When my son was tiny, people rarely commented on and never questioned my use of a baby carrier to get around with him. Now that he's a tall 2.5 year old, we get lots of comments, and almost as many questions. The most common comment, thankfully, is something to the effect of "boy, that looks like a great way to get around!" or "I wish someone would carry me around in one of those!" but predictably we get some side eye, like the lady who was waiting at a crosswalk who loudly said to the women with her "boy he seems old for that." In the latter case I couldn't help a forced cheery response to her, despite the fact she hadn't addressed me directly "oh, he's already walked a full mile today, he needs a break!" There seems to be a perception that by having him on my back, I am somehow ruining and coddling my child, though for some reason carting him in a stroller doesn't carry the same stigma. In the middle-ground are many well meaning and genuinely curious questions, and so I'm going to take some time to try and address the most common questions I hear about using a carrier to help a toddler get around.
"Why don't you just use a stroller?"
My husband and I are both happy to walk or use public transportation when it makes sense, and it's going to be quite a while
before our toddler is old enough to walk the whole way on his own two feet every time. We have a stroller that we sometimes use, especially when I am experiencing acute back issues or it is very very hot, but most of the time...
1) it's bulky and hard to get in and out of shops, busses or trains with.
2) it's very difficult to talk to my son when he's in there, facing away from us. We actually participated in a study when Mo was 7 months old that looked at child-adult interactions in strollers vs back carrying; the consensus was a higher level of responsiveness and engagement from both parties when back carrying. Now that he's more verbal, I notice the difference even more. When he's on my back we are looking at the same things, and happily carry on conversations. When he's in the stroller, we each zone out into our own worlds, which has it's own merits, but isn't what I'm looking for most days.
3) The biggest reason I prefer a carrier over a stroller with my toddler; giving him the chance to walk himself. I don't know if you've ever tried to push an empty stroller with one hand and hold the hand of a young toddler walking beside you, but it's a logistical nightmare. With a carrier, I can keep it slung over my shoulder, in a bag, or in the case of a wrap, even wear it like a scarf! The way most walks go in our family these days are with Mo starting out wanting to walk, deciding he'd rather go on my back halfway there, arriving and exploring our destination on his own, and then deciding at some point on the walk home that he's quite tired and his legs needs a break. With a stroller this level of independent choice about his mode of transportation is just not possible.
"Aren't you guys about done with babywearing?"
Highly unlikely. See my description above of our daily walks together. Other times I am grateful for the option to comfortably carry him include parades, concerts, and other otherwise overwhelming outdoor spectacles, locations & events where we would not otherwise be able to safely bring a toddler, and the ability to have him nap on the go when we are out away from home for a long day. I imagine we'll be using carriers, albeit sparingly, into early elementary school. Little legs get tired, vacation days are long, it's hard to see at concerts when you're 4' tall. There's so much we'd miss doing together as a family without the option to carry comfortably.
"Doesn't carrying a toddler like that kill your back?"
I've been using a carrier almost daily for 2.5 years. Before that I lugged him around in my big water filled belly. My body has slowly become stronger as he has grown. I actually think I'm in the best shape of my life in part because I carry him on my back for long walks so regularly. If you were to start carrying your toddler out of the blue, I am sure like any other resistance and cardio workout, you'd be sore at first but your body would slowly get stronger.
"Do you need a special toddler carrier?"
We happen to have two, thanks to my work as a brand ambassador for Soul last year, but we also still use our Original Ergo, wraps, and ring slings. The upper weight limit on most
baby/standard sized carriers is around 45lbs, so you don't need a toddler carrier by any stretch of the imagination, though they can be nice to have, especially if you're going to be wearing for longer periods of time, or have a kiddo who really prefers to be carried with their arms in the carrier.
The #1 reason I love our toddler soft structured carriers versus other carriers is that my son is so much more likely to nap in them when we travel and can't head back to where we are staying to nap time. The larger panel of the toddler carrier just helps him feel more supported and able to relax, but I bet if he was really sleepy, he'd still nap in the Ergo. I find our toddler carriers more comfortable than our baby size SSC, but my husband doesn't notice a difference and is always happy to grab our old Ergo, and I'm happy to use it for trips under 30-40 minutes.
I believe both my husband and I have better relationships with our son in part thanks to the connection, convenience, and fun of toddler wearing. Do you have other questions about using a carrier with your toddler? Ask away over on Hey Jillian's Facebook!
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