Babywearing is for EVERY BODY! An Educator's Guide for Plus-Sized CaregiversPosted by Laurel McCarthy | 30.09.2016
Finding the right baby carrier for plus-size wearers is absolutely doable! This babywearing guide was written for Carry Me Away by Laura Bunnell, a babywearing educator in Sonoma.
As a plus-sized woman, I know how hard it can be to find slings and carriers that fit plus-sized caregivers comfortably. Over the years there were times where I felt embarrassed, frustrated, and discouraged because of the lack of options available to me. Unfortunately, I have come to learn that I am not alone and that my experiences are not uncommon. Everyone wants to find a carrier that not only fits their body, but is comfortable, safe and fashionable, and finally we are seeing more options becoming more widely and affordably available.
I am often asked what is the best baby carrier for plus-size babywearers. I want to acknowledge that all body shapes vary and that baby carrier fit is a very personal thing. Not all plus-sized people are the same shape and size. Some of us carry more weight on our top, on our stomachs or on our bottoms/legs. Some of us are tall and some are petite. These differences mean that you and I could wear the same clothing size, but our carrier preferences and base sizes may be very different.
How your child is positioned in a sling or carrier should mimic the position that you would carry your child in your arms. The role of the carrier is to simply support and keep the child in that position. This means that the way a baby carrier or carry looks in a stock photograph may not look the same as it looks on your body. That is ok!
Ask yourself – how do I feel? Am I comfortable? Is this a carrier that keeps my child in a position that feels natural on my body? There is a difference between a carrier that fits and a carrier that is comfortable. They are not the same thing; if you’re not comfortable, then try another brand or style.
There are four main types of baby carriers that are widely commercially available: Wraps, Ring Slings, Mei Tai’s and Soft Structured Carriers. Within these categories, plus-sized caregivers will find a large variety of sizes, styles and features. When choosing a baby carrier for plus-size babywearing, it is important to think about your lifestyle. Who are you wearing? When are you wearing? Do you have any physical limitations that you are working around? Then look at features and styles that will best fill those needs.
Ring slings are a great option for plus-sized wearers. There are a few things to consider when choosing a ring sling. First is sling length.
Some brands are sold as one-size and these typically measure 72-78 inches long. The idea is that anyone of any size can wear the sling, it will just have a shorter or longer tail depending on the caregivers size. A caregiver with a shorter petite torso, may have plenty of tail in a one-size sling, but a caregiver with a longer, broader torso may find the tail to be too short to comfortably adjust, especially while they are learning to use and adjust the sling. I usually recommend a longer length sling because it can always be tailored to shorten it or the tail can be wrapped around the rings to get it out of the way, but you can’t add length. If you are size 16, some of these one-size wraps may fit you with a shorter tail. I generally recommend a length of around 80″ if you are over size 16 (or if you are size 16 but want a longer tail).
Another consideration is the shoulder type. While choosing a shoulder is very much a matter of personal preference, how much the sling spreads out can really make a difference in comfort. If you have rounded or sloping shoulders, you may prefer a shoulder that spreads wider. If you have narrow shoulders, you may prefer a shoulder that is more narrow. Trying out different shoulder types can help you find the most comfortable ring sling for you.
Pockets on ring sling tails are a really great feature, but they can also pose issues as they reduce the amount of usable length. If there is a pocket, and the ring sling is short, the pocket may end up in the rings. If you are looking at purchasing a sling with a pocket, be sure that the sling is long enough to accommodate the pocket. The Maya Wrap is a great option as it is available in XL (85 inches long) so still usable for most wearers, even with the pocket.
Mei tais are yet another excellent baby carrier for plus-size caregivers. Mei Tais can be very basic – just a panel with straps, or they can have a variety of features including things like leg padding, pockets and hoods. Because they have straps that tie, they are great for sharing between two differently sized caregivers. There is nothing to adjust, you just tie it on and it fits every time.
Some plus-sized caregivers find that they need a carrier that can be worn higher on the waist to accommodate a larger chest. Mei Tais (and buckle carriers without structured waistbands) are a great option for someone who wants a waistband but is working around large breasts. Mei Tais can be worn higher on the body than a structured waist band can, and will be comfortable. The Catbird Baby Pikkolo is a fantastic option for those who want the unstructured adjustability of a mei tai with the convenience of buckles.
The Maya Tie is a fantastic mei tai option. This is a classic design that has been recently updated and has a very generous strap length of 98 inches. This carrier fits many different bodies.
Mei Tai Strap Length
When the mei tai was first adapted for an American audience, it had much shorter straps than what we now consider standard length. 55-65 inch straps were pretty standard and the basic method used to tie a mei tai was to tie the straps under the baby’s bum. This is the first available tying point and this is the basic (and safe) way to tie a mei tai. If you have excess strap, that’s a bonus! You can cross the straps over baby’s bum and tie in back. Many mass production mei tais now are made with longer length straps. With some brands you may need to order an XL strap option but 80 inch straps are starting to become more common and will allow for tying in the back, chest belts and other tie off variations.
Other Asian-style carriers are becoming more commercially available as well. The onbuhimo and podegai are two that are gaining in popularity and are plus-size friendly.
Wraps are a great choice of baby for plus-size wearers. Because you wrap the fabric around your body, you are getting a custom and comfortable fit. Wraps come in two main types: Stretchy and Woven.
Stretchy wraps are really great for those new to babywearing. They stretch and conform around you and your baby. Stretchy wraps are also one-size, so choosing one is as simple as picking your favorite color or print. The Moby Wrap is a great choice if you like simple solid colors. The Wrapsody Hybrid comes in beautiful batik prints and color gradations. It offers more support than a Moby Wrap and can be used more easily with heavier kids.
Size considerations for stretchy wraps: most stretchy wraps are one size fits all. Both the Moby Wrap and the Wrapsody Hybrid can easily fit up to size 2x.
A woven wrap is different because it doesn’t stretch. Woven wraps are sized so it’s absolutely possible to find a wrap that works for every wearer.
Choosing a Wrap:
When it comes to choosing a wrap, there is a lot of variety on the market and it can sometimes be confusing because different brands may use different sizing configurations.. I advise my clients to start simple: Look for a 100% cotton, thin to medium weight wrap, in a colorway that you love.
The first time you are buying, you will need to guess at your base size (see below). Know that when you are first starting out, you may have some trial and error finding the right size for you, so if the first wrap you try isn’t the right size for you – don’t give up! Plus-size wearers will generally have a size 7,8 or 9 as your base size. If you are unsure which size to try first, as a starting point, I suggest that if you are 1x-2x you should start with a 7, if you are 2x-3x, try an 8 and if you are above 3x, try a 9 as your starting point. Of course, if you have a local babywearing group, this is a great place to find your base size!
The Wrapsody Breeze is a wonderful light-weight woven option that is great for beginner wrappers as the fabric is easy to manipulate and tighten as you are learning to wrap. Wrapsody’s size L-XL is 5.5 meters long, so it’s between a size 7 and a size 8.
Thicker woven wraps are also a great option and it can take some time trying things out to find out what wrap qualities you like – there is a lot of personal preference when it comes to what wraps are the best. A few brands that I love that carry sizes 7, 8 or 9’s are Didymos, Soul Slings, Vanamo, Tekhni, and Pavo. Other brands that also routinely stock bigger sizes are: Kokoskaa, Bijou, Risaroo Wovens and Ethos Babywearing. You may also want to contact manufacturers directly, as many of them can make longer wraps available upon request.
More about Woven Wrap sizing
Wrap sizing can be confusing at first but you will get the hang of it quickly. The most common way wraps are sized is in meters and each size increase is a half meter. Sizes are commonly referred to by numbers 2-9. However the size numbers don’t correspond to the measurements. For example a size 6 isn’t 6 meters; a size 6 measures approximately 4.6 meters.
You will also come across companies that use the more generic small through extra large sizing model. This may seem like a simpler method, but it isn’t necessarily because variables like the thickness and weave of the wrap and the depths of the tapers can make wraps measure and wrap differently. Even within brands, there are variations. What this means to you is that not all 6’s or Mediums are going to measure exactly 4.6 meters and a few cm can mean all the difference in having enough fabric to complete the carry. When buying a used wrap, always ask for the actual measurement.
The Base System
In the last few years a new system has been developed for talking about and finding your size. This system is called the The Base System and it is the most universal and inclusive language for talking about wrap sizes. Simply put, your base size is whatever size you can do a Front Wrap Cross Carry (FWCC) with. As mentioned above, for most plus-sized wearers, that will be a size 7, 8 or 9. You can then follow the system to find the carries that you can do with whatever sized wrap you have. If you are diving into wraps and want to know more about what size wraps can help you do different kinds of carries, this page is super helpful.
Soft Structured Carriers:
It’s well established that it can take some trial and error to find the right soft structured carrier (aka Buckle Carriers). It can be even more difficult for people who fall outside the ideal fit range of a highly structured carrier.
“Muffin top” is something that happens to virtually all caregivers wearing ssc’s. It is normal and it doesn’t mean that you can’t wear this type of carrier. As an educator, I want caregivers to feel comfortable not only with how the carrier feels but how the carrier looks. I know that this can be an issue for some caregivers who are sensitive about that part of their body and we want to empower you in whatever ways we can. There are waistband pads that reduce muffin top (and more importantly webbing/buckle rubbing) on the market if you wish to use one.
When looking for a soft-structured carrier, keep in mind these tips:
Don’t only look at the length of the arm straps and waist belt. Adding extra length in the straps, while it may make a carrier fit, doesn’t magically move the padding to the places a caregiver needs it for comfort.
Soft structured carriers with perfect fit adjusters (PFAs) add extra adjustability because the PFAs can be opened all the way to lengthen the padding or can be cinched down to help move the buckle into a place where it doesn’t rub. Dual adjustable side buckles give the option to move the buckle to a more comfortable place. As an added bonus, they can always be positioned to be tightened by pulling forward – which is a much easier motion for all caregivers.
Using the chest clip if you have limited flexibility
If you have a limited flexibility, you may find that chest clips are difficult for you. There are a couple of solutions for this. The one that works best for me is to extend the arm straps out most of the way. There should be enough slack that you can reach the buckle. Then as you tighten the shoulder straps down, the chest clip will move down into the correct position between your shoulder blades. The t-shirt method is another fairly common method. Clip the chest clip and leave the straps loosened up all the way and then put it on over your head like a t-shirt and then tighten the shoulder straps. Try both methods and see which one works better for you. A third option is to choose a carrier that allows you to cross the straps on your back, so that you don’t have to use the chest clip at all when wearing back on your front. Crossing the straps is often more comfortable and it can as being easier for some people to do than trying to reach a chest strap.
A final note about the waistband on an SSC. You will see that the industry standard encourages the waistband to be parallel to the floor. On some body types this simply is not possible. Comfort is the best way to measure proper fit. Baby should be sitting in the body of the carrier and not on the waistband, but if the waistband is tilted a little this way or that way, it does not mean it’s being worn improperly. You are the expert of your body and your personal comfort is an important part of being able to wear your child for as long as possible.
A short list of what features are offered on some of our favorite soft structured carriers:
Beco – Perfect Fit Adjusters, cross-able straps, waist belt fits up to 59 inches.
Lillebaby – Dual Adjustable Side Buckles, cross-able straps, waist belt up to 52 inches; optional waistband extender adds 9 additional inches & optional tummy pad.
Tula – Perfect Fit Adjusters, waist belt fits up to 56 inches.
Other resources for finding a baby carrier for plus-size caregivers:
Babywearing groups in your area are a wonderful way to try on different types of baby carriers before buying. Many of these groups have hundreds of active members who can offer support and advice. Many groups also have lending libraries that will loan you carriers to try for a short time. A great place to start to find your local group is at
Facebook groups are a fantastic resource for getting support and advice with choosing a baby carrier. One group group that is specifically geared towards plus-size caregivers is Big Babywearing, “a space for caregivers of all sizes, with a focus specifically on those of us who are larger than average to be able to celebrate and support #wearingwhilebig !”
About the author:
Laura Bunnell is the mother of seven children and has been babywearing since the birth of her first child in 1996. She has been very involved in the online babywearing community since 2006 with the birth of her fourth child. She worked as a moderator on TheBabyWearer.com from January 2010 until November 2013. In 2013, BWI became the owner of TBW and Laura became an administrator of the website. Laura is CBWS Trained and is a VBE for BWI Bay Area is the leader and librarian for the Marin subchapter. She also is leads a growing group in Sonoma County – Sonoma County Babywearing Enthusiasts, in addition to offering private consultations and classes in Sonoma, Marin and Napa Counties.
Laura can be contacted through her Facebook page: https://m.facebook.com/LMBBabywearing/