To help make choosing the right baby carrier easier, Nursing Angel has put together this guide to help you make an informed decision. Learn what to look for in a carrier, the different styles available and their key features.
Why use a baby carrier?
There are so great reasons to use a baby carrier! Click here to read all about the benefits of babywearing.
Types of baby carriers & key features
Baby carriers come in a wide variety styles and features. Whatever carrier you choose, always follow the usage instructions and safety advice in the instruction manual, and always monitor baby when in the carrier to ensure proper air flow is maintained.
Pouch slings are very popular - particularly with first time parents - as they are so easy to use. The traditional and most common style is made from a continous loop of fabric which is curved to hug your body, with a pouch for baby to nestle in. Some new styles include buckles which allow the pouch to be adjustable to fit. Pouches go over one shoulder and baby is placed in the pouch. Many brands include light shoulder padding for wearing comfort and/or rail padding.
Ring Slings are one of the most well known and versatile styles of baby carrier around. A length of fabric is threaded through two rings for safe and secure carrying. No need to rethread each time; just pop it on and pop baby in. Ring slings offer parents a variety of different carrying positions and are particularly good for younger babies. Not only does the cosy hammock position keep baby close to your heart, it's easy to breastfeed in transit and take a sleeping baby out without waking. Many ring slings come with a free instructional DVD guide, light shoulder padding for long term wearing comfort and a very wide choice of fabrics.
Soft Structured Carriers (with Buckles):
Soft Structured Carriers (SSC) with buckles are a favourite with parents. These baby carriers come with the convenience of buckles for ease of use and quick adjustments, instead of the traditional tying technique that is used with Mei Tais. Other features can include additional shoulder and/or body padding for comfort, reversible colours, wide fabric choices and extra support additions. Designs vary between brands - some are similar to the traditional Mei Tai design while others have a more structured body and shoulder style. A very popular carrier choice both in terms of comfort and one size fits most design.
Soft Structured Carriers (Mei Tais):
Mei Tais - also known as Asian Style Carriers - are a traditional form of babywearing that has been around for centuries. The Mei Tai consists of a rectangular or square fabric panel with four tying straps. Modern day Mei Tais combine the traditional tried-and-tested design with updated features such as comfortable shoulder padding, contoured headrest, stylish prints, durable fabrics and/or reversible colour options.
Wrap slings - also known as baby wrap carriers and wraparounds - are a wonderful way to keep your baby close to you for extended periods of time. Known for their supreme comfort and even weight distribution, they are the most comfortable type of baby carrier to wear, particularly with young babies. Ideal for constant bonding and closeness with newborns, unsettled babies and carrying for long periods. Use with newborns (including premmies and twins) to pre-schoolers. The design consists of a long piece of fabric which is wrapped and tied around your body. A small learning curve but easily mastered with a little practice.
Things to Consider Before Buying a Baby Carrier
Ease of use:
Some carriers are particularly easy to use while others have a small learning curve. Either way, rest assured that printed instructions come with all carriers, and some even include a free instructional DVD. Many instructional guides and online videos are also available online. Regardless of the type of carrier you buy, it'll soon become second nature with a little practice!
The five main carrying positions are:
For young babies without head control, the cradle/hammock and front inward facing positions are ideal. Baby is nestled close to you in a safe and secure position that supports the head and neck.
Older babies and toddlers love carrying positions that let them see the world, such as back, hip and front outward. Back carrying is particularly popular it’s the most ergonomic and comfortable position for carrying heavier weights. Your explorer will love being up high on your back in an easy to hug you positions... and right in your ear for lots of chatting! Compared to a stroller, a carrier is so much easier to take with you (most fold up to fit in your bag) and so much nicer to be in an interactive and close position with your child when they no longer want to walk. Most carriers come with weight restrictions and a few require baby to be able to have head control: read the product descriptions for details.
Most carrying positions can be used for all ages once baby has head & neck support, although some are more comfortable than others (eg. you could carry a 12kg toddler in the hammock position but other positions are far more comfortable!) If you plan to use for extended time periods (such as walks, long outings, attachment parenting or with unsettled babies), look for a carrier that has features such as wide or padded shoulder straps, even weight distribution, back support and long-term wearing comfort.
Fitted vs one size:
Most carriers are one size fits most so they can be easily adjusted and shared between parents. Some - such as pouch slings and ring slings - come in different size ranges.
Baby's age & weight:
Most carriers come with age/size restrictions. Although they're generous ranges, it's essential to choose a carrier that is designed to fit your baby's size and age. A few carriers also require baby to have head/neck control. Read the product descriptions for details.
Many baby carriers can be used for discreet breastfeeding on the go, some more easily than others. Baby Wraps and Ring Slings are particularly easy to adjust for nursing, and Ring Slings have the added advantage of a long tail for additional privacy. Read product descriptions about nursing potential.
Many carriers feature shoulder padding and some styles also include padded rails or legs for baby's comfort. Padding is excellent for comfort although does add a little bulk and can increase the heat factor. Although padding adds extra comfort, it can also increase the heat factor and add a little bulk. Consider if you’ll be wearing your carrier for extended periods of time and weigh up the pros and cons of padding. Most wearers love the extra comfort provided by shoulder padding and it's generally only a concern in very warm climates or when using the carrier for strenuous activities such as hiking.
Some styles are very affordable for everyday use, while others let you splurge on a wider array of designs or fabric choices. Prices range from around $50 to $250. Don't compromise safety and comfort by choosing a cheaply made carrier: we don't stock these brands.
Back & Shoulder Support:
If you suffer from back or shoulder ailments, look for a carrier that provides even weight distribution and enhanced support. Baby wraps, soft structured carriers and Mei Tais offer even weight distribution without pressure points. Baby wrap have very wide shoulders for excellent weight distribution, while many soft structured carriers and Mei Tais come with shoulder padding for extra comfort.
If you prefer to have your carrier always at hand, choose a compact style that is easy to fold and carry with you. Most carriers are portable, although some larger soft structured styles may not fit in a nappy bag.
Hot & cold climates:
All types of carriers will add heat – just as body heat will be transferred when holding a baby in your arms. For warmer climates, look for breathable fabrics and cotton blends that can be machine washed to remove sweat. Excess padding adds heat so may not be appropriate for very warm and humid climates. For colder climates, look for lightweight carriers that you can wear under your coat (obviously with baby's head out!). Fleece carrier covers can also be used over most carrier types for a snug and cozy ride.
Organic & eco-friendly:
There are a variety of eco-friendly carrier options including organic fabrics, colour grown cotton, unbleached fabrics, recycled materials and non-toxic dyeing processes. They are also ideal for chemical-sensitive babies and wearers. Many brands now manufacture their carriers using fair trade labour. View these carriers in the Organic & Eco-Friendly section.
Carriers come in a wide range of prints and solids colours to suit all styles, including designer prints, reversible colours for two looks in one and a multitude of fabric options. Some carriers have accessory options, such as carrier bibs, clip on pockets and matching nursing covers.
Many slings and carriers can be machine washed for easy cleaning. Some can even be tumble dried. Some can only be hand washed or dry cleaned. Read the product descriptions for details.