I want a Mei Tai, but which one?
By Sarah and Kelly, BWI of Tucson
Mei Tai carriers are a very popular option that combine the ease of an SSC with some of the same dynamics of wrapping. As with many other types of carriers, the Mei Tai is produced by several different companies and in many different sizes. When choosing a baby carrier of any kind it is always important to find something that is going to fit both the caregiver and the child well, but sometimes knowing which carrier that is can be difficult. There are comparisons of some of the different Soft Structured Carriers available, but so far none of the Mei Tai carriers that I could find. So, a fellow babywearer (Kelly, who is also a VBE) and I, along with help from some members of our local BWI chapter, set out to create a comparison of some of the popular brands of Mei Tais. We chose brands that are easily found, well-known, and fairly budget friendly. Those brands are: Infantino, Freehand, BabyHawk and ToddlerHawk, Bamberoo, and Kozy.
It’s important to remember that the fit of the Mei Tai includes the body panel reaching from knee to knee on the child being worn. This allows for proper positioning and comfort for both the wearer and the wearee. Our goal with this project is to show you how a toddler fits in these different Mei Tai brands and sizes. We hope that by using a toddler it will be easier to see what might fit both a younger baby and an older child so that you may be able choose the brand and size that will be best for your specific needs. We’ve also taken measurements of the body panel, waist length, and strap length for each of the individual carriers in order to give specific information about the size of each Mei Tai.
Allow me a moment to introduce our models, or rather, I’ll let Kelly introduce herself and her son:
“I’m Kelly, this is my child, K. I am 5’ 3.75” and about 130 lbs (I wear about a size 6), he is 18 months old and 24lbs 10 oz and 31 inches tall – round and on the shorter side for his age. I would classify myself as athletic/petite, and K is on the short and adorably chunky side.”
First let’s look at a front carry with the different Mei Tai carriers. As you can see, in some of these, the carrier is not quite reaching knee-to-knee for K (e.g. Freehand, BabyHawk, and ToddlerHawk), although he is still well positioned. There are differences in the height of each carrier too; some of these carriers are offering full back support up to K’s neck or further, and some, while offering good back support, are only reaching to K’s shoulder blades. It’s important to note that while it is safe for a carrier to support K’s back only up to his shoulder blades, most children will quickly outgrow the carrier as they increase in height. (Please note that you should be able to click on each photo in order to view a larger version.)
We’ve also included photos of the same front carry, but with a view of how the ties look in the back. This is so you may be able to tell how much length is left over after tying as pictured above (straps are crossed in back, crossed in front across K’s bum, and then tied off in back).
It might be difficult to see, but if you look at the knots tied in back, some of them have very little length left over. Those are the Infantino, the ToddlerHawk, and especially the Kozy. The ToddlerHawk and Kozy have the option of special-ordering extra long straps, but the Infantino does not. You can see that with the Kozy, Kelly had barely enough to tie off in back. For anyone of larger size than Kelly, like myself, it would be impossible and you’d need to tie under your child’s bum. Tying off under baby’s bum is acceptable and safe; I personally prefer to be able to cross straps and tie in back as pictured. Therefore, because the Kozy is made for larger babies, toddlers and up, it may be wise to pay a little extra for longer straps if you plan on wearing your child in front as well as on your back.
For the sake of being thorough, let’s also look at how each carrier looks when used in a back carry. It may be a little easier to tell how well the individual Mei Tai carriers fit K in these pictures.
Kelly has K nicely positioned on her back, using ruck straps, and crossing each strap over one leg and under the other to tie off in front. Because she is able to use ruck straps for back carrying, there is extra strap length left over and those carriers that had little left over for tying off in the front carry, now have plenty left over to tie off in these back carries.
Now that we’ve seen how each carrier is fitting Kelly and K in two different carrying positions, let’s look at the specific measurements for each one.
Note on the BabyHawk and ToddlerHawk: Please be aware of the manufacture dates of both the BabyHawk and ToddlerHawk. The measurements differ between the two, with the width of the ToddlerHawk body panel being 1 inch less than the BabyHawk. We believe this to be due to a more recent rebranding of BabyHawk. It is our understanding that currently the BabyHawk and ToddlerHawk body panel will measure the same width wise, but the ToddlerHawk will measure taller, unless ordered with custom width and height. This is a great example of why you should always ask for specific measurements before buying a carrier, especially when buying used.
The feel of a carrier when being worn is also important. Some Mei Tais have thicker padding on the waist and/or shoulder, and would be better suited for larger framed caregivers. Kelly, since she was the caregiver modeling these carriers for me, has offered up some personal insight into this aspect of each Mei Tai.
We hope that this information will help in deciding which carrier will work best for you and your child. There are many other good brands of Mei Tai carriers that we were unable to cover in our project, but they are definitely worth checking in to; Ellaroo and Catbird Baby come to mind. Please bear in mind that all measurements and carriers used were done with what we had on hand, and what we were able to borrow from the lovely members of our local group, Babywearing International of Tucson.
P.S. We would like to thank all the lovely ladies and men who graciously entrusted a Mei Tai into our care for a time in order to complete this project. We wouldn’t have been able to do it without you!