This post has moved to my new babywearing website, Carefree Cocoon.
Pictured first: water ring sling baby carrier made by SBP or Sleeping Baby Productions (teal color with black rings). I would link to her store, but it looks like she isn’t selling these anymore; you may be able to find them on the used market.
Pictured second: water ring sling baby carrier made by Zanytoes called the Zanytoes Splash (yellow color with silver rings).
When you have a baby, especially one who might be smaller than the toddler pictured in these photos, and that baby is little during the summer months, a nice thing to do is be in the water. (In case there is any question, I am wearing a swimsuit in the photo. Because a lot of our swim sessions involve folks from church, I tend to stay pretty conservative with my swim attire).
The safety of a child is paramount when baby wearing at any time, but especially around water. I can’t list a million tips or disclaimers here, but things like avoiding alcohol use, not leaving baby alone in the water, and not using the sling as a flotation device are common sense.
Babies should be worn in the water only on the front of a responsible adult (not on your back), and facing toward your body (not facing away from you). You want to be sure you can see their face in relation to the water at ALL times.
When wearing children in water, it is advisable to only do activities that you would otherwise do if you were holding baby in your arms (for example wading in shallow water). Things like water skiing or surfing while baby wearing would be clearly unsafe. Water parks are a place to use common sense and caution. Wearing the baby can add to their safety by giving you a third arm, but it can also make you less aware of what is happening with baby, so use extreme caution.
Finally, if you use your water baby carrier in chlorinated water, be sure to rinse it well when you get home. I have previously heard that you should dispose of a water carrier after a season of heavy use in chlorinated water, however, I have since been informed by some manufacturers and babywearing educators, this is not necessary. Check the manufacturer’s recommendation for use and maintenance in different water types.
I have personally used a gauze fabric wrap (nothing like the two slings I’m discussing here), at Schlitterbahn, just once, and once I came home and washed it, the whole fabric was lightened from the bleaching effect of the chlorine, there were whitish patches of significant bleaching. Cotton gauze is not usually made for water use, but I’m not the only person I know who has wanted to use it that way. The carriers made just for water should stand up to chlorine use better, but as always, follow manufacturer instructions, and pay attention to your carrier and inspect it for signs of wear – which is true with any carrier.
That said, here are two carriers made just for wearing babies in water. They could also be used for wearing babies in very hot weather, because the fabric is thin and breathable. Most makers of water carriers will also recommend that you use your water carriers in the water, and a non-water carrier out of the water.
Besides water ring slings, there are water wraps made of similar material, or other materials. The wraps tend to be better for little babies who don’t sit up yet, as you can wrap multiple layers around them to support their neck and head better. Ring slings tend to work better for kids who can sit up or walk, but still need to be carried a lot, because it’s quicker to take them in and out of the carrier, than with a wrap.
The first is ring sling (teal color) is made by Sleeping Baby Productions from athletic polyester mesh fabric, with small size sling rings.
I have skin issues with polyester, and this was no different – it makes my skin feel itchy and the fabric seems scratchy to me. Many mesh water wraps are the same fabric. This ring sling has a pleated shoulder, which I normally don’t care for, but was fine as far as shoulder comfort goes, given the stretchiness of the mesh fabric.
However, the polyester mesh was slippery and quite stretchy. As a result, I could not get it to stay as snug as I would like in the rings, and it would gradually loosen the carry over time. It wasn’t enough where my son would fall out all of a sudden, but it got uncomfortable after a while. Slippage can happen if the rings are not properly threaded, which may have been somewhat the case with this carrier, since I was still early on in my babywearing journey at the time I used the SBP sling. Because of the stretchiness of the fabric, this sling might not be best for a child more than 20 lbs, or one who liked to arch and squirm a lot when being worn. The fabric is slippery and stretchy enough, that too much movement from the baby could cause the fabric to slip down their back, and they could lean out too far backward. That is one of the reasons why water carriers are not recommended for use out of the water as well. They just don’t have the grip and hold and safety of other types of fabric, for general use.
The second ring sling pictured (yellow color) is the Zanytoes Splash nylon water ring sling, with medium size sling rings. The nylon is cool and soft feeling, it almost feels slippery but it isn’t actually slippery as far as how it grips in the rings. It dries quickly, is opaque, and has an SPF factor.
When I describe it as nylon, some people think that means like nylon webbing, which is scratchy. But also think of nylon pantyhose, which is kind of soft and silky. It’s not that texture or thickness, but it’s a better comparison of the touch of the fabric. The fabric is not stretchy. It is sturdy and strong, and does not slip through the rings, even when I wore it with my 28 lb toddler. If the fabric is not threaded properly through the rings, it will become grippy and sort of lock up, and won’t be able to pass through the rings when you need to tighten it. If this happens, it is time to take the carrier off, and re-thread the rings. The fabric is lightweight and breathable, drying quickly, just like your swim suit would. The fabric was so breathable that this carrier was wonderful for a hot summer, in or out of the water. It didn’t add extra bulk or heat to my body, other than the baby snuggled up against me.
The fabric is a gathered shoulder, but it has an interesting double layer for about 10-12 inches, that makes it extra supportive across the shoulder. I had owned a few different ring slings prior to this one, and hadn’t liked any of them. This was actually the first one I found comfortable, and made me realize I could enjoy using ring slings. Since then, I’ve found several other (non-water carriers) I enjoy using.
Secondly, because the fabric isn’t stretchy, and because it is such a great summer weight fabric, this makes a wonderful summer carrier in or out of the water. I used it many times the summer I owned it, when my son was a little over a year old, several times at the river, and several times outside the water when I wanted a carrier that wasn’t hot.
With ring slings in general, the weight is obviously just on one shoulder. This limits the amount of time you can wear it, since the baby’s weight is concentrated. Changing shoulders periodically, such as after taking the baby out of the carrier for a while, can help greatly. But I couldn’t wear any ring sling for a long period of time like two hours. I would need the weight distributed more. That’s not usually a problem with water use, since unless you spend the day at a water park, you aren’t wearing the baby for hours at at time in the water.
For a water park, a water wrap might be a better choice, depending on the age of the child. If the child is old enough to just need to be carried between locations, and want to get down to play frequently, I would choose a water ring sling. If the child is not even crawling yet, or little enough where you will carry them pretty much the entire day, I would use a water wrap that distributes weight more.
As far as sizing goes, the teal sling is size Small, and the yellow is a size Medium. I don’t particularly like fabric dangling down on my legs, so I would either wrap the excess around the rings, or twist it and tuck it into the fabric behind me, like I did in the yellow pictures. Sizing is not as much of an issue with ring slings, since the only difference is the length of the fabric. On my body, a small comes to mid-thigh, a medium to my knee, and a large almost to my ankles. I have put a size medium on my 6-foot, 270 pound husband, and it fit fine with some excess. I could probably get a small on him and still have enough tail to make it safe.
Overall, I preferred the Zanytoes because of the non-stretchy fabric. With a smaller and lighter baby, stretchy fabrics are usually more comfortable for most people, and many people prefer stretchy fabrics for newborns and small babies.
Last but not least, some ring sling basic wearing and safety tips.
Here are the two videos that helped me learn how to comfortably wear a ring sling.
Threading the Ring Sling
Using the Ring Sling
A few little safety tips for ring slings:
1. High enough to kiss. Baby should be high up enough on your body that you can easily kiss their head without straining. If they are too low on your body, that you cannot kiss at least the top of their head, it is probably not the most comfortable carry for either of you, and for a newborn, it could be unsafe. If you lower the baby to allow them to nurse inside the ring sling, when they are done nursing, they should be raised back up to the “high-enough-to-kiss” position.
2. Knees higher than bum. You want the baby to be seated deeply in the fabric, so their knees are slightly higher up than their bum.
3. Two fingers between chin and chest. With a toddler, this is obviously not an issue. But with a newborn or little baby who is still gaining head control, you want to be sure their head is resting in a way that you can easily fit two of your fingers between their chin and chest. If their chin is down on their chest without any space, this can constrict their airway – which would obviously be unsafe.
4. For a toddler like Jax, the back of the sling should come up to his armpits at a minimum if he is “arms out” like in these photos. If it were lower than his armpits, he could arch backward out of it. I like to get it just above his shoulders when he isn’t arms-out. For a newborn, the back of the fabric can come up to beneath their ears, so that it gives them some head support for their wobbly head.
5. Ring slings are not recommended for back carries. Although some very experienced wearers have done so, it is not advisable. Back carries need to be very secure, since you can’t see what is going on with the baby, and a ring sling does not adequately meet that need. It is best to use a carrier that is suitable for back carries, rather than attempting one with a ring sling that might put the baby in an unsafe position.
6. For a baby, you put them into the ring sling from the top (ie lay them over your shoulder and slide them down your body into the pocket of the sling). With a toddler like my son, I have him stand still, I already have the sling on, then I slide it over his head like you would a shirt, and down his body, then pick him up and create a seat pocket within the fabric. To get him down; I reverse that – hold him with one arm and loosen the rings with the other, then let him slide down out of it until his feet touch the floor (I am bending over at that point, so that he is not too far off the ground).
Happy babywearing and toddler wearing!