Baby carriers 101

Parents and grandparents around the world have been wearing infants for centuries, using a variety of slings, wraps and other contraptions. 

Though the practice is only just becoming a mainstream habit in modern Western culture, companies are offering a dizzying array of devices that allow parents to easily carry children from the newborn stage well into toddlerhood. 

Most American parents purchase — or register for — at least one baby carrier, often two or three. 

There’s certainly a matter of personal taste when it comes to finding the right baby carrier for you. 

But it’s important to note that certain carriers are better suited for particular ages, needs and lifestyles. 

Consider your babywearing goals and needs and go from there: Is comfort a top priority? Versatility? Longevity? 

The benefits of babywearing — the use of baby carriers to keep your baby close to you during daily activities — have been said to include: 

• Quicker soothing of all babies, but especially those suffering from colic

• Convenience of hands-free parenting, even while meeting Baby’s needs

• Better digestion for infants with less gas and acid reflux

• Easier breathing for an infant with a cold

• Improved parent-child bonding

• Encourages on-the-go breastfeeding 

• Increased mom-and-baby contact can boost milk supply

• Temperature regulation for preemies.


ErgoBaby

Buckles-and-snaps carriers

This broad category offers a wide range of products including the hugely popular ERGObaby carrier (pictured, below) and even heavy-duty hiking backpacks. 

Best for: These carriers are especially useful for long days out and extended wear. Dads love them, too.

Cons: You may need to readjust the straps between multiple users (Mom, Dad, nanny, Grandma).

Watch out for: It’s important that your baby’s legs are splayed and flexed in a sort of frog-like position. Some buckle carriers encourage a position in which the baby’s legs hang straight down, which can cause developmental problems such as hip dysplasia. 

Favorite brand: The ERGObaby is by far the best for Baby and caregiver and can be used from birth into early toddlerhood.

Ring sling

The Sling

There are two varieties of sling carriers — pouch and ring. The ring sling (pictured, above) is adjustable; the pouch is not. 

Best for: Cuddling and soothing around the house, quick errands, parks and social gatherings. Works well into toddlerhood as a means of support for hip carrying.

Cons: The one-shoulder approach isn’t very extended-wear friendly, as it becomes uncomfortable for the parent. It can also cause body-alignment issues for the wearer over time, if you favor one particular side. 

Watch out for: This isn’t a completely hands-free, mountain-trekking, fast-walking baby carrier. Also, babies can slip down deep in these carriers or, if you’re not careful, they can slip out. When cradling a newborn in a pouch, make sure she’s not crunched up at the expense of her airway and that her nose and mouth are free to breathe.

Favorite brands: Maya Wrap for ring sling, Karma Baby for pouch.


Moby Wrap

The Wrap

This is basically a long piece of fabric, used to bind the baby to the caregiver. It’s extremely versatile and requires no adjustments between users. Yes, you have to tie it fresh each time you use it, but because it’s just light fabric (and nothing else) you can also wear it throughout the day, so it’s always on and ready to go.

Best for: Wraps are excellent for everyday use, especially for when you’re puttering around the house. Stretchy wrap carriers keep newborns cozy and close while you’re shopping, walking or doing the dishes. Added bonus for parents of multiples: You can wear two babies in one wrap.

Cons: You have to learn how to put it on! Tying a wrap can be intimidating at first, but it’s easy once you’ve mastered the process. 

Watch out for: While the stretchier styles are super comfy and swaddle-like, they shouldn’t be used to carry Baby on your back. Also, they can loosen significantly throughout the day when used to carry bigger babies. 

Favorite brands: The classic Moby Wrap (pictured, above) is a top pick for newborns. The Dolcino woven wrap works better for older babies and toddlers.


Babyhawk

The Mei Tai

Similar in function to the buckle carriers, mei tai-style carriers are simple in design — generally a large square of fabric with four sturdy straps extending from the corners. 

Best for: Though wearable with a newborn, this carrier is usually better suited for carrying babies 4 months and older. It also can be used through toddlerhood. It’s ideal for wearing your child on your back, simple soothing and relieving stuffy noses.

Cons: This carrier, while fairly comfortable, can take a toll on your shoulders during extended use.

Watch out for: Make sure you have adequate neck support for Baby, especially when you’re wearing your baby on your back. 

Favorite brand: Babyhawk (pictured, above) offers a well-made product with a variety of options, including an extended neck tab.


Jen Wittes lives in St. Paul and is the mother of two. She's helped many Twin Cities families in her work as a postpartum doula. Send questions or comments to jwittes@mnparent.com.