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Baby Carrier 101

Published on: November 28, 2008

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Want a carrier, but feeling overwhelmed by the options? You’re not alone.

At Seattle’s Birth and Beyond, a store that offers a variety of baby carriers, “parents often come in thinking they know which carrier they want,” says store clerk Andrea, “but then leave with another.”

Here’s a mini-tutorial on the wrap, sling and carrier styles available, including an overview, the size of the baby each sling is best suited for, and the pros and cons for each style. See which might be a just-right fit for you and your babe.

Wrap-style carriers

Moby WrapOverview: As the name implies, the wrap is an extra-long piece of cloth that can be wrapped and rewrapped, holding baby close to mom. Wraps are made of a variety of materials, from light, stretchy fabrics to heavy, woven textiles.

For: Wraps hold newborns and babies weighing as much as 20 lbs. Because the fabric length can be draped in a variety of ways, wraps work for couples of different heights. Wrap baby on your front, back or side; twins can go on both back and front.

Pros: Need to wrangle the toddler away from a cat or get a few loads of wash done? Wraps offer a hands-free option. Parents with back problems tend to like wraps, because they evenly distribute baby’s weight, Andrea says.

Cons: Long cloth lengths can make you feel like a 3-year-old wrapping a gift, unless you get hands-on help and instruction. Wraps have a learning curve. And it’s almost impossible to nurse in a wrap — baby needs to come out first.

Ring slings

Overview: This traditional baby carrier is a long piece of cloth looped into rings and worn over one shoulder. Extra fabric hangs down from the rings and can be used to provide nursing privacy.

For: Most slings are designed for babies up to 40 lbs. or so, with weight limits varying by brand. The sling increases skin-to-skin contact for preemies or difficult nursers, and twins can lay side by side inside.

Pros: A sling’s main benefit is in its flexible use for multiple ages: Newborns recline in front, and toddlers sit on the hip, depending upon how the sling is worn. Parents can choose from a dizzying array of sling fabrics (including silk and linen), and discreet breastfeeding is easy.

Cons: Some women don’t like the ring sling’s pull on their necks and shoulders. “It’s not the best for superactive stuff,” Andrea says. Ring slings tend to be plagued by an unstylish rep, partially due to those tails of cloth, and most dads aren’t hip on ring slings.

Pouch slings

HotslingOverview: It’s like a sling, but without rings or a tail. A piece of fabric sewn in a loop, the pouch is a fixed length and may require measurements to get the right size.

For: “Pouch slings are phenomenal at 7 months,” Andrea says, when babies have enough upper body control to sit up in a sling and go on mom’s hip. Babies can ride on the hip or up front with a pouch sling.

Pros: “They’re great for people who don’t like ring slings, if the extra fabric and rings are intimidating,” Andrea says. And pouches tend to come in trend-setting patterns that complement urban wardrobes.

Cons: Most types are a fixed length, so you can’t adjust as you keep losing weight or when your infant gets bigger. And your partner can’t wear the same sling, unless he happens to be exactly the same weight and height as you.

Soft-style carriers

Ergo baby carrierOverview: Two brands dominate this market: Baby Bjorn and Ergo. Both offer a soft sheath with a stable, secure seat for baby, and wide, soft backpack-style straps.

For: Bjorns are for infants weighing up to 25 lbs., while the Ergo can tote babies through toddlers up to 40 lbs. Bjorn babies can face either toward or away from the parent on the front. Ergo-ported infants can go on the back, front (facing inward only) and hip.

Pros: Dads dig the muted tones of Ergos and Bjorns. Both go on quickly and allow for hands-free activities. The Ergo is very popular in Seattle, because parents love the built-in zippered pouches, and the adjustable straps and waist-extension clips work for a variety of body types.

Cons: Many parents stop using the Bjorn early on, due to back pain or because baby becomes too big, too quickly. The Ergo doesn’t seem to cause similar problems. Colors and fabrics are limited, and neither are nursing friendly, unless you have curiously stretchy breasts.

Mei tei carriers

Baby HawkOverview: Pronounced “MAY tie” (not “my tie,” like the cocktail), the mei tei is made of a fabric rectangle and four corner-located straps that tie around mom and baby, origami style.

For: Babies and toddlers of all sizes, using front, back and hip carrying positions. Very young babies tend to sink into the mei tei, but many parents love using them for all ages.

Pros: Mei teis have the pros of a wrap-style carrier, but are easier to put on and often come with padding in the shoulders. Some mei teis offer padded headrests for babies, and there’s not as much hardware as in an Ergo. “You can get really gorgeous fabrics,” Andrea says, and they’re nursing friendly.

Cons: You’ll need to seek out some personal assistance for tying these pretty packs. With no one “right” way to put them on, “They don’t have rules, just slightly different techniques,” Andrea says. The straps can feel fussy for some parents.

Backpack-style carriers

Kelty FC 3.0 Child Carrier Overview: Like an external-frame backpack, these carriers (Kelty is a common brand) hold a sitting child inside a perch.

For: Let’s face it — often, they’re for the teched-out guy in your life. Backpacks are also for babies older than 6 months with stable head control, but can carry kids up to 40–50 lbs.

Pros: You will never have to nag your husband to wear it. Pockets and packs transform it into an all-in-one catch-all for guy goods, and the all-weather rain and sun hood is particularly attractive for our Northwest climate.

Cons: They’re often difficult for shorter people (even with adjustments), and the large frame feels unwieldy. You may have to ready your “sorry!” for accidentally whacking fellow pedestrians.

Lora Shinn is a freelance writer who lives in Seattle with her husband and two children.


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