Safe Babywearing versus Optimal Babywearing

There is a huge difference between a safe and an optimal carrier.
A safe carrier is any carrier that holds the baby firmly with open, unobstructed airways.
So basically any carrier that doesn’t pose a falling risk and that keeps baby in a position where airways are free and unobstructed is a safe carrier.
In other words:
Is the baby secure on the wearers body even during movement?
Can the baby always breathe?
Are the airways free (not covered by the carrier?/ Is the chin off the chest?)?

Every safe carrier is an awesome carrier!

When a baby is worn it is where it expects to be, close to the mum and safe from danger. Newborns only know two scenarios: safe or in danger. There is no in between for a small baby’s brain. If it isn’t safely held by a carer then it is in danger.
The baby doesn’t know that a cot or a capsule is a safe place to be. A newborn brain has evolved to know only these two stages. That is what brought us to this stage of human history. If a new baby feels in danger it will cry to alert the caregiver and to advocate being held close to the chest and also close to their food source.
When a baby is held close to the caregiver’s chest it is sure not be left behind, or become too cool or overheat, or be eaten or starve.
So every safe carrier is an awesome carrier!

Optimal is the very best by definition.
There is nothing better that optimal. Usually we speak of an optimal position for the baby when it is held in it’s natural, most beneficial position for hip and spinal development. Optimal position changes with the age of the baby. The spine is in its natural position, rounded but with the head in neutral so chin off chest, hips are tilted forward, knees are at belly button height and for smaller babies quite close together, legs are supported all the way out to the knee, calves and feet hanging free without being forced into position and without any pressure being placed on them.
So when we look at a carrier being optimal we can’t generalize as every mother/baby dyad is different, and the baby is ever changing and growing. Babies grow very quickly in their first year. To accommodate this and to hold the baby in an optimal position the carrier has to be very adjustable to the baby.
A carrier that is a fixed size and is not adjustable to the baby (like most of “one size fits all carriers” on the market) can sometimes not support the baby’s optimal position for the baby’s developmental stage, although this can’t be judged without looking at the baby in the carrier.
We really have to look at the individual child and all other factors before categorizing the carrier. This is the reason why you should always try a carrier on, and why a carrier that works perfectly for a 9 month old might not be so comfortable for a newborn.
But let us look at optimal carriers again. The “optimal carrier” for a particular baby would allow the baby to be in an optimal position snuggly supported and held in a natural position against the body of the wearer, legs out, calves and feet hanging free with a naturally curved and supported spine with adjustable head and neck support to make effortless breathing possible. That though, requires the carrier base, length and head and neck area to be adjustable to accommodate the different sizes of baby and wearer.
At the Babywearing Practice, we advocate for Babywearing strongly, so for us every safe baby carrier is a wonderful carrier and has its place on the market. However, when it comes to recommending carriers we choose carriers that allow an optimal position for the baby even as it grows and changes and we only recommend carriers that are comfortable for the wearer.
So please try out your carrier before you buy as we all are unique!