Mei Tais and their variants are marvellous carriers, and I think, often overlooked amidst the huge range of brilliant full buckle carriers and the wonderful world of woven wraps or ring slings.
What is a mei tai?
A mei tai is the name given to a type of Asian carrier that originated in China many years ago; consisting of a fabric panel with long straps that are wound around the parent’s body, to be tied or twisted or tucked away securely.
Different cultures have their own variants of these cloth carriers, which all consist of fabric panels with long straps that are wound around the parent and baby for a secure carry.
Many are beautifully made; painstaking displays of cultural craftmanship, yet extremely practical for daily life. They have been the inspiration for many, many Western carriers today.
What’s so good about them?
They are adjustable and can be quick
In the Western world of babywearing, mei tais are popular with those who appreciate the mouldability and support of woven wraps but prefer something with more structure than a length of fabric. Some people prefer the flexibility and adjustability of the mei tai to the more structured and fixed shape of full buckle carriers, and with practice, many people can have their babies snug and secure in their mei tai as quickly as they can with a buckled carrier.
They are comfortable
A mei tai consists of a fabric panel that has two straps at the base that are tied or buckled securely around the waist, and two straps from the top of the panel that can be wrapped around the parent and baby to ensure a snug and comfortable fit. Baby sits in the pouch created by the panel, and the long straps allow a great degree of adjustability to all shapes and sizes.
Wide straps made from wrap fabric are popular as they can add an extra level of support if needed. They can be spread across the shoulders and around baby’s bottom. Broad, slightly padded straps are also good, they are more comfortable than thinner, narrower straps which don’t distribute the weight as well. Some mei tais have padded waistbands, some have none, it is all personal preference. Some well known brands include Hop-Tye, DidyTai, Lenny Lamb and Melkaj, and many seamstresses will make custom carriers for you.
They are versatile
Mei tais can be worn on the hip with bigger babies, to give them a wider viewpoint, and also on the back. As they are so adjustable, the long straps can be tied in such a way as to extend the width of the carrier, to ensure your bigger child has a good, wide seat for longer than they would do in a full buckle carrier.
Whats the difference between the variants?
Half buckles are mei tais with buckled waists but long shoulder straps for tying (this can be useful if you feel uncertain which knot to untie first to get baby out!)
Onbuhimos have rings at the waistband for the long straps to be threaded through, and work especially well for back carries. Podaegis have two straps at the top of a long blanket. The straps are tied around parent and baby the same way as a mei tai and can be used on the front or the back. There is no waistband on either of these carriers, which can be useful if you are pregnant and carrying your toddler!
Where can I try one?
There are plenty of places to try out slings and carriers – your local sling library or sling consultant are great places to get trained advice, and your local sling meet should be full of enthusiastic parents keen to show you the merits of their sling choice. It can be hard to be sure you are using your sling correctly simply from instructions and videos, so if you have any queries, do take advantage of your local resources. I have written several articles about sling safety, which you can find here and below you can see a helpful reminder about the most important aspects.
Buying a mei tai is easy, there are many online stores that sell good, supportive, comfortable mei tais; and it is worth spending a little more money for a good quality sling that will last a while and allow you to carry your baby in comfort.