As I type my youngest child is three. It will be her fourth birthday next week. I’m resisting the urge to refer to her as ‘four’ or even ‘nearly four’. She is three, and I will only be able to say I have a three year old for another week. I’m making the most of it.
I’m not writing this to tell you to make the most of every minute or to tell you that babies grow so quickly or any of the other clichés. You know they grow quickly, I’m sure you are trying to make the most of it, and often those phrases aren’t helpful if you are struggling or in the midst of a difficult age or stage. It’s OK to say you miss the tiny newborn they were a few months ago or prefer the toddler you can see coming on the horizon. If I’m talking in cliché, I prefer ‘the days are long, the years are short’. It’s OK not to enjoy every minute.
I’m actually saying this because it really, really matters from a safety and comfort point of view when fitting slings and carriers. We know all children are different, but the first question we will ask when fitting your carrier is the age of your child. When it comes to age recommendations for certain carriers of carrying methods, it’s super-important not to ‘round up’. And the younger your child, the more this is true.
Take for example a carrier which is suitable for babies from a minimum of 4 months of age. With 4 months as a minimum, it is unlikely to properly fit a baby of 12 or 14 weeks. I know it is such a short time and you want the carrier to last. But the younger a child is, the faster their weight and development are progressing – the more those weeks or months matter. If you go up the scale a little, in terms of length of time alive, saying a 3 month old is near enough 4 months is like saying a 14 year old is capable of the same things as a 20 year old, or that a 42 year old adult is nearly a pensioner. Fitting a carrier that is too large, or putting a baby in a carrying position not recommended for their age, has significant safety concerns. We know all babies are different, and the age guidelines are not set in stone. But they are there for a reason. The manufacturer’s guidelines and minimum age ranges are based on averages, sure, but also on distinct stages of child development.
As children grow, it is easy to assume that they will continue to grow at the same rapid rate as they did
in their first year. Growth slows through the toddler years, so rounding up at this age can also result in ill-fitting carriers, or in children not being carried at all. It’s easy to round up a 14 month old to 18 months to get a toddler carrier, find your new carrier a lot less comfortable, and conclude it’s because your child is older and heavier – but it may well be that the carrier is too large, resulting in poor weight distribution. Carrying can end before you would like it to by ’rounding up’ your child’s age.
On the other end of the scale, let take for example a carrier suitable to age 3. It’s tempting not to consider it for your child of 2 because you won’t get the use from it as you would have if you had bought earlier. Of course, if you consider it another way, you are considering a product which will last for half of your child’s life so far. ‘Rounding up’ here can prevent a year of carrying – a year is a huge amount of time for your child, and longer than most of their clothes and shoes will last!
When they are older, the same is true of weight limits in carriers. Getting a carrier with a 35lb upper weight limit when your child is already 25lb seems like it wouldn’t last that long. But consider average weight gain between 1st and 2nd birthdays is 7lb, and between 2nd and 3rd birthdays just 4lb – and that carrier can last you nearly two years. That’s like buying something at 20 years old and having it last until you are 60.
Not rounding up our babies isn’t about making the most of their childhood – it’s about making sure your carrying solutions are age appropriate, safe and comfortable. It won’t be the same for every child, but the starting point is always an accurate age!