If you have a kiddo who wants carried at least periodically (let's face it, that's at least a third of their 18 year under-your-roof expectancy) you either know of, or really need to know of, the Tula toddler and baby carriers. But Tula Baby Carriers come in three sizes: Free-to-Grow, Standard, and Toddler. You're not alone if you're wondering which one you'll need! We hear this all the time:
"My baby is (huge) and everyone says they grow so fast. Should I just buy a toddler Tula now?"
"My kiddo is 31'' and 22 lbs, do I need a standard or a toddler?"
"AH this is too complicated, help me figure out what size to buy! What will fit best and last the longest?"
No problem. We've got you covered. Here's the simple signs that your little one is ready to size up from a Standard or Free-to-Grow carrier to a Toddler Tula.
(And if you have an itty bitty or not-yet-earth-side one, try the Free To Grow Tula, no insert needed! We also love woven wraps, stretchy wraps, or ring slings. Prefer to start in that Standard Tula? You'll need one of these.)
For the purpose of this article, we'll discuss the Standard and Toddler Tula. Since the Free-to-Grow carrier expands to about the same size as a Standard Tula, the same recommendations will apply.
Ready? First, the details:
- Weight Limits: 15*-45lbs in the Standard vs 25-60lbs in the Toddler (*without infant insert)
- Panel Size Across: 15'' wide vs 18.5'' wide in the Toddler
- Panel Size Height: 15.5'' tall in the Standard vs 17.5'' tall in the Toddler
Most of the difference is in the height and width of the panel, meaning both how much it supports growing legs, and how high the panel reaches up their back. Both of these aspects not only help support your kiddo, but your back and shoulders as well.
Because most children - even "tall" and "short" ones - grow fairly proportionally, we're going to focus on seat width as the deciding factor between the two sizes of Tula carriers. The panel on the Standard Tula is nice and high - it will provide adequate support (and safety) for even a bigger preschooler, though of course a Toddler would be a better fit.
Note that panel height is of interest earlier if you are currently using an Ergo, which has a panel height of 13'' compared with approximately 15.5'' on the Standard Tula and 17.5'' on the Toddler.
Lily, age 4, carried in a Standard Tula. Despite the obvious leg overflow, Lily is happy and comfortable for shorter periods of time. Even though their noses touch, this is not uncomfortable on mom. It's obviously time for a Toddler Tula here - but look at that great back height! Her upper body is still very well supported. Here she is 40'' tall and wearing 5T.
A bit of background to understanding seat width:
When worn in soft structured carriers (like the Tula), babies should have their knees supported up above their bum, creating an "squatting straddle" position: foot down, knee up above and to the side of the hip.
Grandma’s day at the park - here a fun loving grandmother wears a sleepy 9 month old in a Standard Tula.
In this position the pelvis is tilted naturally, hip sockets are filled out, and the spine is in correct alignment. The more support on the legs, the less pressure on, and absorbed by, the spine.
As children grow and bodies get stronger, proper support is still important! An older child might not have the same intense squatting straddle, but their knees should not drop below their hips.
Dangling legs lead to pressure on hamstrings and the spine, and can restrict proper blood flow. This can also cause pinching of the nerves on the inner thigh. Sound uncomfortable?
There are two ways to achieve proper position with an older child in a baby carrier: provide a wide base of support or provide stirrups to hold feet and therefore knees up. (This is often phrased as "knee to knee" coverage, but as long as the thighs are supported you will get the proper support even if the fabric ends a few inches back - just look!) Tula takes the first option and provides a fantastic, wide seat base.
17m old Thea in a Standard Tula. This is a great fit for her at 17m, 32'' tall, 25.5 lbs, and wearing 24m pants. Excuse the dead plant. It was a long winter.
The Tula baby carriers that we have chosen to carry at Heart-Hugs use a sized carrier system: a standard (or "baby") carrier with a 15'' base and a toddler carrier with a 18.5'' base.
Still with me? Then you can already answer why a baby can't just "make it work" in a Toddler size carrier. The proper body support will not be there! There should not be lots of extra room in the carrier, baby should be snug and secure. Knees should be able bend outside of the legs holes - that means if you measure your child from one knee all the way up the inseam line and down the to the other knee, you're looking for a measurement of over 19'' to fit properly in the Toddler Tula.
A good way to guess is by checking pant size - children who comfortably wear a 2T length pant (regardless of waist fit) will just fit correctly in a Toddler Tula. Those same children can still fit comfortably in a Standard Tula! Many will still be more comfortable in a Standard as they fill up the space better. Their knees are not drooping and their backs should be well supported still. The Standard Tula does not magically "end" or "stop working" at this 2T pant size... this is simply where a good fit in a Toddler Tula typically begins.
Above, Thea on her Dad’s back in a Toddler Tula. Here she is 17m old, 32'' tall, 25.5 lbs, wearing 24m pants. This is a bit too big. There are big gaps on each side of her body, causing her to move against Dad’s motion as he walks. Her legs are just a bit too short and she can't bend her knees fully.
Below, an updated shot of Thea, now 22m old, in a Standard (left) and Toddler (right). Though she comfortably fits in a Toddler, she is still a better fit in a Standard as she fills the carrier completely, leaving no room for "pull" against mom’s body. The back panel is plenty high and she has good support for her legs.
Back seems low but only in back carries? Make sure to pull the carrier up to cover your child's back and create a good seat - this can be difficult with back carries. Have someone help you (even a young child can do this!) by gently pulling up on the back panel. If you're solo, try this: Remove one arm but keep ahold of the strap, and lift it up and away from your body. With a heavier child a gentle bounce may help. Then put the strap back on and repeat with the other side. Feel under the bum (like the bottom of a backpack) to see if there is excess material. I always do this before standing up just as an extra safety measure.
Lily on her Dad’s back in the Toddler Tula. Here she is 4 years old, 36lbs, 40'' tall, and wearing 5T pants. She is plenty comfortable here and loves riding on Daddy's back!
At some point as your child grows, you may notice discomfort - especially with extended wear. Make sure you first check your fit. Tula's Perfect Fit Adjusters at the top of each strap can help. Take the time to let all the straps out and start fresh, you might find that you can make things comfortable again. If not, it's likely time to size up.
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Did that help? Do you have more Tula or babywearing questions? Leave a comment and let us know! Ready to purchase? Find something you love right here!