5 stretchy wrap issues & how to fix them
Firstly I will preface this post by saying it isn't as simple as getting it "right" or not. There is a process of learning and it is key to assess the risks each time based on the individual circumstances and this applies to all aspects of carrying.
A stretchy wrap is a long piece of fabric that is firstly tied around your body, then baby goes inside this next to you, being supported by the fabric - holding you together.
They are not all the same nor are they created equal. The type of fabric used will impact how it behaves. See this useful post from Madeleine at Sheen Slings comparing various stretchy wraps.
They are super soft, and newborns love the snugness and being close to you. Making them ideal for the fourth trimester and for using around the house as well as out and about too. The best bit is you can simply tie it once and just take baby in and out as needed. You can feed in the sling without even taking it off, just adjusting baby's position slightly. They fit everyone, and have no buckles or rings or parts to dig in.
All the various manufacturers have their own instructions, some are better than others. Not everyone who makes and sells slings/carriers have had formal carrying training and the industry is not regulated at all. So do not assume because it is being sold it is safe. Check for safety testing, although this is not a requirement, it is best practise and shows a commitment to safety.
When fitted well it is hard to beat the comfort of a stretchy wrap, however small adjustments and tweaks to the fit make a big difference both for the baby and for you! There are also some aspects of safety to consider as well. The TICKS guidelines are helpful to ensure you are carrying safely.
Here are some of the most common issues I have seen with stretchy wraps and how to avoid them or fix them.
1. Baby's face is covered or not clear of fabric
This is a safety issue, it is key that baby has no fabric near their face or covering their face to ensure they have clear airways i.e. nose and mouth.
With the cross passes stretching from knee to neck in both ways across baby's back, this can mean there isn't much space around baby. Also some baby's as they get older and more alert and awake get annoyed as it means they cannot see very much.
So some move the fabric away from the face but this can mean the cross passes are not fully supporting baby as shown here. This can put pressure on baby's back and can mean they lean away more.
SOLUTION: Flip the shoulder(s)
As the fabric is stretchy you can move it. An ideal way to do this is to do shoulder flips.
By flipping the shoulder, the fabric is moved away from their face and this also allows much more air flow to baby, as well as meaning they can see the world a little better too.
Rather than simply moving the fabric away and it pinging back, a shoulder flip secures it in place and it also ensures the 2 layers are still supporting baby fully across their back smoothly and evenly not putting any uneven pressure on baby's back.
1. An open shoulder flip, although this can restrict movement of shoulder and it can ping back so you may find it needs readjusting frequently. The edge closest to your neck is simply moved to the outer of your shoulder over the top.
2. A closed shoulder flip, is held securely in place and it gives a lot of space at the top without compromising support of the cross passes. The edge closest to your neck goes under the other piece to the outer of your shoulder.
Shoulder flips are super easy to do and there are a couple of ways you can do them, during tying or after tying. Check out my video (method shown from 5min in if you want to skip me talking!):
2. Shoulders/back of wrap are bunched up
Some instructions show tying the wrap with it bunched up. I don't typically teach this method as in my experience I find it tends to get twisted and it may be uncomfortable and dig in a little, especially if it is done up either too tight or a little bit loose. It might be fine for you especially if baby is newborn but as baby grows this tends to be less comfortable.
SOLUTION: Spread it out
You can spread it out after tying, or tying it using a slightly different method can help.
When tying it, leading with the top edge/hem rather than the wrap all bunched up, and starting it on your body where you want it to be at the end with baby in means you don't need to adjust it later on.
Bunched vs spread
This video is helpful for learning how to tie it, small tweaks can make a big difference for comfort:
3. Third layer/pocket half way up baby's back
If you learned to tie your wrap with it bunched and start with it low down on your body you may find when you pull it up it doesn't come up fully on baby's back. A stretchy wrap ideally needs all 3 layers working together to hold baby securely in place.
When the layers aren't supporting baby fully, the risk is that baby can lean or come away from your body. It may also put pressure on your baby's back and this may activate reflexes making your baby wriggle when they are in the sling.
SOLUTION: Ensure all layers are fully supporting baby up to nape of their neck
Start tying the wrap high on your body where you want it to be positioned when baby is in the sling/carrier. Or pull it up higher so it is supporting baby fully. Sometimes doing that will result it the third layer being a bit loose in which case see no. 5.
Layers not fully spread vs all layers fully spread
4. Feet inside the wrap
When your baby is born their legs might be very tucked up. Some call this froggy legs or froggy position. Some instructions show baby with their feet inside the wrap, however this can put pressure onto baby's ankles and feet, depending on how they are positioned. This can activate the stepping reflex making baby wriggle and move.
SOLUTION: Feet outside or use the third layer ensuring away from feet
It is fine to have their feet out of the bottom of the stretchy wrap so they can be supported across their body with their weight in their bottom and not on their ankles/feet ensuring they are supported in their knee pits in their natural position with a tucked/tilted pelvis.
Feet out vs third layer covering feet
If you are concerned their feet will be cold, pop some socks on (rock a thighs are awesome!). Alternatively you can use the third layer to cover their feet but do so mindfully ensuring that the bottom of the wrap isn't then putting upwards pressure on their feet.
5. Baby moves down/too low/goes sideways/dangling
You might find after a little while your baby isn't where they started on your body.
Gravity is always working on the heaviest point ie. their bottom and any slack or looseness from the wrap will work it way there. This can lead to baby dropping down, or going sideways slightly, which means it may not have been evenly tightened initally.
This can be a suffocation risk, if baby is too low it may mean there is a risk of airways being compromised depending on the chest landscape of the person carrying. The same applies with going sideways. If the person carrying can clearly see baby's airways are clear of any obstructions and there is space under their chin i.e. chin off their chest, then it is less of a risk.
Baby too low = suffocation risk & baby going sideways = uneven tightening
SOLUTION: Tighten the wrap
You can re-tie it fully, by taking it off and starting again or you can adjust it with baby in as shown in the video below, or you can take baby out and adjust it without taking it off. Think of it like tightening shoe laces.
It is about finding the balance; not too tight, not too loose but just right and this is going to change as your child grows and as your body changes post-birth if you are the birthing parent. This is something you learn with practise.
When baby is high and central it puts less pressure on our body. If baby goes a little sideways, it isn't evenly spread and can cause discomfort.
Other things that can help are ensuring the stretchy wrap is spread both sides knee to knee, in the tucked pelvis position so that the bottom sits lower than the knees. This adjusts the weight distribution on our body and ensures optimal support for your baby's hips. We want to respect the natural positioning of your baby using the stretchy wrap as a support. It is not about putting the baby into a position they don't naturally hold themselves in.
This video shows pelvic tuck or tilt and why it is important.
I would love to know if any of these tips help you on your carrying journey. Stretchy wraps are just amazing once you nail it!
If you are finding carrying isn't quite working for you or your baby there is help out there, find your nearest trained and insured carrying consultant or a sling library. You can find them listed here. A library or consultant will support you with your sling/carrier or make suggestions to fit your needs to enable you to carry your baby in a way that works best for you. I do not care what you use, I care that you carry in a way that you are comfortable with and that is safe for you and your child.
Zoe is a trained and insured carrying consultant based in Dorking, Surrey. She supports parents, carers and professionals to carry safely, confidently and comfortably. Working with brands and offering training for those who work with families and carers on all aspects of carrying. Sharing the science and research on carrying, attachment and related fields from a background in Psychology to empower families and to change the narrative around infant care.
Carrying builds attachment - attachment builds brains.