Can I back-carry with a stretchy wrap? When a question goes beyond technique
By Lorette Michallon from Sling A Baby
I very often hear or read this question: “Can I back carry with a stretchy wrap?” I also frequently hear a very clear answer: “No“, or “No, it’s unsafe“, another answer I hear is “No, except with a hybrid wrap like the JPMBB or the Wrapsody“. I do not like any of these answers; not because they’re inaccurate, but because they take away all judgement, feelings and empowerment. I find it especially true when it hasn’t been tested first by the person giving the answer. This means that it’s not even anecdotal but completely grapevine knowledge…
So what could the answer be? My take is that it is about giving information for people to make their own call on what is safe and what is unsafe (Note that none of the following takes away from the TICKS guidelines). And by this, I am not asking anyone to go and try, nor am I making the safety call for anyone either. I am not on a mission to get everyone to back carry with stretchy wraps, I support free choice.
So what are the variables here:
The age of the baby and its tonicity: A very young baby is unlikely to try to escape from a carry, most likely because of its low muscle tone. An older child may behave in a more predictable manner and be willing to comply calmly with being wrapped and not try to roll away or struggle. At an age where they are pushing, a judgement call has to be made, but you are the only one who can make it, with your own knowledge, skills and confidence.
Whether the baby/toddler is in a compliant mood: When a child has decided not to be carried, there is very little that can stop him escape. A friend of mine’s son used to escape from the most beautifully adjusted double hammock back carry with a woven wrap and also from a Manduca. So when there is a will, there is a way! In that case I would say it is never “safe” to back carry.
Baby’s position: If baby is in a deep squat with tilted pelvis, it makes it harder to push away than it would be with a straight back.
The wrap’s width: If the wrap goes all the way from knee pits to the nape of the neck, it will be more supportive than a narrower option.
Whether it is one-way stretch or 2-way stretch: With one-way stretch stretchy wrap (stretches width way but not length way), the length way tightening will be similar to the one of a woven wrap but the width way tightening will require a different technique. Adjusting each way with different techniques will require different skills and to stay aware of these differences. Sometimes being accustomed to one technique over the other can be of disservice. A 2-way stretchy will react mostly in the same way for all the tightening so it is simpler to adjust all ways with the same or similar techniques.
The elasticity: This is the bounce back (from A to B back to A). The stronger the wrap is, the more supportive it will feel. Also wraps gather strength when gathered, a bit like a handful of hair versus a single strand.
The type of passes: Cross passes open up with a leaner, whether it is done with a stretchy wrap or a woven wrap. Hammock passes encompass all of the body from one knee pit to the other knee pit to the nape of the neck, with both shoulders covered. Wrap passes can also roll down, so beware of this when you adjust them.
The number of layers and their direction: Each brand would have various recommendations but my rule of thumb in most cases is over 4 kg you need a minimum of 2 layers adjusted or minimum of 3 layers with a pre-tie. If the layers have the same direction for tightening (like 2 hammock passes under left arm and over right arm), they are the equivalent to one layer, even if it makes it stronger (think of the hair again, but now you have 2 strands).
The carry: This is a combination of the previous 2 variables. I was recently demonstrating how I would do a back carry with a very narrow one-way stretchy, with my current skills and knowledge. And there is a way to make it safe which looks a little bit like this, although here she has 2 hammock passes when I would use mixed passes, and positioning is not the best, yet it was safe! Double hammocks generally works better than cross carries.
The tightening: Tightening is achieved differently with a stretchy than with a woven. They are completely different tools and you need to work out how to achieve effective tightening. It works very much on feel and each brand will be slightly different. The first layer needs to be fully adjusted before moving on to the next layer. Having ample moves, where fabric is held away from the previous layer whilst adjusting, helps the fabric slide and spread.
I first learnt to back carry using a stretchy wrap and it taught me a lot! Most people don’t feel overly confident when they learn; they start with a spotter and a mirror, over a bed or a sofa or they stay home. It gives them a chance to assess their first attempt. Next time, the carry is done with a bit more confidence and better adjustments. It is also possible to go to a consultant to learn, but bear in mind that not all consultants are comfortable with teaching back carries with a stretchy, so check with them first whether they can help or whether they can point you towards someone who can.
Now what happens when it goes wrong? There are a couple of videos on the internet warning against the use of stretchies for back carrying. On these, there are many technical issues, but let’s assume some people would consider these to be of satisfactory standards. When you carry a child on your back, you need to be aware of their movements. When these start to feel different (when they are leaning for instance), there is time to check and adjust, or to check and re-do, or to get the idea they do not want to be carried any more and get them down. Babies don’t fall quickly once they are in a carry. (Accidents do happen. These mostly happen as the parent is just getting baby up). If it feels unsafe, get your hands over your baby, grab the arms or the ankles, or the back. The likelihood is that you would have scared yourself but the baby would be OK.
So, can you back carry with a stretchy wrap? There are pros and cons to it, and only you can assess whether it is for you. Like with any back carry, take great care and listen to your sensations.
Next time someone asks whether they can back carry with a stretchy, what will you say? Will you make the decision for them? Will you point them towards information? Will you give them ways to assess for themselves? Empower or control…. your choice!