Babywearing. You know it’s good for baby and good for you, but you’re not sure of what type of baby carrier you should choose. Do you want a traditional carrier? A sling? A wrap? A hybrid? More than one for different occasions and parents? There are so many options, so we’ve scoured our Mothering forums and spoken with the experts to round up the best baby carriers for babywearing (and beyond, as many of our favorite carries will allow you to take your toddler/preschooler with you as well). Check them out and let us know what your faves are!
All I knew about babywearing ten years ago when I was about to have my first child was that I wanted to do it so I could have him close to me and be hands-free as much as I could. I’d read all the attachment parenting books and knew the benefits, but didn’t know what type of carrier I needed. One of my best friends told me I needed a ring sling. She was also nearly 6′ tall and I’m barely 4’11” While height certainly doesn’t rule one out of ring slings, it’s something to think about when you’re considering slings or wraps with a lot of material (and not a lot of you).
And, not all carriers are created equally. Many claim to be fine for your baby’s hip and leg development but that’s not necessarily always the truth. You’ll not only need to find one that is ergonomically appropriate, but you’ll also have to decide how long you think you’ll want to babywear, whether you will use the carrier exclusively (or share with your co-parent/family members) and whether or not you want to have different carriers for different situations and stages. You’ll also want to pay attention to your budget. Some of your faves may be way out of what you were hoping to pay, so don’t be tricked into thinking that a certain pattern is what makes a baby carrier worth its weight in gold. Consider that babywearing is for your baby’s bonding and development, and let patterning (and pricing for patterning) be secondary.
Stroller Vs. Carrier—Is There Even A Debate?
In a word, yes! And while we gentle mamas hope it’s more civil discourse and conversation than debate (because we know all too well that sometimes mom-shaming comes into play), the question always pops up: Do I need a stroller or a carrier?
Our first and go-to answer is always, “Whatever works best for your family.” Many new mamas think a stroller is just one more thing to add to the registry, because otherwise, how will you tote baby around? This often comes from generations who bought into the myth that a stroller is a must-have item with a baby.
Nowadays, when mamas are considering carriers, there are lots of good reasons to do so. For instance, many families go places (or live in places) that strollers simply have a difficult time strolling through. If you want to take your wee one hiking on trails in the mountains or through a big crowd on parade day, a stroller may be a huge obstacle to doing so. More, consider the millions of mamas who live in apartments or condos and don’t have elevators. Toting tots up and down staircases in prams is not the optimal situation for sure. When you have a carrier, you may feel more compelled to get out and about with your baby sooner because you’ll still have her close to you as you go on your way. Even just a few feet away in a stroller is often tough on itty bitties and their mamas.
Obviously, a carrier is much better for bonding opportunities with baby. If you’re wearing her as you’re going about your day-to-day, you can have meaningful interaction with her that you may not have if she was in a stroller. She’ll see what you see, and you can discuss, albeit often one-sided, as you encounter and bond. When you’re walking, she’s getting the vantage point that is stimulating her little neurons with all its engagement opportunity, while she pretty much gets the same view in her stroller, particularly when young.
And, wearing her puts her at eye level so she has better and easier opportunities for social engagement and dendrite building of her own. That additional interaction all goes to helping her make sense of her new world, and she’s doing it in the safety and security of your arms.
Science has found that ‘baby talk’ actually boosts their language development and vocabulary, and you are more inclined (as are strangers) to engage in that adorable baby talk if baby is in a carrier on your chest or back vs. in the stroller.
Speaking of brain development…we know that breast milk helps build healthy brains. But it doesn’t take science to know that it’s near impossible to nurse a little one in a stroller (at least, most of the time, right?). Wearing baby in a carrier, though, makes it super-duper easy to just scoot her into position, take your top up a bit over your nursing tank and let baby do lunch right there on your chest. No worrying about whether or not you’re in Target and you have to nurse in the bathroom.
When you’re wearing baby, the truth is you’re way more able to monitor the needs of your baby. You have in-your-face data about her body temperature, whether she’s tired or wanting to play or wants to talk or snuggle. And if baby is just looking for attention, she simply looks or reaches up for you…in her stroller, she may need to cry to get your attention. No, we’re not saying your baby can’t ever cry, but we are saying that if you’re able to see and meet your baby’s needs in a timely fashion, you’re working on secure attachment. Sometimes, if strolling in the grocery store, you’ll tend to her just after you’ve put the frozen veggies and milk int he cart. Potato / potahto in some families, and again, it’s how you want to parent that matters.
Please don’t get us wrong. Strollers are NOT the devil. Sometimes you have a physical inability to wear your baby. Sometimes you have triplets and you need some help. Sometimes you want to just use the stroller to keep baby near and grab a couple of things without a humongous cart. Sometimes you want to jog or run with your baby but not wearing your baby. Sometimes you just want a stroller. Totally your call, and there are some pretty fabulous ones out there.
Again, our answer to the ‘debate’ is whatever works best for your family. Stroller or carrier, it’s all up to you.
Most Popular Types of Baby Carriers
If you’ve decided you want a carrier, though, keep in mind that there are several different types of baby carriers. Typically, the five most popular as listed by Babywearing International are: Wraps, Ring Slings, Pouch Slings, Meh Dais and Soft Structured/Buckle Carriers. What type is right for you will really depend on a lot of different factors, and you may find a few types are right for you and baby based on your lifestyle and needs.
Soft Structured/Buckle Carriers: More often than not, when one thinks of baby carrier, they are thinking of soft structured or buckle carriers. They are fairly versatile in that they can usually be adjusted between moms and dads / caregivers, though the ease in doing so is different in different carriers. Strap are adjustable and they pretty much go on and off as if you’re attaching a backpack to your body. They typically have thick padded waistbands and shoulder straps for front, back and even hip carries. Most often, they also have sleep hoods and adjustable seats, and some need special newborn inserts to help keep baby safe. There are tons of soft structured carriers at just about every price point and they are typically the most popular baby carrier style on the market.
Ring Slings: Ring slings are one shoulder adaptations that use a pair of nylon or metal rings on a long (typically woven) piece of fabric. The tail end of the sling fabric is weeded through the rings like a buckle to fit snugly on the wearer and the weight of the baby is what gives the tension to prevent the rings from slippings. Ring slings are popular for their luxurious fabric and patterning options, as well as the closeness of baby to one’s heart. The extra fabric is often great for nursing, a light blanket or sunshade.
Pouch Slings: Pouch slings are basically tubes of fabric worn over your shoulder with your babe nestled in like a little joey kangaroo. It’s similar to a ring sling, but it isn’t adjustable in size, so as baby grows, you may find you’ll need slings to grow too. They’re perfect to have just in a pinch in your car but they are pretty much sized to the sole wearer and can’t be easily used by other caregivers.
Meh Dai: Pronounced ‘may tie’ this is a popular style that mimics modernized versions of traditional Asian-style carriers. There is a panel of fabric with straps to wrap around the waist and over the shoulder and it looks sort of like a soft-structure/buckle carrier but isn’t quite. They’re comfy and cozy for the baby, and because they don’t have buckles, the ties can be tied differently according to who is carrying and wearing the baby. They’re often used for older babies and toddlers of busy mamas.
Wraps: Wraps are pretty common and traditional when it comes to carriers and that’s because they’re simple but can be a variety of lengths, fabrics and patterns. They adjust to the size needs of whoever is wearing them, but people of smaller stature may find they’ll have excess length sometimes. They take a bit with regard to learning how to wrap at first, but oh…they’re so beautiful on and because they’re just comfy fabric, they’re perfect for any stage and age of baby and toddler.
Mothering’s Best Baby Carriers
We love Oscha as they’re ethically made in Scotland and they have fabrics and patterns we drool over. They make wraps and slings for itty bitties to preschoolers and we love the ease of wrapping and wearing on the hip especially for our older kiddos. We also love that Oscha sources responsibly and craft these gorgeous wraps in a Scottish workshop that is powered 100% by solar panels. They like to think they’re stitching sunshine into each carrier and we believe it!
Tula is always a mama favorite and with the Free-to-Grow, it’s no wonder why. It lets you carry your baby from 7 pounds to 45 pounds (and without an infant insert!) and there are several different ergonomic carry positions that will fit you and your baby. It’s a simple, uncomplicated carrier that does just what you need it to do–keep baby near and dear, safe and secure and keep you comfortable and stylish at the same time. Can’t go wrong!
Boba is another popular carrier company natural mamas love. This 100% organic cotton wrap is free of straps, buckles, ties and snaps and will fit you like a glove every time, no matter how baby grows. It just takes a few practice runs to get the hang of wrap wearing and once you do? You’re hooked! I was; I had a Boba wrap and the Boba carrier and they were my favorites well into my son’s toddler years!
Over and over mamas tell us of how much they love ErgoBaby. It offers three carry positions: front, back and hip and will carry babies from 7 pounds to 45 pounds (you’ll need the Infant insert until baby is 12 pounds). Its namesake is why so many mamas love it–it’s ergonomic for baby as she is cradled in her natural sitting position. The baby’s weight is evenly distributed between the hips and shoulders for a comfortable fit for parents and it’s pretty easy not only to adjust but to put on and off, even if baby is sleeping. It’s machine washable and a parent-favorite for many years, particularly because it’s a family favorite for many years of use.
Mamas rave about the organic LÍLLÉbaby COMPLETE carrier. It offers six ergonomic positions that allow you to have 360-degree carrying. Whether it’s in fetal, infant, outward, toddler, or hip and back carry, you and baby will have hands-free comfort from beginning until…well, until you and your kiddo decide wearing is no longer for you. It’ll go that long—snuggling baby in soft-brushed organic cotton and keeping your toddler cool and comfy too. The side panels are adjustable and widen and narrow the seat so you can have super comfy hip-positioning with your little. Mamas like LÍLLÉBABY because of their commitment to ensuring every mama has a babywearing solution that fits their family best, and allows for comfort and closeness while giving mom some independence too.
If you’ve been thinking you like the fit of a wrap with the seat/structure of a soft-structured carrier, then you just might find you love a meh dai. They’re the perfect fit every time, and have been used for generations in cultures where baby goes with mama/grandma/great-grandma pretty much where ever there is a place to go. It will work from newborn to pre-school, and supports baby in a secure and comfortable position. We love the beautiful patterns of the Didymos collection, and they’re woven of 100% organic cotton and dyed with non-toxic dye.
So, while this isn’t a name you hear all that often, in natural-minded parent groups, it is, and particularly with dads. It’s a big name in Asia and Europe though, and is making its way to North America fairly quickly with some pretty innovative design features. It has a patented mesh cooling vent that will help you and baby stay comfortable and dry–super nice on warm days. There are layers of fabric for venting and since the number one reason people say they don’t want to babywear is “it’s too hot,” this takes that excuse off the table. There’s a chest strap that is adjsutable and helps distribute weight differently, particularly if you’re wearing baby on your back. We loooove the pouch–a glorified attached fanny pack–that lets you basically throw your keys, wallet and phone in and you can literally be hands-free. It’s designed for newborn (with insert) to children weighing 45 pounds.
Similar to the ever-popular Gemini, the Beco Toddler Carrier in Cool Mesh is designed specifically for you to carry your toddlers and children. It can give a comfy ride for kiddos from 20-60 pounds and parents love it for toddlers who are working on independence but still have little legs tire out quite a bit. It has a zippered bag and detachable sleep hood, perfect for letting you do what you need to do but make sure your toddler still gets to nap (because we know it’s always nicer to nap with mama) and it can be worn in the front or back with straps crossed or straight. It’s a perfect next step after an infant carrier or sling!
This Dutch-designed carrier is created to specifically be hip-healthy! The two included cotton bibs are GOTS certified organic, and the adjustable shoulder straps and waist belt let it be used easily between those who want to carry baby with them. Particularly for families where parents will share the carrier, that’s a breeze! The Cudl also has integrated infant boosters for tiny littles and the magnetic clips make putting it on and off so easy to do!
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