Baby Carrier Buying Guide
From snuggling with a sleepy newborn to staying hands-free while you shop with your tot, baby carriers help you keep your child close while you’re on the go.
Types of Baby Carriers
From wraps and slings to backpacks, mei tais, and soft structured models, baby carriers come in various fabrics, can be worn in numerous ways, and suit a variety of activity levels. You also can further customize any carrier with a range of accessories.
Wrap carriers are a long piece of material (often cotton, but can be linen, silk, bamboo, or breathable mesh) worn twisted around the body. Pros: Allow for a wide variety of holding options, including various front, hip, and back carries. Designed for use with a range of ages (newborns to toddlers) and protect a child from sun, wind, and touchy strangers. Convenient for breastfeeding, wraps are washable, easily adjusted, and usually more affordable than other carrier styles. Wraps are also ideal for those following an attachment-parenting philosophy, as they keep a child close to the body. Cons: Due to the variety of styles and carry options, wraps can have a steeper learning curve than other carriers (although most wraps come with printed directions and a DVD / online video for added instruction). Some parents find the wrapped fabric keeps them too warm while wearing baby.
These swaths of material are worn over one shoulder to form a pouch to hold baby. Slings can be either a circular piece of cloth with a fixed pouch, or a rectangular length of fabric threaded through two rings and whose pouch size can be adjusted. Pros: Offer a variety of carry positions, including front (facing in and out), hip, and back. Slings are simple to put on and remove. Allow for discrete breastfeeding and easy to store in a diaper bag. Slings are available in a wide variety of materials, colors, and patterns, allowing you to express your style. Cons: Wearing a baby in a sling can become physically taxing if done for extended periods and as baby gets older and larger. Circular pouch slings are sized, so it can be tricky to order one without trying it on. Ring slings’ design means that there will always be a drape of its extra material hanging in front of you—a potential annoyance for some.
Sometimes called Asian-style baby carriers, mei tais comprise a rectangular piece of material worn on the front, back, or hip. Four straps secure them (usually one over each shoulder and two at the waist). Pros: Made in a wide array of colors and patterns, mei tai carriers can be used with infants and toddlers. They evenly distribute the weight of the child and can be adjusted from a high-back, looky-loo carrying position to a lower, nap-friendly carrying position. Cons: May be tricky for those looking for a quick on/off carrier. Straps usually not padded and can dig into shoulders and hips. Depending on the design, some mei tai carriers may not provide enough support for newborns.
Able to be worn on the front, back, or hip, soft-structured carriers feature a rectangular piece of material secured to the wearer’s body with clasps and buckles. Some models keep the child in a seated position while others, in a vertical one. Although suitable for newborns through toddlers, some SSCs require a separate infant insert. Pros: Soft-structured carriers provide a more streamlined look than other options. The carriers’ buckles and clasps offer a customizable fit for parent and child, and the padded shoulder straps—and in some cases, padded waist belts—increase comfort, disperse the child’s weight, and provide lumbar support for the parent. Often quick and easy to put on and place baby in. Also offered in more dad-friendly styles than other carriers. Cons: Does not allow child to be worn directly on parent’s chest, which may disappoint those looking for that close contact. The design leaves a child’s legs unprotected, potentially exposing them to sun and wind. Soft-structured carriers can be bulkier than other options, making them harder to stash into a diaper bag or stroller basket. Some parents may also find the buckles and clasps burdensome or uncomfortable.
Suited for more active, lengthy outings (such as hikes or a day out), backpack carriers range from smaller models built into a traditional school backpack to larger options constructed on backpacking frames. Babies carried must be able to keep their head upright unassisted, making these carriers most suitable for kids six months and older. Pros: Available in a great variety of designs, sizes, and comfort levels, including lightweight models for short journeys to more substantial styles for longer trips. Many backpack carriers have additional storage pouches for diapers, snacks, and your own essentials. Cons: backpack carriers only can be used in one way. Models vary and may lack the adjustment options or sufficient padding you’d desire. Storage can be problematic due to carrier’s bulky shape. Backpack carriers position the child high on your back, so hanging lights, doorframes, and tree branches are potential hazards.
Varying greatly by brand, carrier accessories include infant inserts, sun hoods / sleeping hoods, cover enhancements, weather covers, strap extensions, seat extenders, and bibs/drool clothes. Infant insert: Certain carriers such as mei tai or soft-structured are not suitable for infants as-is, often because the children’s small size makes them sit too low in them. While many models now include an infant insert or have been redesigned to not need one, some still require purchasing a separate accessory. Sun hoods and sleeping hoods: Optional accessories for mei tai carriers, soft structured carriers, and backpack carriers, sun hoods and sleeping hoods protect your baby from the elements and provide a shaded place for her to snooze. Cover enhancements: Some carriers can be updated with additional swatches of material that you purchase and attach to them/ Weather Covers: Waterproof weather covers fit over your carrier, providing warmth and protection from rain and snow. Strap extensions: Strap extensions create extra sizing flexibility for shoulder and waist straps. Seat extenders: Available for some carriers, seat extenders offer additional comfort and support for larger babies. Bib/Drool cloths: Children often bite, suck, and drool over the front of their carriers. Easy-to-clean bibs or drool clothes cover this portion of the carrier, protecting it from marks and stains.
There’s a baby carrier suited to every taste level and parenting style. But before selecting a model because it looks cute or was recommended by your cousin, bear in mind a few things. How would you like to carry the baby? During which activities will you wear the carrier, and how would you prefer to attach the carrier to your body? Will you be wearing the child for long stretches of time, and are your kid’s age and weight—or even your own physical limitations—potential factors? And finally, will there be more than one caregiver using the carrier?
Common carrying positions include front facing-in, front facing-out, cradle, hip, kangaroo-hold, hug-hold, high-back, and low-back. Some baby carriers only offer one or two options, while others provide a half-dozen. More is not always better, but having various carry options can allow you to do a wider array of activities and help find that magic position to calm a fussy baby.
Most carriers are comfortable for wearing around the house, but not all are suited to all home activities. One wouldn’t want to wear a front-facing carrier while cooking, while a backpack carrier isn’t the best way to transport a baby on the subway. Also consider if you are planning to breastfeed while wearing the carrier. Some styles make this very convenient, while others, nearly impossible.
When it comes to attaching the carrier to you, consider the ease, look, and comfort of the various options. Think about the locations you’ll be putting the carrier on, how fast you need the on/off process to be, and any other distracting elements that may take your attention away from attaching the carrier.
Parents planning on wearing their baby for long periods should make sure to find a carrier that is padded, comfortable, and easily adjustable.
While many baby carriers suit a range of ages and loads, some require additional accessories for infants, while others better distribute a child’s weight—making them more comfortable for those carrying older, heftier kids.
From sore shoulders to a weak back, some baby carriers are harder on certain body parts. Be sure to select a carrier that does not strain your injured areas and that provides adequate support and padding.
If several people will be using the carrier, ensure it is adequately adjustable and gender-neutral to allow all to wear it comfortably. Wraps, mei tai carriers, and ring slings are simple to tailor to multiple wearers, while the straps on some soft-structured carriers and backpack carriers require more time and effort. One-piece circular slings are bought in a particular size and are trickier to share among caregivers.