Help Me! I need a carrier for warm – ok, HOT – weather! What should I get?
Around this time of year this question starts becoming pretty common. Wrappers (that’s my P-C term for all people who babywear, BTW) who have lovingly purchased carriers based on the ooh’s and aah’s of the colorway or design suddenly become much more interested in the TYPES of fabric they are using. Here are some guidelines of what I would tell someone when asking about what type of carrier to use in the desert heat.
PREFACE: Let’s be real. 110 degrees is HOT. So hot that you may get stuck in the asphalt when your flip-flop starts melting as you walk across the parking lot. Yes, the desert is a dry heat, but, being smothered in the face by a blow dryer on high is just as awful as walking around in a sauna. Add having a baby next to you, especially the ones that are real heat factories is not going to help. To top it off, wrapping fabric or canvas or mesh or any type of material is basically creating yet another layer of heat-capturing sweatiness. Yes, there are some options that may be less hot than others. I just want to be clear that you will probably be hot no matter what (especially if you are in the first 6 months postpartum), and that may not necessarily be the fault of a carrier.
Material: Some fibers naturally help regulate temperature better than others. In the same vein, some fibers are cooler and less insulating than other fabrics. Weave (the way fibers are put together to create a material) is also going to make a difference in how breathable something is. I’m going to try and not get all fabric-geeky here on you and stick with some generalizations. If I start going on about warp and weft, please feel free to skim ahead to the links at the bottom.
Cotton Gauze: Gauze is a thin, mostly see-through fabric. It is easily dyed so often comes in many different colors. Because of the loose weave of the fabric, it is very breathable, even when doing more than one pass when wearing a baby. It is also relatively inexpensive, and can be found at common fabric stores or as already made baby-wraps. If DIY, you don’t need to hem it (the right stuff shouldn’t fray if cut down the middle, though it won’t look as finished with a rough edge) though if you do hem a serger is a better option than a rolled hem. It can also be doubled for added comfort, which still allows breathability but gives some more support. Because it is so thin, it can get ‘diggy’, so it is important to spread passes carefully. When babe reaches about 15-18 pounds (depending on the wearer), the weight of the baby combined with this type of fabric may give you the feeling that wearing baby is too heavy to be comfortable.
Linen: Linen material is a good choice for warm weather wearing. Linen is stronger than cotton (it’s true!) has a high moisture absorbency, is more breathable, more hypo-allergenic, and generally more environmentally friendly. If you have never felt high quality, 100% linen, you’re missing out. Granted, it’s made from flax, so it feels like cardboard before it’s washed and broken in. It also can be very wrinkly, so it needs to be ironed or dryed with heat. Linen probably has a slightly higher maximum comfortable weight than cotton gauze for wearing. It can still get diggy, but careful wrapping should help. Linen lasts much longer usually than cotton, and provides some durability to wraps in general.
Wool: I know, I know. Who wants to wear a sheep when it’s 110? I mean, wool keeps you warm, right? However, wool has excellent wicking properties, which is an important part of making you feel cool in the heat. It is also quick-drying, so if it does get wet with sweat or water, it dries quickly not leaving you a soggy mess. Many people swear by ‘summer wool’ (often Merino wool) which is a lightweight weave with a light density providing the benefits of wool without all of the thick sweater-ness. Most wraps you will find with wool will be blends, usually cotton. Sometimes this helps cut down on the sensitivity and itchiness people experience when wearing wool (fabric itchiness is based on microns per diameter in fibers which is definitely fabric-geekery).
Cotton/other fabrics: Just because I’ve highlighted these few fibers/materials, doesn’t mean that is all there is for warm weather wearing. Definitely there are cotton weaves and other materials (natural Dupioni silk, for ex.) which will be cool (well, cool-ish, I mean, it’s still HOT) for summer. The density of the weave has a huge impact on how ‘breathable’ a material will be. The same goes for the quality of the fabric. Many times, cotton is marketed as ‘breathable’, but cheap cotton, processed with chemicals, in a tight weave will be anything but.
*Side note: Anything synthetic will not breathe as well as a natural fiber. Period. If you’ve never worn a polyester suit in the middle of hairdryer summer heat, take my word for it. Stay away from the synthetics. Also, please be careful when buying your own fabric for babywearing, muslin is never a safe option. Stick with cotton, all linen, blends, bottomweights, monkcloth, or osnaberg.
Will I be cooler in a SSC (buckled) carrier or Mei Tai?
Maybe. Maybe not. Yes, wrapping does present the idea of covering yourself in an extra (or maybe two) layers of material than you would normally be wearing. But many SSC’s are made with canvas, which is much denser than any type of wrap fabric will be. It is usually made of cotton as well (though traditionally hemp was used), so even less breathable. That being said, you are going to have less ‘stuff’ on you, and there may be some more room in between you and baby when wearing. I find if I have to wear on front, a wrap is less hot and sweaty than a SSC, but the SSC isn’t as bad on the back. It also depends on what your activity is. A Mei Tai, especially made out of the right material, can be a great in-between. I also definitely use Ring Slings more the hotter it gets, just because it seems to create a little more breathing room in between us. Regardless, you are going to be hot, no matter what. You will have to decide if wearing a backpack with a hot, sweaty, perhaps poopy mess in it makes you less hot than wrapping that mess up in a blanket on you.
Isn’t there something….some product I can use to help not be so hot while wearing?
There has been chatter lately about using cooling towels (Frogg Toggs name brand) to keep baby and wrapper cool during summer wearing. The towels are wet with water and then provide a cooling effect, but do not feel wet, like a regular towel might. These towels are made from a chemical compound, Polyvinyl Alcohol (PVA) which is ‘baked’ into the shape…usually that of a small towel. I’ve linked the MSDS and FAQ sheets here for your perusal. As far as safety goes, there haven’t been any instances determining this material to be unsafe. However, it is also an untested material as far as the use for babywearing and using with a baby. There are some instances of rash occurring, which happens because the material can actually start to pull moisture from human skin if it is not kept moist enough. Educate yourself and use at your own discretion.
Here are a few other great links regarding hot weather and babywearing:
Written by: Miriam C, BWI of Tucson