Adventures in Babywearing on the Bus (…or the Subway…)
By Bailey (Umm Ibrahim)
I have been a supporter of public transportation since my birth. My earliest memory is standing on a packed bus going downtown to accompany my mother to her classes at the Art Institute. Taking the bus is just something I do and have done for almost my entire life, so it makes sense I would continue using this valuable resource even with my young son in tow…well, by in tow, I mean strapped comfortably to my back, or slinging on my hip!
Wearing your child and riding public transportation is not nearly as difficult or daunting as it might appear. I first attempted it when my son was 2 ½ months old and I really wanted to pick up a few things at the grocery store. That first experience taught me a great deal about how to safely and comfortably carry a child on public transportation.
So, without further adieu, let me share some tips I have picked up since that first bus ride.
First… dress for the weather!
Yes, I realize this is common sense but let me just say it was something I didn’t think much about when I first went out with my young son. Let's say its early spring or late autumn, sunny yet a bit chilly. You appropriately cover your child as you see fit, assuming a nice warm bus will come on time, according to the schedule…but then, the bus is late! It’s quite possible you might be standing outside at the bus stop for 20 minutes, wondering where the bus is and cursing the fact you didn’t put heavier socks or a warmer jacket on your child who is chilling (quite literally) on your back. Parents who use cars or strollers don’t really have to consider this possibility because it’s easy to throw an extra blanket in the stroller or an extra sweater in the car. I’ve learned it best to overdress when using public transport. You can always take a layer off once you get where you need to go, or if it’s a quick trip, leave the layers intact.
Second…travel in a comfortable carrier with a happy child (yes, I realize this is an ideal scenario)
Nothing is more atrocious than being a third of the way home, on a packed bus no less with a child who decides to scream his or her little head off while strapped to your back/hip/chest. Not only is the whole baby strapped to your back/hip/chest probably freaking people out, but also the image of the screaming child could cement the image of babywearing as child torture in the minds of your fellow riders. I’ve learned that its always best to try to take it slow when traveling on public transportation, as in allowing a bit of extra time to feed your child before a trip. Or, before you catch the bus or subway back, take a break and take your child out of the carrier, let them stretch and play a little and feed them, if at all possible. Your child will usually stay happy and content the rest of the trip home.
Third… this leads me to the logistics of using certain carriers on public transportation. While I am definitely a mom who prefers a back carry over other types of carries, I have slowly come to understand that probably the easiest carry to use on a bus is the front or hip carry. I now make an effort to put my son in a sling if I have to take a bus anywhere outside of my neighborhood or surrounding area. I will also stick a rolled up mei tai or onbuhimo in the sling's pocket if I anticipate doing a fair amount of walking. Don’t get me wrong, it is entirely possible to back carry while taking public transportation and it is still my preferred method if I am just taking a short jaunt around town or going to the grocery store. But back carrying does require a bit more forethought - at times it's hard to back carry on a crowded bus during rush hour, so try as best you can to schedule the trip during “off” hours or travel less packed routes if you can. A hip or front carry tends to be suitable for most trips as you can pretty much sit or stand anywhere there is a free seat or space and not worry that the passenger standing behind you will bump your child's head as they get off.
Fourth… I have found that if you do use a carrier, and particularly if your child is in a back carry, the best seat on the bus is in the very front. This area is usually reserved for those with special needs. As a parent with a child with you, and just like a parent carrying a baby and/or a stroller you have every right to sit up front. When I am going for a short jaunt and have my son on my back, I try my best to sit in the front as there is more leg room and more bars to hold on to. Those bars are very helpful when bus suddenly stops or turns!
Additionally, I do not hesitate to ask those who are sitting in the front seat to move so I can sit there as well, unless they are elderly or disabled. I also try to always be the first to get on the bus if there are others waiting for the same bus. Generally people are very understanding of a parent riding with a child and if they are not, I don’t hesitate to let the bus driver know.
This leads me to the last and perhaps the most unnerving aspect of using a carrier on public transportation…the stares and looks you will get! Get used to it! If you carry for any length of time off a bus you will get the same stares, looks and interesting comments or questions. Being inside a bus tends to amplify that, you know the whole group of random strangers in a small-enclosed space sort of thing. Don’t get me wrong, I have gotten a lot of wonderful comments and interesting questions from complete strangers and I find nothing is as great as having a young mom with a baby in her arms who struggled to get her stroller on the bus ask me about the carrier I am using and where she could get one. Yet, just as frequently I get a lot of strange looks and being that my son likes to reach out and grab at things, particularly when he is in a back carry, I have had more than a handful of grouchy people get upset with me by “allowing” my son to “grab” at them ( he’s a curious 6 month old baby!). So just be prepared for anything and everything…including people touching your child (I do admit that I have yet to devise a fail-proof, yet kind way of telling the random person who tries to touch my son when he is being back carried to stop doing so!)
I hope these few tips have helped to educated you on how best to go about carrying your child while using public transportation. Baby carrying is a wonderful tool which promotes a great sense of bonding between you and your child and that doesn't end when you get on a bus or subway - it actually makes life easier!