By Maura Keating
Every parent out there is different and each has his or her preferences for everything from strollers to baby wearing. My own bias leans towards ring slings. The concept is simple–a broad and long piece of cloth is threaded through two rings. Ring slings accommodate a wide range of shapes and sizes, allowing many people to share the baby wearing with a partner without having to buy another size. This also means that the sling can adjust to be worn over a T-shirt in the mall or over a heavy winter coat when you’re outside. They also work for Baby from birth until Baby is too large or too independent to be carried. The tail on a ring sling can be used as a nursing cover or a sun shade. I’ve also used a ring sling as a nursing cover when my son was out of the sling. Our ring sling has also doubled as a blanket, changing pad, and ground cover. I adore ring slings, but my husband gave up on them after a few weeks of trying. The adjustability that I adore made a sling too frustrating for him to use. He prefers buckles and consistency. For this review, I tested three rings slings: the Maya Wrap Ring Sling, the Sakura Bloom Essential Ring Sling, and the ZoloWear Ring Sling.
The hand-loomed fabric enables the Maya Wrap Sling to take a beating. The Guatemalan patterns can be a little granola crunchy, but they do wonders at masking unavoidable spills that come with close proximity to a baby or toddler. Post spill, the Maya Wrap is machine washable and one year later, the fabric on my sling still looks great. Solid colors are available in addition to the patterns. The weave is strong yet soft on my shoulders and on my son’s legs. In the summer, it is breathable, but I avoid it on the hottest days. The Maya Wrap Sling comes in four sizes based on height. Maya Wrap also offers a MamaBaby Sling made from 100 percent cotton and the Maya Tie, a carrier based on the Asian-style Mei Tai carrier.
I own the Original Maya Wrap Unpadded Sling–a product that is being discontinued in favor of the popular lightly padded sling that features light padding on the shoulder. Both Maya Wrap Slings feature a cap that folds over to hug your shoulder, distributing Baby’s weight. The biggest challenges that I had with the Maya Wrap was learning how to thread the sling, making sure that the fabric was not twisted–getting my son comfortable while being comfortable myself. Once I got the hang of it, putting on and adjusting the Maya Wrap became routine and unbelievably fast. A crying baby who wants to be worn can be powerful motivation.
One of my favorite features of the Maya Wrap is the pocket at the bottom of the tail. It is a perfect size for whatever essentials that I might need and it closes with a Velcro tab. For a walk with the dog, I drop in a wallet, keys, and bags. If I am grocery shopping, I stash my list and my wallet there for easy access. The Maya Wrap comes with an instructional DVD that I watched, rapt, before and after baby was born. I must point out that the DVD, while useful, is also incredibly silly and must have been filmed decades ago. Silliness aside, before my son arrived, the women on the DVD seemed like magicians as they easily slid babies into the sling and toddlers onto their hips and back. When my son was tiny, I watched the DVD again, fearful to attempt the sleight of hand with such a delicate creature. I’ll be honest–I didn’t catch on to the sling thing as soon as I would have liked, but once I did, the sling became a life saver. The Maya Wrap enables me to do everything I need at home and on the go, while attending to my son’s needs.
The Sakura Bloom Baby Sling will change the way you look at ring slings and baby wearing. Sakura Bloom ring slings are gorgeous. You could wear them independent of Baby as a sash Miss America-style and feel spectacular, though I don’t recommend it. With Baby, the Sakura Bloom sling accessorizes any outfit, lifting your worn-out jeans from the humdrum and looking just right with a cocktail dress. Made from natural silks and linens, Sakura Bloom slings come in a variety of colors and styles–solid, reversible, stripes, or edged with silk. We tested a sling from the Essential range that featured a reversible Dupioni silk. The silk has a brilliant sheen and a crinkly texture and the ring is made from a light aluminum. The sling arrives pre-threaded in a very cute Bamboo box with an instruction booklet. Because the sling comes pre-threaded, I was able to put the sling on and go. In fact, I didn’t need to rethread the sling until I wanted to reverse the color. The Sakura Bloom sling held its shape and never twisted, making it extraordinarily easy to take on and off quickly–an essential feature when you’re wearing a toddler. The sling is sewn in gathered pleats into the rings, the fabric naturally fans over your shoulder for superior comfort. I have narrow, sloping shoulders and the Sakura Bloom sling never slipped like other carriers tend to. The texture of the silk makes the fabric very grippy and perfect for baby wearing–a fact that surprised me. The sling feels very light and comfortable so no one overheats and the fabric doesn’t dig into my shoulder. While Sakura Bloom slings are designed to fit most body shapes, you can contact the company for questions about fit.
Sakura Bloom slings are machine washable in cold water on a gentle or delicate cycle. I put mine through the wash once and it still looks great. I spot clean on a regular basis. I talked to a Mom who had problems machine washing her Sakura Bloom silk sling–the fabric pilled a bit and never looked as nice as when it was new. On their website, Sakura Bloom notes that the silk will lose some of its sheen when washed, but on the plus side, the fabric becomes even softer. If your Baby generates lots of spit-up or other messes, you might want to use a sling that can stand repeated washing at high temperatures until Baby behaves less like a volcano. We use slings primarily for outings and my son rarely spit up, even when he was new, so spot cleaning and hand washing work fine for us. As the weather gets warmer, we may scale back on our use of the silk sling since that fabric acts like an insulator. More than likely, I’ll buy a Sakura Bloom linen sling to use in the warmer weather since I can’t imagine life without this sling.
Sometimes I wish that the Sakura Bloom sling had a pocket. Adding a pocket would make the sling more functional, but it might detract from its stylish appearance. Sakura Bloom slings are pricier than other brands–they are made from silk and natural linen, after all. You can justify the price if you know that you are going to be a baby-wearing Mama by scaling back on a stroller purchase. Or, why scale back? You are doing something wonderful for you and for Baby. Isn’t that worth every penny?
ZoloWear Ring Slings are available in a wide variety of pattern and fabrics like stretch cotton sateens, silk brocades, and sun (and light) blocking Solarveil. Solarveil fabric is perfect for the summer since it is light and breathable, while blocking 70 to 80 percent of the sun’s UVA/UVB rays. (You can even wear Solarveil in the pool or shower.) We tested a ZoloWear ring sling made from stretch cotton sateen in a playful pattern.
A wide shoulder distributes Baby’s weight but doesn’t feel too bulky because the shoulder fabric is attached to the top ring with a narrower strap. Although the shoulder fabric was wide, it sometimes slipped when I tried to fan it across my entire shoulder. The breathable fabric felt comfortable for me and my son with just enough stretch, but it was sometimes hard to adjust in the rings. Once I perfected all the adjustments and everyone was happy again, the rings never slipped. The craftsmanship of the sling was great, but with all of the details, I wish that the fabric was double-sided. Since the tail is important in a ring sling, it looked a bit odd to have one side of the sling unlined. The patterns of the ZoloWear sling are cute and perfect for hiding stains while adding a little extra style to your outfit. ZoloWear slings are machine washable on cold. The cotton sling we tested still looks perfect after repeated washes.
ZoloWear Ring Slings feature a smooth, zippered pocket that ensures that you don’t lose what you need. The zipper also helps to keep little hands from accessing keys, phones, or other items that you might not want Baby to have. Since I was used to the Velcro pocket access with the Maya Wrap, I usually kept the zipper open since I rarely had time to work a zipper when I needed something fast. The slim pocket still kept everything inside, sans zipper. As with other ring slings, one size fits most, but ZoloWear comes in five sizes for an optimal fit for all. ZoloWear also makes cotton baby pouches.
Mastering ring slings involves a steeper learning curve than other baby wearing carriers, but the end result is rewarding and well worth the time spent watching how-to DVDs and videos on YouTube or studying pamphlet illustrations. For some, and depending on the sling, wearing a sling might be easier than you think, especially when it calms Baby and enables you to live hands free from Baby’s birth to thirty-five pounds and beyond.
Addendum to Maura’s Review: These are the comments sent by Darien Wilson. He lists his title as “Babywearing Guru President & Founder, ZoloWear.com”:
1. Adjustability. I have come across this issue with Maya Wrap users in the past. Our slings are very easy to adjust, especially the sateens (which you tested). If you are used to a Maya Wrap, and you’re pulling down on the whole tail to tighten it, then ZoloWear might seem difficult. But if you follow my video suggestions on adjusting just that one edge, it’s very quick and easy to tighten and loosen the sling. It’s just different from the Maya Wrap.
2. “Lining” on the tail. We have tried two layers of cotton in the (distant) past. Two layers of cotton do not look good (they stick together and may shrink at different rates), and they are very hard to adjust. We find that one layer is cool, lightweight, comfortable. If the tail only was 2 layers, it would sometimes get caught in the rings and be hard to adjust (like padding on those slings with padded rails). I have yet to find fabric people who can print on both sides of the fabric, unfortunately. So for the new prints we are designing, we choose prints that have white in the print so the tail does not look SO white. I agree that fabric with print on both sides would be ideal, but I would rather compromise some of the appearance to have the functionality be best.
Tell us what you love about the Maya Wrap baby sling and we will randomly select one person to win a lightly padded Maya Wrap sling (Size: Medium, Color: Olive Green). Contest ends June 15, 2008.Â This contest is now closed.