Choosing a baby carrier

As you’ve probably already discovered, choosing a baby carrier can be a complete minefield! With so many different types, brands and variations it can all get a bit overwhelming. And everyone is different; the carrier that may be perfect for you and your baby will almost certainly not be for at least someone else, so reading online reviews of carriers isn’t always helpful, or a guarantee of whether something will be best for you.

Think of it as trying to find the perfect pair of comfortable shoes or jeans, but you need them to fit at least 2 people, and one of those people is growing quickly!

That’s why we have the Library – so that you can try on and borrow different carriers to really get an idea of what fits and suits you and your baby best. But it isn’t always practical to get to a Sling session and it’s also good to try to get an idea of what you’d like to try before you come along so here’s a few things to consider when looking at what carrier/s to go for:

1. Basic requirements of a good baby sling or carrier

To start, there are a few things that all good, safe and comfortable slings and baby carriers should be able to offer you. Follow this link to find out what we’d suggest are the minimum that any good baby carrier or sling should offer you:

What to Look Out For in a Good Baby Carrier

2. What age child/children would you like to carry?

The first thing to consider is what age child you’d like to be carrying. All good carriers will have a guideline age or weight range. Please be aware that these are often simply based on what weight the carrier has been tested to support, not what size or shape child it will be most suitable or comfortable to carry. We try to give guidelines for actual practical age ranges of carriers in our descriptions in the Library Catalogue.

Also consider whether you’d like to be able to carry two children of different ages, or whether you’d like to use only one carrier from birth to toddler.  Many carriers have a realistic age range of about 18 months, and some types may only be suitable for 6 months or so.  As with almost all baby equipment be prepared to look for different options for different stages of your child’s development.

In our experience:

  • Many stretchy carriers and those buckle carriers that are truely suitable from newborn without inserts or adaptions will be outgrown by around 8-10 months, and may start to feel uncomfortable or unsupportive even earlier.
  • Buckle carriers that will last to and beyond 18 months often do not fit well until your baby is around 4-6 months old. Infant inserts or adaptions are often fiddly to use and still won’t quite provide an ideal fit.
  • Mei Tais suitable from birth will usually fit comfortabley up to about 18 months – some larger sizes can be folded cinched for smaller babies so have a longer life span.
  • The only truely birth to toddler carriers that will fit any size child and adult are a woven wrap or a ring sling (dependent on the fabric of the sling), though it’s worth noting that you’ll be unlikely to be able to comfortabley carry a heavy toddler in a one shouldered Ring Sling for longer than 30-60 minutes.

3. Who will be doing the carrying?

If you only want to buy one carrier, then you need to consider who will be doing the carring. We’d recommend that you find a carrier that best suits the person who will be doing most of the carrying; if other adult/s also intend to carry then make sure that the carrier you choose is adjustable.  Is more than one person will be doing equal amounts of carrying, and especially if they’re very different sizes, then we’d recommend a carrier that doesn’t need significant adjustment between users.

As a rule of thumb, the more shaped a carrier is, the more specific the fit and the less likely that it will fit two differently sized/shaped people equally well (think trying to share a fitted pair of jeans vs. trying to share a loose skirt!).

In our experience:

  • Easily ‘sharable’ carriers are generally those that adjust as you put them on and are less structured; these include Stretchy and Woven Wraps, Mei Tais and Ring Slings.
  • Mei Tais and Soft Structured carriers are more likely to fit different shaped/sized adults differently so can be harder to share.
  • Pouches must be fitted to an individual person’s measurements and are the hardest to share. This obviously also applies if you’ve been lent or given a carrier – many people try pouches that do not fit them correctly and so (not surprisingly) don’t find that they get on with them very well.

4. When, where and how would you like to be able to use your carrier?

Carrying for short periods: If you’d only like to use a carrier around the house or for short trips, then you won’t necessarily need something that’s the most supportive option. You may wish to go for something quick to use like a ring sling, short woven wrap or pouch. These can be great with small babies, though it’s worth noting that you’ll be unlikely to be able to comfortabley carry a heavy toddler in a one shouldered carry for longer than 30-60 minutes.

Carrying for longer periods: If you’d like to use your sling for longer trips (for days out, holidays or as a buggy replacement), you’ll want something that’ll support your baby and back much better. For longer wearing we’d strongly recommend a carrier that can be used for 2 shouldered and (for older babies and toddlers) back carries. These include Wraps (note that stretchy wraps are not recommended for back carries), Mei Tais and Soft Structured Carriers.

Ups and Downs while out and about: If you’re wearing your child for longer periods of time (e.g. for travelling) but also need to be picking up and putting down your child a lot (e.g. for sometimes-walking toddlers or when going clothes shopping etc.), you’ll probably want something quick to use, and may wish to avoid carriers that have long straps or lengths of fabric that could drag through the mud/rain. If you live somewhere very windy and will need to put on your carrier outside, then the same will probably apply. Go for Soft Structured Carriers or short Woven Wraps (under 3.5m) rather than Mei Tais or longer Wraps.

Extreme Temperatures: For carrying in extreme hot or cold weather conditions it’s worth checking how well suited a particular carrier model/brand is. Some carriers (including long wraps) can be harder to use over thick coats, and you may wish to consider extra accessories such as special babywearing coats that will fit over both you and your baby.  Some carriers, especially thicker stretchy and woven wraps or bulkier mei tais, can be very hot to wear, but there are many fabric options for all carrier types so extreme temperatures don’t rule out any particular type.

In our experience:

  • Don’t stick to rigidly to the guidance in this section! You’ll be most likely to use a carrier that is the one that fits most comfortabley, that you feel most confident using and that you feel looks the best for you, even if it’s not always the most ideal option for others in the same situation. Emily prefers long woven wraps and so has learnt to wrap them without too much difficulty in wind, rain, mud, snow and grimey car parks! Use the advice above to help you to choose between several suitable options.

5. Do you or your baby have any extra needs?

Back Problems: If  you have a history of back problems, we would strongly recommend a 2-shouldered carrier with a section that buckles or ties around your waist to best distribute the weight of your baby around your torso.  Back problems do not at all prevent you from carrying your baby until you wish to stop – if you start when your baby is small, it provides low impact strength training for your back and a properly fitting carrier will support you in a good posture. Remember that you’ll always have to lift and carry your child some of the time, and it’s better for your back to do this in a supported way using a well-fitting carrier. We would recommend a Woven Wrap as the most adjustable and adaptable carrier, and a Mei Tai or a Soft Structured Carrier could also be very comfortable and supportive.

Cesarean Section: If you’ve recently had a c-section, you may not find it as comfortable to use a Soft Structured Carrier as the waist band may interfere with your scar. You will also want a supportive carrier that will allow you to be gentle on your healing stomach muscles. The best option is a long wraparound carrier – either a long Woven or Stretchy Wrap – as these can easily be adapted to avoid or support your scar, whilst also providing excellent support for your back, stomach and core muscles.

Premature and Low Birth Weight Babies: Though the benefits of carrying apply to all babies, if you’re baby has special needs or was premature, carrying them regularly can be a fantastic aid to their physical, social and cognitive development. For premature or low birth weight babies we’d recommend you use a stretchy wrap as you can tie it to yourself first and then easily and safely pop them into the carrier with minimal fussing. The soft fabric will be both kind and supportive, and stretchy wraps can be used safely from birth (however early) for kangaroo care and to facilitate essentail skin to skin contact. Kangaroo Care/skin to skin contact has been shown to assist in maintaining and regulating a baby’s body warmth, heart and breathing rates, and in promoting weight gain.

Twins: For carrying twins there are many options depending on your (and their) needs.  We’d recommend you start by carrying your babies one at a time using a stretchy wrap or ring sling to get you all used to it. Using one of these carriers in a hip or off-centre front position will allow you to also hold your other baby in your arms while one is in the carrier.  Later on there are many options for carrying both together – we have some experience of helping parents with twins so please email to have a chat about it all.

High or Special Needs: If your baby or young child has very high/special needs, then carrying them can allow you to easily meet some of these whilst still being able to continue with the other demands of your day. Carrying provides the constant close contact, attention, comfort and reassurance that your child needs whilst also giving them a safe environment from which to interact with the world on their own terms. We’d recommend a supportive, 2-shouldered carrier that will allow you to carry for longer periods of time, and possibly for a longer span than usual. Every child has different wants and needs for being carried; regular carrying usually decreases significantly once a child is walking and then continues until about age 2-3 depending on the child.  A long Woven Wrap would be the most adaptable option for the long term. More shaped carriers such as Mei Tais and Soft Structured Carriers will also be supportive, but be prepared to size up as your child grows.

We don’t have qualified experience!

  • We’re happy to chat about the needs of you and your child and give you any suggestions or ideas that we can, but please remember that we are not qualified medical professionals.
  • When considering using a carrier as an aid for any medical condition, or if you or you child have any special relevent medical needs, then of course please consult your/your child’s doctor or medical professional first.
  •  We’re also more than happy to help you to source research supporting the benefits of carrying if you’d like us to, and we can also help you to find the information you need to choose the right carrier for your needs.

6. And last but NOT least…. Do you like how the carrier looks?

You can find the most comfortable and suitable carrier for your shape and needs, but if you don’t like how it looks or you feel that it doesn’t suit you, then you’re unlikely to use it as much as you might intend to.

So make sure that the carrier you choose is one that you really love the look of, and would feel confident to walk down the street in.  There are many different fabric options for most slings to cover all tastes and preferences so you should always be able to find something to suit you. And some are even reversible to suit another carrying adult too!

What next? You could try looking at our Carrier Comparison Chart to help find out which carrier type/s may best suit your needs. Bear in mind that the best solution for your family may be to have two different carriers to meet different needs on different occasions.

© 2011 South London Sling Library

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