By Tom Booth
Mei tai 背带, also known as meh dai, bei dai or simply a baby sling are wonderful baby carriers that continue to be popular around the world. Even though they are amongst the oldest style of carriers, the combination of flexibility, convenience and simplicity means mothers often choose them instead of modern buckled carriers or prams.
What is a mei tai?
A mei tai is a broad name for an Asian style baby carrier that originated in China many thousands of years ago. It consists of a main fabric panel with long straps. These straps wrap around the parent’s body, and are twisted and tied into position. Although best known by the Cantonese pronunciation of mei tai, this style of carrier is found in a range of different countries and cultures. For example, in Japan traditional baby carrying was done using a wrap carry called an obi 帯, and in Korea a similar baby sling is called a podaegi 포대기. All of these consist of fabric panels with long straps that are wrapped around the parent.
These mei tai can be made of a wide variety of materials, such as reeds and grasses that are woven into a fabric. These are not simply tools but are often cultural heirlooms and pieces of artwork by their own merit. They are often decorated with bright colours, images and beads.
What is so good about mei tai?
One of the major appeals of the traditional mei tai is the degree to which it can be altered to suit a baby regardless of size or age. The baby is able to sit on the main fabric panel while the straps are adjusted to be both secure and comfortable. Not only is the baby secure and comfortable, but the mei tai can be used time and time again, from infancy right up until the baby is able to walk on its own.
By contrast, buckled baby carriers have a fixed, rigid structure because of the plastic buckles. Also, the length of the straps is also fixed, limiting the baby age range the carrier can be used.
Some parents prefer mei tai with thicker back straps to provide greater support and security for their child. These can be tied around the parent’s back to provide greater comfort and ease-of-use. Cheaper, buckled brands often do not offer such an option, and thus can cause some irritation for both the baby and the parent if used for a long period of time.
Types of mei tai
As mentioned earlier, there are many regional variations of the mei tai. But within these, there are four main types of mei tai that each offer different benefits:
- Half buckles: combine the best of mei tai and buckled baby carriers. The half buckle has a buckle around the waist of the parent, but keeps the flexible straps around the shoulders.
- Onbuhimo: Japanese-derived baby slings where the baby is attached to the parent’s back rather than the front. The baby sits higher on the parent, and so there is no need for a waist band.
- Korean podaegis: two straps are attached to the top of a longer panel than is wrapped around the baby. The straps are tied under the parent’s arms. This also doesn’t have a waist band.
- South Korean Chunei: more like a jacket that has a pouch for the baby to sit in. Think of a kangaroo!
How to put them on
Maybe one of the most off putting things about mei tai is the apparent difficulty of putting them on. But in reality, once you know how, it is quite simple. First, tie the mei tai around yourself, letting the panel fall down like an apron. Pick up your baby and place it chest-to-chest, making sure its legs are pushed outwards around your body. Keeping one hand under the baby, you then pull up the straps and throw them over each shoulder. With your free hand, you then reach behind and pull the straps together, pulling the baby tight towards your chest. Cross each strap over your back. Do this on both sides and then pull and secure in a knot.
Hopefully this short introduction to mei tai might encourage new parents to look into getting a mei tai to carry their new born baby!
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