photo credit: dudleylulurose.com
In The Guide
Baby carriers have been around forever.
Ever since we were cavemen and women caring for our lovable cave babies, we’ve been finding ways to strap them to our chests. It makes for easy transportation and frees our hands for all of the new baby-related chores we need to do.
I would say that everyone would find a baby carrier to a lifesaver.
Every parent will have their own preferences in the style of carrier that’s best for them, so it’s not exactly possible to recommend a single baby carrier that will work for everyone. And it’s true that most parents who baby wear don’t have a single carrier, but instead several different ones for different situations.
The wonderful benefits of babywearing.
There are a number of reported benefits of babywearing, for both mama and baby. Dr. Kathleen Berchelmann has a good summary of what they are:
Carried babies are happier and cry less. A 1986 study found that babies that were carried three hours a day cried 43% less overall and 54% less during the evening hours.
The close contact improves breastfeeding and milk production. Physical contact with the infant causes mothers to release oxytocin. This is a hormone that promotes the production of breastmilk. In turn, this makes breastfeeding easier and also promotes a maternal bond, which can improve postpartum depression and anxiety.
It’s exercise! Carrying a heavy baby around all day equates to a lot of exercise, and is a great way to get back in shape again post-pregnancy.
Promotes development and speech. When babies are worn, they have a much better view of the world around them. Being exposed to different faces, voices and emotions, carried babies learn language quicker and helps them develop more quickly.
Promotes physical development. When babies are worn, the upright position causes them to develop neck and head strength and control. Also, if their arms are positioned against the parent’s back or chest, they will push with their arms, leading to increased muscle strength in them.
Reduces the risk of phlagiocephaly. Otherwise known as flat baby heads. Since babies are supposed to sleep on their backs, all the time spent in that position can sometimes cause the back of the head to be flattened out. Combine that with time spent in a stroller or car seat, and it’s a recipe for disaster. Being in a carrier means time spent without pressure on the back of the head.
Provides discreet breastfeeding. Many carriers allow you to breastfeed discreetly while using them, whether you’re around the house or out and about.
Babywearing is convenient. If you’re out shopping or just doing chores around the house, having your little one strapped to you leaves both hands free, which is obviously very convenient. Let’s face it: carrying a stroller around isn’t always the most fun, especially if you live in an area that gets snow or you need to take public transportation.
It’s safe. Having your child held securely against you is much safer in public as opposed to having them freely running around.
They’re a great bonding tool for dad and grandpa. Moms have the headstart on bonding because they carried the baby for 9 months and breastfeed. Babywearing gives dad a chance to physically bond; being held close lets baby hear his heartbeat, breath and voice, helping them build a strong attachment of their own. This can also go for grandpa or other family members!
Makes you feel more confident as a parent. Wearing your baby helps you read your babies cues, telling you when they’re hungry, bored or wet without them having to cry.You’ll learn their facial expressions, movements and gestures. Because of this, their trust in you will be increased, you’ll feel more confident as a parent, and in turn this positive interaction increases bonding and can be a great help to mothers that are at risk of postpartum depression.
Makes baby healthier. Special needs and premature babies often have more fragile nervous systems. A 1991 study showed that skin-to-skin contact with her mother makes them more in tune to her breathing, heart beat and physical movements, helping them regulate their own physical responses in the same way.
Strollers vs. babywearing (and its negatives.)
The big question most new parents have about carriers is whether they should get a carrier or a stroller.
If you ask me, a carrier isn’t an alternative to a stroller!
It’s true that there are pros and cons to each, but some situations call for a stroller while others are better for a carrier.
The disadvantages of babywearing vs strollers.
Baby will eventually get too heavy to carry all the time. It’s fine and dandy when you only have to support an infant, but once they reach 5-6 months, they can often be too heavy to wear all the time.
Sometimes it’s too hot to babywear. Depending on where you live and the time of year, sometimes it’s just too hot to wear
It’s nearly impossible if you have multiples. I don’t say it’s impossible, because they do actually make slings for carrying twins, but that also means carrying twice the weight.
If you need to carry heavy bags, its a pain. I think that if you need to have a diaper bag with you, babywearing is almost out of the question, and a stroller is more suitable. Strollers do have a lot of carrying capacity for items.
Spit-up and vomit are your new worst enemy. If your child is in a stroller, there’s a limit on where the vomit can go. But when you’re wearing them, that vomit is probably going to end up all over the place, and that includes on you.
It can be hard on your back. Even if you have the ideal carrier, lugging that extra weight around all the time will likely give you some back pain.
It can sometimes be more dangerous than a stroller. Having your little one strapped to you means you need to be extra cautious at all times. Falls can be extremely dangerous, and chores like cooking and cleaning can also be a hazard. And no hot drinks while wearing!
There’s a learning curve. Learning to use a sling or wrap can be a bit of a challenge at first. There are also so many different styles of carrier out there, making it hard to find the ideal one for you and your little one.
Some children don’t like it. There’s no real rhyme or reason to it, but your child might just not like being worn. Sometimes they grow into it, or sometimes they dont like it when they’re tired and cranky. And then there are those that only like it if they are tired!
Staying safe while wearing your baby.
There’s a great set of safety tips called the T.I.C.K.S. rule that is easy to remember and gives a good foundation for babywearing safety.
Tight. Your carrier should fit as closely to you as possible while still being comfortable to wear. This means no dangling material and baby shouldn’t be slumping down in it, which can hinder their breathing and cause back pain for you.
In view at all times. You should always be able to see baby’s face. This means that the material of the sling should never wrap up around their face so that you have to move it to see them. Also, if your baby is being worn in the cradle position, they should be facing up, not toward your body.
Close enough to kiss. Your baby’s head should be as close to yours as possible. You should be able to bend your neck down to kiss them on the forehead without any trouble.
Keep chin off the chest. There should always be room between their chin and their chest. The carrier should never be tight enough that it forces their head into their chest, which can both hinder breathing and cause neck injury.
Supported back. If wearing your baby in the upright position, their back should be supported in its natural position. If their back isn’t supported, it can cause them to slump and hinder their breathing. If in a cradle carry, their bottom should be in the deepest part of the carrier so that it doesn’t fold them in half.
Other important safety tips.
Never drink hot beverages while wearing. This is self-explanatory.
Never ride a bike or drive while wearing. Again, self-explanatory. Also, it’s illegal to have your baby in the car without a car seat, and this is for good reason.
Always make sure the carrier is secure. Check all buckles and knots.
Practice with a doll or stuffed animal first. If you’re not feeling confident about your carrying position, practicing with a non-living creature can be a good idea.
Watch for loose material. Any dangling material can be danger. For example, it can be tripped on or catch fire while cooking. Be sure to tuck in any loose fabric.
A fall from your chest height is extremely dangerous and could even be fatal. Please be very cautious to avoid such falls with these few guidelines.
Be very careful when picking something up. If you have to pick something up, bend/squat at the knees instead of at the hip. Also, use one of your arms to hold baby securely against your chest.
The carrier should fully support baby’s back. This will make it more secure. If they don’t have the muscle development to control their neck and head, the fabric should also support the back of the head as well.
Dangers to baby’s hips.
Hip dysplasia is a common developmental issue that usually happens during the first few months of life.
Unfortunately, certain carriers and carrying positions can be a huge danger for causing dysplasia.
This diagram from the International Hip Dysplasia Institue shows the right and wrong ways baby should be carried.
In the “wrong” position, baby’s thigh is not supported, which puts unnecessary force on the hip joint. In contrast, the proper position has baby’s thigh supported, alleviating this force on the hips.
Carriers that put your baby in the “wrong” position are often called “crotch danglers”, and the proper position puts your child in what’s called a “frog” position.
Now, there is a lot of controvery over this, especially the Baby Bjorn carrier in particular.
Some people are convinced that it causes dysplasia, while others are convinced it’s a myth.
If you ask me, the best and safesty thing to do is to just avoid these crotch-dangler carriers altogether.
There are a lot of different carry positions, and most carriers will typically be able to use at least a few of the different ones.
For example, here are 6 of the common positions.
Some of the positions are suitable for different ages. For example, a back carry position can be easier on you, but since you can’t see your child, it’s not recommended until they’re older.
If you wear with a sling or wrap, the positions are going to be different as well.
Babywearing international has an excellent resource with videos that show you all of the beginner carries.
Which carrier should I go for?
Most parents who baby wear have several carriers. There isn’t really a single carrier that’s ideal for every situation.
What’s even harder is that there are so many different styles of carrier out there, and it’s very subjective. Some just won’t be comfortable for you, or your little one, and there’s no real way to predict that ahead of time.
A great option is to attend a babywearing group in your city. These meetups are perfect for you to try different styles of carrier and find out which is ideal for you.
In the USA: Check out babywearinginternational.org and their list of meetups here.
Best baby carriers and advice for babywearing newbies.
I get it, babywearing can be pretty intimidating at first.
A good introduction for wearing your newborn is a stretchy wrap. They give great support for a newborn, and are simple to use. A ring sling is another option, but they can be a little more intimidating to use.
The main downside is that they can tend to be rather hot, especially in the summer.
Wraps like the Boba Wrap (right) (click here to see it on Amazon) are a great option for the newbie. They’re cheap, relatively easy to use, and a great introduction.
Another good option is the Baby K’tan (left) (click here to see it on Amazon) which functions about the same, but can be easier to use because you don’t have to physically wrap and unwrap it all the time.
Another benefit of the K’tan is that it has less material wrapped around you, making it ever-so-slightly more cooler to wear. But if it’s hot, having a baby strapped against you is never going to be a cool and comfy situation.
Since the K’tan is less material, it’s also easier to fold up and store away in the diaper bag when it’s not in use.
A big con of the K’tan is that it’s sized. You probably aren’t going to be able to share one K’tan between you and daddy, so that’s something to consider if budget is a factor.
In any case, a wrap is a good solution for the beginner, and either of these would be a great option.
Other things to consider when buying a carrier.
The age of your child. Certain carriers are suitable for different ages. A wrap or sling is best for a newborn, but shouldn’t be used as your child is older. In that case, a soft structured carrier works best, but those aren’t suitable for infants.
Who will be using the baby carrier? There are several things to consider here. First of all, comfort is obviously one of the biggest factors to consider. There are many different types of baby carriers meant for different body shapes and sizes, and your personal comfort is going to be very important when it comes to making a selection. Babies can be heavy – there’s no doubt about that! You’ll definitely want to choose a carrier that is comfortable.
If more than one person is going to be using it, you should look for one that offers adjustments to the size and fitting. This will ensure that everyone who uses the carrier will be able to adjust it to their liking. Wraps typically work well for all body types because they’re literally just one piece of material.
Which position do you normally hold your baby in? If you’ve never used a baby carrier before, you should think about what position is most comfortable to you when you are holding your baby. Depending on whether you normally hold your baby on your hip, shoulder, back, or cradle them, you can find a carrier that will allow you to carry your baby in a similar way.
Do you suffer from any physical problems that might be an issue? If you suffer from certain physical problems, it might make using a baby carrier difficult or even painful. Here is my advice on choosing a baby carrier if you suffer from certain ailments. If you suffer from back pain, a baby carrier that lets you wear your baby high, above your center of gravity, will help keep any problems to a minimum. You will want to find one that distributes weight widely across your back, which will help reduce strain.
Some shopping tips to make your job easier.
Consider a second-hand carrier, but be careful. Getting a gently-used carrier can be a great way to save money, but you need to be careful.
Carriers are recalled all the time, so before buying and using a second-hand carrier, head over to the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s website and search for the particular carrier you’re interested in, just to make sure that it hasn’t been recalled.
Watch for the return policy. Some babies are fussy about carriers and might simply not like the one you choose. This is why it’s important to make sure that you can return the carrier if need be. Also make sure to keep track of the receipt!
Try them in-store or try out a friend’s. The comfort and preference of baby carriers can be pretty subjective, and some models just wont work with some builds, which is why it might be a good idea to test them out before purchasing.
If you have a friend that has one, ask them to try it out with your baby. You can also go to the store and ask to try out floor models; many places will be happy to help you out if it means making a sale.
The best baby carriers: the types compared & contrasted.
You might be surprised to learn that there are several different types of carriers, each with their own pros and cons.
- Age Range: Newborn to 3 years
- Weight Range: Up to 45 lbs
Ring slings are baby carriers made from one single piece of fabric. The fabric is pulled through two rings to form a loop, and is worn over the shoulder, similar to a sash.
You can adjust the size of the pouch by pulling the fabric through the rings in either direction. Some ring slings are very basic, while others have padding sewn into the shoulder, making them more comfortable to wear.
You might prefer a ring sling without this padding, as it can sometimes make them bulkier and difficult to adjust.
- Simple, quick, and easy to use
- Great for nursing, even for newborns
- Can be used in a variety of carrying positions and styles
- Makes it easy to lay down a sleeping baby without waking them up (great!)
- Distributes weight between shoulder and pelvis
- Probably will not fit both parents – they’re fit to size
- Weight is centered on one shoulder, which might get uncomfortable with extended use
- Dads generally won’t like the look of them; better suited for moms
- Parents who want to nurse their baby
- Small babies
Wraparound Carriers (Wraps)
- Age Range: Newborn to 4 years
- Weight Range: Up to 55 lbs (woven & gauze) & up to 25 lbs (stretchy)
Wraparound baby carriers are generally a long piece of cloth that is wrapped around the carrier and baby and then tied, creating a tight, secure, and supportive carrier.
The technique used with these carriers takes some getting used to, and require some practice. On the upside, they have a lot of versatility when it comes to carrying positions, and are also very comfortable for those of us with heavier babies. Many parents consider wraparound carriers to be the most comfortable of all types of baby carriers.
- Great for hands-free nursing
- Versatile, with many options for carrying position, material, etc.
- Very comfortable; most parents find them to be the most comfortable of all baby carriers
- Can be used with newborns all the way through to older toddlers
- Takes some practice to get the tying technique right
- Can be somewhat hot and cumbersome due to the length of the material
Baby Pouches / Slings
- Age Range: Newborn to 3 years
- Weight Range: Up to 35 lbs
Baby pouches are among the simplest and most straightforward of all the baby carriers. This makes them great for new mothers, or those that are new to using baby carriers, because they’re almost foolproof. Simply put the pouch on, slip your baby inside, and you’re ready to go!
Baby pouches tend to be small and light-weight, making it possible to easily slip them inside a diaper bag or purse, which can be a great convenience for most parents.
Unlike the similar ring sling carriers, these pouches have no ring, which makes it a lot more comfortable on the shoulder.
- Easy to use; great for parents new to baby carriers
- Lightweight and easy to fit inside a diaper bag or purse
- Comfortable, especially when compared to the similar ring slings
- Possible to nurse your baby while he or she is in it
- Limited carry positions and versatility
Mei Tais (Asian-style baby carriers)
- Age Range: Newborn to 4 years
- Weight Range: Up to 45 lbs
Mei Tais (Asian-style) are based on traditional Asian baby carriers. They are generally worn on the front or back, but can also be used in a hip carry position as well. Because the design of the Mei Tai uses straps on both shoulders, this makes them great for parents with heavy children as it distributes the weight to both shoulders, not just a single shoulder like most other carriers.
Mei Tai carriers offer a lot of versatility, making them great for both moms and dads no matter what position they prefer to carry in.
- Versatile & can be used in many positions
- Dual-strap design distributes weight over both shoulders, making it more comfortable for use with heavy children
- Fashionable – many parents love the way the Mei Tai looks
- Not quite as compact as slings or pouches
- Long straps which may possibly drag on the ground which can be annoying in wet weather
Backpack / Soft Structured Carriers
- Age Range: Ages 1 through preschool age
- Weight Range: Up to 55 lbs
Structured carriers are by far the most supportive and heavy-duty type of baby carriers. They are heavily influenced by hiking backpacks, and come with a variety of different features, including padded shoulder straps, storage compartments, buckles, and more.
Because soft structred carriers are sturdy and have lots of carrying features, they are among the most comfortable carriers, especially for heavy children.
If you’re intent on wearing your child even as they get bigger and heavier, you’ll most definitely need to go with a soft structured carrier. Do note that these aren’t suitable for infants and small children.
- Not the cutest type of carrier
- Come with a variety of features and storage spots
- Very comfortable to use, especially with heavier children
- Not quite as compact as slings or pouches
- Bulky and can get tiring to use for long periods of time
- Might not be appropriate depending on where you’re going
- Not suitable for newborns without an insert.
- Can be more expensive than other types