First the basics – What is a wrap? A wrap is a continuous piece of fabric which when tied in a variety of positions allows you to carry your baby. There are two main types of wrap: stretchy and woven. I am going to focus on explaining stretchy wraps, as often this is a person’s first introduction to a using sling. Stretchy wraps are suitable from birth and can be used with premature babies during Kangaroo Mother Care. But it is important to remember that although we tend to group this type of wrap together, that not all stretchy wraps are equal. Each brand of stretchy wrap has different qualities, such as the size of the wrap, the stretch, elasticity, size of tapers and even the thread used. This makes finding the right stretchy often as difficult as finding the right woven wrap or other type of sling. I hope therefore to be able to explain the differences and enable parents to find the right stretchy wrap for them.
Stretchy wraps are extremely popular as an introduction to wrapping. Manufacturers such as Moby, Kari-Me and hybrid carrier ‘Caboo’ by Close Parent are often the most easily accessible in mainstream shops and websites. The basic skills of learning to wrap with a stretchy wrap can easily be transferred across if parents decide to switch to a woven wrap. As mentioned earlier, not all stretchy wraps are the same and this includes each manufacturer choosing to have their own name for the same type of carry. This can be highly confusing for a first time user. The main carry advocated by manufacturers is the Pocket Wrap Cross Carry. This carry can be pre-tied and remained tied after baby has been removed, allowing you to place baby back in the sling again without having to re-tie. This carry is also known as the ‘Hug Hold’ in Moby Wrap instructions, ‘Tummy to Tummy’ in Moby and ‘Love your baby hold’ in the Boba Wrap (formerly Sleepy Wrap). Yet it is the same carry. This carry allows parents to hold their children upright (which can be done from birth) with their legs either in or out.
Now we need to talk safety. As with any sling it is crucial to remember the TICKS guidance. This can be found here. Carrying your baby in a sling is a very enjoyable experience and has many benefits for both the baby and caregiver but it is crucial that it is done safely. Some manufacturer’s instructions include instructions for how to do cradle carries, forward facing out and back carries. I would never advise the use of the cradle position or, if using a traditional stretchy wrap, a back carry. With cradle carries it becomes more difficult to keep babies spine supported and their chin off their neck. When sling deaths have occurred it has been from babies being carried in the cradle position. The nature of a stretchy wrap means that it will stretch and unfortunately this means that a baby can if on the wearers back lean backwards and fall out. Most manufacturers have now removed this carry from their instructions and as a rule I would advise no one to undertake a back carry with a stretchy wrap, with one exception. That is if you are using a stretchy hybrid such as the Je Porte Mama Bebe (JPMBB) or Wrapsody Bali Breeze Stretch.
Traditionally stretchy wraps are 100% cotton but the JPMBE for example is 95% cotton and 5% spandex. A comparison of the main stretchy wraps on the market can be found here on the Natural Mamas Sling Clinic Facebook Group. This document has attempted to simply compare sizes of wraps, linen mixes, weight etc to allow parents to compare different slings in one place. But it is not just the mix of thread used to create the fabric but also the weave of the fabric which is important. When considering different types of stretchy wraps we should remember that how much a wrap stretches is different to how much elasticity it has. The stretch of a wrap is the pull from A to B, and the elasticity is the pull back (A to B to A). It is the elasticity of a wrap which offers the wearer and baby the support. The more elasticity the more supportive the wrap will be and the longer it will last. The direction of the stretch, whether width ways from top to bottom rail or length ways from end to end also effects how supportive a wrap is. Most wraps stretch because of the way they are woven not because of the fibres they are made from. The rib knit of most stretchy wraps means they cannot stretch vertically, horizontally and diagonally. The more ways a wrap can stretch the more supportive it will be. For example the JMPBB wrap is the only one that stretches in every direction. The density of the fabric also means that it can be used comfortably to carry older children, where as those which are not as dense do not offer the same levels of support. Stretchy wraps which only stretch in one direction are harder to carry older children in and this can result in the fabric sagging as the child gets heavier. When a wrap has started to sag it can often be revived by washing it. The ‘just washed’ factor helps to tighten the fibres up and make the sling more supportive but this is a temporary fix.
In summary, when considering what stretchy wrap to buy consider the following:
· The stretch
· The elasticity
· The density of the fabric
The weight (grams per metre)