:

And even more available from overseas vendors if you search. Some vendors may even be able to sew you a customised mei tai to your specifications. 

Happy wearing!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Babywearing to the other side of the world and back


Towards the end of last year, I decided to travel to the other side of the world, solo, with my eight month old daughter. It was quite a daunting prospect, but a necessary one, seeing as she hadn’t yet met the majority of my side of the family. My husband sadly couldn’t join us as he had to work, ahem, watch the Rugby World Cup, ahem, I mean work.
As an avid babywearer, taking a carrier wasn’t the issue, but choosing which carrier(s) to take with me was a mindboggling question. My considerations before travel were:

a) it had to be super comfortable to wear over long distances while carrying luggage and pushing a trolley,
b) it had to be comfortable for me if she fell asleep in an airport/train/coach on me and I had to recline back,
c) it had to be lightweight,
d) it had to be easy to ‘disrobe’ at airport security (should that be necessary – I found out that not all security doorways require you to take off your baby, regardless of what part of the country you enter. It did appear, however, that it was only when bubs was asleep that I had to completely remove her, handy!).

I didn’t own a Manduca or an Ergo which would have been my first options, although I could easily have hired one from the Babywearing Wellington Library, but I wanted one of my own, so I invested in a mei tai, suitable for back, front and hip carrying.

Another question pre-travel was whether to take a breastfeeding pillow with me on the 29 hour, 2 stopover journey. Bubs was 90% breastfeeding and 10% on solids, the pillow was bulky but not heavy, and although a bassinet was booked, she tended to sleep better on me, as did I, rather than wake only when she was loud enough to do so.

Another consideration was to have a shawl or cover for helping give her some sensory deprivation while travelling through bustling, busy, brightly lit areas such as airports.  This shawl also doubled as an easy to make 'pouch sling' for general carrying about on my hip.

Therefore my ‘must-haves’ to travel with were now: a comfortable light baby carrier, breastfeeding pillow and a light blanket/cover. I took one backpack and one nappy bag.

I carried the nappy bag on alternative shoulders, but it was light, as nappies do tend to be very light. It was also a great height to perch on a seat, then perch the backpack on top of, while it was still attached to me, at train station seating for example. **Warning though, don’t forget you left the nappy bag on the seat on the platform, as you can suffer a mild heart attack when you spot it from the train.

Our journey took us from Wellington to Sydney, a three hour wait for our next flight to Singapore, via Adelaide. You know, one of those handy ‘get everyone and everything they have with them off for an hour then back on again to the same seat’ stops. Singapore was a stop for a day, then it was non-stop to London. All those changes required lots of carrying baby on and off the five plane journeys, various security checks, various tube journeys, one taxi and one bus trip before ending up at my destination. My mei tai was a lifesaver. I have no idea how I wouldn’t have busted a gut carrying her through all those wait-in-line queues where you couldn’t take trolleys.

The great thing about carrying your baby and standing in a queue is that people will always talk to you and your baby. It makes a lonely journey interesting talking to people who ordinarily may not talk to you. They take an interest in your child and your child loves taking an interest in people. With carrying, they are at eye level and so don’t miss anything, and don’t get whacked by passing briefcases, unlike my shins.

When in Singapore, I had a short connection between airport and where I was staying. It is not illegal to travel with a baby unrestrained, but I fed the seatbelt around the both of us and made it clear to the driver to be slow and careful of other traffic. Ditto for the bus journey at the other end, seatbelt on at all times, although she did get confused as to why she couldn’t get out when we weren’t ‘moving’. Both of these times, the rocking of the vehicle made her fall asleep, so getting off didn’t require any transferring to a buggy, we just up and left.

On and off the tube is a doddle, full stop. Up and down stairways into tube stations is a doddle, full stop. And how gorgeous to just pop out of an apartment, into a tube station, off at a market, and wander round crowded stalls quickly and easily.

In Singapore airport, my flight was delayed 5 hours (booo!!) and she was just heading to sleep. This of course meant she would now be awake for the journey rather than sleeping through it. You go with ‘Babytime’, when they sleep, you sleep. I rocked up at a cafe, bought a milky drink, explained to the server that I had to sleep with baby, because of the sign that said ‘no sleeping here’, and set the alarm on my phone to wake me.

Train journeys are fabulous too. If anyone has queued at a station in the UK in rush hour, they will know it is not pleasant at the best of times. Wearing bubs is a lot easier than trying to negotiate the step between the platform and train with a lot of bolshy people thinking they should get in front of you first. And bubs can get out of the carrier on a train and clamber all over the seats (I wouldn’t recommend the floor though).

Short journeys at my destination which required one overnight bag were easy with a baby on the front and a backpack on the back. As baby’s weight was counter-balanced by the backpack, it doesn’t feel uncomfortable, but I would suggest a certain level of fitness for the sheer weight I was carrying - 7kg on the back, 8kg on the front. 

Don’t get me wrong, the buggy had its place, and for me it was either at home and at the other end, not during transit. It was wonderful for Nana and Grandad to take their little angel for a walk to the park and to feed the ducks, and she often fell asleep and slept happily in their back gardens in the autumn sunshine.

So I’d say using a baby carrier to travel with makes the journey both much easier and much nicer. From the hands-free aspect to the random conversations with strangers prompted by wearing a cute baby, it makes things a lot smoother. Plus having baby so close during a journey surrounded by strangers gives you both a little bubble of love to shield you from the hustle and bustle of travelling.