Integra Carriers from ‘It’s a Sling Thing!’
Buckles Carriers at The Wrapping Years?!
It’s no secret that I’m a fully paid up member of the ‘Die Hard Wrapper Club’. I named my blog ‘The Wrapping Years’ and have written enthusiastically about ‘Why I’m a Wrapper’... but I have a confession. As much as I adore the comfort, flexibility and looks of those gorgeous pieces of fabric, I’ll admit that there are occasions when they’re not the quickest or most convenient option available.
My husband was a relatively late convert to wrapping but now wouldn’t be without the wrap cuddles he enjoys with our boys. However, when he’s flying solo and enjoying the delights of herding a toddler & active 10 month old on an expedition, he says he “can’t be doing with faffing about with fabric” and uses a full buckle carrier. As my toddler gets older and my youngest more adventurous, I have to say that there have been times when I see his point.
Perhaps the first time I acknowledged my need to have a ‘buckles’ carrier in my stash was on the Longleat Express, a miniature train that, thanks to my budding train enthusiasts, I spend more time on than I do in bed. I found myself sat with one hand gripping my toddler to prevent premature disembarkment and the other stroking the baby all stuggled up on my front in his wrap... except he wasn’t snuggled up anymore. At the ripe old age of 6 months he’d decided he now needed to sit (or stand) on the carriage seat and objected most vehemently to being ‘imprisioned’ in the wrap. Taking this in my stride I loosened the wrap & freed my jumping, back-arching little gremlin for the rest of the journey, holding onto one child with each hand & desperately hoping neither made a committed effort to leap out of the moving carriage to stroke the reindeer. All was well until I realised I needed to wrap Little again in readiness for the always hurried & chaotic exit at the station. Sitting in the cramped miniature carriage, I tried & failed to re-wrap Little while he planked and his big brother made a break for the Thomas merchandise. I ended up chasing down the platform with a baby under one arm, dragging a trail of wrap fabric behind me, tripping up passers by, and decided that next time I’d ‘cheat’ and bring the SSC (soft structured carrier).
When the new Integras were launched my magpie eyes were inevitably drawn to the pretty wrap collaborations. My brain thought that these neat, compact carriers may be an invaluable addition to our babywearing arsenal not only for my wriggling now-10-month-old Little, but for the increasingly rapid ups & downs (& ups & downs & ups...) of an impatient toddler who sometimes decides he wants to go down again even before I’ve managed to tie off my wrap job. I was therefore extremely excited when those lovely ladies at It’s a Sling Thing gave me the chance to test both a size 1 and a size 3 Integra Baby Carrier.
Integras are soft structured ‘full buckle’ carriers. They come in the following three sizes (my 50th centile 10 month old was in a size 1 and my 95th centile 2yr, 10 month old in the size 3):
Size 1: Suitable from newborn (7.5lb) until around 2 years of age. Panel dimensions 14 inches wide and 20 inches high to create a seat up to 16 inches wide.
Size 2: Suitable from around 18 months until your child is around 3.5 years of age. Panel dimensions 16 inches wide and 22 inches high to create an 18 inch wide seat.
Size 3: Suitable from around 3 years until around 5 years of age. Panel dimensions 18 inches wide and 24 inches high to create a 20 inch wide seat.
Integra Baby Carriers are designed by the longest practicing babywearing consultant in the UK. They come in a wide range of fabrics with varying prices from the bright ‘Essential’ colours to various patterns and even Harris Tweed. I was lucky enough to be testing two gorgeous Baie Slings wrap collaboration Integras made with panels of ‘Portobello’ and ‘Element Pixie’ baby wraps.
It’s a Sling Thing!
‘It’s a Sling Thing’ is the UK’s biggest postal sling library with a reputation for excellent quality and customer service. They provide an invaluable resource for anyone who wants to try a baby carrier before investing in buying one, but doesn’t have a sling library accessible to them. Their hire service is as slick and easy to navigate as a late night Amazon order, with return postage bags and labels provided for those of us who’re too busy & sleep deprived to locate a pen, paper and sellotape at any one time. They have an extensive range of all types of sling and carrier so you can test what really works for you before spending your hard earned cash on your own.
It’s a Sling Thing isn’t just a hire company either. They have a ‘Try Before You Buy’ scheme for stretchy wraps, and you can often pick up a bargain ex-rental buy. Their well designed, informative and easy to navigate website also has a large retail section where you can shop for a broad range of wraps, carriers and accessories including, of course, a good selection of Integra Baby Carriers in all sizes.
Integra Baby Carriers
The Integra can be worn on your back or front, with the straps crossed or not depending on your preference. The waistband is secured by hanging the carrier upside down like an apron and tightening the waist straps. You then hold your little one and lift the panel up between their legs creating a nice seat with knee-to-knee support, seating them in a comfortable ‘M’ position (a frog-like natural sitting position with knees spread and raised). You then click the shoulder straps into place while supporting your little one until everything’s in place. The whole procedure takes seconds and is entirely possible to do on your own. Front carries are super easy from the outset. If carrying your little one on your back, you start with them on your hip or front and scoot them in the carrier seat around to the back before securing the shoulder straps. This little manoeuvre may take a little practice at home with a YouTube video before you feel completely confident in a car park but, taken as a whole, it takes a lot less practice than wrapping and you’ll be whipping them around like a ninja in no time!
When wearing a smaller baby on your back, you have to hoist the waistband up high (I’m talking right up under your boobs!) in order to get your wrappee at the right height. This feels a little bit odd at first, but it’s no big deal. As your little one gets taller, the waistband comes back down to waist height.
A lot of thought has gone into the design of the Integra. It’s packed full of little features that I didn’t appreciate the significance of until we started using the carriers.
Unlike the Connecta, the Integra has dual adjust buckles which means you can tighten them by pulling forwards or back depending on which is easier for you. I confess I got a little bit confused the first time I used the carrier and ended up with the buckles uncomfortably located in my armpits. It doesn’t take long to get to grips with them though and I soon appreciated not having to dislocate my shoulders in order to tighten the straps by pulling backwards.
The unstructured waist provides a large degree of strap adjustability which means that the Integra will be comfortable for most adults up to about a size 22 UK dress size. Certainly my very slim husband found the carriers just as comfortable as I, with my ample, err, padding, did. They’re clearly very comfortable for the little ones too as not only Little, but his nap-refusing toddler brother fell asleep in them! Of course, even the most committed seat popper has zero chance of escape.
The flat ‘hood’ is a triumph of simple, effective design. You can have it fastened up as a sleep hood and head support, clipped as a neat neck support or simply laying flat out of the way against the back of the carrier. Each corner has a clip with an adjustable strap that you can lengthen or shorten as required. The clips on the hood are different to those on the Connecta and I found them less fiddly to operate.
There’s a reinforced neck support on the top edge of the hood. It’s just a sturdy curved semi ellipse of fabric, but it works perfectly when the hood is clipped into the folded position on both the size 1 and size 3 carriers. The support also doubles up as a peak when the hood’s up to keep rain off little faces.
Each Integra comes with its own accessory strap. This may look like an unremarkable miniature luggage strap but it has more uses than a Swiss Army knife! You can use the accessory strap to cinch the seat of the carrier to fit smaller infants or as a chest strap when back carrying to prevent the straps from pulling back over your shoulders. It’s a handy way to keep the carrier folded up for storage and can be used to attach things like keys, small toys or dummies. There’s even a little loop to attach the accessory strap to so you don’t lose it.
Perhaps my favourite feature of the Integra is its unstructured, unpadded waist. Frankly, after two children, my waist has plenty of its own padding! I’ve found that carriers with more structured, padded waists never sit properly atop my mum tum, and leave me looking something like the Michelin Man. The lack of padding doesn’t seem to impact on the comfort of the carrier, and means that it folds down neatly to a size that’ll fit into most changing bags. The compact size of the Integra is where its magic really lies, especially when toddlers or preschoolers are concerned. It doesn’t matter how fabulous your carrier is if it’s too bulky to fit inside a bag and be ready when needed. No crystal ball can predict when little legs will get tired, knees scraped or emotions overwhelmed so having a carrier that you can tuck into the bag in preparation for whenever ‘up’ is required is invaluable.
The Integra baby carrier is extremely accessible, handy, compact, and easy to use, with a range of well thought out design features. Any buckles carrier will struggle to replicate the shoulder comfort of a woven wrap, which distributes the weight of your wrappee across a much wider piece of fabric. However, the lightly padded straps of the Integra ensure that the carrier is still comfortable when carrying a smaller wrappee, and even a huge one for the amount of time that most toddlers and preschoolers want ‘up’. You simply can’t beat the Integra for convenience, and if that’s cheating, I’m cool with it! There’s definitely a place for one in even the most dedicated wrapper’s stash, and the beautiful wrap collaboration options are there to satisfy all those woven fabric urges!
You can hire an Integra from the It’s a Sling Thing website here, or buy yourself a brand new one from them here. I recommend following the ‘It’s a Sling Thing’ Facebook page for all their news and special offers.
With special thanks to Simon & his glamorous assistant Rachel for their lovely photos.