As a babywearer of three children I have had the opportunity to explore a variety of carriers and many types of carrying methods. I can confidently wear my baby on the front, hip, back, or maybe even one on the front and one on the back! Out of all of the vast carrying options, I have found the hip carry to be one of the most useful and functional ways to wear and carry my child.
Anthropologically speaking, humans are in the “parent clinger” category, meaning that it is inherent both emotionally and physiologically for babies to cling to, and be carried by the caretaker. Our bodies are designed to carry our babies, and our babies are designed to be the best of riders. During this time of carrying our babies, we are able to acquaint them with the world, while in the comfort and safety of the arms of the caretaker. While the baby is riding, they are learning from our tandem movements through the world.
As a mother, I pick up my children on a daily basis probably about 1000 times or more. Whether it’s an infant, a toddler, or a preschooler, I pick up my child and plop them on my hip, giving them the time and attention they need while I go about my daily tasks as well. Although many of the times I carry a child on my hip throughout the day it’s for merely a quick up and down, there are often times I need to keep them with me for longer. During those times, I grab a babywearing device to help stabilize the child and distribute the weight, which aids in my own comfort and also allows me to be hands free. I learned through my years of babywearing that through the stages of young infancy, older infancy, toddlerhood, and beyond that hip carries were not only functional but beneficial.
Hip Carries with a Young Infant (apx 3-6 months)
I first became acquainted with hip carries when my young infants hit a point of wanting to see out in the world. They were no longer content facing me but still needed the support, comfort, and monitoring that a front carry would offer. My babies have had a tendency to mature faster mentally than physically, and although they desired to see the world very early on in their life, they didn’t have the head and neck control, or the upper spine support that would stabilize them in a forward facing out carry. Once they developed the strength enough to safely face outward in a carrier I found that position to be very hard on my back, as the baby’s body uncomfortably shifted my center of gravity. I discovered with my children that it was important for me to find a carry that I could use that would give my young infants a view of the world while still offering them the physical and emotional support necessary, while also providing me with lasting comfort as well.
The off center carry is a great way to appease an infant with growing awareness and curiosity. It has the potential to provide the caretaker with the ability to easily monitor a baby who is still working on developing head, neck, and spinal support, and also give them the structure and carrier support they need as well, all while giving them a great view! A ring sling and a woven wrap are great ways to do an off center carry for a young infant. When choosing a carrier to perform an off center carry for a young infant, it’s important to use a device that has the potential to provide your baby with the utmost amount of support. Although Mei Tai’s and Soft Structured Carriers are great for hip carries in older infancy, ring slings and woven wraps provide more optimal support and positioning for use with an off center carry with a young infant.
As seen in the picture below, this babywearer is wearing her young infant in an off center carry. She is doing so in both a ring sling and a short woven wrap. The baby’s legs are not straddling the caretaker, rather they are in a natural spread squat position with the bottom lower than then knees. This is an optimal example of how to wear a young infant in an off center carry to give them a better view, but a stable resting place as well.
Hip Carries with an older infant (apx. 6-12 months)
As my own babies grew older and gained the ability to sit unassisted, I found that carrying my baby facing toward me became more awkward as my growing baby took up more space on my front and made it more difficult to complete tasks while wearing. A back carry was always my go to for any long term wearing, but although back carries were more comfy for me, my children did not always prefer them and they weren’t always practical for the moment. All of my children have always been more than happy to ride on my back, but my hip is always where they’d rather be when in need of comfort, security, or wanting to nurse.
As a baby ages and gains more body strength, the hip carry options for infants expand greatly. A 6-12 month old infant has a fair amount of spine strength, solid head and neck support, and can often sit unassisted. This is perhaps one of the most enjoyable times to wear a baby in eye’s view as the baby becomes more interactive with you and the world around them. They are continuing to learn from your actions and reactions, they are comforted by making eye contact with you, and the conversations and exchange of interactions begin to deepen. With your older infant on your hip they still have the access to you that they desire, and you can accommodate this style of carrying easily with a variety of options. Soft structured carriers, ring slings, Mei Tai’s, woven wraps, and pouch slings all have the capacity to provide a comfortable hip carry at this stage.
The pictures below demonstrate some options of carrying your older infant on your hip. As they gain dependable head and neck support, and develop a strong spine they are able to branch out into a variety of carrier options. The key to wearing an older infant in a hip carry is ensuring that the baby is provided with support from knee to knee with the carrier, with their bottom below the knees. They can have the flexibility of having their arms in or out of the carrier for extra movement and a better view.
Hip Carries with a Toddler (12+ months)
It never fails though, just when you were enjoying the comfort and ease of wearing your infant on your hip, something happens that throws a wrench in everything. That once small-ish sized body you’ve been toting around for the last several months grows bigger, and bigger, and bigger. Caretakers often write off the hip carry as their baby emerges into toddlerhood, proclaiming the child is just too heavy to ride on the hip for any length of time.
With my first two children I just moved on to exclusive back carries as my child hit toddlerhood and never looked back. It was my third child who refused to give up on hip carries. The hip carry has been her favorite from early infancy, as she was often unhappy being worn directly in the center of my chest. I nudged her gently off center and it was happiness ever since. Baby number three was my anomaly baby and refused to nap in her crib (and to her credit, it’s not her fault, we’re on the go a lot!) She also prefers to nurse to sleep, so a hip carry has served naptime for her for almost her entire life. I could have her off to the side nursing and sleeping, while I had some range of motion and could at least have my hands free. As toddlerhood crept up this became less comfortable for me but my baby wasn’t ready to move on from hip carries forever. Instead she forced me to find some toddler solutions to the hip carry.
Most commonly hip carries are one shouldered carries, meaning that the weight of the carry is supported on one shoulder, not distributed between both. Because of this aspect it’s incredibly important when wearing a heavy child in a hip carry to use a supportive carrier that distributes the weight as much as possible. Short woven wraps tied rebozo style in a slip knot, ring slings made from woven wraps or strong linen where the fabric is more supportive and dense, and longer woven wraps that provide multiple layers can be effective. Depending on your comfort Mei Tai’s and Soft Structured Carriers like the Ergo can also be effective for hip carrying your toddler. Longer woven wraps can also be used to configure a two shouldered hip carry that can distribute the weight more evenly across both shoulders, which serves to better support the weight of the child.
As I spent more time experimenting with hip carrying my toddler, using woven wraps and ring slings made from woven wraps were my favorite options. I experience scoliosis related back pain, which made it very necessary for me to use extremely dense and supportive material for carrying. Thankfully for everyone, baby number three has been able to maintain her hip carry napping regimen and I have been able to maintain comfort during carrying. My preschoolers even like taking part in the hip carry snuggles occasionally too, and as long as I’m using a supportive carrier I can accommodate their desire for snuggles on the go, or the times when my older kids get tired of walking at the zoo and need a quick ride.
Hip Carrier Overview
As you can see the hip carry options for each age and stage are vast! There are so many carrier options capable of achieving a hip carry and some are better for certain ages and stages than others. Babywearing International provides a detailed analysis of various carrier types and tips for choosing a carrier style that’s right for you. It’s important to be aware that some carriers are not designed to for hip carries. When shopping for a carrier that you would like to use on your hip, it’s especially important to check the manufacturer instructions and carry recommendations before making a purchase. In effort to simplify your options, here is a breakdown of various carriers and what ages and stages they best serve for the hip carry:
Ring slings are one shouldered carriers and are great for newborns through toddlers (and beyond!) The carrier is stabilized by the use of two rings that hold fabric tension and allow for an adjustable carry. The can be used for front and hip carries.
Age/Stage for hip carries: 3-4 months as an off center carry, and 5+ months and beyond for hip carries
Woven wraps come in a variety of lengths from very long (5 meters) to short (2.6 meters) and are available in many different fiber contents such as cotton, linen, wool, or hemp. Woven wraps have the potential to be very supportive. They are used for a large variety of front, hip, and back carries, and have the most versatility of any carrier. Woven wraps do have more of a learning curve but they have the potential to provide the most options. For a hip carry a one shouldered or two shouldered carry is possible.
Age/Stage for hip carries: 3-4 months as an off center carry, 5+ months in a variety of hip carries, two shouldered hip carries for infants-preschoolers and beyond
Pouch slings are constructed of a loop of fabric. They are either not adjustable or minimally adjustable. They can be used for front or hip carries. Pouches are one shouldered carriers.
Age/Stage for hip carries: best used with a baby who can sit unassisted due to the lack of adjustments
Mei Tai carriers are Asian style carriers constructed of a square of fabric with waist and shoulder straps. They can be used for front, hip, and back carries. A hip carry in a Mei Tai is a one shouldered carry, but a strap does wrap around the waist to help distribute weight.
Age/Stage for hip carries: best used for a baby who can sit unassisted (5+ months)
Soft Structured Carriers
Soft structured carriers like the Ergo, Boba, Scootababy, or Gemini are carriers that secure with buckles and often contain shoulder and waist padding. Some brands can be used for front, hip, and back carries, and others can only perform front and back carries. Here is a chart for gauging a soft structured carrier’s usage by brand. A hip carry with a soft structured carrier is a one shouldered carry. The padding does influence comfort of the hip carry, as some find excessive padding leads to a bulky hip carry, although others find it very comfortable.
Age/Stage: Best used for a baby who can sit unassisted, about 5 months and up.
As a long time babywearer I have found hip carries to be both functional and an effective comforting tool as well. No matter what age or stage your baby is in, a hip carry has the potential to make your life easier and comfortable, all while keeping your children close! Be it your young infant looking to experience more of the world, your blooming older infant wanting some independence and comfort, or your emerging toddler, there is a carrier and a carrying style to help achieve an optimal hip carry. Thanks to the variety of carrier options, our tired arms can have a break and we can continue to provide our children with the closeness they desire!
Steffany Kerr is a mother to three children with one on the way. She is Chapter President and Master Babywearing Educator for Babywearing International of Kansas City, and also holds advanced certification through Babywearing Institute.