I get it: it’s hard to pick a baby carrier. There’s a lot of information out there, and it quickly gets overwhelming. Between the ergos and bjorns and don’t-face-forward and Mobys and something-called-a-ring-slings, your eyes glaze over and your brain starts leaking from your ears and you start thinking, I’m just going to get a damn stroller.
It doesn’t have to be like that. I promise.
Let’s make this as simple as we can. Obviously, this is not the be-all and end-all of baby carrier info. Obviously someone will say I am completely wrong about something. Obviously the internet won’t agree with all of this, because the internet never does. And then you will end up deciding to buy six different carriers anyway, so this will be totally moot. But let’s give it a shot.
I need this to be as simple as possible.
Get a soft-structured carrier (or SSC) like an Ergo (try for one without an infant insert if you have a newborn, like a Pikkolo). It’s easy to put on your front. It’s easy to put on your back once baby can sit on his own. And multiple caregivers can use the same carrier without a lot of instruction. Plus, many SSCs will last from tiny babe to toddler, which means you have to think even less. However, it may not be a cinch to nurse in, depending on your boob flexibility (some mamas can, some can’t), and a hip carry tends to be awkward.
While it’s not recommended that you face baby forward, a few SSCs allow that option (including the Beco Gemini).
I want to wear my baby from newborn to toddler as ergonomically as possible, in one carrier, on my front, hip, and back.
Buy a long woven wrap. You can get a tight, snug carry for a newborn – in an ergonomic, developmentally appropriate way, maintaining the natural curve of the spine. You can also get a great back carry with multiple layers for a chunky toddler (or preschooler). Wraps have a higher learning curve than other carriers; you need to learn to move all that fabric around. But they’re easy to nurse in once you get the knack.
Congratulations. Now fall down the rabbit hole of which wrap to buy.
I need to do quick ups and downs with a toddler.
Ring slings work great for fast toddler trips. Baby likes being on your hip; baby can see; baby can get up and down fast. Ring slings also work well for nursing – lower down and latch. They only offer a one-shouldered carry, however, and though baby’s weight should be carried through your core, not on your shoulder, a serious shoulder injury could make a ring sling difficult.
I have to nurse or bottlefeed on the go. And I need to do it now.
A ring sling is again your best option, especially with a newborn. You can feed baby in almost any carrier, but a ring sling probably offers to shortest learning curve. Don’t expect to be hands-free until baby reaches a couple months, though. Most newbies need you to hold that boob for them. It might be bigger than their head, after all.
I want newborn snuggles. I’m not worried about back carries yet, and I don’t mind buying another carrier later.
Ring sling again! You can’t back carry with a ring sling (okay, some people say you can. And it’s possible. But it’s not easy, it’s not safe for beginners, and don’t bank on it. ‘Kay?), but it’s a perfect carrier for a new baby. No long pieces of fabric to drag, plenty of snuggles, and lots of support for a floppy bean. Plus it’s easy to nurse in. Later, if you do want to back carry, you can upgrade. Take care of your carrier and you can likely sell it for at least half of what you paid.
I have a preemie.
Woven wraps and ring slings are the only carriers that offer enough support for floppy, preterm babies. Even stretchy wraps have too much give for little ones who have low muscle tone, and allow babies to slide into potentially unsafe positions. Some mamas have made videos about wearing with all the different leads and wire that might come with an early baby – it’s possible to negotiate them in either carrier. Both wraps and ring slings are great kangaroo care options.
I need a carrier to hike with.
You can hike in any carrier. Carrying both baby and gear, however, is another story. As a hiker myself, I’ve found a solutions: my favorite is a doggy packpack for my German Shepherd. She carries the diapers.
Assuming you don’t have a beast of burden or parenting companion to serve as one, you have two actual options: an SSC with a backpack attachment (Ergo used to offer one), or a frame backpack.
I’ll cop to it: we use a frame backpack. It’s what they euphemistically call a “narrow-bodied carrier”, and what the snarkier among us call a “crotch-dangler”. It doesn’t offer knee-to-knee support. It’s not ergonomic. I’ll own it – I regularly commit what people say is a major babywearing sin. Call social services.
Here’s why: I need to carry water, diapers, epi pens, magnifying glasses, and the various stuff and detritus of three boys four and under. When you find me a carrier that offers that storage space with knee-to-knee support, I’ll buy it. Until then, my husband rocks the Kelty.
My kids don’t regularly ride in narrow-bodied carriers. They aren’t prone to hip dysplasia. Using a Kelty will not kill them. They love it. We love it. It works.
I need to nurse easily and transfer a carrier between caregivers. I need two shoulders and uncomplicated.
You want a mei tai. If I had to choose the One Carrier to Rule Them All for most people, I’d pick a mei tai (keep in mind that my One Carrier is a woven wrap, so I’m being remarkably broad-minded here). A mei tai offers a great compromise between ease (a body and straps) and comfort (it’s cuddly, floppy fabric). It’s easier to nurse in than an SSC, and it hip carries better. It’s less complicated than a wrap. Mei tai too big? Use a rubber band to make the carrier narrower for a small baby, and roll the waistband. Boom! Done! You and your giant husband can also use the same carrier without fiddling with buckles and straps and yelling, “You didn’t tell me you adjusted the ergo!” across the house.
I want cuddles and simplicity.
See above. Because you also want a mei tai. Did I mention I’m a wrapper? So I’m not pimping mei tais for my own ends.
I’m on a super tight budget.
Can you sew? DIY a wrap. You can make a tablecloth shorty for under 25 dollars, and, if you’re lucky, a long wrap for not much more. You can use either one to carry your baby from birth to toddlerhood.
My baby needs to see the world.
Try a hip carry in a ring sling.
No really, my baby needs to see.
Do a high back carry in a mei tai.
Seriously, my baby needs to face forward.
Try a Beco Gemini. A ring sling can also give you a Buddha Carry, but you’d only use one shoulder.
My ultimate hot-weather choice is an SSC. All things being equal, if it’s a million degrees and I’m hiking Death Valley, which is like the hottest thing I can think of, I want a carrier that doesn’t plaster a 98.6 degree infant to my body. An SSC holds baby more loosely than other carriers.
Of course, if baby is super small, that’s dangerous. I’d use a short wrap for a squish.
I need to carry two kids at once.
The only carrier in which you can safely carry two children at once is a wrap. A woven wrap will last you longer than a stretchy, because you can use it to put one babe on the front and one on the back; you can also put one on each hip.
I feel I have to mention, however: most manufacturers now recommend a separate carrier for each child. If you’re back carrying and front carrying, and one child flips out backwards, the other will fall as well. I prefer to use two wraps myself.
You can also use any number of carrier combinations. A mei tai and a wrap, an SSC and a meti tai, an SSC and a wrap …
I am a textile junkie.
You already decided on a woven wrap. Stop reading.
Daddy has T-Rex arms but needs to backwrap.
You’re laughing, but this is a serious situation in my house, where middle baby needs backwrapped to sleep. My husband uses a mei tai – he can get baby the tight snuggly carry without needing to make high passes on his back.
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