Developmental experts have said that touch is the most important thing for your baby in those first months, and although you want to hold your new bundle of joy all day you may still need to get things done. That is why we LOVE babywearing! It has so many benefits (besides having your hands free). It can encourage breastfeeding longer, regulates your baby's body temperature, helps to keep strangers away from your baby...and the list goes on!
In order to remain comfortable while wearing your baby all day (and for baby to be safe!) you need to pick the right baby carrier for you. However, there are so many different carriers out there - how do you know which will be best for you and your baby? When choosing a carrier you want to make sure that you pick something that you feel comfortable using. That is why in this guide we will be covering the different types of baby carriers available, basics on how to use them, and some safety guidelines for babywearing!
The Many Types of Carriers
Wrap Them Up!
Generally speaking, a baby wrap is a long piece of fabric that can be manipulated in different ways to provide a safe and womb-like environment. However, wraps come in a variety of fabrics, and the type of fabric determines what type of carries you can perform with it. Below are some of the most common types of wrap fabrics and which carries you can do with them!
- Woven Wraps - By far one of the most versatile baby carriers on the market, woven wraps are usually made from 100% Oeko-Tek certified fabrics and are engineered with babywearing in mind. What do all those fancy words mean? That this wrap should have little (if any) give so that babe stays safe (no matter what type of carry you are doing) and mama stays comfy! You can use these wraps for the newest baby’s as well as your pre-school aged children (yes, they are that strong; and yes, you will be comfortable in them!)
- Carries for a Woven Wrap
- Back (back-to-tummy)
- Front inward (tummy-to-tummy)
- Front outward (tummy-to-back) **It should be noted, however, that this type of carry is NOT recommended by child development experts.**
- Higher weight limits
- Less pressure on both mom and baby
- Able to be in use longer
- More carry position options
- Price tag can be on the higher end
- Larger learning curve
- What They Are Great For
- Everyday use
- Long periods of babywearing with light exertion
- Lifelong babywearers
Stretchy Wraps - These types of wraps are ideal for those brand new bundles of joy that you are welcoming into the world! Why is that? Because they are crazy comfortable! Usually made from a cotton-lycra blend (but also featuring fabrics like Bamboo), these wraps are easy to learn how to use and are able to balance your infant’s weight perfectly. One thing to note with stretchy wraps is that the weight limits are often advertised as 30-45lbs. That being said, they just don’t feel all that comfortable after your child hits 17-20lbs or about 6-12 months old. The fabric is simply not firm enough to be able to carry that amount of weight for a long period of time comfortably. So, be advised that while stretchy wraps are amazing for newborns, they are not ideal for larger toddlers.
- Carries for a Stretchy Wrap
- You should ONLY perform a front, inward facing carry when using a stretchy wrap. Any other type of carry runs the risk of having your baby in an incorrect position that could lead to hip dysplasia OR the baby falling out if they lean back suddenly since the fabric has so much give. Check out the video below to see the true difference between a back carry with a stretchy wrap vs. a back carry with a woven wrap:
- Cost effective
- Short learning curve
- Great option for introducing new parents to baby wearing
- On the smaller side, so they are easy to pack away
- Limited carry options
- Lower weight limits
- What They Are Great For
- Everyday use
- Short to medium long periods of baby wearing with light exertion
- Those who only want to baby wear for about a year
Sling Your Cares Away
Ring slings are one of those little baby wearing golden nuggets that always seems to hang out in the background even though they are fantastic! Ring slings are most commonly created from woven wraps (the same as what we learned about in the previous section) and then sewn and threaded between 2 strong rings. The fabric is threaded in such a way that when the pouch that the threading creates has weight in it, the tension will hold everything securely and spread the weight across your back and shoulder. Perfect for the newborn stage and on up through toddlerhood, rings slings are a great way to go for quick and easy babywearing!
Because ring slings are created from woven wraps they can accommodate back, hip, and front (tummy-to-tummy only) carries. They are also easy to take a child in and out of, so if you have a wiggly toddler that wants to be held one second, and then let down another, you won’t get frustrated and annoyed with accompanying straps or fabric. Another bonus: the learning curve is SHORT. If you even have a basic understanding of wraps, you will be able to learn how to use a ring sling in a cinch!
- Carries for a Ring Sling
- Front inward (tummy-to-tummy) - This will be your main carry for newborns
- Hip - This will be your main carry after the newborn stage
- Back - This is not recommended until the child is at least 6 months old
- Fast and easy to put on and off
- Short learning curve
- Incredibly discreet for breastfeeding
- Front, hip, and back carry options
- Can be used for an infant and toddler
- Easy to adjust
- Not ideal for individuals with back or shoulder problems due to the weight being placed primarily on the shoulder and upper back
- You must understand how to support your child’s legs in a carrier
- A good quality sling will be on the pricer side
- What They Are Great For
- Getting your child in and out quickly
- Quick trips to the store or just around the house
- Short to medium long periods of babywearing
The Versatile Soft Carrier
If you have shopped the walls of any baby store, you have seen a soft baby carrier. They are the ideal if you are an outdoorsy person who wants a carrier that will work for every day but also a little light hiking every once in awhile. So yes: soft carriers are the ones that look a little like hiking backpacks with the waist belt, the chest clip, and the panel of fabric that stretches up in between to hold the baby. The most popular maker of soft carriers would be Ergobaby. They make a variety of carriers that are easy and straightforward to use and will ensure that your child is in the correct position to prevent any hip dysplasia from occurring.
With most soft carriers you only need to clip the waist strap over your belly button, tighten, bring your child up and place them in the carrier, and then bring the two shoulder straps over and buckle them together. Easy as that! Most soft carriers do provide options for hip and back carries, and with Ergobaby’s new 360 carrier you can also do front carries with your child facing out. They are easy to learn how to use and can be used from the newborn stage all the way up until your child is a large toddler!
It is important that you understand that not all soft carriers are created equally! Some carriers do not place your child in the ideal carrying position (which is when your child’s knees are higher than their hips). If your child is in the carrier and their knees are below their hips then they are not in the correct position and could be at risk for hip dysplasia.
- Carries for a Soft Carrier
- Good quality carriers accommodate for:
- A few brands provide an option for front outward carries
- Easy to learn
- Shoulder pads make carrying comfortable for long periods of time
- Easy to adjust
- Compact enough for your car, but probably not your diaper bag
- Extremely comfortable for those with back problems since they are designed like a hiking backpack and place the weight on your hips
- You might need to add an infant insert for some carriers
- Can be more expensive, but will last you for a long time
- Not all soft carriers are created to ensure that your baby is in a proper carrying position so you will need to evaluate each one
- What They Are Great For
- Long periods of babywearing
- Light hiking
- Around town
- Older children who can be too heavy for other carriers
Heavy Duty Hard-shell Carriers
Hardshell carriers are sometimes referred to as “backpack carriers.” They are the carriers that the most avid hikers use to ensure maximum comfort for them and baby. But they aren’t just for hiking! They are perfect for extra long day trips where both you and baby need some serious space so that you’re not right up against each other. Think hot summer days with the beach, the fairs, etc.
Hardshell carriers will most likely resemble a souped up hiking backpack. It will have an aluminum frame, a supportive waist band, and extra padded shoulder straps. These types of carriers are only acceptable for babies who are able to sit upright by themselves. We would even recommend that they be completely stable in their abilities to sit up (and for long periods of time) for not only your comfort, but theirs!
- Carries for a Hard-shell Carrier
- Back carry only
- Great for hiking and outdoor activities
- Incredible back support
- Breathable fabric
- Fabric often features SPF protection
- Yours and your child’s body are not touching so each of you will be cooler than in other carriers
- Is not compact
- Heavier than other carriers
- Only one carry option
- Only accomodates older children
- What This is Great For
- Longer hikes
- Older children (think about 1yr old to an older toddler)
- Those with back problems
- Any outdoor event where the child and yourself will be more comfortable with your own space
Other Carriers to Note
- A mei-tais is an asian inspired carrier that is best described as a hybrid between a soft carrier and a wrap. These do require more training on how to use them as there are a variety of supportive ties to choose from, but they are a great option for those who are looking for a soft carrier without the buckles.
- Pouch Sling
- Pouch slings are popular among some parents due to their affordability. There are fixed and adjustable sizes depending on what brand you purchase and they resemble a ring sling only without all of the extra fabric. The main complaint is that they do not provide the same support to the parents as a ring sling would due to the lack of fabric. However, if you are looking for an easy and affordable baby carrier, a pouch sling may be the way to go.
Other Features to Consider
Is it Easy to Clean?
Carriers get dirty no matter which one you end up choosing, so picking a carrier that is machine-washable or easy to clean is a mommy must! Just remember a lot of carriers are dyed with natural safe dyes so washing them can fade their color over time.
Comfort and Support
Those first months your little one is still small and light but everyday they get bigger and heavier, so choose a carrier that is comfortable and gives you back support and that puts your child in correct and healthy carrying position (knees above their hips and their entire thigh supported).
Ease of Use
Make sure the carrier you choose is something you feel comfortable using and understand how to use correctly. If you only want to wear your baby for those first few precious months then consider purchasing something without a large learning curve like a soft carrier or a stretchy wrap. If you are wanting to carry your child for a longer time (1-2 years or even longer) then consider a carrier that will last that long and that may take some more time to learn but will work better for you as time moves on!
Easy to adjust
This is a must if you are going to be sharing the carrier with a partner, another caregiver, or are wanting to breastfeed while wearing your child. The easier it is to adjust the more versatile the carrier will be for your changing lifestyle!
Safe Babywearing Practices
It is important to understand that most carriers do have some science behind them, and you absolutely must know how to work your carrier in order to not place you or your child at risk for any health issues down the road.
The correct carrying position is always knees above the hips with the thighs supported. Basically, think of your baby in a sitting position, like they are sitting on a chair. Is their entire thigh (hip to knee) completely supported? If you were to trace from foot-to-knee-to-bum-to-knee-to-foot, would it create an “M” shape? If so, then baby is seated correctly.
After you’ve figured out that they are seated correctly, there are a few more safety things you need to check off! The easiest way to remember these is the acronym TICKS.
T - Tight
I - In view at all times
C - Close enough to kiss
K - Keep chin off chest
S - Supported back
T is for Tight
You want your carrier to be tight enough that there is no extra fabric and that your baby is right up against your body so when you lean forward they don’t move. A loose carrier can be not only uncomfortable but dangerous (specifically for wiggly babies). If it is too loose it will not have your baby in the correct position and it will place unneeded pressure on your and your baby’s body. This is especially true when using a stretchy wrap. Finally, if it is too loose and your babe is wiggling around they could fall out of the carrier which, trust me, you don’t want to know how that feels!
I is for In View
No matter what carrier you are using if you are doing a front or hip carry you should be able to see your child’s face. This is true even if you are doing a “cradle position” (which is not recommended, but you may still choose to do so). No fabric or part of the carrier should ever be covering baby’s face.
C is for Chin off Chest
This rule is to ensure that baby always has a clear airway. Try this test: put your own chin all the way down until it touches your chest. Now try and breath for 10-15 seconds. Difficult, right? And this is you - a full-sized adult! Now think of your little baby trying to do that whose airway is not even close to as strong as yours yet. Scary.
You can test to make sure that their chin is off of their chest high enough by placing 2 fingers beneath their chin. If you can comfortably do that and have your fingers touch their chest and their chin at the same time then it is up high enough!
K is for Kiss
So, not only should you be able to look down and see them, but you should be able to kiss the top of their head. This translates into having your baby at the correct height. If you have a smaller baby (like a newborn for instance) you will need to wear them higher on your body than when you have an older toddler.
S is for a Supported Back
When you have your baby in an upright carrying positioning their back should be supported in a natural vertical position (which happens to be a C-shape). In order to get a good, back support for your child you should also ensure that they are in the deepest part of the carrier. This is true for any carrier that you will be using with your child.
Some other babywearing practices to always remember:
- Carriers should not be used while driving, jogging, riding a bike, or on a boat
- Always be aware of the age and weight requirements for carriers and use any necessary accessories with your newborn.
- Never cook with your baby in front of you in a carrier.
- Be careful when leaning over or reaching for items to make sure that your baby will not fall out.
- Don’t use a carrier that you don’t know how to properly place your child in or one that is broken in anyway.