Boba’s tag line is “Freedom Together” – very apt for what they are aiming to achieve with their slings; parent and child are able to explore freely, while being close together. The company is committed to making the most ergonomic and physiologically well-designed carriers they can – protecting babies’ developing bodies appropriately and being aware of their needs, such as the importance of triangulation (social referencing) and adequate hip and spine support. They have just released a new and updated version of their well-loved Boba in the 4G form, which arrived here at the Surgery this week, courtesy of the lovely Phil and Debi at Slumber-Roo.
The Boba 4G is a full buckle carrier, designed to be worn on the front (baby facing in) or on the back. It isn’t suitable for hip carries (I would recommend a ring sling or the Scootababy for that) and it cannot be worn with the baby facing out, which is testament to Boba’s determination to make carriers that are good for babies. Front-facing-out carriers create some issues, such as inadequate hip and spine support (see my article on healthy hips for a discussion about hip dysplasia and narrow based carriers), reduced comfort for both baby and carer (both at baby’s legs and for carer’s back, due to the centre of gravity being shifted forwards) reduced opportunities for a baby to switch off from the world when they need to, and reduced opportunities for triangulation. (Put simply, being able to see a loving carer’s face close up is vital to development of positive relationships and learning about social interaction. A baby is better able to interpret the world around him based on the reactions he sees on his carer’s face, and also to learn about expressions, voices, social engagement, and how to deal with startling new experiences). Boba remains committed to the best for babies.
I was delighted with the quality from start to finish. The carrier is immaculately put together, with perfect stitching, comfortable fabrics, well finished ends, as you would expect. The company have recognised there is a gap in the market for safe, healthy and comfortable buckle carriers for smaller babies that can last well into toddlerhood and beyond.
Many standard carriers (such as the Beco Soleil or the Manduca) will fit babies from five to six months and up, before this, the carriers often need cumbersome separate inserts that can be fiddly to handle or their instructions simply suggest placing a rolled up towel inside the carrier to raise the baby up. In this photo you can see a green Sleepy Nico on top of a petrol Manduca, on top of a black Boba 4G, on top of a blue Beco Soleil. The Sleepy Nico has the narrowest width, so will fit smaller babies well, but will be grown out of the soonest. The Manduca has an inbuilt newborn insert of one size which is very narrow (to fit small babies) and there is a big jump from the newborn width to the full panel width. The Beco Soleil at the bottom (and the Ergo and Tula, for example) require separate inserts before the full width can be used.
The Boba 4G has solutions to this problem built in as standard; a cleverly designed soft insert that is small, snaps into the body of the carrier itself, and can be easily adjusted for babies of different sizes. Smaller babies of 7lb to 10lb can use the insert in its “ball” shape (ie folded and snapped in half). It does not spread little thighs too widely, and allows legs to be flexed into the natural fetal tuck. As baby grows, (10lb to 14lb as a guide) the insert opens out into a kidney-bean shape (see picture), so baby’s bottom rests on the central dimple and the legs are gently supported into the flexed abducted M shape at about 110 degrees that is so good for growing joints and means no strain is placed on ligaments and tendons. This is so much more comfortable for a baby, being supported all the way to the knees.
A baby is able to settle down on the insert and rest his tummy and head directly against the wearer’s body, allowing the spine to curve gently into the flexible fabric of the seat-darted panel when needed, rather than being artificially straightened or constrained by being inserted into a pocket of stiff fabric. Being in such close contact is of great value to a child; the familiar sound of the carer’s voice can be felt, as can the rhythm of breathing and the warmth of being held close to the chest.
The insert raises the baby’s body up high enough so the parent can see his face safely, while the headrest and/or hood provide appropriate support.
For bigger children, the little headrest can be slightly folded down so they can see out, and for bigger toddlers, the panel is still tall enough to reach up to the armpits with arms out if required. Boba have judged the height of the panel and insert well, I feel. Many carriers that market themselves as “birth to preschool” do not actually provide adequate support or comfort for bigger children’s legs or come far up enough their backs to prevent backwards flinging. They may not be unsafe, but it will be far more comfortable for a long-legged child not to have legs dangling down and fabric cutting into their thighs. Boba’s solution to this is to have a panel that is 13.5 inches wide at the bottom for bigger babies, and for taller children, removable adjustable stirrups as standard. These clip into the waistband and allow your child’s feet to rest securely in a position that keeps their knees up in line with their thighs and provides good, comfortable support. It is hard for a tired child to have to support their own upper backs so the tall panel of this carrier is welcome. Similar carriers in the market do not provide this leg support and many parents move on to full size toddler carriers (18inches or more in width), so Boba (as they did with the previous models) continues to bridge this sizing gap.
The hood is easily removable, and has a little pocket of its own for storage. It poppers on when needed and is flexible enough to be used diagonally should your child’s head be resting to one side. It has little adjusters to reduce its length should it be needed and poppers onto the shoulder straps.
The waistband is strong and sturdy, with a little pocket for keys (or phone) etc at the front, and nicely concealed strong D-rings, one on each side, where the removable stirrups can be attached. It is not especially stiff or over-wide and is comfy to wear. I haven’t found it to dig into my hip bones, and it seems to have a good range of widths for varying body shapes. The webbing is of good quality and all the buckles around the carrier hold in place as well as you would expect. It fits waists between 25in to 58in, according to the packaging.
The shoulder straps are very comfy. They are gently shaped into a curve to avoid the straps riding up and digging into the neck for front carries, and for back carries, to keep the padding of the straps in the most comfortable places underarm. The straps have two buckles which adds dual adjustability. The “breastfeeding buckle” I assume is just the extra adjustability – the straps can be more easily loosened from the panel edge to lower a child to reach the breast. This dual adjustability is very helpful as it allows the straps to be tightened in either direction, whether the carrier is being used on the front or the back, rather than having to struggle with an awkward backwards angle. They are attached a little lower down on the panel than the 3G and are more adjustable. There are little narrow flaps that popper open and shut and can be used to hang small toys or bags from as needed.
The straps are not crossable; the carrier must be worn in the front rucksack style with the chest belt being done up behind to reduce slippage of the straps off the shoulders. The two sides of the chest belt are very cleverly attached to the edges of each strap on sliders, which makes them very easy to move up and down to the optimal position. This buckle can be adjusted in both directions, which greatly adds to the ease of use.
The non-crossable straps is one of the two small downsides of the Boba for me. Many parents that I meet (in the UK) prefer this option for front carries as they find it more comfortable and can spread the weight of the child better. However, there are some significant advantages to having the straps this way. They are less likely to ride up and dig into the neck, and some people prefer not to have webbing rubbing into their sides. The chest belt is easier than most to do up and if you struggle to reach behind yourself, the belt can be snapped together before putting the shoulder straps on, a very speedy way of getting the carrier on, as no buckles need to be clipped together. Furthermore, a significant proportion of people find it hard to do up buckles at the side (this is something I spend time on when teaching – how to hold your baby in a carrier safely and securely while doing up buckles) and a carrier like this removes that problem.
For back carries, the straps are superbly comfortable, being shaped the way they are, soft and flexible yet sturdy and very easy to adjust due to the double buckle design. The straps taper slightly towards the end which reduces under-arm bulk (which can be a problem for smaller sized parents).
I needed to have the straps on the smallest setting for a smaller baby, but with bigger children and toddlers they were fine. A particularly small parent might find the straps do not adjust quite far enough.
The only other slightly disappointing feature is the lack of leg padding at the edges of the panel. This does reduce the bulk of the carrier a little, but it would have been a nice touch.
In summary, I like the Boba 4G a lot – it has had quite a lot of thought put into it and fills a gap in the market for a good, ergonomic buckle carrier that really can be used from birth (7lb) to toddlerhood.
UPDATE. I took my 3yr old for a run in the morning dew today. She and I both loved it, very comfortable! Her long legs are well supported and the panel comes well up her back.
I have also fitted a 7lb little boy into the same carrier with the infant insert which worked extremely well, raising him high so he could be close enough to kiss but still very well supported with feet free to move.