Although my wife and I were never big users of baby carriers when our two children were smaller, I know many parents who are avid fans of baby wearing. They just love the convenience of keeping their baby close and having their hands free to do other tasks. So if you think purchasing a baby carrier is for you and your family, what should you buy?
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If you have quick browse online, you’ll see there are several types of baby carriers to choose from; wraps, slings, backpack carriers, soft structured carriers and Mei Tais. In this article let’s look at these types in more detail, including the pros and cons of all the options. Hopefully after reading this post, you’ll be in a better position to choose the right one for your baby.
- 1 What is a baby carrier?
- 2 Wraps
- 3 Slings
- 4 Soft Structured Carriers
- 5 Mei Tais
- 6 Backpack Carriers
- 7 Chart – Who are the main baby carrier brands?
- 8 How much does a baby carrier cost?
- 9 What age is a baby carrier for?
- 10 When should you stop using one? Do they expire?
- 11 Do you really need a baby carrier? Are they worth the money?
- 12 Conclusion – Which type of baby carrier is the best?
What is a baby carrier?
A baby carrier is designed to support an infant or small child when they are held against an adult’s body. This is done using a piece of cloth or soft padded fabric, usually attached to the front of your body (although you can get backpack carriers if you prefer).
There are a number of different products to choose from, from baby slings and wraps which are basically just large pieces of cloth, or more complex soft structured carriers which have Velcro straps and buckles. You usually have a number of options in terms of what position your baby can be in, such as whether they are facing you, facing outwards, or even going on a backpack behind you.
Is it the same as baby wearing?
Yes, baby wearing is basically just the practice of carrying a baby in a sling, wrap or carrier. This tradition has been around for a long time in many cultures, but it has become more popular in Western societies in recent decades.
Here is a look at the various types of baby carriers you can buy today:
A baby wrap is basically just a long piece of fabric which allows you to carry an infant child. Although there are usually different ways you can wrap the fabric around you and your baby, your infant will usually be in front of you facing your direction (but there are some other positions too).
This is one of the most traditional ways of carrying your baby, and this particular practice of baby wearing has been around for centuries. Baby wraps can be made from cotton, wool, gauze, linen or other types of fabric. Some material will be warmer for your baby like wool, but some, like gauze, will be lighter and breathable which may suit you if you live in a warmer climate.
You can also purchase stretchy wraps which are ideal for newborn babies and they are little easier to use, especially in the beginning. However, the weight limit for this kind of wrap (usually around 20lbs) is a little lower than other types, as the material stretches more and weakens over time.
- A great choice for newborn babies
- Comfortable. Fairly easy on your back and babies feel nice and cosy too.
- Versatile. Suitable for newborns, older babies and toddlers. You can carry your baby in a number of different positions.
- Adjustable. As your baby grows, you can adjust the size of the wrap.
- Variety. There are a lot of baby wraps to choose from made from different materials.
- Hard to use (initially). There is a bit of a learning curve with this type of baby carrier. It will take practice for you to wrap it around you and your baby ensuring it is securely tied and safe to use. They are also fiddlier to adjust compared to other baby carriers.
- Hot in the summer. Remember a baby wrap is basically an extra layer of clothing so it will feel warmer. If you decide to purchase a wrap, choose the material carefully when you’re browsing online or in the stores.
At first glance this looks similar to a wrap in that it is also one large piece of fabric. However baby slings have two rings at one end. To attach, you just thread the fabric through one ring and put it underneath the other ring. They are a little easier to adjust compared to wraps, and it extends from one shoulder to the opposite hip. You can get single layer or double layer ring slings. Single layer ones will usually carry infants up to 25lbs, but double layer will last longer and allow you to carry larger toddlers up to around 35lbs.
My wife tried one of these when my son was a newborn and just didn’t find it comfortable. Admittedly she only tried it for a few minutes, as we were round a friend’s house and she let my wife try it on. Maybe if she persevered with it for longer, she might have liked it more?
- Suitable for newborn babies
- A good option for mums who are breastfeeding
- Easy to adjust. Slings are a better choice than wraps if you want something which you can adjust quickly and easily.
- Variety. You can find slings made from different fabrics and in different colours.
- Not that comfortable. For some mum’s who try ring slings, they don’t find it comfortable because the weight isn’t distributed evenly. It all comes from just one shoulder, so if you have any shoulder or back issues, ring slings probably aren’t for you.
- Long fabric can get dirty. After you’ve attached the ring sling, sometimes you’re left with a long piece of fabric that’s left dangling down. This can easily drag on the floor and get dirty.
Soft Structured Carriers
This is one of the most common options when it comes to baby carriers. Soft structured carriers have buckles, padded shoulder straps, and some come with a waist band. Once your baby is attached, their legs dangle outside with their thighs spread against mum or dad’s body. The knees should also be slightly higher than their buttocks to prevent any chance of developing hip dysplasia. Babies can face towards you, which is ideal for newborns, or outwards for older infants.
I used a soft structured carrier occasionally with my two children when they were babies. Although my wife and I mainly used strollers to get our children around, either using our Silver Cross or BabyZen YOYO, if we went out to any wooded area, or park which didn’t have any proper paths, we used a soft structured carrier. I found it easy to use and attach and my children seemed to enjoy it. They always fell asleep within a few minutes so I guess it was nice and cosy!
For us, another perk of using this carrier is that we didn’t pay for it. A friend gave it to us as she didn’t need it any longer. Baby carriers can last a long time providing you look after them, so you should definitely ask around before purchasing one, as it can save you money. Just make sure you check the material carefully for any sign of wear and tear.
- Easy to attach. Compared to wraps and slings, you should find it easier to attach a baby to a soft structured carrier.
- Versatile. You can carry your baby in a variety of different positions.
- Easy to adjust. You can easily lengthen or shorten the straps to make sure it’s comfortable for you and your baby.
- Sturdy. Although you will likely feel a little nervous the first time you use any carrier, soft structured ones are strong, safe and reliable.
- Comfortable. For the parent, there are shoulder pads so the straps won’t dig into your skin. Some carriers also have waist band which can relieve some strain on the lower back.
- Long lasting. Due to their sturdy design, providing you look after them, soft structured carriers should last a long time. You can even pass them on to a friend when you no longer need it, or keep it if you’re expecting or planning a second child.
- Price. Soft structured baby carriers may last a long time but they do cost more compared to most wraps and slings.
- You’ll need a newborn insert. Although most soft structured carriers are suitable for newborn babies, make sure it comes with a newborn insert, as the regular pouch will be too big for them.
This type of baby carrier combines the fabric element of wraps and slings, with the straps you find in soft structured carriers. Mei Tai carriers (or Meh Dai) are suitable for older babies and toddlers, but some models are suitable for newborns as well. Straps go over your shoulders and you have a belt which you attach around your waist. Unlike soft structured carriers, there are no buckles, so you just tie the straps together. You can wear Mei Tai carriers with your baby facing you or facing outwards.
- Easy to adjust. There are no buckles so it’s quite easy to adjust the straps to make it fit your body type and ensure it’s the right size for your baby.
- Comfortable. You have padded shoulder straps which makes it more comfortable for you.
- Variety. Like wraps and slings, there are many different types to choose from in a wide range of colours.
- Hard to use (initially). Just like wraps it will take you a while to get to grips with Mei Tai baby carriers. You have to learn how to tie the straps together and securely. But with practice you’ll get used to it.
This is probably the least versatile option as they are a bit bulky and heavy, but a backpack carrier is a good choice if you plan on being outside for a long period of time, such as going hiking and exploring nature with your baby. You have padded shoulder straps just like soft structured carriers, as well as a waist band so the weight is distributed evenly, but it is only suitable for older babies who have strong enough neck muscles to support their head.
- A great choice for long walks and exploring nature with a toddler or older infant.
- Good weight distribution. You won’t feel the strain on one particularly part of your body.
- Storage. Unlike other baby carriers, backpack ones often have pockets for storing some items. This is useful if you’re planning on going for a hike somewhere.
- Sturdy. Backpacks have a very sturdy frame so they are a safe option for supporting babies and toddlers.
- Heavy. The sturdiness comes at a price though as many backpack carriers have a metal frame which adds to the weight, especially if you’re carrying a large toddler as well. If you have any back issues, a backpack carrier might not be a good choice.
- Bulky. While other baby carrier types are made from fabric, the solid frame which forms part of backpack carriers means they take up more space and are not that compact when you fold them up.
- Cost. Compared to slings and wraps, backpack carriers are more expensive, but you do get more features. You need to weigh this up if you’re considering buying one.
Chart – Who are the main baby carrier brands?
Here is a chart showing the monthly search volume online for several baby carrier brands. BabyBjorn is a clear winner in terms of its popularity with consumers.
How much does a baby carrier cost?
You can find fairly cheap baby carriers that cost under $20, where as some can cost over $200. Whatever you choose make sure you check the reviews carefully so you know it’s safe to use. Also, make sure you opt for something easy to attach. When you have a young family, you’re often in a rush and the last thing you want is to be stressed trying to attach your baby when you’re heading out the door!
What age is a baby carrier for?
Baby carriers are usually suitable for newborn babies (some soft structured carriers will come with a newborn insert) until they are around 4-5 years old. But it depends what type of carrier you choose. Rather than age, check the maximum weight limit. Some will only last until your little one is around 20lbs, where as others can last to over 60lbs!
When should you stop using one? Do they expire?
You can use a baby carrier with your little one until they reach the maximum weight limit for the product. However, you’ll likely not get close to this as your baby will grow, start crawling, walking and then running. Some baby carrier weight limits are over 40lbs, which is the average weight for a 5 year old boy. Furthermore that’s quite a weight for an adult to bear for even a small period of time!
The good news is that baby carriers don’t really expire, so you won’t find expiry dates on them. This is handy if you want to keep one for another baby, or if you want to give it to a friend or family member. Just check the material carefully for rips and tears.
Do you really need a baby carrier? Are they worth the money?
Only you can decide if a baby carrier really suits you and your baby. The best way is to consider your lifestyle and make a decision from there. Do you want your baby to be close to you a lot during the day, but need your hands free? Baby wearing is a great way to bond with your infant at home and when you go for walk.
Also, your decision might depend on the character of your baby. Some infants love the close contact of being close to mum or dad and baby wearing is a great way to comfort them. Also, baby carriers are a lot more portable than strollers, which can be handy if you regularly use public transport, or if you don’t have much space in the trunk of your car. Check out the article below if you want to learn more on the value of baby carriers.
Related Post: Are Baby Carriers Worth The Money?
Conclusion – Which type of baby carrier is the best?
It depends on your circumstance and lifestyle. As a family, we personally found little need for a baby carrier at all. Strollers may be larger but your get space for storage, which is handy if you’re out shopping. However, it may also depend on the character of your baby. Some want to be picked up a lot and demand more attention, so a baby carrier might be useful to have around the home and garden as your baby can remain close to you at all times.
In terms of what type to buy, I personally think soft structured carriers are the best. They are sturdy, versatile and you can use them for newborns up to larger toddlers. Furthermore they’re easy to adjust and attach. However, if you’re a breastfeeding mum, ring slings can be great option, especially if you are out in public and you have a hungry baby!