|EDITOR'S NOTE: The following is a good overview of carrier styles and factors to consider in deciding which carrier(s) to use. However, it's several years old, and many more carriers are now available. A more up-to-date listing of available carriers and resources has been prepared LCN member Barbara Handley, here.|
"What type of baby carrier is the most comfortable and practical for all-day wearing?"
This is a question we often receive at the Network, and one I needed an answer to when pregnant with my youngest daughter, born eleven months ago. I was looking for a carrier that could be worn on the front, side and back, was easy to use, and comfortable when worn all day.
What follows is my experience with and opinions of several styles of baby carriers: The New Native Baby Carrier, three brands of the two-ring style sling, a rebozo, the Baby Bundler, and a backpack. These carriers reflect my concern for my daughter's healthy spine development, which eliminated many of the brands found in department and baby stores. I did not try any of the carriers that are strapless, tie on the chest, and put the baby in back because as a breastfeeding mother I didn't want to risk a breast infection due to a plugged duct with something tied tightly on my chest, and I don't think the back position is convenient with newborns.
While each of these carriers is a good product, each has its advantages and disadvantages. All come with complete instructions, and are machine washable. Other than the backpack, all allow you to discreetly nurse a baby while in the carrier. I do not think a perfect carrier exists, and what works best for me is to have several to choose from. My mood, my daughter's mood, and the activity we will be doing determines which I wear at a given time. This may sound extravagant, but the cost of four slings is cheaper than a crib, and much of the other paraphernalia parents often purchase. Let your friends give you a baby shower, and ask for several different styles or colors of carriers instead of a crib, stroller, playpen, swing, etc.
DESCRIPTION: Many companies make this style of sling, which is roughly a cigar-shaped piece of cloth that has two rings at one end. The other end has a short tail that is long and narrow and loops through the rings, forming a pouch for the baby. The sling is worn on one shoulder. The difference between manufactures is in the shape of fabric, the sizes the sling is offered in, the type of material and padding, the number of fabric and color choices, cost, and other variations in style. I have tried three brands of this style: The Original Baby Sling by Nojo, the Sling-Ezee by Parenting Concepts, and the Over the Shoulder Baby Holder (OTSBH). The Sling-Ezee is by far the most narrow of the three, and I only wore it for about five minutes total, before giving it away. The OTSBH is my favorite as its fabric is wider and makes a much bigger pouch for my 11 month old. (I no longer feel safe wearing her in the Nojo.) The OTSBH has added advantages of a metal pin in the tail to prevent it from slipping through the rings if the sling is worn incorrectly, more padding on the sides, a drawstring gathering on the padded shoulder, and flame resistant batting.
ADVANTAGES: This is one of the most versatile in carrying positions, allowing you to carry the baby in front lying down or sitting up, on your hip, or on your back. The way it adjusts using the rings means you can wear a newborn snug and high on your chest, and a few minutes later a toddler on your hip. It is one of the easiest to learn how to use.
DISADVANTAGES: It can be uncomfortable to wear for very long periods because of the rings and the way the fabric bunches up around them. It is fine for short periods however. I don't feel safe wearing my child in back in this sling, although I know it is done with older babies. The instructions recommend keeping a hand on the baby when bending down or over. The only accident I've had is when Meg was 5 or 6 months old in the Nojo sling, facing outward sitting cross-legged, and I grabbed quickly for something while squatting. I didn't put a hand around her, and she flipped out and landed right on her face on the kitchen floor. Luckily it was only a fall of a foot or two and she wasn't seriously hurt, but it scared both of us. I don't think she would have fallen out if I had been wearing the New Native sling, and the OTSBH with its deeper pocket might also have prevented the accident.
COMMENTS: Although I didn't find the OTSBH comfortable enough for the all day wearing of the in-arms phase, once my daughter became mobile (around 6 month) it became my carrier of choice. From about 5-1/2 months on I didn't carry her much in the house unless she was feeling sick, but did carry her when we went on walks or did errands. I found the versatility of the OTSBH wonderful for a baby who wants to be on the floor crawling or standing when I'm in a store. During the last 6 months I have mostly been wearing her on my hip, or in front of me sitting upright with her legs straight out, and this sling is wonderful for these positions. This carrier has been endorsed by Jean Liedloff.
DESCRIPTION: The NNBC is a big pouch that you can put a baby in horizontally, inclined, or vertically, and is worn over one shoulder. The material and design is uniform so if a baby falls asleep vertically, you can just slide the sling around a bit so the child is horizontal, without needing to rearrange the sleeping child at all. It is like wearing a one piece kangaroo pouch. A very wide piece of fabric goes over your shoulder and across your back. It comes in 100% organic cotton and 100% cotton. The 100% cotton solid colors are beautiful (royal blue, teal, purple, navy). The sling comes in five sizes.
ADVANTAGES: Of all the styles I've tried, this is the easiest to learn how to use you just put it on and drop the baby in! It is also the most comfortable for long periods of use. The wide fabric over your shoulder is easily changed so that different points on your shoulder and back feel the weight. Its symmetrical design makes it easy to switch shoulders. When your baby is a newborn and immobile, it is fairly easy to swing him or her around onto your back for brief periods of time.
DISADVANTAGES: The design that makes it so comfortable to wear is also its only drawback. It is not quickly adjustable in size, so you cannot use if for a newborn and a few minutes later use it for a toddler. I have size medium which has worked fine from the time Megan was a newborn (7 lbs.) to eight months (21 lbs.). Even if I can't use it when she is two years old, it will have been well worth it for the many hours it has served us well. Included with each sling are instructions for taking in a seam and temporarily making it a size smaller, or you can receive a credit towards a larger carrier when your child grows.
COMMENTS: When Megan was a month old I got the New Native Baby Carrier, which is my favorite for the in-arms phase because of its comfort. We moved when she was 2-1/2 months old and I literally wore her all day, except for diaper changes and a few nursings outside of the sling. I hardly even noticed she was there, and felt no soreness the next day. This carrier has been endorsed by Jean Liedloff.
DESCRIPTION: A rebozo is a large shawl traditionally used by Mexican women to carry their children and parcels, in addition to many other uses. It is worn over one shoulder. The four weaves offered by the Rebozo Way Project (RWP) are 28" to 31" wide and 94" to 104" long. You can also make your own rebozo.
ADVANTAGES: The fabric is wonderful!! The baby can actually see through the fabric, (opaque to everyone else) and it is incredibly soft yet strong. It is very thin, taking up little room when folded. I would love to have a hammock out of this material! The sling fits newborns and older children, and can be used in practically any position. Another advantage is that the sling conforms completely to your child, so it always fits easily no matter what position the child is in, or the size of the child. The New Native and two-ring carriers require you to fit the child to the sling somewhat. For this reason the rebozo feels very secure and safe, and is the only sling I use on my back. When Megan falls asleep in my arms in a stretched-out position, it is easy to wrap the rebozo around her and fasten her to me, instead of putting her in one of the other carriers. I've also used it to fasten her to me when she wants to be on my lap but can't sit up yet, and I'm using my hands (e.g., when working at the computer.) The fabric goes around both our waists, leaving her arms and legs free to wave around. The rebozo is useful to have in our diaper bag for when my three year old gets tired of walking I can wear her on my hip or back in the rebozo. (This is particularly useful on vacations when the four of us are sightseeing, we make sure we have two carriers with us.) The rebozo doubles as a shawl, so it is useful even when your child has grown. It can also be used as a blanket, beach wrap, table liner, belly binder for exercising while pregnant.
DISADVANTAGES: Knowing that this carrier has been used for centuries by women and children in Central America, it seems strange listing any disadvantages at all. But as a mother in our western culture without other adults or older children around to help during the day, who didn't grow up seeing rebozos used daily, I found it had a long learning curve. I didn't enjoy tying and retying the knot often, and used the same knot and position as long as I could. However, to get a snug fit when wearing a baby in different positions (e.g. horizontal, sitting upright), requires retying of the knot to take up more fabric. (Note: Some women wear rebozos without using knots, but I haven't tried that yet.) If you have another adult in the house or an older child, it will be much easier tying the baby on in various positions, and I heartily recommend you get a rebozo. It is more comfortable that the two-ring style, but not as comfortable as the New Native for all-day carrying during the in-arms phase. If the knot works its way onto the top of your shoulder it can hurt and needs to be readjusted so it's in front of or behind your shoulder.
COMMENTS: I didn't buy my rebozo (from RWP) until Megan was five months old. Perhaps if I had bought it earlier, before I was so used to my NNBC and two-ring carrier, the learning curve would have seemed shorter. When I received it, Megan was at the age where she was just starting to ride on my hip, but needed to be fastened tightly to me as she couldn't sit up yet, and the rebozo is very good for that position! The Rebozo Way Project offers four weaves for adult rebozos; rebozos for kids are also available. All are woven in Mexico. They also sell many useful brochures and a great documentary video that among other things, demonstrates how to tie eight different positions from newborn through toddler (including a newborn who decides to nurse during the demonstration!) I have watched the 25 minute video probably six times now for the sheer pleasure of seeing people to whom wearing a baby comes naturally.
DESCRIPTION: This is an unique carrier that is worn on both shoulders at the same time. It is a long piece of cloth made from soft 100% cotton in great colors (light blue, teal, grape and black.) While holding baby against you, the cloth is wrapped around you both several times creating a secure bond, then tied in the back. Babies can be worn in front horizontally or vertically, or on back (with someone's help) vertically. It can be used with newborns through toddlers. Although it looks complicated to tie on, it is really very easy and I was able to do it on the first try.
ADVANTAGES: For anyone with back or shoulder problems, this carrier could be a lifesaver! Since it is worn on both shoulders, you don't need to remember to alternate shoulders to balance the stress on your body, as is needed with the previous three styles.
DISADVANTAGES: When my baby fell asleep vertically, it took a lot of adjusting to switch her to a horizontal position, which often woke her up. In the horizontal position, the baby's head can poke through the wrappings of fabric, so you need to be careful how you tie it and it may need readjusting after being worn for awhile. Although this style is great for the wearer's back, the vertical position is not good for a young baby's back. Chiropractor Rochelle Casses recommends babies not be worn in the Bundler in the vertical position until they can stand. (With my daughters this was around 7 months old.) Wearing baby on the back in the Bundler requires another person's help.
COMMENTS: Whether or not you will like this carrier depends a lot on personal preference. While I am not particularly fond of it, other Network members have said they love it and wore their babies throughout the in-arms phase in it.
DESCRIPTION: By "backpack" I mean a carrier that has a metal frame, not an all-cloth back carrier, since all of the previous carriers can be worn on your back. There are many inexpensive backpacks available, but they often don't provide good support for the child and are uncomfortable when worn for long periods. I bought our backpack at a camping/outdoor store, and it is constructed using the same principles as mountaineering backpacks. It distributes the weight of my 30 lb. daughter very well; I only feel it on my hips, with no weight at all on my shoulders or back. Look for a backpack that is well padded (for you and child), has a high back for the child, has a foot rest, is easy to put on by yourself, and has adjustable straps to ensure a good fit for you and child. Our model has a sun shade that attaches to the top, which has prevented sunburn many a time. It also has a pouch under the child's seat, which holds as much as a diaper bag. A backpack is definitely not a necessity, but is nice to have when your child is older. I started using our when my eldest daughter was a little over a year old: she was walking, but was too young to keep up with us when we were walking for exercise, or sightseeing when traveling.
ADVANTAGES: When a child is old enough to walk but doesn't have the endurance to walk as long as you do, a backpack has several advantages over a stroller. You can take an adult's long stride without hitting the stroller axle, you can go over rough terrain, the child gets a much better view, and you can feel safe in crowds knowing the child is connected to you.
DISADVANTAGES: Although it's no problem if you are with another adult, if you are by yourself it's tough to attend to little needs like putting on a hat, wiping a nose, etc. since the child is behind you. I followed a friend's advice and carry a small mirror so I can check on her. It is also not the most comfortable position to sleep in by sure to carry a towel or small blanket to cushion a sleeping head.
COMMENTS: Good ones are expensive, anywhere from $70 to $150. Ours is made by Tough Traveler and cost around $120 with a sun shade. It makes a great baby shower present from a relative who wants to buy a crib, automatic swing or playpen!
When purchasing a carrier, ask the following:
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