Since the western world started re-discovering the ancient art of babywearing, many creative people have created baby carriers. Some support the ergonomically correct position for your child for the optimum development of baby, other are ill designed, and yet others are simply hazardous.
In Baby Carriers 101 we’ll go over some characteristics of a good carrier and show the major ones available on the market. Because all babies and their parents are different from each other, it is not in the best interest of either to make broad recommendations to what will work best for you and your baby.
When in doubt, consult with a certified babywearing educator. They are familiar with all major carriers on the market and can help you match the right carrier for your little one and you for many years of babywearing bonding joy.
Basic criteria for a good, safe baby carrier
- The carrier supports the Spread Squatting Position (SSP). Meaning the knees are at or above the level of the baby’s bum. The calves are hanging down and baby can move them in a relaxed manner while stabilizing himself against your body. Legs are never placed inside the carrier!
- The carrier offers sufficient head support. Baby’s head is supported with an open airway and is kept from falling to the sides or backwards.
- The carrier should be somewhat adjustable in order to accommodate different build children and babywearer.
- The sides of the carrier need to be snug against baby’s body to keep baby from sliding from side to side or falling into himself.
- The center of gravity needs to be close to the babywearer’s body to avoid back aches. The child is straddled around the babywearer, not dangling in front or back.
- The material needs to be breathable and natural. Synthetic is often too hot. Fabric tested for harmful chemicals (like Oeko Tex 100) is a bonus.
- The carrier should be comfortable for the wearer with adequate padding on shoulder and waist straps or enough widths of fabric that allows the wearer to comfortably arrange the shoulder straps.
- A good carrier allows for the baby’s natural movement. Usually a newborn will be curled up in what is called the fetal tuck and a good carrier supports this position with legs outside the carrier and hands close to baby’s chest or mouth.
Most cultures around the world carry their babies upright rather than in a laying down position. Carrying a baby upright comes natural. The Baby automatically pulls its legs up into the perfect spread squatting position when being picked up, in anticipation of being carried on its mother’s hip.
Somehow the western world introduced the laying down position, also called cradle carry, and is very reluctant of getting away from it, even though research shows it is not in baby’s best interest to be carried in a laying down position. Quite the contrary.
Cradle carries are high risk carries and lack proper stimulation for baby. Correct education in babywearing safety is essential in keeping your baby happy, secure, and alive while being carried.
We are teaching the upright position as the best and safest practice for babywearing. We are happy to see that what we have been teaching is getting confirmed by professionals working with the hip and knowing every detail of it: Baby Carrier Recommendations by Professionals
Different carriers around the world
Wraps seem to be the most versatile carriers on the market. They are individually adjustable and, with hands on instructions, learned quite quickly and correctly.
If used properly, a wrap will always support your child in the correct healthy spread squatting position, regardless of being worn in front, back, or on your hip. Wraps are probably the most classic carrier that are used in many cultures around the world and come under many different names depending on the culture using them.
Wraps are best used with upright carrying only!
Elastic wraps, probably because of the price, have become quite popular as a first carrier for a newborn. There are quite a few different styles. The more stretchy, the less secure they are for the baby.
In our experience, the stretchy wraps on the market, should one really want to use one, are only to be used with a newborn. As soon as the baby moves around more the correct spread squatting position can not be supported by a stretchy wrap, neither is the head support sufficient.
As with woven wraps, elastic wraps should only be used with a baby in the upright position. Elastic wraps are limited in its use because of the need to have three layers of fabric to support the baby properly.
Ring slings have also been more popular lately. They are laid on one shoulder to form a sling for baby to sit in and are adjusted with usually metal rings.
Ring Slings should only be used for upright carrying. The baby is embraced by the fabric in the correct spread squatting position with correct head support.
Because a ring sling supports baby’s weight only on one shoulder, this is not a good choice for anybody with back problems or sensitive neck or shoulders.
Babies can be worn in front or on the hip, with hip probably the most popular. Backwearing is not recommended.
There are several different styles of ring slings. Only the ones that can be properly adjusted around baby should be used. Others with heavy relatively small plastic rings, a very deep pocket or heavy padded rails should not be used.
An ill designed ring sling that is advertised to be used in the cradle position is hazardous.
The Mei Tai is often dad’s first choice. It is an Asian inspired carrier with a waist belt and shoulder straps sewn onto a rectangular piece of fabric.
The belt and shoulder straps are knotted. A Mei Tai does not have any buckles.
There are so many different style Mei Tais on the market that it is impossible to recommend just one brand or style. Special care needs to be taken to make sure the crotch piece fits adequately from hollow of the knee to hollow of the knee and the back comes all the way up to baby’s shoulders.
This is a great carrier for children who can sit unassisted, about 4-6 month on, if the crotch piece fits from hollow of knee to hollow of knee.
Mei Tais are not suited for newborns, regardless of manufacturers instructions. Darts in the buttock area of the baby and a hood will make a Mei Tai a bit more comfortable for your baby.
Soft Structured Carriers
Soft Structured Carriers are patterned after backpacks. The shoulder and waist strap are usually padded and they have buckles.
Every brand of carrier varies greatly in many aspects like back lengths, crotch widths, back widths, fabric, and belt straps (buckles or hook and loop tape).
There really is no one-size-fits-all baby carrier on the market.
Soft Structured Carries are best tried on with your child before purchasing. If buying online, measure your baby’s back up from the bottom to at least the shoulder blades and baby’s crotch to make sure the carrier will fit correctly for your child.
Torso lengths and build of the babywearer will greatly affect the comfort.
Asian Inspired Carriers
Because Mai Tais are the most common Asian style carrier on the market, we talked about them earlier. Here are some not so well known Asian type carriers.
Onbuhimo or Onbu
An Onbuhimo or also called Onbu, looks like it has the same body as a Mei Tai but instead of waist straps, it has rings sewn into the back fabric. The child sits in the fabric and the shoulder straps, after being brought throug the rings, are tied on your chest. The weight of your child is supported by your shoulders and upper body.
A Podaegi is another Asian style carrier featuring a quilted fabric with long shoulder straps.
The quilt is wrapped around both, child and babywearer and looks more like one is wearing an apron of some sorts.
Tying a podeigi takes a little practice.
A chunei is almost like a vest that accommodates a child. A waist belt holds your child in place. A chunei does not allow the child much movement.
Depending on your child this might or might not be a good option for you. This too is not a one size fits all carrier, it is best tried on before purchased.
Kangas are traditionally worn in Africa. They are rectangular pieces of fabric.
Often the mothers will match a Kanga with their dress and all blends into one with baby’s head hardly visible. The fabric is brought under your arm pits to the front and twisted and tucked into the rolled edge of the fabric rather than knotted.
The child is supported with your upper body rather than your shoulders. When wearing a heavier child two Kangas are often used for extra support.
Kangas are worn on the back only.
Framed Child Carriers
There are many different brands of framed child carriers on the market.
At first glance one might think they are more comfortable than other types of carriers because they look so much like hiking backpacks.
The shoulder straps and waist straps are heavily padded with lots of buckles that can be adjusted to the babywearer to make carrying such a large framed pack more comfortable.
The seat for the child is always inadequate. The crotch piece is too narrow, the legs dangle, and there is not sufficient head support, especially if a child falls asleep in one of them.
These framed child carriers are usually not used for many hours of babywearing, more for hiking trips only. Because of the bulky mass they are, it is often the dads who end up using them for walks or hiking.
There are baby carriers on the market that should be handed over to your garbage collector rather than being used with your baby. Bag style slings are some of them.
Any baby carrier that resembles a shopping bag, a purse, tote bag, or duffel bag should not be used for a human baby. Some of the baby carriers in question have even been called “baby bag.” A clear indication that it is a bag, not a baby carrier.
In 2010, one of the bag style slings was recalled. The Infantino Sling Rider. Infantino recall Information. It is thought to have caused at least 4 death due to positional asphyxiation. The baby’s chin rests on the baby’s chest and kinks the baby’s airway.
The way a bag style sling positions baby is a high risk for positional asphyxiation. Millions of these unsafe and risky carriers have been sold already and continue to be sold under different names, the design is the same.
They are sold under Premaxx, Eddi Bauer, Wendy Bellissimo, Snugli, and more. Even sling riders continue to be sold second hand. We urge parents to educate themselves on what carriers support baby correctly and safely and which will put baby at risk.
A harness in such a carrier does not make it safe, these carriers are unsafe and unfortunately potential death traps. Do not place your baby in a bag style carrier, regardless of the name or well meaning friends wanting you to buy or use theirs. Keeping your baby safe is your responsibility.
Please visit our Babywearing Safety page to learn more about what is safe and best practice and what should be avoided.