Buckle Carriers and Sizing

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So that carrier comes in standard size, that one in toddler, that one adds a preschool size, who know what that’s about! That brand has all three but says the standard will suit toddlers, but if that were true why would they have a toddler size? What is a toddler anyway? A child who can walk – even if they are nine months old? Is is based on weight, age, or shoe size? I want something that is going to last. This is a one time only purchase. I don’t want it outgrown. That one says it suits to 35lb, is that realistic? How old is a 35lb child anyway? That one says 45lb, but looks smaller! That standard size has the same weight limit as that preschool carrier, how does that make sense? My baby has always been super chunky, do they need a toddler size? My baby is a little dot, will they ever need a size up? Does it matter how big I am? Why do some manufacturers make a toddler size and some don’t? Can you really carry a 45lb child anyway?!

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It’s confusing. We know! So here are the facts about buckle carriers and sizing.

1) Toddler sized carriers are a relatively new invention.

Although toddlers and preschoolers have always been carried, the ‘sizing up’ of existing buckle carriers into a larger toddler fit is something that has only really happened in the last ten years as the baby carrier industry has expanded. You might call it progress, you might call it marketing – in reality it is probably both. Most standards were designed to last years, not months – and a toddler sized carrier needs to be significantly larger than a standard size to make it worthwhile. And that’s pretty big.

2) There is a huge overlap between carrier sizes.

Most children will fit both sizes at least for a time. Many will fit two different sizes fine for years, leaving it entirely up to the carrying adult which they prefer.

3) Height matters more than weight.

A heavy baby needs a supportive carrier, for sure, so it is very important that it fits well. A carrier that is too big or too tall for the child will not fit well and make them feel even heavier than they are.

4) Fit matters more than anything else.

Firstly, fit is a safety issue. A carrier too large for a small baby can lead to slumping, problems with airway or abnormal restriction of movement. A carrier too small for a large child can lead to abnormal leaning, a fall risk, strains for the carrying adult and chafing for the child. But what is a good fit? Often, it has little to do with the carrier size and whether the panel is 14/15/16/17 inches wide or the same tall.

imageA carrier that fits a toddler well allows the child’s legs to be supported in an M shape – it does not have to have fabric tucked in to the back of each knee to achieve this. You can do the same thing by lifting a child’s legs into a seated position and adjusting the carrier waistband around you to hold them there without chafing. A carrier does not have to enclose the arms unless you both prefer it that way, but it should fit snugly underneath the armpits when the shoulder straps are flat on your shoulders.

Fitting the waistband at a different level, around the hips, allows for the full height of a carrier to be used to support the child. It also allows for the shoulder loops to tighten at an upward angle, which creates a snug band of support across the child’s shoulders and back, distributing the weight around the torso of the carrying adult.

A child’s torso should be parallel with your torso when in the carrier. A carrier that is imagetoo large allows the child to sit back in the carrier, angling away from you, because the panel is too wide for your shoulders. This is not good weight distribution and can be painful after a while.

5) If in doubt – size down.

I know, you want it to last. It will. But if it helps,think about it like this.

There are four sizes for buckle carriers, not three.

It’s important to know, when choosing your carrier, that how the carrier fits a tiny baby at the start makes an impact years later. If you divide buckle carriers up into three sections – baby, toddler, and preschooler, it is easy to see how you might size up a little early – for example, consider a toddler size for your eight month old because they are pulling up to stand, and you’ve already missed eight months of use and value from a baby size. However, if you divide it into four sections – infant, baby, toddler and preschooler – the picture changes.

Infant – birth to 4-6 months.
Baby – 6 months to 18-24 months.
Toddler – 18-24 months to 3-3.5 years.
Preschool 3-3.5 years to 5 years approx.

All of a sudden, your eight month old is firmly in the beginning of the baby size section, with lots of growing room. Some carriers achieve the infant fit by insert, cinching strap, cinching mechanism….some way of making your baby size carrier smaller. Babies need to grow into their baby size!

When we’re talking toddler sizes, it is much, much easier to get a smaller carrier to ‘grow’ than a too-big carrier to ‘shrink’ enough to provide adequate support.

The one thing that you can guarantee is, in the world of buckle carriers, it’s better to try on before you buy. Standard sizes can fit throughout your carrying years if you want them to – or you might size up. There will never be any substitute for a good fit!

Let’s see those pictures side by side. They are the same, standard sized carrier, carrying a child aged 3 years and 9 months. The only difference is the fit.

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