Carrying special needs children

When you have a child with physical issues that affect their mobility, or a child whose special needs mean they need extra emotional attachment, babywearing can help. No more safety worries for children with mobility issues, you can get things done faster, and the closeness of carrying means emotional needs are met more easily.

The question becomes, what carrier is best suited for babywearing when you’re not wearing a baby?

Most traditional-style baby slings and carriers are designed to carry babies and toddlers. This means they are usually only stress-tested (especially the seams and any rings, buckles, or clips) up to 16-20kg. When carrying an older child, you can expect their weight to be around 20-30kg before it becomes too much.

The best place to start your child carrier search is to look for a style of carrier that wil suit the way you will most often use it. For a child who needs to be carried for long blocks of time, you might want to consider a two-shoulder carrier (like a mei tai or soft structured carrier) and you might also want a padded waist band for extra support. A child who needs to be frequently picked up and put down, but is still quite heavy, might be better suited to a carrier that supports hip carrying positions, such as a ring sling or a specialised soft strucutred hip carrier.

You may also need to consider the sitting position your child prefers. A child in a brace or with low muscle tone may be more comfortable in a specific position when being held, so it’s best to find a carrier that naturally supports that position comfortably for wearer and child, rather than compromising what is most comfortable for the child.

No matter what style of carrier you choose, you’ll be looking for sturdy fabrics. Rather than a mesh or thin cotton sling, you’ll want a thicker cotton or hemp woven fabric, or multiple layers in a mei tai or soft structured carrier. Forget about anything stretchy – some “give” in a woven fabric helps with a good fit over your shoulders and hips, but stretch jersey will just sag and need constant adjusting with a heavy child. When looking at woven wraps, it is well worth investing in a long wrap with proper diagonal give in the weave, rather than just using cheaper woven fabric bought from a fabric supply shop. A long wrap also means you can get more layers of fabric where you most need support.

Once you’ve narrowed down the styles that might suit, start trying on. Contact a local babywearing group, join the Baby Carriers Downunder sling library program to borrow carriers, or visit a shop with a proper fitting service. You may also need to contact the manufacturer of your preferred carriers to check that the carrier construction is sturdy enough for your purpose. The manufacturer can advise what weight they have stress tested for, and how seams are constructed or buckles have been fastened. The members at your local sling group or shop staff may already have the answers to these questions, but it doesn’t hurt to ask the manufacturer as well in case things have changed in their product’s construction recently.

If you’re thinking about carrying a special needs child beyond the usual toddler walking age, I wish you luck and hope you both enjoy the ride. There is nothing quite as nice as being able to meet so many of a child’s needs simply by holding them.

About emmadavidson

An addict who started dealing to support my habit, I have been using baby slings and carriers for a few years now. My children (Sophia, born 2004; Jools, born 2005; Billy, born 2007) are happy to be lugged around town in mei tais, ring slings, soft structured carriers, and occasionally a tablecloth.
This entry was posted in Special Needs Babywearing and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Carrying special needs children

  1. Beatriz says:

    Hi Emma, I really love you article. I have two children and use to carry them with ring-slings or mai tai and an Amazonas sling. I wonder if you would have or know more information about the potential benefits of babywearring for children with disabilities.

    Thanks for you article

  2. Emma Davidson says:

    Hi Beatriz, I’ve seen lots of babies and toddlers with disabilities being carried in slings and baby carriers.

    For kids with hip dysplasia, being carried on the adult’s front with a leg each side of the waist, works just fine. Mei tais and soft structured carriers (eg Ergo Baby Carrier) work well. I’ve even seen babies in casts being carried this way, quite comfortably, because that’s the position their legs were cast in anyway.

    I’ve seen lots of toddlers and pre-schoolers with Down’s Syndrome being carried on the adult’s back in a soft structured carrier, mei tai, or in a long wrap (I like BWCC for a good two-shoulder carry that will give lots of support).

    It depends on the disability as to how babywearing would affect it. If a child has limited mobility or balance issues, babywearing can help them get around the world and learn from the adult’s balance. For premature newborns, kangaroo care can help with breathing and temperature control. Positioning is very important for all kids in slings – make sure they can breathe easily from their carrying position.

    All mums and babies get an oxytocin benefit from babywearing. Oxytocin helps with wound healing, breastmilk production and the let-down reflex, feelings of trust and establishing relationships, metabolism, and lots more.

    Good luck with your search for more info. Maybe you’ll find something in the Special Needs section here.

  3. Dorit says:


    I wanted to know if you have any advice on child back carrier with low muscle tone is not able to keep his head on his own and needs the support of the head and chest (in order not to fall forward or throwing the head back)

    • Anna says:

      Hi Dorit – was wondering if you have had any luck finding a good carrier for your child with low muscle tone? I’m currently searching for a carrier for my tall 9 month old with hypotonia (same head issues as you described) and would really appreciate any suggestions.

  4. julie says:

    Hi! Im wondering if Dorit has found any carrier? My son is 18mths now has low muscle tone too. He doesnt like sling and doesnt like ergo too… beem searching for one. ..

  5. angela says:

    Did you guys try anything yet or have any suggestions? Even suggestions of what NOT to try?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *