Ring slings, structured baby carriers, wraps..what kind of baby carrier do you need? How do you choose the right carrier for your little bundle of joy? When choosing a baby carrier, consider factors such as ease of use, comfort, fit, fabric, carrier style, and durability. Also, pick out a baby carrier whose design will work well for your climate. Finally, you may want to choose something you can toss in the washing machine for a good clean. Because all babies mess up — naturally.
Related: Best Newborn Baby Carriers
In this baby carrier guide, you’ll learn how to choose a good ring sling, a structured carrier, or a wrap for your kiddo. You’ll learn everything a new mom needs to know before shelling out for this type of baby gear.
But first things first…do you actually need a carrier? There’s a whole ton of baby stuff to sink money into, and money has always been a scarce resource. Below is a list of baby carrier benefits to consider and decide if you really need to invest in one.
6 Baby Carrier Benefits You Can’t Pass Up
If none of the benefits listed below speaks to you, keep your money. Or buy your baby something else. Something like a baby monitor with app, or a baby air purifier, or whatever. So, let’s dive right in.
1. A Baby Carrier Frees Your Hands So You Can Do More
With your little one ensconced in a carrier, you get to do more than just carrying the baby around. You can read a book, operate a machine, cook, press clothes, and more. You can multitask all you want (what mom doesn’t?). And your baby will stay snuggled close to your warm body the whole time.
2. Boosts Baby-Parent Bonding
Not every mom or dad bond with their little bundle of joy immediately they set their eyes on them. Believe it or not, about 20 percent of all new parents have trouble bonding with their newest family member. But here’s good news — parent-baby bonding happens in the end.
If you’re among the 20 per centers, don’t worry. Instead, start rocking your baby to sleep, touching them, and making them comfortable, and bonding will happen. And that’s where a good baby carrier comes into play.
So, get your baby into a carrier and start getting closer to them. They’ll soon start loving you back. You’ll love how good the so-called love hormone makes you feel. And who knows, that warm, loving physical closeness might even help improve your post-partum anxiety a tad.
3. You’ll Roll the Stroller Around Less
If you enjoy running around while pushing your baby in a stroller, skip this point. I know you really like all the great resistance training you’re getting especially when running up hills.
But do you enjoy hauling a stroller on public transit all that much? How about putting that stroller in and out of your car’s trunk? Admittedly, that is not hard work, but it’s not exactly 100% pain-free or convenient. That’s why you might consider using a baby carrier instead.
4. You’ll Look Like a Cool Mom or Dad
Sure, you can carry your baby in a stroller while out on the town. But how easy is picking your way down crowded streets while pushing a stroller? When my babies were younger, I found that navigating insanely busy town streets is much easier with a baby carrier.
Plus, you’ll look like a cool mom who doesn’t want to keep getting in the way of other folks. Also, keeping your baby closer while out on the town is kind of safer…because which city these days isn’t crawling with all sorts of speeding skaters and other weirdos?
5. Carrying a Baby Leads to Reduced Crying
According to this study by Hunziker and Barr, crying in babies tends to increase all the way until week 6. At that point, baby crying starts declining until month 4 of the child’s developmental journey. At least, that’s the general crying pattern in most modern societies.
What’s more, babies tend to cry more in the evening than at any other time.
But what’s the point of all this? The baby-crying research mentioned above found another interesting observation. According to that small study, carrying a baby more often during the day can actually reduce crying.
The researchers found that at week 6 when crying hits its peak, carrying babies more cut overall crying by 43 percent. But that’s not all. The study noted that increased crying during the daytime minimized evening crying by as much as 51 percent.
If these two statistics won’t convince you to use your carrier, wrap, or sling more nothing else will.
6. Carrying Your Baby Can Even Help You Burn Calories
Don’t want to run with a baby stroller? No worries, you can always use a carrier. You probably have never thought of child carrying as a way to lose weight. But according this calories-burned-by-various activities data source, baby care burns as many calories as carpentry.
So, how many calories does baby carrying burn? If you weigh 155 lbs, child care-related activities such as feeding, dressing, standing, and more can burn as many as 246 calories. And that doesn’t even include walking around with your baby.
Clearly, baby carrying can help get rid of some of the flab you amassed during pregnancy. And parent-baby bonding benefits make it even more attractive.
How to Choose a Good Baby Carrier
As often is the case when buying pretty much anything, choosing a good baby carrier can be somewhat confusing. It can also be an overwhelming process because there are tons of good and not-so-good baby carriers to choose from.
Fortunately for you, below are a few considerations that’ll point you in the right direction and probably save you time.
8 Things to Look for When Choosing a Baby Carrier
When shopping for a baby carrier, take into consideration the following eight factors:
- Ease of use/convenience
- Baby safety
- Climate/weather conditions
Let’s now take a closer look at each of these baby carrier selection factors.
1. How Does the Baby Carrier Fit?
If you’ll have your hubby, nanny, or someone else help you carry your baby, make sure to choose a baby carrier that works across individuals. Some carriers are designed to fit one person perfectly while others offer a bit of adjustability.
Baby carriers that provide multiple size adjustment options are the best choice for accommodating different wearers. This type is definitely what you need if there are a number of caregivers with different shapes and sizes. But if it’ll just be you, you definitely can buy one that perfectly fits you.
When choosing a wrap, go for one that’s long enough for your body shape and size.
What If You Are a Plus-size Mom or Big Dad?
Are there structured baby carriers for plus-size moms? Yes, big moms and everyone else can find perfectly fitting baby carriers. But you need to know how to choose the right one for your body size and shape.
Related: Best Plus-size Mom Carriers
Look at the Length of the Shoulder Straps
Be sure to look at the carrier’s shoulder-strap length. Most carriers that offer size adjustability come with shoulder straps in the 27″-50″ length range. Of course, the bigger you are, the longer straps you need.
If the straps are too short, you won’t have good weight distribution when wearing your baby. What’s more, your shoulders and back might experience a bit of strain.
If you’ll share babywearing with a large-chested, broad-shouldered hubby, look for something that adjusts that much. And here’s a list of the best baby carriers for large dads with broad shoulders and large chests.
Look at the Waistband Length
Whether you’re a regular size or plus size mom, you need waistbands that are long enough. Some of the weight of your baby distributes around your waist. So, you need waistbands that’ll hold your baby snugly around your waist.
If you’re plus size, go for baby carriers with waist straps measuring in the 50″-58″ length neighborhood. What if you can’t find a carrier whose waist straps are long enough? Make sure to choose an option that allows for waistband extension. If you’ll have someone help you care for your baby, make sure the waistband offers adequate adjustability.
2. Choose a Comfortable Carrier
A good baby carrier is comfortable to use and keeps your little one nice and comfy. When buying, be sure that the shoulder straps are not too thin that they keep digging into your shoulders.
You want the shoulder straps to have enough padding especially if you have a heavier baby. Also, go for well-padded shoulder straps if you’re planning on wearing your baby for long periods of time.
Also, the carrier or wrap fabric should be comfortable enough. I’ll tell you more about fabric selection under the section that follows.
3. Climate: Do You Live in a Warm or Cool Climate?
The kind of predominant climate where you’re at matters a lot when it comes to baby carrier fabric selection. The type of climate you live in also determines the carrier type to use.
If you live in a warm-weather climate, go for a baby carrier made of a lightweight fabric that breathes well. The market offers many breathable mesh options that keep your baby cool and comfortable even when it’s warm indoors or outdoors.
What if you live in a cool or cold climate? In that case, go for a carrier that offers ample padding. For the most part, heavy knitted fabrics are the best choice for colder locations.
Cotton tends to heat up pretty quickly, but that would be a good thing if you live in a cool climate. Still, soft cotton fabrics are the most common material for most moms and dads.
When choosing a wrap, make sure to choose a stretchy material. But the fabric should be able to regain its shape after stretching. Because you don’t want a fabric that sags after prolonged use.
4. Decide What Baby Carrier Fabric You Want
Baby carriers come in all kinds of materials ranging from cashmere, cotton, wool, silk, linen, bamboo viscose, or blended fabrics such as wool/cotton blends. Each fabric has certain characters that make it different than the others.
Sling-type carriers are usually super-soft and tend to be made out of fabric blends. Cotton carriers are the most popular, but wool, linen, cashmere, viscose, and all the rest of them are also available.
Natural fibers are great, but they wrinkle a bit, moths like them, and they’re not the most long-lasting. Synthetic fibers are stronger, wrinkle-free, and long-lasting. Please read up on the properties of the fabric you’re eyeing to learn why you are choosing it.
5. How Easy is it to Use the Baby Carrier?
Ease of use is another critical consideration when choosing a baby carrier. Soft-structured carriers are pretty straightforward to use. The same goes for ring slings. These ones are somewhat easier to put on compared to wraps. Getting a wrap on isn’t exactly rocket science, but it can be a bit of real art at times.
But while a wrap carrier isn’t as easy to use as a structured one, it’s less bulky. And the same applies to a ring sling. You can easily and quickly pack these two into a diaper bag or something else while most structured carriers tend to be pretty bulky.
I have used all three, and I’d still prefer a soft structured carrier if I had another baby. It just makes things that much easier. In the end, though, it’s all about personal preference.
6. Baby Carrier Durability
Some materials last longer than others. One of the reasons cotton is super popular as a baby carrier fabric is that it’s more durable than most materials.
If you’re not interested in a baby carrier that’ll remain usable well into toddlerhood, go for something that makes for cozy, close babywearing. That’s what I chose for my infant boy. I knew I had to find something else for when he grew bigger and older, and I did.
But if you care about longevity, choose a more durable carrier built to hold heavier weights. Baby carriers that give you utility well beyond the infantile age into toddlerhood typically offer front-facing positions.
7. Baby Safety: Sling Carriers Can Suffocate Your Baby
Well, nobody likes to think of terrifying things such as death through suffocation. But it happens. Moms have used wraps and slings for thousands of years, and many still use them today. Still, suffocation can happen, and the CPSC has reported a bunch of infant suffocation deaths.
Fortunately, this sort of thing is rare, but you still need to be careful. Be sure not to position your baby in a way that blocks breathing. The CPSC says to avoid the chin-to-chest baby carrying position to avoid suffocating your baby.
8. Maintenance: Is the Baby Carrier Washable?
Who doesn’t like things that can be tossed in the washing machine and that is it? Nobody — that’s who. But are baby carriers machine washable? Yes, some baby carriers can be cleaned using a washing machine. For those ones, buckle the carrier, put it in the machine, and run the gentle cycle at about 86˚F-90˚F in mild detergent.
Finally, take the baby carrier out of the washing machine and air-dry it rather than using the dryer. You can also hand wash, dry clean, or spot clean your carrier. It all depends on the fabric.
These Fabrics Hate Machine Washing
Some fabrics should never be machine-cleaned. Cashmere is one fabric you shouldn’t put in a washing machine. Because cashmere is extremely soft and machine-washing it can degrade it. Also, don’t machine-wash wool carriers — hand wash them gently instead.
Also, you don’t want to machine wash a silk baby carrier (if you want it to remain shiny), for example. Instead, dry clean it or spot clean it in cold water. But if you desire a matte finish instead of a shiny one, you can certainly run the delicate cycle with a gentle detergent.
I’ll soon write a comprehensive post on how to clean baby carriers made from different materials so you can do it right each time.
4 Types of Baby Carriers
There are 3 types of baby carriers namely:
- Structured baby carriers
- Ring Slings
- Meh Dai carriers/hybrid baby carriers
1. Structured Baby Carriers
Structured baby carriers have a more complex design compared to slings and wraps. The design features buckles, padding, straps, and fabric. Most structured options have your baby facing toward your body so you can bond easier with your baby.
This is the kind of carrier you want to buy when your baby grows older and heavier. You can find infant-friendly options, too. One great advantage of structured carriers is that they’re usable across developmental stages. In most cases, you can use a structured carrier until your toddler attains walking age.
But if your kiddo was born curious and explorative, you may want to choose a structured carrier offering a forward-facing position like the one you see in the picture below.
Why Structured Baby Wraps are Great
- They’re easy to use and you can wear your baby fairly quickly
- You can use them from infant-hood through toddler-hood.
- Most offer higher weight limits for carrying older, heavier babies.
- Many have padded shoulder straps and even waistbands, and that translates into greater comfort and support.
- Some offer a forward-facing position.
- Have good weight distribution.
What’s Not to Like About Structured Wraps
- While they keep your baby close to your body, the fit may not always be as snug as in the case of wraps or slings. But rarely do parents complain about that…because it’s not a big issue.
There’s a variety of structured carriers called backpack baby carriers. These are usually used by hiking parents. They have lots of storage space, have a solid metal frame, have tons of padding, but they’re bulkier and heavier than regular structured carriers. Here’s a list of backpack style carriers for hikers.
2. Baby Wraps
Baby wraps are nothing more than a rectangular-shaped piece of fabric that you wrap around your baby and yourself. While baby wraps are pretty simple design-wise, they’re not always easy to use. You may want to watch this how-to-wear-a-baby-wrap video.
Baby wraps come in a swaddle-like design that gives your newborn a womb-like experience. Wraps are typically a one-size-fits-all affair, but some can be much longer than others. Definitely choose a long wrap if you’re a bigger girl.
Pros of Baby Wraps
- Baby wraps don’t cause sizing issues because they’re a one-size-fits-all design. That makes them easy to share between caregivers of different sizes and shapes.
- They’re like a swaddle and provide a womb-like pouch for your newborn baby.
- Wrap carriers tend to be lightweight and highly breathable.
Cons of Baby Wraps
- Baby wraps offer a pretty tight fit, which means older babies may not have adequate room.
- Where a baby wrap’s design has a baby not sitting high enough, suffocation can happen even though suffocation deaths aren’t common.
- Using a wrap correctly necessitates bringing together the fabric folds into a perfect wrap. And that can be tricky for new moms and dads. But there are tons of helpful videos around.
3. Baby Ring Slings
A ring sling is essentially a one-piece fabric that lets you wear your baby nice and close. The torso piece connects to the upper back piece through a kind of ring somewhere below the shoulder.
Reasons to Use a Sling-type Baby Carrier
- Ring slings are really easy to use.
- They breathe well
- They’re a great choice for warmer climates
Disadvantages of a Ring Sling
- Machine washing most sling-type baby carriers tends to warp the fabric, degrading them.
- Slings suck at weight distribution, heaping the majority of your baby’s weight on your shoulder.
4. Meh Dai Baby Carriers
A Meh Dai is a kind of hybrid baby carrier that lives somewhere between a baby wrap and a structured carrier. It’s a clean, minimalist design that originated from Asia, hence the name. Compared to a structured option, a meh dai isn’t as rigid. Plus, it’s less fussy than a wrap in terms of usage.
One great reason to try a Meh Dai is that it offers lots of versatility. Unlike with some structured carriers, a meh dai allows you to carry your baby in different positions including front, back, and hip.
Another good reason to choose a meh dai(also Mei Tai) is that it can be shared between caregivers. It offers adjustability through shoulder straps and waistband straps so that you and your husband or SO can take turns carrying the baby.
There’s one thing: if your breasts aren’t that big (well, I like my big breasts because…), you can nurse your baby discreetly. So, grab a meh dai and join the babywearing craze that seems to be sweeping across the United States and the rest of the world.
In most cases, this carrier type has you tying up straps rather than having buckles. And yes, some meh dais come with a hood to protect your kiddo against nasty weather elements. I suggest that you choose one with a removable hood.
Pros of Meh Dei Carriers
- Easier to use wraps.
- Less rigid than a traditional buckle carrier.
- Offers multiple baby carrying positions.
- Some have a hood for protection against the elements.
Cons of Meh Dei Carriers
- May not offer as much support and comfort as structured carriers.
- No guarantee waist straps won’t come undone and the worst happens.
Final Thoughts on Choosing Baby Carriers
Fit, comfort, durability, breathability, fabric, washability, safety, and carrier design are all factors you should keep in mind when choosing a carrier for your bundle of joy.
Choose an option that’s easy to use, fits well, offers great comfort and support, and is easy to clean. And if the climate where you’re at is rather warm or hot, choose a highly breathable carrier. For cooler climates, go for padded choices made of tightly knitted fabrics.