Help! I need a baby carrier!
Yes, yes you most definitely do. How did you make it this long without one? Never mind, you’re here now.
Let me assure you that no matter your preferred parenting philosophy… this will be one of the best decisions you can make as a caregiver to a child. Babywearing is a great way to get through the daily tasks that a caregiver is burdened with, while still being able to keep your baby close to you in the way that nature intended. Forget that constant fight to “put the baby down”, that losing battle where you always end up with a screaming child and arms too full to do whatever you were mistakenly planning to do a minute ago. Just strap that little one to your chest or back, and go on about your business, everyone will be much happier. Not to mention, your little one will benefit in so many ways developmentally with this simple act.
Though most people think of Babywearing and they imagine one of those silly looking front facing Bjorn carriers, it is actually so much more than that. Babywearing has been around for practically as long as humans have! Many different cultures on this planet have used different cloth carriers to hold their young, and all of our modern day carriers are actually based off of these more traditional carriers. I’d love to talk more about that, but I’ll save that for later time. Currently, you just want to get a baby carrying device… like, yesterday. Here is a primer on the different carriers out there, and their benefits and disadvantages.
The Front Pack
This is the most common form of baby carrier in the media, and in brick and mortar baby stores. For this reason, most people end up with these carriers. Gifts from well-meaning baby shower attendees, or other parents who just want to share the Babywearing love. There is absolutely nothing wrong with these carriers. They won’t cause hip dysplasia or crush your child’s genitals – but they can be *really* uncomfortable once your newborn begins to pack on the pounds. The positioning of the baby isn’t as ergonomic as other carriers on the market, and your body really feels it after a while. It is also important to remind people that babies are easily overstimulated. The sights and sounds of the outside world can be a lot to take in, especially as they start to get tired. With any front-facing carrier, always be sure to watch your baby’s cues, and turn them back around if they start to show signs of irritability or stress.
Reasons to like it:
*That few months (around 3-6 months) when your baby has pretty adequate head control, and they are at that super curious stage when they just want to “see out”. These are great for that stage.
*They are easy to get a hold of secondhand (really cheap). I see them all the time on Craigslist, Thrift stores, and Flea Markets.
*Ease of use – they are pretty straightforward. If you have ever seen someone wearing one, you can most likely replicate it.
*It isn’t that comfortable for long wear. The baby is not positioned ergonomically, and the weight isn’t distributed well for the wearer.
*They have a vast range of price points, and not all of them are created equally. One of my first carriers was a front facing Infantino Swift. It cost $15 at Wal-Mart, and it hurt so bad I almost threw up from wearing it. The more expensive ones like a Baby Bjorn can retail for between $50 – $100… and for that price, you might as well invest in a more comfortable carrier.
The Soft Structured Carrier (SSC)
If you are lucky, you stumbled upon one of these as a first carrier. I have heard them referred to as “Baby Backpacks”, which is a pretty good name for them, because they work essentially the same. These carriers have a structured waistband, shoulder straps, and buckles. They come in Infant, Standard, Toddler and Preschool sizing – though the ones you can find more readily at a store are usually Standard size. The most common one on the market is the ErgoBaby, a solid carrier that has been around since 2003. Their basic model retails right around $120. There are more and more of these carriers emerging on the market, some lower end like the Infantino Union ($30 at Target) are actually quite comfortable. There are higher end brands such as Tula, whose most basic model is around $150 and it goes up from there. Most of these carriers are good up to about 45lbs, so if you are looking for longevity in a carrier, this could be a very good choice.
Reasons to Like It:
*Ease of use. Practically anyone can put one of these on. These are great Daddy carriers because they are comfy, with little fuss. They can be thrown into the washing machine for easy clean up.
*Easy to adjust. The baby is in the carrier already, you can tweak the straps until you get a good fit. You can also share with other caregivers, it can fit many different sizes of wearers.
*Many of these carriers can be found in a lot of places. They are easy enough to get new, and very easy to find second hand too. Especially online.
*Ergonomic positioning makes these much more comfortable for long term wear.
*Longevity is a highlight – it can be worn up to 45 lbs safely and relatively comfortably. Most of them can be worn on the front, hip, or back… allowing the carrier to grow with your family.
*The “one size fits all” design does manage to fit most, but some people cannot get a comfortable fit with these carriers. I recommend trying on a bunch of different models, because they all feel really different. Some brands have “strap extenders” that can be useful for larger wearers, and some brands you can order petite sized straps if you need a shorter shoulder length.
*Not the best newborn carrier. Many are marketed with infant inserts and there are numerous “hacks” to get a better fit with a newborn… but a carrier can become unsafe if incorrectly modified to fit a too-small baby. Use caution when trying these carriers with a newborn, get help with adjusting it properly.
*Easy to wear incorrectly. I can’t tell you how many times I have been walking in a store or mall and seen someone wearing a baby in an Ergo practically hanging down to their knees. These carriers are designed to be worn High & Tight, with baby Close Enough To Kiss.
*Fergos. This is the name we not-so-affectionately have given to the numerous counterfeit carriers that have emerged on the market. These knock-offs are all over EBay and Amazon, and for a new wearer they seem like a great cheap option. Some people buy them second hand without realizing they are fake. Unfortunately, these carriers are really dangerous. They have not been tested and do not meet the stringent safety standards the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) sets for baby carriers. They have been known to have faulty buckles that break when any weight is on it, and who knows what kinds of fabric and dyes they are using for these carriers. We aren’t even sure if they are non-toxic. Always buy from a reputable vendor, and if buying second hand, don’t hesitate to ask for the serial number to call and ask the company if it is a legit carrier you are purchasing.
These are wonderful newborn carriers; so many people will begin with these per others recommendations. They are great for facilitating the early skin to skin time needed to help with breastfeeding success, and have been an integral part in Kangaroo care for babies born preterm. They can be worn without anything underneath them, in place of a shirt. They are stretchy, made of cotton and spandex so they are relatively easy to get a good fit for everyone.
Reasons to Like It:
*Comfy and relatively inexpensive.
*Wonderful for snuggling with newborn in skin to skin contact.
*Hands free carrier, very supportive for a squishy newborn.
*There are only a few basic ways to tie this carrier, the stretch factor makes it unsafe for any carries that aren’t explicitly recommended in the instructions. This means that back carries are out of the picture with these wraps.
*They can be really hot! The jersey fabric can be very insulating, and there are quite a few layers going around you and the baby. Lots of people complain that these carriers are miserable for warm weather.
*Because this is a stretchy carrier, it loses its usability when your kid starts to push 20-25 lbs. The heavy baby stretches the fabric until it can’t bounce back. It starts to strain the wearers back after a short time wearing.
*It doesn’t have finished hems, so it becomes useless if baby starts to actively push against the wearer or try to lean backwards out of the carrier. There is no way to secure the baby in this carrier once they become that active.
This is a fabric sling that has two aluminum rings positioned on one side of it, the other end is fed through the two rings and held in place with tension. This is a one-shoulder carrier, like the traditional Rebozo used in different parts of South America. I often say that if I had a second baby, a ring sling would be my go-to for the newborn stage. It is easy to put on and take off, and it mimics the natural placement of the baby in utero, making for a very comfortable carry for your little one. They can also be used for toddlers on your hip, though one shoulder carries can become less comfortable with heavier children. Some ring slings are made from double layer cotton, linen, silk, or even converted from a woven wrap. I recommend steering clear of some of the crappier brands on Etsy (not *all* of them are crappy, do your research!), and staying with a tried and true maker. Not all ring slings are created equal.
Why We Like Them:
*Easy to use once you get the hang of them.
*Not too much fabric to contend with – travels well and folds up nicely in a diaper bag
*Can be shared easily with various caregivers, as they are very adjustable.
*Ergonomically positions baby in a natural position preferred by newborns
*Can be used with a newborn, all the way up to a toddler in front carries, hip carries, and even back carries for more experienced wearers.
*The one shoulder carry can be really uncomfortable for some wearers.
*Heavier babies can really start to hurt your back after long outings in a ring sling.
*Without help, it is easy to use them improperly. Many people feel they are “not secure” and they can’t use it hands-free. If that’s the case, ask for help. They are most definitely a safe, hands free carrier.
Oh man, you are in for it now. May I caution you that if you get into woven wraps, you are likely headed “down the rabbit hole” and there is little anyone can do for you at that point. Woven wraps are (as the name suggests) woven cotton baby carriers. They have been around forever, referred to as a Kanga, a Rebozo, a Welsch Shawl, or many other things depending on what region they hail from. They can be 100% cotton, or woven with things like linen, hemp, silk, bamboo, wool, or recently some with synthetic fibers as well. The price of a woven wrap can vary dramatically based on who made the carrier, how many were produced of a particular model, where it is made, and how popular a particular design is. The price can really put people off, but they are a truly versatile carrier. You can use them with a newborn through toddler stage quite comfortably. Woven wraps have a real steep learning curve, so brush up on your YouTube videos, or head over to a local Babywearing International meeting to get some hands-on help.
Why We Like Them:
*Woven wraps are visually appealing. They come in patterns and colors to suit anyone’s taste, and they are a lot more fashion forward than a front pack carrier.
*They are incredibly versatile. They can be tied in dozens of different ways to accommodate the size of the baby, and the physical needs of the wearer. They can be used for front, hip, and back carries, and have the best weight distribution of any carrier on the market.
*Best value of any carrier, since one wrap can last through the infant stage on up to preschooler stage, and be worn with subsequent children too.
*They retain their value pretty well. Some used ones even sell for over what they originally retailed for as they become more difficult to find new.
*The steep learning curve. Many people give up after trying it just a few times. It can be really frustrating to learn – especially if you have a newborn screaming in your face.
*The length can be really intimidating for new wearers. The average “beginner” wrap is a size 5, which is 4.2 meters, or a 6 which is 4.6 meters. That’s a lot of fabric. Take note that the more advanced a wearer becomes, the more carries they can do with shorter lengths of wraps.
*Availability. There are very very few brick and mortar stores that sell woven wraps, so most of the purchasing is done online. Not to mention, many of the brands are overseas. That can be frustrating because you won’t know what a wrap is going to feel like until you order it and receive it. Thankfully there is a pretty good resale market for wraps. You can usually recoup funds pretty easily if you end up hating what you bought.
*They are highly addictive. You’ve been warned.
This is the last, but not least carrier I’ll mention in this post. The Mei Tai was originally used by the Chinese, and was popularized in Australia in the 1960’s. It is an incredibly comfortable and versatile carrier, and is relatively easy to use. It is a soft bodied cloth carrier with waist straps and shoulder straps, and it can be used on a wearers front, hip, or back. Some of the easy to find ones are canvas bodied, but there are some higher end ones converted from woven wraps or made from woven fabric. I have really fallen in love with Mei Tai’s over the last few months… though they were the very last of the mainstream styles I got into.
Why We Like Them:
*They are relatively inexpensive, and can be comfortably used for a newborn up to a toddler.
*They are very adjustable, they can comfortably fit most caregivers with few exceptions.
*They can be used for a back carry a lot sooner than a SSC, because their soft body can form to the baby and they can be positioned a lot higher and tighter than most buckle carriers.
*They are a great affordable option for an ergonomic carrier. The Infantino version of the Mei Tai frequently goes on Sale at Target for around $17.99
*Some people might find the unstructured waist band uncomfortable or too narrow. There are some brands that have wider wrap style straps available, which is something to consider.
*Some of the less popular brands may be hard to find in stores. Online is your best option for most Mei Tai’s other than an Infantino.
Well there you have it, a Carrier 101 for your reading pleasure. This is by no means an exhaustive list. There are numerous kinds of carriers that I didn’t even mention here…. But these are the most common, the least challenging to use safely, and the easiest to get a hold of. If you or your baby have some physical limitations making these baby carriers not ideal for you, please feel free to shoot me an email and I would love to help you try to find something that works better for your needs.
I mentioned getting help. Don’t be shy! We are all new to this at some point. Just remember to follow the T.I.C.K.S. for babywearing safety, and when in doubt – ask someone! Some great resources for babywearing can be found on the Babywearing International website, as well as TheBabywearer.com. Find a babywearing group near you, and get some hands on help. Nothing beats a comfortable baby carrier when it comes to raising babies. Happy Wearing!