(This will be illustrated with pictures and mini videos soon, I hope.)
My wraps are 5-6 yards of a thin lightweight “drapey” material. I have both slightly stretchy and non-stretchy wraps. The wrapping process is mostly the same but has some slight differences for stretchy wraps (SW) an non-stretch wraps (NSW). All of my wraps are simple pieces of fabric. I have a lightweight stretch thermal that has a 10% stretch across the grain (one direction). I have some lightweight 100% cotton gauze non-stretch wraps that have about a 3% stretch due to the fabric’s “bubble” tendency. I have a cotton-lycra gauze wrap that has a 10% stretch across the grain, and I have a dance fabric that has more stretch than any of the other wraps. None of my wraps have finished edges and were all purchased from fabric stores.
You can wrap with any fabric that is strong enough to hold baby’s weight. Every fabric will have its pros and cons. I like lightweight drapey fabrics because they are much easier to wrap than heavier weight fabrics. I use soft fabric for comfort. Avoid fabrics that are starchy, rigid, too heavy, or that have too much stretch. Also unless you can sew avoid fabrics that unravel when washing.
This description is for front carries only. I tie my wrap at the beginning of the day and baby goes into it and out of it across the day without my untying it. I wear my babies pretty much until they start to walk this way, and don’t tend to use back carries for a number of reasons. Front carries are comfortable for me up to about 25lbs because of how I wear my babies high, tight, and neat.
The core concepts that help me wrap correctly are this:
Tying a wrap is like tying your shoes. When you tie your shoelaces you focus on the middle of the lace and ignore the ends. The ends are just something to pull through the loops, and they can be pretty long without becoming overwhelming. The same applies to a wrap. You are tying the wrap around your body and you only have to worry about the portions that are right near your body. (applies to SW and NSW)
Track the top rail to wrap neatly. All “how to use your wrap” manuals, instructions and videos talk about keeping your wrap straight. I’m a klutz. Simple is good. To keep my wrap straight I focus on the “top rail”. Hold your fabric out straight in front of you so that it goes from left to right. Let the bottom of the fabric fall down and hold it from the top. That is your “top rail”. When you pull the fabric through, pull from the top rail first and make sure you always know where it is. Once the fabric is through you can adjust the “bottom rail” and middle of the rail as much as you want as long as you are keeping the top rail straight and pulling from the top first.(Applies to SW and NSW)
Do each step neatly. Don’t wrap quickly and in haste. Do each step neatly. Skipping a step or letting things twist on one step makes it easier to go back and start again rather than try to fix the twisting. Straighten things out at each step. (Applies to SW and NSW although NSW will be more uncomfortable if you allow twists. SW’s are more forgiving.)
Know which parts need to be pulled out tight and which parts need to have slack. As you get to know your particular wrap you will get a feeling for how it has to be worn, as each fabric is slightly different. Both stretchy and non-stretchy fabrics need to be spread out and snugged tight across the back, crossing in an “X” high on your back and they should be pulled down snugly over your shoulders. The front piece should be snug but should have enough room to pull up over the baby, and the “x” at the front forms the seat for the baby so it should be formed at the height where you want baby’s butt to be (hold baby with his head comfortably under your chin and note where his butt is. For a NSW make the front cross there. For a SW make it slightly higher. Mobies and other very stretchy fabric need to be crossed a good inch or two higher than where you want the baby’s bum to be. Other wraps vary. The front “x” and the front cross piece are what forms the space for the baby. If this space is too tight the baby will bump into your chin and be uncomfortably squished. If this space is too loose the fabric will not hold the baby securely and your back will hurt and the baby will be unhappy. Stretchy wraps are more forgiving in terms of getting a comfortable supportive wrap for the baby but offer less support for your back.
When one rail is too loose it impacts the whole wrap. When one rail is loose or sloppy it impacts the whole wrap and baby will either be off balance, baby’s legs will be too free, or there will be some other issue. I like to pull my “bottom” rail a bit tighter going over the shoulders because this is what ends up supporting the baby’s bum and pulling her knees higher than her butt. I like the top rail to be a bit more snug going across the front as this is what holds baby closer to my body and baby’s bum and legs generally take up more room (especially with a cloth diaper) in the wrap than their skinny little upper body will.
Use gravity to put baby into the wrap and form a space for baby. Once the wrap is on your body, locate the side of the wrap that crosses closest to your body at the bottom of the front X. This will be the “inside” side for your wrap. Hold the baby on the opposite shoulder and pull the wrap out at the shoulder. Supporting baby, lean forwards and let baby’s weight form a space for the baby inside of the wrap. Once baby is inside of that side of the wrap you want to pull that piece of fabric out to cover the baby’s body. Pull it knee to knee so that baby is fully supported in that one side of the fabric the way he would be in a sling. Then pull baby’s “inside” foot through the other side of the wrap, again leaning forwards to form a space for the baby and spread out the other side knee to knee. The baby’s bum should now be lower than her knees. Pull baby’s arms up so that they are not pinned by his side, The front panel should be squished down at this point. Pull the front panel up over the baby’s feet before you spread it out. Once baby’s feet come through the bottom, spread it out so that the bottom rail is under baby’s bum and the top rail goes across baby’s back/shoulders.
As you get better at wrapping you will be able to tie your wrap as quickly as you tie your shoes and get it just right in under 2 minutes. This takes practice and understanding of how different things influence different comfort factors. When there is something that you don’t like about how your wrap is holding your baby, try to figure out where the problem is based on my descriptions of how the different parts should be looser or tighter.
The fit of the wrap should be similar to a bathing suit over you and the baby. It should not fit like a loose fitting backpack but rather like an item of clothing. It should be snug and straight across your body and the baby’s body.