Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
26 Feb

Making Sense of Baby Carriers

babywearing3In recent weeks, I’ve covered the reasons why you should carry your babies, and explored both what to do and what not to do when you do so. Both articles stemmed from numerous reader emails I have received asking about ancestral practices regarding baby wearing and carrying, and whether we might be getting it all wrong in this day and age. Now, in this third and final part of this series, I try to help make sense of the dozens of baby carriers on the market.

When it comes to transporting an immobile infant, there are seemingly infinite variations, not all of them equal. Palming the kid’s head like you were Michael Jordan and he were a basketball? Impressive, but not optimal, especially once they get big enough for their feet to drag on the ground and slow you down. Carrying the child by the scruff of her neck? A child shouldn’t have a graspable scruff (are you sure that’s not a dog you’re swaddling?). Tossing the kid to yourself as you run down the street in a continuous game of auto-catch? Fun, but not realistic for every occasion.

For the most part, though, it’s hard to get it really wrong. Support the baby’s head, avoid cutting off their airflow, don’t let their legs droop down and flap around, follow the basic rules of babywearing from the last post on the subject, and you’ll probably be fine. Anyone except for maybe a petrified new father can figure it out. Esther Gokhale does make one small but important recommendation – when carrying a baby, keep her back lengthened by positioning your arm under her so that her bottom is slightly behind her rather than tucked inward. A good cue is to imagine your baby has a tail that needs to hang down over your arm.

Eventually, carrying a baby gets old. Your arm gets tired, you start making (mal)adjustments to your posture, and carrying your kid becomes a chore rather than a delight. Plus, it’s nice to have our hands free (to check our phones, of course) as we go about our business. For this reason, we turn to baby carriers.

It’s really easy to become overwhelmed with the sheer number of baby carriers available these days. There’s even a site dedicated to them, with thousands of reviews logged for over a thousand different carriers broken down by type. A parent could spend days reading through all those without coming to a clear, decisive conclusion about what to get. It’s all quite confusing, so let’s try to make sense of it all. You’ve got:

Mei-tais.

Of all the Asian-inspired carriers, mei-tais are the most abundant and widely-liked. Mei-tais are traditional Southeast Asian carriers and essentially consist of a square piece of cloth with straps at each corner. The baby sits on the cloth and the straps are tied around the parent in a variety of ways to secure the child. They can be worn on the front or in the back, and a single mei-tai should be good for a child at every stage of development (I doubt they can handle gawky ten year olds, though) for either parent regardless of size and gender. Many people like mei-tais because they closely resemble backpacks, with adequate support across both shoulders and around the waist. Among the mei-tais, both Kozy Carriers and Babyhawks get fantastic reviews. Here are some helpful videos for wrapping a mei-tai in different ways.

Pouches, both fitted and adjustable.

Fitted pouches are nice because there is no adjusting required. You simply loop the pouch over one shoulder, insert the baby, and go on your merry way. They’re very user friendly. The bad thing is that there’s no adjusting allowed; you have to buy the right size for your baby and, as he grows, you may have to purchase a new one. Of the commonly available fitted pouches, Slinglings Pouch Slings get great reviews.

Adjustable pouches are somewhat trickier to use than fitted pouches, but since they’re adjustable, these pouches can work with growing children. Unfortunately, the best-reviewed adjustable pouch – the Kangaroo Corner fleece – is discontinued. You may able to find used ones.

Padded and unpadded ring slings.

Ring slings are long strips of fabric with rings for easy adjustment. Padded rings slings have padding on the sections that brace against your body, while unpadded rings slings do not. Other than that, they’re pretty similar, although unpadded ring slings appear to be the most popular. Rings slings are almost infinitely adjustable with tons of different wrapping methods available, which gives them a steep learning curve but greater adaptability as the kid embiggens. If you get an “open-tailed” ring sling, which is a ring sling with a bunch of extra fabric at the bottom (the tail), you can discretely breastfeed. Among padded ring slings, the Maya Wrap Lightly Padded Ring Sling and Lite-on-Shoulder Hybrid Sling get the best reviews. The SBP (Sleeping Baby Productions) unpadded ring sling appears to be the best product in the unpadded category.

Structured carriers, which include soft structured carriers and hip carriers.

Structured carriers probably have the easiest learning curve. I mean, who hasn’t worn a backpack at some point? A wriggling baby is a little different from math and chemistry textbooks, but it’s close enough. For soft structured carriers, the Connecta, the Kanga line, and the Kinderpack get the best reviews.

While the Ergo Baby Carrier gets moderately good reviews on the Babywearer site, it’s by far the most popular soft structured carrier in the real world. One of the Worker Bees is about to be a first-time father, and he’s just conducted an extremely scientific field study. The design was rigorous, his methodology was immaculate, and his results were skewered by a panel of his peers. In other words, he asked random babywearing parents what kind of carrier they preferred whenever he came across them in the wild. By far, the majority of carrying parents he encountered used the Ergo and absolutely loved it. You can wear the kid on the back or in the front, and I have it on good authority that 6’6″ males and 5’5″ females can both share the Ergo. For what it’s worth (quite a bit), Esther Gokhale also recommends the Ergo.

Hip carriers seem like they’d get problematic eventually. Unilateral training with heavy weights certainly builds core strength and trains you to resist rotational force, but that’s only good in small, acute doses. I imagine having a baby on your hip – the same hip, no less – all the time would lead to postural distortions, perhaps even chronic ones. If you go with a hip carrier, switch hips and be aware of your posture. The Scootababy and Mei Hip Carrier both get good marks.

Stretchy and woven wraps.

Wraps are probably the oldest type of baby carrier (besides the arms): a long (3 to 6 meters) piece of cloth that is wrapped around both baby and carrier and tied to secure. There are tons of wrapping methods, including ones with single, double, and waist support, but that also means it takes more practice to get comfortable. Luckily, there’s a comprehensive database of wrapping methods.

Stretchy wraps are the most popular, because they’re generally easier to put on. Since they stretch, you wrap the cloth around you, get everything situated, and then “pop” it open to make room for the baby. Because they’re so stretchy, they’re best suited for smaller babies. Older kids may sag too much. The best reviewed and most popular stretchy wraps include the Cuddlywrap, the Hug-a-bub, and the Moby.

Since they don’t “pop” as much and you generally have to include the child in the initial wrapping, woven wraps are tougher to get the hang of, but they can handle larger children as well as infants. The best reviewed and most popular woven wraps include the Storchenwiege, the Didymos, and the Gypsy Mama wrap.

Now, I’m no expert. Like I said before, Carrie and I just did the good ol’ classic carry method using our arms. Ultimately, you’re gonna have to just try some out and see what works best for your situation – just as we did. I imagine you can always buy a couple carriers and return the one that doesn’t work. You might also try finding a birthing center near you, as many birthing centers offer classes where you can try on a bunch of different carrier types and learn how to use them before making the big decision. Once you arrive at a wrap, Craigslist is a great place for finding used versions.

Whatever style carrier you choose, it’s tough to go really wrong. Good options exist in every category. Every carrier has its proponents, and parents have been using thousands of different carriers to truck their babies around for tens of thousands of years. Find one that works for you and your baby and your needs and take a deep breath, cause it’s going to be okay.

Now let’s hear from you guys. What carriers did you use, or are you using, to carry your baby? Which ones worked, which didn’t, and why? Thanks for reading!

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. We have a ring sling, a Mai tai, an ergo, a didymos hemp/cotton wrap, a heartiness cotton/linen wrap & a wrap converted full buckle on the way. We love them all! My little one loves to be worn, I can get things done around the house, easily go to the store, church, on hikes, etc. and snuggle my baby all at the same time. Our most used baby item!

    Whitney wrote on February 26th, 2013
  2. My all time favorite is the Snugli. They’ve been around for over 30 years and they know their stuff. In the early 80s there was only one model that could be worn on front or back. When my son was very small, I wore it on the front, but as he grew it became more practical to wear it on my back. Eventually I got a backpack with a frame, which worked very well as he got heavier.

    shannon wrote on February 26th, 2013
  3. If you can get a frame carrier that can stand up on its own, that is very convenient: if the baby falls asleep in the backpack, you can put it down with the baby still in it, by pulling out the “kickstand,” and the baby can continue sleeping in his little backpack/chair.

    shannon wrote on February 26th, 2013
  4. Another risk to the old fashioned “carry the baby in your arms” approach is De Quervain’s tendinitis. I had it with my son and it’s not only quite painful, it’s hard to heal when you have to keep taking care of the baby. A good baby carrier and a good physical therapist did wonders.

    jj wrote on February 26th, 2013
  5. My youngest of four “Solomon”, was carried almost exclusively by my wife in slings, she even made me a Camouflage Mei-tai which was very comfortable and pretty cool. I even tried a traditional rainbow wrap which was also very comfortable and functional.

    Andrew Roscamp wrote on February 26th, 2013
  6. I love the moby wrap for small babies, especially if/when I’m busy (ex: running errands). It’s so easy to put on in the morning and leave on all day so I can pop baby in and out whenever I need.

    I also really love the Ergo. For me, it’s not as practical as long as baby needs the infant insert because I can’t jut wear the carrier all day, but I do fid it more comfortable than the moby for longer uses when I don’t need to remove baby a lot. Later, when baby doesn’t need the infant insert, the ergo is my favorite.

    Mei-Tais style carriers were also another favorite before I bought the ergo.

    I’ve tried the pouch slings and ring slings and hated both.

    Jen wrote on February 26th, 2013
  7. Bloo kangaroo. I still carry my six year old in one. And a side sling!

    Diane wrote on February 26th, 2013
  8. I run an on-line guide for parents about how babies learn skilled movement. I highly recommend baby-wearing to moms (and dads). The Moby is one of my favorites because you can continue to change the position of the baby as he grows. One important point to mention is that baby should not be carried in the vertical positon until he can hold his head up on his own for a long period of time. Otherwise there is too much strain on his neck. Baby wearing offers wonderful vestibular stimulation to baby and benefits overall motor skill development.

    Donna wrote on February 26th, 2013
  9. love babywearing <3 will return later to talk more <3

    niki wrote on February 26th, 2013
  10. There is one issue with baby wearing that Mark fails to mention. Sling Addiction, the need to buy and trade more and more beautiful wraps and slings, and then get wrap conversions made, and othe custom work, it all can get rather expensive ;)

    Primal Rob wrote on February 27th, 2013
  11. Did anyone else notice the reference to Esther “Grok”hale? Tee hee hee.

    Leah wrote on February 27th, 2013
    • OOPS! It’s actually Gokhale. I guess that’s why no one noticed.

      Love these maternity articles. Keep ‘em coming!

      Leah wrote on February 27th, 2013
  12. Somehow, my now 11- and 10-year old daughters are perfectly healthy, intelligent, well-adjusted, athletic, and happy, despite having been transported in car seats and strollers from birth (quel horreur!). And I didn’t even eat their placentas.

    Norma wrote on February 27th, 2013
    • Same with my 19-yr-old. I could put her in a swing or on a blanket where she could see me, and she was perfectly happy. My 10-yr-old, on the other hand – totally different personality from birth. She had to be up where she could see what was going on. A bouncer seat on the table was okay for a while, but she really wanted to be held. My husband was working 80+ hours a week, and I was doing practically everything one handed. A baby carrier made her happy and made my life infinitely easier (and helped me stay sane….ish). Advice like this is greatly needed for some of us.

      b2curious wrote on February 27th, 2013
  13. I think whenever we have another, I’ll try to carry a little more, but with our daughter. NOPE! I wanted to but when we tried putting her in to one, she HATED it and much prefered to just stay in her carseat.

    LisaL wrote on February 27th, 2013
  14. I have an 18 months old and I’ve been carrying her (and cosleeping) since day one. She’s just as adventurous as other children her age, and doesn’t have any sort of “spoiled” characteristics that my grandmother INSISTED she would have! (“You have to let her cry it out sometimes!” “Why isn’t she in a stroller?” “She’s never going to want to play with other kids!”) In fact, the thing I hear most often is how she is such a calm, easygoing kid. I’m pretty sure that her being secure in the fact that I will hold her and be there for her when she needs helps with that!

    Laura wrote on February 27th, 2013
  15. We have a babyhawk and loved it. The same size works for my 6′ husband and myself at 5′.

    Hayley wrote on February 27th, 2013
  16. For my two I used both New Native and a ring sling. My boy was a big baby and my daughter was a tiny baby. I carried each for two years. I did the whole natural route: no drugs for birth, cloth diapers, co-sleeping, breastfeeding for 2 years, made my own baby food, etc. They are both happy and independent kids, now 11 and 9. Never had ear infections or strep or allergies; never take antibiotics for the rare cold. Carrying your babies is the right way to go.

    Mountain Diva wrote on February 27th, 2013
  17. Carrying my younger daughter around in a baby sling accounts for the best part of my life

    Martin wrote on February 28th, 2013
  18. We have to slings and woven wraps in this house, in addition to a backpack for daddy.

    By far, the woven wraps are the most comfortable, versatile, and useful. They do indeed have a steep learning curve, but it is worth surmounting! My Didymos wraps and Girasol wraps get the most use. Moby’s are great for newborns, but I can comfortably wrap a forty pound kid on my back if need be, thanks to the versatility of the wovens. And this is as a petite woman with back and hip problems.

    Taryl wrote on February 28th, 2013
  19. There’s a big trend in the UK towards the woven wraps, but as you say Mark the soft structured carriers come with a much easier learning curve. Also they are far more unisex. We like the Beco Gemini, but agree Ergo is a good choice too. Avoid Baby Bjorn like the plague, unless you want serious back pain.

    Jez wrote on March 12th, 2013
  20. Great article. I loved the concept of baby wearing when my kids were little. I found that for everyday use the Ergo suited me best.

    Alicia wrote on March 16th, 2013
  21. KiwiPeewee baby carrier is the best! It’s really unique because it has a seat so the baby is supported under the bum instead of dangling. We love it! The baby can face inward or ourward and is supported under the bum in both positions. Their website is http://www.kiwipeewee.com

    Katherine wrote on October 2nd, 2013
  22. We are a primal babywearing family and use ring slings, Mei Tais, Soft structured carriers and more!

    Love seeing posts about babywearing from my Primal hero!!

    Yazhi wrote on November 10th, 2013
  23. I forgot to mention I am a babywearing educator operating an ecommerce store and would love to help out anyone with questions about babywearing at http://kiwibabyshop.com

    Yazhi wrote on November 10th, 2013
  24. Thank you for this good guide! I personally prefer Ergo baby carriers. They are safe and comfy.

    anne wrote on April 18th, 2014
  25. I love love love my Suppori Sling !!! :) It is the best sling ever (in my opinion).
    Those Japanese people truly know how to make a good product. haha.
    My daughter and I loved the Suppori sling, because, first of all it has an amazing material and is easy to use. What I found frustrating with other slings is that it’s quite hard to get them on and off without anyones help and with a screaming baby on my lap. Haha. That was a nightmare for me.
But my friend had Suppori herself and she gave it to me for a day. I loved it. I truly don’t know, maybe you will like it also :) 



    Michelle wrote on December 9th, 2014

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