How to Select the Best Baby Carrier for You and Your Family

You’ve done your research and you know that you are going to wear your baby once she comes earthside. (Click HERE to remind yourself why babywearing is so beneficial for you both!) Now you’re down to the sticky task of picking one out.

Which baby carrier is best?

A few things to keep in mind as you are looking:

  1. How long do you plan on carrying the baby?
    • Will you be wearing your newborn and occasionally your toddler? Are you wanting one carrier to take you from the earliest days well into toddlerhood? If so, you’re going to want a carrier that has great versatility. Go for one that is appropriate for the newborn stage when adjusted or used with an infant insert and with a higher weight limit that will keep your baby in a safe and comfy, ergonomically correct position, no matter their age.
  2. What is your budget?
    • Many carriers come with a sizable price tag. If you’re wanting to get the best value, invest in one that will grow with baby from the start and fit for a few years. Popular brands like Ergo and Tula now have carriers that can be adjusted for newborns and older babes without the added cost of an infant insert. Want the option of two styles that you can switch between? Go with lesser known brands or buy a used carrier in good condition (make sure to check for tears/holes in the weightbearing and strap areas).
  3. Who’s going to wear the baby?
    • If the carrier is to be shared between multiple caregivers, you’re most likely going to need something that is fully adjustable to accommodate all body shapes and sizes.

In addition to these questions, you’ll also want to consider ease of use.  Ask yourself if the carrier is something you can easily and safely put on by yourself or if you would need an extra set of hands. Many popular wraps have a good few feet of fabric that can drag on the floor when being tied so thinking ahead and tying at home might be a better option if you don’t want your wrap laying on the parking lot ground at the mall.  

It’s also a good idea to take into consideration your climate when selecting fabrics. A thicker, knitted stretch or woven wrap would keep mom and baby toasty in winter but you’ll want a lighter fabric such as bamboo (moisture wicking and naturally antimicrobial!) or modal for warmer weather. )

Pros and Cons of Different Baby Carriers

At this point it’s probably know a thing or two about what types of carriers exist. There are basically three types of baby carriers on the market: wrap, sling, and soft-structured carriers. We’ve listed pros and cons for each.

Wraps are long swaths of fabric that, conveniently, wrap around the wearer’s body, usually over both shoulders, and secure into place with a knot.  They are “one-size-fits-all” which is great for sharing the carrying duties.

A sling carrier is a long strip of fabric (usually shorter than a wrap and of thicker material) that goes over one shoulder. There are two styles here: pouch and ring. The pouch style is shaped like a circle. Once it is placed over the shoulder the baby can get in and out very easily, without any adjusting.  The ring sling style is a strip of fabric that has a ring on one end where the loose end of the sling is threaded through to allow for adjusting. The weight of the baby secures the carrier into place. Both sling variations require some sizing so sharing isn’t always easy.

PROS: Wraps and slings are ideal for newborns as they form around the baby’s natural body position and spinal curvature. They can also grow with the baby and support a larger, more mobile baby with different variations of holds. Wraps and slings can be worn tummy to tummy and assisted hip carry, plus a sling can adjust to hold the baby in a cradle (for nursing).  

CONS: Due to the fact that slings carry the baby on just one side, with one shoulder holding the weight burden, they are not ideal for the wearer. Loading on just one side can lead to muscle imbalance and improper compensations from the body. Sling the baby when they are little, but move on to something that goes over both shoulders as they grow.  A note about stretchy wraps: these are fantastic when baby is tiny, but have weight limits where their non-stretchy counterparts do not.  Stretchy wraps cannot be used for larger babies. 

A soft structured carrier is made of padded cloth sewn to hold the carrier in an ergonomic position for baby and mom. (When wearing baby, the best position for the baby’s hips is one where the knees are higher than the hips, the thighs supported and against the wearer so the legs look like the letter, “M”.)  In a soft structured carrier, there is a belt around the waist, a padded seat for the baby, and two shoulder straps. This carrier can either have a buckle closure or a Meh Dai, which has strips of fabric to knot the carrier into place instead of a buckle.

PROS: Babies can be worn tummy to tummy, their front facing out, hip carry, or on the back. These carriers often come with a lot more bells and whistles, like small pockets, UV protective sun shades, and inserts for newborns. They are adjustable so one size can fit all.

CONS: As with anything that has a lot of support, these carriers don’t easily conform to a newborn’s composition or preferred positioning. Some carriers do have newborn inserts, but they are made up of just more fabric and more support.

The best carrier for you is the one that you are going to use the most.

You should be comfortable and mobile while your baby is secure and at ease being close to you. Ideally, we want baby facing in and the spine supported. This is best for newborns in a wrap or sling. But as baby grows, the support of the structured carrier is best for the wearer’s body.

Still in doubt? See if local doulas, birthing centers, or a local chapter of Babywearing International has a collection of carriers that can be tested out. Try asking the other parents in your BIRTHFIT tribe to meet up one day with their various carriers and try them out.

And go wear that baby!

Jenny Anderson, Bria Sommer & Katie Powell

Babywearing Demo Video

Dr. Ashley DeBoer

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