Woven wraps, are for many, the ultimate in babywearing. They are often seen as the sling of choice if you want to be a “real babywearer”, in part because there can be a learning curve to master this type of sling, and also because of the dizzying range of patterns available, and some of the high-end prices (some can sell for £350 or more).
I disagree with this attitude; I think that any parent who chooses to carry their child has made a fantastic choice, be it in their arms, a buckle carrier, a mei tai, a ring sling, a stretchy or a woven wrap. It is the carrrying and the closeness that confer the huge benefits that families can enjoy if they are in physical contact, not the complexity, the pattern or price tag of the sling you use!
Having said that, woven wraps are pretty wonderful, not that hard to master, and don’t have to cost the earth!
What is a woven wrap?
Modern wraps first originated as woven shawls/short wraps in Persia and India many hundreds of years ago. These versatile pieces of fabric have been part of normal family life for countless generations all around the world. These days they are best known in the format of the Mexican rebozo, such as this one by Ernestina Silva.
Modern woven wraps are long parallelograms of fabric that have been woven on a large loom. The loom is pre-loaded with threads that runs vertically up and down (the warp) and then another set of threads (the weft) are woven horizontally in and out of the warp threads to create patterns. Many are still handwoven, but the majority are now machine woven. Special techniques are used to ensure the wrap has a great deal of strength and durability, making them different from other woven cloths such as tablecloths or clothes.
Most wraps are woven with cotton threads, as cotton is easy to care for, soft, strong and supportive. However, good cotton is not cheap, and the process of creating a wrap is labour-intensive; some are thinner and cool to wear, some are dense and blankety for extra comfort. Some wraps are woven as blends of cotton with other fibres, such as wool, linen, hemp, silk or bamboo. These fibres can add features such as extra supportiveness, grippiness, softness or glide, and people will often have their preferences. Most people will begin with a good quality cotton wrap and this is often all they need to see them through to the toddler years. Some thinner cotton wraps may feel less supportive with heavier children, but usually one wrap will last you all your carrying days. Lots of people enjoy trying different blends and experimenting with how they feel.
Woven wraps come in a range of sizes which are numbered (in the same way shoe sizes are) to help people identify which length suits them best. Most people will start with the standard size 6 (4.6m) which allows most types of carry with most sizes of parent and child, and one may be all you need! Again, some people will enjoy being creative with shorter wraps and some families enjoy having a range to choose from for different needs/circumstances.
What’s so good about them?
They are Versatile
Woven wraps are extremely versatile; one wrap can be used from birth to toddlerhood and beyond. One wrap can be used by more than one person without needing to adjust the height of straps or buckle, thus they can be excellent value for money.
The type of carry you choose to use can change frequently depending on the need of your child; light snuggly front carries in the early baby days, other front, hip or back carries as they grow, single layer cooler carries, multilayer carries for warmth or greater support; a woven wrap allows all these variations.
Some parents find it comes easily, others need a few goes to get it right. There are many ways to learn how to use your wrap – the best is to be shown how to do it by someone who can teach to ensure successful and safe wrapping, but many people have taught themselves the basics from YouTube, with a mirror and near a bed!
I love being able to carry my little one with the wrap, and when my big child gets tired, it is so useful to be able to carry him in it too!
Feeding is possible in woven wraps, with a little care to ensure baby’s airway is well protected. You can read more about this in my article about this on the Oscha Slings website.
They are Comfortable
Woven wraps, for many, are the most comfortable sling choice of all. Spreading the wide fabric around your body helps to distribute the weight of your child very well, and there is much more control over positioning and snugness (which all add to comfort levels). Woven wraps do not stretch, and thus can be carefully tightened in small degrees to create a “perfect” fit around you and your child; many young babies enjoy the gentle, consistent all-round pressure and fall asleep! This can be very useful for parents suffering from post-natal depression; that extra “wrapped-around” closeness can aid oxytocin release and assist with bonding.
Hip and back carries can be nice and high for good visibility, so your child can share the world at your eye level, and conversation is easy with a child on your back. Fabric can be arranged to ensure even load distribution over the shoulders and avoid digging, and to ensure children are supported from knee to knee and up to the neck when needed, or allow arms out for freedom. Many people find that a woven wrap adds more support for back troubles, and they can carry for longer than with other kinds of sling.
“It’s like a warm, blankety, all-encompassing hug, moulding to you both perfectly every time.”
They are Pretty
This may seem like a minor point, but the attractiveness of woven fabrics can be very therapeutic, especially if clothing choices in parenthood become restricted. Colour therapy is believed to lift the mood; and a pretty wrap can sometimes help with motivation to get out and about for a walk with your child (always a good thing!) and look very special at a celebration.
They are Learning Opportunities
Life with a small baby can be challenging, and many parents enjoy the opportunity of learning a new set of skills with their woven wraps; experimenting with the carries they can do, the feel of different fabrics, and perfecting their technique. This can often become a very sociable activity, sharing this with other parents and learning together.
The effort is worth it for me because being unable to breastfeed left me worried I would struggle to bond. Wrapping gives me precious bonding and closeness, and gives my daughter the ability to experience the world from a position of total security. It makes us feel like a team.
How do I choose a sling and which carry should I use?
People often wonder about which wrap would be best for a newborn or for a toddler, or for a beginner. I usually advise to pick something that you love the look of, and start with a good, simple cotton wrap size 6 that is easy to care for. Stripes can help with learning how to make the passes and which sections to tighten around your baby. Many good brands these days sell wraps that are already soft and ready to use from the first wash, rather than needing a lot of work to soften up (known as “breaking in”).
Many people begin with a simple Front Wrap Cross Carry, which is easy and supportive and can be used for all ages. There are many good videos and tutorials available for this, and any good sling librarian or consultant should be able to show you how to do it safely and comfortably, protecting baby’s airway and supporting their hips and spine appropriately.
Wrapping is great fun and can be superbly comfortable if this turns out to be the sling for you! Some downsides can be the learning curve involved, and some of the extra effort required in the beginning. Some people prefer not to have long tails of fabric gathering around their feet in bad weather while putting their child in the sling, and may choose an alternative sling for appropriate circumstances!