A big thank you to my friend Angie Howard McParland for this information-packed post on babywearing and how to choose a baby carrier that is right for your family. She shares pros and cons on 5 different types of baby carriers and important tips to safely practice babywearing. Click here for 5 Reasons to Use Babywearing.
I remember when I first learned about babywearing before my son was born just over two years ago. I heard that the Moby wrap and Ergo carriers were good things to put on a registry as they could allow me to simultaneously snuggle with my new baby and do things around the house or avoid lugging a stroller. I started out with a Moby wrap and quickly dove headfirst into the world of babywearing, and figuring out how to choose a baby carrier that was best for us.
I tried out all sorts of new carriers and as my baby grew and I gained confidence and education about the vast array of babywearing options, I found that different carriers suited us best at different times and quickly amassed a collection. However, it can be overwhelming! It’s easy to be paralyzed and confused by the number of options and sometimes it seems that you need to learn an entirely new vocabularly: rucksack, tightening rails, Tibetan tie, rebozo pass….what?!
To try and demystify carrier options, here is a quick overview of the different types. All of this information is no substitute for trying them out yourself, though. What works for one wearer and wearee isn’t necessarily the best fit for another, so it’s best to try out options and venture out to your local babywearing group, if you have one. These groups are invaluable for learning how to use different carriers, meeting other parents. Most groups also maintain a lending library where you can actually borrow carriers before purchasing.
Safe Babywearing Tips
In any carry, it’s helpful to remember the acronym TICKS:
- In View
- Close enough to Kiss
- Keep chin off chest
- Supported straight back
Keeping these bullet points in mind will help you achieve a safe and comfortable carry for both the baby and wearer in a pouch sling or any carrier.
How to Choose a Baby Carrier:
Pros and Cons of 5 Carrier Options
Ring Slings and Pouch Slings
Ring slings are fantastic for a newborn—they are fairly easy to use and have a nice snuggly fit when worn in a tummy to tummy position with a little baby. They are small enough to throw in the diaper bag. Ring slings are versatile enough to last through the toddler years with hip carries, especially in a sturdy material like double-layer linen or silk. Sakura Bloom, Sleeping Baby Productions, and Comfy Joey are among the many excellent options.
Ring slings are used for one-shoulder carries so they can limit your range of movement when the sling is pulled down cupping your shoulder and may not be the most comfortable choice for long-term wearing with larger babies.
Pouches are generally only used for very small babies and are often sized to the wearer. They can be tricky to use correctly and it’s essential to make sure that baby’s chin doesn’t rest on her chest and that her airway remains open in a cradle-type hold. Pouch slings are NOT the same as the bag-style slings that have been recalled and are incredibly dangerous as babies can suffocate in these carriers, which are no longer on the market.
Stretchy wraps like the Moby wrap or Sleepy Wrap are easy to find in big box stores and are great options for newborns. They can begin to get uncomfortable around 12 lbs or so, when the material begins to sag due to the jersey fabric. Stretchy wraps can also be hot in the summer and are made of a LOT of material and so can be overwhelming when learning to wrap. However, they are also relatively inexpensive and easy to find. Stretchy wraps can be used for front carries or even hip carries, but are not safe for back carries as baby can arch up and out of the wrap due to the stretchiness of the material.
Mei tais are traditional Asian carriers that consist of a fabric panel that supports baby and straps that the wearer ties around their shoulders and waist to support the carry. Mei tais are a great hybrid option for people that like the ease of structured carriers, but need or want a more customized fit—plus, they can be passed between wearers of vastly different sizes!
I personally love my Mei Tai because I can’t seem to get a great fit with buckle carriers that I try and it’s a slightly more structured option that can be quicker than a wrap job at times. I also like the hood that I can use to support baby’s head when he falls asleep. Mei Tais are best for front or back carries.
Soft-structured carriers (SSCs) refer to any carrier that uses buckles and is a “backpack” style. Typically, they have a padded waist and straps that buckle onto the wearer and are adjustable just like a backpack. This includes brands such as Ergo, Beco, Boba, Tula, etc. Each brand has different features that appeal to different wearers, but the best way to find what brand works for you is to try them!
Structured carriers are quick to put on and off and very easy to use. They are also usually comfortable, especially for long outings, since they are more padded than other options.
The downside to an SSC is that the same carrier may not fit multiple parents or caregivers in the same household. For petite mamas, the straps may not cinch down enough to be comfortable and babies smaller than about 14 lbs do not typically fit well in a SSC without an additional insert or rolled-up blanket for support. Soft-structured carriers can be used for front, back, and sometimes hip carries.
Woven wraps are the most versatile carriers simply due to the sheer number of options one can accomplish with a single simple piece of cloth. Wraps are completely customizable since you literally tie the fabric around yourself and baby every time, so anyone can share the same wrap no matter the size of the wearer or wearee. Wraps can be used for front, back, and hip carries as well as for non-babywearing uses. We love tying up a hammock on the dining room table and they make great blankets as well!
Wraps come in a variety of sizes, ranging from size 1 (2.2 meters) to size 8 (5.6 meters) and the length of your wrap determines the carries you can do with it. A “base size” wrap is the size that will allow you to tie any carry and is the longest you would need. Base size is based on shirt size and typically ranges from a 5 to a 7 for most people. Shorter wraps can be used for single-layer and quick carries while longer wraps are used for multilayer carriers that need more fabric.
Woven wraps are also available in a variety of fabrics and blends, which can contribute to the overwhelming nature of choosing one. I always recommend a Didymos or Girasol cotton wrap for a first wrap because they become soft quickly with use and are easy to use for getting started. There are more and more woven wrap manufacturers popping up around the world and there is an active market for used carriers of all sorts on Facebook and The BabyWearer websites.
“Wrapping” It Up
Although it can seem complicated, there is a quick learning curve for wrapping and many, many resources available online for learning new carries and wrapping techniques. Check out our local Rhode Island Kangamamas group and YouTube channel for examples and to get you started!
The most important thing to remember about choosing a carrier is that the best carrier for you is the one that fits you best and suits your particular babywearing needs. Carriers of all of these sorts are available at every budget level and there are also lots of ways to DIY! The most popular or expensive carrier isn’t necessarily the best and the easiest way to find your fit is to try them on yourself at a local retailer or babywearing group.