Thursday, 11 April 2013

Choosing your baby carrier

A while back I promised a blog about different types of carriers for babywearing, this is going to be a big one, so lets get straight in...

Structured carriers

For the expectant parent, the world of babywearing can look big and complicated, structured carriers with harnesses and buckles are quite approachable.
Check that the carrier has a wide seat, your baby should be supported from knee to knee, to protect their developing hips as they sit in their natural carried position, upright with their legs tucked up and wrapped around your body.
A good example of these is the Ergo, or Connecta.
Be aware that a carrier with pre-positioned buckles will need to be adjusted every time you wear it, to ensure the baby is seated above your waist, secure within the carrier and against your body. A change of clothes will change how the carrier fits, you need to check the adjustment every time.

Stretchy wraps

Newborns love a stretchy wrap, they tend to be lightweight, jersey type fabric; they are wonderfully supportive and snug. You can nurse your baby in a stretchy wrap quite comfortably. You need to practice putting them on, but it's really not that hard once you have done it a couple of times (pro-tip, practice before the baby arrives), and because they stretch, you just need to fit the wrap to your body, it will stretch to accommodate the baby. This is also very handy for the beginner wrapper, as you can get your wrap right without having to juggle the baby.
The Moby and Boba wrap are good examples of this style. They tend to be fairly easy on the budget too, but be aware that your baby will outgrow this wrap, probably at around 6 months, when they get too heavy and stretch it too far! You cannot safely use a stretchy wrap to carry your baby on your back.

Woven wraps

These are the top end of the wrap world. If you wear your baby a lot, they are a sound investment. Woven from blends of cotton, linen, silk, hemp and bamboo, these wraps have very limited stretch and are very supportive, even for large toddlers. They come in a range of sizes, dependent on how you plan to wear them and your body size. It takes a bit of practice to use these, as you wrap the baby onto your body, and there is an art to getting the right tension and a snug fit. Some fabrics are easier to handle than others, and new wraps need to be broken in by washing and using - as a beginner it is often worth buying second hand for this reason, as well as budget.
These wraps last a long while, and hold their resale value well, many babywearers buy a special wrap (often a limited edition design) to keep as a legacy for their child to wear their grandchildren in.
Brands to seek out are Didymos, Natibaby and Girasol.

Ring slings

A ring sling is a handy tool to have around. They are quick to put on and adjust, they pack down small into your bag and they are great for nursing in. You can wear a newborn up high on your chest/shoulder (never be tempted to use a cradle carry), a bigger baby on your chest or hip, and a toddler on your back. Use one around the house for when you need both hands, keep one in your car for those short errands, carry one in your bag for when your toddler's legs get tired.
Some are padded, on the shoulder, and/or the rails (the hemmed edges, top and bottom) but if you have a padded sling, make sure the padding sits in the right place when you are wearing it, different sized wearers will need the padding in different places.
They do take a bit of a knack to adjust right (make sure the fabric is spread across your back to spread the weight, and your baby is sitting deep in a hammock of fabric with their knees up). They are also asymmetrical, which can be a strain with a heavy baby, and ideally you should alternate the shoulder you wear it on.
One last warning, there are some cheap ring slings available on ebay and the like, which are of inferior quality, usually in terms of the rings being too weak and deforming during use. Go through a trusted brand and supplier, who use good, strong rings.

Pouch slings

These work on a similar principle to the ring sling, but they are pre-sized. You have to buy a pouch sling to your measurements, so no sharing between carers (unless you are identical in size). They are small and light, very cheap (you can make them yourself from a strong cotton fabric) and great for keeping a baby held on your hip comfortably. They are less supportive than other slings, I tend to naturally wrap my arm around the baby's back unless I am using that hand, but they are very handy for short errands and they take the strain off your arm.

Asian carriers 

There is a whole range of carriers that fit under this umbrella, the most common being the mei tai. At their most basic these are a square of fabric, with straps that are arranged, usually around the waist and shoulders. Some have 2 sets of straps, some have one which passes through D rings to meet the carrier at 2 points.
These carriers are often marketed from birth, but usually are not really supportive enough for a baby that cannot yet hold their head up, or preferably sit with support. They are light, cool to wear in the summer, and easy to convert for carrying on the back.
The Connecta is a structured carrier that uses a mei tai design, but fastens with buckles rather than being tied.
Mei tai in action.

The unmentionables

Some baby carriers on the market fail my "Safe and Secure" checklist, by principle of their design, so I would not recommend these at all. To be clear, these are:

The crotch danglers

Mentioning no brand names, these aren't hard to spot. The crotch dangler is a structured carrier in a style that is quite popular and very commercially available. The problem, as the nickname suggests, is that the "seat" is too narrow, and instead of supporting the baby's bottom and thigh, holds the baby up by a narrow strap under the crotch; the developing hip is not supported, the baby's centre of gravity is forward as they cannot wrap their legs around the wearer (moreso if they have an outward facing option) making them tough on your back; I have met so many parents who say they found babywearing too much of a strain, when I find out they used these carriers, I get them to try a wrap, suddenly they are comfortable. They are not recommended for more than 20 minutes wear at a time.

Bag slings

The biggest no-no of the baby carriers. The bag sling looks like a shoulder bag, the baby is worn across the chest in a cradle position with an elastic or drawstring around the upper edge of the "bag" section - they were quite fashionable for a time. These carriers are responsible for several deaths by positional asphyxiation (the chin dropping to the chest and restricting the airway) and overheating. Never put your baby in one.

Framed carriers

These are the heavy duty rucksack style carriers with a solid frame, they are often used for toddlers. The baby is not secured snugly in the carrier, they rattle around rather than swaying with your gait. The weight of the baby and the carrier is not close to your own centre of gravity, putting unnecessary strain on the wearer.

The carrier you choose depends on your baby's age, how often you intend to wear them, for how long, and what you intend to be doing while you wear them. Hopefully this has given you some ideas. From here I would recommend seeking out your local sling library or babywearing specialist. It is also well worth visiting the Natural Mamas forum, for advice and preloved sling sales.


  1. Would love some advice on carriers for the larger breasted lady please. I've managed to hit a g cup size, and just feel my little one sticks out in front of me, rather than being all snug. This was with a babasling. Cheers.

    1. The Babasling is basically a ring sling with a buckle rather than a ring. The issue I find with ring slings (being similarly endowed) is the pressure across the breast on the shoulder side of the sling. Babasling also promote a cradle carry in younger babies, which is not going to feel as secure on anyone.
      Working with your current sling, I would advise making sure you spread the fabric, and keep it adjusted comfortably tight. Try positioning your baby centrally and upright, so that she nestles between your breasts. I've been trawling the Babasling site for a suitable demonstration, but they all seem quite loose - the one here is the closest I can find This ring sling example is better, this baby has their knees up and their feet in, but you can do much the same with the lower leg free.
      If you were looking for an alternative carrier, look for something symmetrical without fabric between you and the baby, so that she can rest naturally against your form as she would if you were cuddling her. Again I would go for an upright carry in the middle of your chest, until she is big enough for a back carry (4 months is the earliest to go for this, once they are secure holding the head up, but I like to wait until the potential for possetting down the back of my neck has diminished).
      A Mei Tai or similar might work well for you (these are quite reasonable and some very funky ones can be found on ebay). Or a wrap. The front wrap cross carry (FWCC), which is the standard stretchy wrap method, is pretty comfy.
      For back wrapping, rucksack carries avoid the bust completely, although I quite like a double hammock, which has a horizontal pass straight across the chest, it's even and supportive

  2. Thank you so much. You are totally right - the cradle carry just does feel secure, and I don't like it!After reading your post again, I also realise I don't like the buckles - they are a real fiddle to adjust. I think I'm going to look more at a Mei Tai style carrier, (with out buckles), so I can do as you suggest and carry her as if I am cuddling her. I spend most of the time cuddling her like this any way, so it should work for both of us. I'm too uncoordinated to attempt a wrap. Thank you again - this has been a super help.