Types of Baby Carriers and Slings

Many new parents ask the question, “What’s the best baby sling or carrier?”

In order to answer the question, this article gives a brief description of some of the main types of baby carriers and slings currently available.

Essentially all baby carriers are designed to help support parents carry their babies and give them the freedom to get on with other things.

The main types available are:

  • front carriers
  • framed back packs
  • ring slings
  • pouches
  • wraps
  • soft carriers
  • soft structured carriers

Availability

Many retail outlets stock front carriers and framed back carriers and used ones are readily available on online sites such as eBay so it’s a great way to see if these are the right types of carriers for you. Many types and brands of ring slings, pouches, wraps and soft carriers are available from online as well as a growing number of physical shops.

Front carriers

These are structured, rigid baby carriers that use buckles and straps to keep young babies facing inwards or outwards. The baby’s torso is held in place in a vertical position with arms and legs hanging out. It is usually used up until the baby is about 3 – 6 months old. May be made from polyester, nylon, plastic or leather.

Pros: readily available, sleek modern look.
Cons:
short life-span, limited carrying positions, can’t feel baby readily.

Framed backpacks

These are typically used with babies who have good head control and can sit up by themselves, usually around 6 months until age 3 or 4 years. The baby is secured in a harness within the frame so the parent carries the baby like a backpack. Backpacks can be free standing or non-freestanding. May be made from nylon, polyester, plastic and metal.

Pros: good availability, ideal for hiking with older babies and toddlers.
Cons:
expensive, can only be used with older babies, heavy and bulky.

Ring slings

Ring slingA shaped piece of fabric, usually around 2 meters long has 2 rings secured within it. When worn over one shoulder, a pouch is formed in which the baby is carried. Can be used from birth until age 2 – 3 years in at least 5 different carrying positions. These adjustable slings can be unpadded or padded, have closed or open tails, usually have nylon or metal rings and come in various fabrics including cotton, linen and silk.

Pros: versatile, comfortable, long life span, discreet breastfeeding possible, portable, can be stylish, cost effective.
Cons: slight learning curve, one-shouldered carry can be uncomfortable for long periods with heavy babies

Pouches

PouchA piece of fabric shaped into a tube that the wearer wears over one shoulder. Used like a ring sling, without the rings, it’s usually unadjustable, though adjustable pouches are also available. Can be used to carry a baby from birth until around 2 or 3 years in at least 5 different carrying positions. Fabrics are usually stretchy or woven, cotton, fleece or silk and may have some padding.

Pros: simple, easy, versatile, long life span, breastfeeding possible, portable, comfortable, can be stylish, cost effective.
Cons: exact sizing important if not adjustable, one-shouldered carry can be uncomfortable for long periods with heavy babies.

Wraps

WrapThese are very long pieces of fabric that the wearer ties around herself in a variety of different ways to carry babies from birth until age 2 – 3 years. Babies can be carried in many different positions. It’s usually worn over both shoulders and around the waist. The fabric may be stretch or woven cotton, linen, fleece, silk, wool or combinations of fabrics.

Pros: comfortable, versatile, even weight distribution, discreet breastfeeding possible, portable, long life span, cost effective.
Cons: learning curve, some people don’t like feeling covered in so much fabric.

Soft carriers

Mei TaiThese include various Asian Baby Carriers (ABCs) like Mei Tais, Podegis and Onbuhimos which are based upon traditional carriers and other soft carriers that generally tie around the wearer at the waist and over the shoulders securing the baby in the front, back or hip. Some can be used from birth, others only with older babies and toddlers up to around age 3 years. May include some padding and fabrics vary widely.

Pros: versatile, comfortable, even weight distribution, breastfeeding possible, can be stylish, portable, long life span, cost effective.
Cons: slight learning curve.

Soft structured carriers

Soft structured carrierThese are carriers that are similar to soft carriers but have buckles and straps to tie them. They differ from front carriers because they are generally all natural fabric, though may contain padding. Some can be used from birth with a newborn insert but are usually best suited for older babies and toddlers up to age 3 years+.

Pros: versatile, comfortable, even weight distribution, breastfeeding possible, can be stylish, portable, long life span, cost effective.
Cons: slight learning curve, some people don’t like using buckles.

Choosing the ‘perfect’ baby sling or carrier

Choosing the ‘perfect’ carrier is often on the mind of new parents, however, most experienced babywearers will agree that there isn’t such a thing. All carrier types and brands have their differences and what might suit one person won’t necessarily suit another.

When choosing a carrier it’s important to understand what main type would suit the parent or carer and then getting some competent help in trying several different varieties. Once you have an understanding for what feels right it’s much easier to go off and buy the ‘perfect’ carrier(s) for you. Although it may be financially appealing to find ‘the perfect carrier’, you’ll probably find several perfect carriers for different occasions and stages of your baby’s development.

Good luck and enjoy your babywearing time!

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