In 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:
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.
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.
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 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.
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!