Soft structured carriers (SSCs) are both easy to use and acquire, making them one of the most common carriers used in the United States.  While they are easy to use, they are not a “one-size-fits-all” carrier – especially without modifications.  Yes, you can use your SSC from infancy through toddlerhood, but there are some key tips to make baby more comfortable in your journey. 
Can I use my SSC with my infant?
Of course you can, but follow these tips for safe and comfortable wearing.
Don’t get overly excited to put your baby’s legs outside of the carrier too early.  Your child should have their legs resting inside the carrier until their knees can comfortably bend at the leg holes.  This often happens around five months, but varies greatly by infant and carrier.  If you try to place their legs out too soon, you will overextend their hips and put undue pressure on their back as it doesn’t offer proper support for their growing legs, back, and hips.  In order to properly support your baby, their knees should be above their bottom and to the side of their hips – taking care not to pull their legs too far apart.  This insures that their spine is in proper alignment, their pelvis is correctly tilted, and their hip sockets are filled-out.  The further from this position you go, the more pressure their spine will face.

Logan was too small to fit with his legs-out; instead of allowing him to stay legs-out at this age, we used a few tricks to get him legs-in until he was tall enough to comfortably bend his knees at the edge of the panel.

I want my child to comfortable being legs-out from the beginning.  Is there a carrier that can meet my needs?

Our lending library offers two Beco Geminis and a Lillebaby complete which both offer a way to make the panel smaller for smaller babies.  There is also an infant Kinderpack that will cinch in to be the perfect size for your baby.

My baby can’t comfortably bend his/her legs in my SSC.  Does that mean I have to wait?
Not at all. 
Just because your child isn’t big enough to rest legs-out in your SSC doesn’t mean you can’t use it!  You will just need to figure out a way to use it while having your infant sit with their legs inside of the carrier.  When they are legs-in, you must take care that all of their weight is resting on their bottom and not on their legs or feet.  You want them sitting in a squatted position in order to support their growth and development.
You can use an infant insert that is commercially available.  Tula, Ergo, Beco, and Onya all make an insert to help little babies fit in their carriers.  Using an insert that was made for your specific carrier would be the best option with a very young infant as they usually offer more support along the back and sides for your baby.
Something to note about the Ergo insert (which we offer in the lending library) is that is can function as two different inserts.  When your child is a newborn, you will find it helpful to use the whole insert.  As your child grows and gains core strength, they will become much too large for the insert but will still be too small to sit legs-out.  You can simply take the pillow portion of the insert out and use that on which baby can sit.

Make sure baby’s weight is on their bottom and then froggy their legs when you set them in the carrier.

But I don’t have an insert and cannot buy one right away.  What can I do?
If you don’t have an insert, you can roll up a little blanket to set under baby.  It is often recommended to use a receiving blanket, but some feel they are too small on their own. You can also use two receiving blankets rolled together or a swaddling blanket to achieve the cushion height you’re comfortable with. 
Place weight on baby’s bottom and not their legs as you set them on the blanket and pull the carrier panel up.

It is important to get the waistband extremely tight when using your SSC, and especially when using an insert or blanket to support your younger infant.  A tight waistband not only gives you a better, more comfortable fit, but also prevents the insert or blanket from sliping between you and the waistband of the carrier – potentially placing unnecessary pressure on the carrier.
One more extremely important note about using your SSC with your baby – you should be continually monitoring baby’s airway when they are a young infant.  When they are too small to fit inside your SSC without an insert or blanket, they are very likely too small to fit inside the carrier without their head being covered.  Using your SSC with and insert or blanket will prop baby up higher, placing their head at the top of the carrier and at a perfect level to monitor their breathing.  Remember, always keep baby close enough to kiss.
My child is big for their age.  Should I get a toddler carrier instead of a standard?
It is best to buy a carrier that fits your child well.
It’s common to get anxious to buy a toddler size SSC for their child, but just because your child can toddle around does not mean they are big enough for a toddler carrier.  The problem with sizing up to a toddler SSC too early is that it doesn’t properly support your child or yourself.  All carriers should be snug, and the more space in a carrier means less support for your child’s back.  If the carrier is too large for your child, they can sway in the carrier while moving instead of snugly resting against your body to move with you.  When the carrier is too loose, the child’s weight will be pulled away from your body, causing you discomfort and undue stress on your shoulders.  Finally, one major fault of placing too small of a child in a toddler carrier is the same as placing an infant legs-out too early – their legs are not getting the proper support.  The main sign that a toddler carrier will fit your child is if their legs can bend comfortably at the leg holes without extra fabric under their knees (which often happens around the time your child can fit in 2T pants).
Bennett (nearly one-year-old and 23 pounds) is pictured here in a standard Tula (left) and a toddler Tula (right).  Notice how his legs cannot bend in the toddler carrier, but he fits comfortably in the standard.
Josiah (2.5 years-old, 35.5 inches, and 29 pounds) is pictured in a toddler Kinderpack.  His legs bend well at the leg holes and the panel is still very tall.

But can’t I buy a toddler size so that I don’t have to buy another one later on?
You might not ever need the toddler!
One of the main reasons toddler carriers are used too early is because the caregiver wants to avoid buying numerous carriers – they want ONE carrier that will last throughout their wearing days.   If you have to pick just one, almost any educator would recommend you pick a standard.  Contrary to popular belief, a standard size carrier will fit your child for an extremely long time as the standard and toddler sizes overlap.  While supporting an older child knee-to-knee might be more comfortable for child and wearer, it’s not as important as it is with younger babies.  Just because your SSC doesn’t fit your child knee-to-knee doesn’t mean the carrier is too small for the child because their legs aren’t dangling; if your older toddler isn’t exactly knee-to-knee in their SSC, they aren’t going to suffer any damage to their bodies.

Eliot (around three) pictured in a standard Tula (left) a few months before the toddler Tula (right).  Although he is not supported knee-to-knee, developmentally it’s not necessary with an older child.
Just because your child fits in a toddler (i.e., their legs bend comfortably at the leg holes) doesn’t mean the standard stops working.  Often kids will fit well in a standard well after they fit in a toddler. Remember, the better they fill out the carrier, the less movement and pull against you!

Logan (2-years-old, 25 lbs, 32 inches) fits perfectly in the standard Kinderpack.  It fully supports him from knee-to-knee and the panel is a great height.  

Logan can fit in the toddler Kinderpack, but it is still almost too big for him; the fabric, with Logan fitting from knee-to-knee, nearly folds at his knees and his seat is deeper than necessary.
I feel like the panel isn’t big enough to wear my “leaner”.  Should I go ahead and get the toddler so that they are safe?
One major complaint people have about carriers “not fitting” is the body panel feeling too low in back carries.  This isn’t a reason to move to a larger SSC, as the underlying problem isn’t the panel being too short, but rather the child using the panel as a seat.  When you place a child on your back in your SSC be sure that you are pulling as much of the panel up as possible, making is less likely they will be sitting on the fabric instead of the waistband as intended. 
To prevent this from happening, be sure that you are setting your child right at the top of the waistband when you scoot them to your back.  If you notice they are already sitting on the panel as a seat, tug up on the panel once you get your child in the carrier or take one arm out of the shoulder strap, support your child’s weight with your other hand inside the carrier, and pull up on the panel before setting your child back in the SSC.

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