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.