Congratulations! You’ve got a sweet, little baby who wants all of your attention. But you’ve got work to do, places to go, dishes that need washing, and dirty laundry for days! And in the back of your head, you hear the voice of your friend saying, “You should get a baby carrier!” So, to Google you go. Mistake. There are so many options represented in your search. How are you supposed to choose?
You want to carry your baby as they grow. You want to nurse in your carrier. You want your husband to be able to wear your child. You NEED to be able to throw your baby on your back when you just have to get stuff done… But what IS that?!
Here is a breakdown of the different groups of carriers and their basic attributes to help you decide.
If you’ve ever filled out a baby registry you probably got a free coupon for a pouch sling. Pouch slings are simple and for that reason, inexpensive. They are primarily used for carrying your baby on your hip. While you can adjust a pouch for a newborn with some finesse, you most likely won’t find a pouch sling easy to use until your child is old enough to be carried on your hip as you would without a carrier. So, in my opinion, unless you’re getting it for free don’t bother because there are better options. Positions: cradle carry, tummy to tummy, hip.
Soft Structured Carriers:
Buckle carrier, soft structured carrier, SSC. Those are the most commonly used terms use for carriers that have buckles and straps to adjust for the wearer. You’ve seen Baby Bjorn, Infantino and Ergobaby at Target and Walmart in the baby section, so this is probably the category of carriers you are most familiar with. SSCs are a great option for 1-carrier families because they are adjustable for each wearer. You can adjust easily to nurse and return your baby to its regular position with just a couple adjustments. SSCs are less adjustable for your child, but most carriers have inserts and extenders you can purchase to help you get your newborn or toddler in your carrier safely. Many SSC companies also make different sized carriers so your child can ride comfortably at an age. While there certainly are ornate and beautiful SSC options, most are very minimal and therefore more desirable for men. SSCs come in a variety of price points and can be afforded on any budget. Most SSCs are ergonomic, with the exception of a couple brands. Non ergonomic carriers (like Baby Bjorn or Snugli) ARE safe, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Unless your child has a hip condition you can use a Bjorn as long as it is comfortable for you and baby. That is all that matters! Positions: tummy to tummy, forward facing, hip, back carry.
Mai Tei (pronounced MAY-TIE) carriers are also great for families that just want one option. The carrier itself is very flexible so it can fit newborn to toddler. The wrap straps require no adjustments so it’s easy to share with another wearer who is a different size than you. Nursing is pretty easy in a Mai Tei, however, it may require untying and retying before and after nursing. Affordable Mai Teis can be found at Target and Walmart for around $30. Beautiful and artful options made from rich fabrics can also be found. The fluidity of the straps allows the wearer to utilize different tie-offs for support where it is needed. Some wearers find Mai Teis to be complicated because they require basic wrapping skills. Positions: tummy to tummy, hip, back carry.
Ring slings are a long piece of fabric and a set of rings. Different lengths and shoulder styles (pleats, no pleats, etc.) are options to consider when picking out a ring sling. If you love the look of woven wraps but just can’t get into the advanced skill of wrapping, a sling may be a good option. Ring slings are often made of beautiful woven fabrics and custom made to the wearers specifications. Ring slings are also very easy to DIY, but HAVE to be made of the right materials and use only rings from SlingRings.com. Ring slings are very adjustable and quick to use. Their ease and adjustability make them a great option for throwing in your diaper bag for quick ups and downs and letting grandma carry the baby. They are fantastic carriers for newborns and are a breeze for nursing in. Heavy toddlers also fare well in ring slings. They are one shoulder carriers so they might not be comfy if you have back or shoulder problems. Positions: cradle carry, tummy to tummy, hip.
Wraps are the most versatile group of baby carriers. Stretchy wraps, like the Moby, are widely available at big retailers and baby boutiques. They are excellent for newborns and smaller babies, but once your child hits about 15lbs stretchy wraps can get pretty droopy. Woven wraps are used by wrapping the fabric around you and your child as you support them rather than pre-tying (in most carries). The options in the world of woven wraps are endless. If you are an obsessive person, you might not want to fall down the woven wrap rabbit hole! Woven wraps are typically higher end carriers although there are a few budget friendly options. The carries, or methods of tying, are as vast as the fabric options. Wrapping in a woven wrap requires practice and skill but once it is mastered the possibilities are endless and extremely comfortable. Nursing can be very easy in certain wrap carries with little adjusting. Men don’t often prefer wrapping because of the flexibility it requires. Positions: tummy to tummy, hip, back carry.
So now that you’ve got a grasp of the basics of each baby carrier, here are some really important things to remember.
- Cradle carry is for active nursing only. Not every mom or baby can nurse upright so if you have to use the cradle carry to nurse please do! But when baby is done, move them back to a tummy to tummy hold. It sucks when your darling falls asleep nursing and don’t want to wake them, but the chance of your child suffocating in a cradle hold is not worth the few minute it might take you to move them and soothe them back to sleep.
- Forward facing positions are fine. Lots of parents say their child likes to look out and around 3-4 months that is usually the case. Hip carriers are a great option for curious babies. Back carries are really great too if it’s appropriate. If your baby just really prefers being out in front, make sure it’s for a limited period of time. Babies are easily over stimulated and can get overwhelmed in a forward facing position. Never let your child sleep forward facing. The natural shape of your child’s back is not fully supported in forward facing carries.
- Back carries are possible in many carriers, but use safety and caution. SSCs are only for back carries with babies who can sit for short periods unassisted. Mei Tais can be used for babies who sit assisted, a.k.a. have excellent head and trunk control (rolling over). Woven wraps can be used for back carries for newborns IF you are experienced wrapper proficient at front and hip carries. Ring slings should only be used for back carries in a pinch by experienced back wrappers. Pouches are not OK for back carries. Stretchy wraps should never be used for back carries unless their manufacturer specifically mentions it is OK (Moby is NOT approved for back carries). Finally, use a spotter and stand next to a couch or bed until you are comfortable getting baby on your back unassisted.
- Your baby needs to be properly positioned. Baby’s head should always be high enough for you to kiss. Baby’s airway should never be obstructed by the carrier. Be sure to keep baby’s chin off its chest. Keep baby in a position you can monitor their breathing. Your baby’s legs should be in a “M” position with knees elevated above their bottom in whatever carrier you choose.
^^ Check it out, daddy’s (and little kids) can carry babies too! ^^
If you’re still having trouble picking out the right carrier for you, look for a local Babywearing International (BWI) chapter. Most chapter groups have lending libraries full of carriers to try on before you make up your mind. You’ll also find instructors with vast knowledge and excellent tips.
A special thanks to all the local moms & dads who posted pictures on FB with permission to use their images babywearing for this post!