Choose the Right Hands-Free Baby Carrier

If you think you — and your little one — would enjoy a baby carrier, but you’re a little overwhelmed by the options, keep reading for a mini tutorial. We cover the pros and cons of the wrap, sling and carrier styles available online and in stores. See which one might be a just-right fit for you and your babe.

IT’S A WRAP: Wrap-style carriers

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

Best for: Wraps hold newborns and babies weighing as much as 20 pounds. Because the fabric length can be draped in a variety of ways, wraps work for both parents when couples are 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 may like a wrap’s even distribution of baby’s weight.

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.


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.

Best for: Most slings are designed for babies up to 40 pounds 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. 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. 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 & GO: Pouch slings

Overview: 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.

Best for: Pouch slings are fabulous for babies with enough upper body control to sit up on mom’s hip. Babies can ride on the hip or up front, kangaroo-style.

Pros: Pouch slings are sleek and stylish, without a ring sling’s extra fabric and rings. 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 lose weight or when your infant gets bigger. And your partner can’t wear the same sling, unless your weight and height are the same.

FRONT & CENTER: Soft-style carriers

Overview: 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.

Best for: Bjorns are for infants weighing up to 25 pounds, while the Ergo can tote babies through toddlers up to 40 pounds. 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 and both go on quickly. Parents love the Ergo’s built-in zippered pouches, and the adjustable straps and waist-extension clips work for many 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.

I’LL TAKE A MEI TEI: Mei tei carriers

Overview: 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.

Best for: Mei tei carriers work 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 all 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. They’re nursing friendly, with plenty of privacy.

Cons: You’ll need to get some help to tie these pretty packs, since there’s no one “right” way to put them on. The accent straps and bows can feel fussy for some parents.

PACK YOUR PROGENY: Backpack-style carriers

Overview: Like an external-frame back-pack, these carriers (Kelty is a common brand) hold a sitting child inside a perch.

Best for: Often, they’re for the tech-attracted guy in your life. Backpacks are also for babies older than 6 months with stable head control. They can carry kids up to 40 or 50 pounds.

Pros: You will never have to nag your husband to wear it. Pockets and packs transform it into an all-in-one catchall, and the all-weather hood is particularly attractive for rainy or sunny climates.

Cons: They’re often difficult for shorter people (even with adjustments), and the large frame feels unwieldy. Be prepared to apologize when you accidentally whack fellow pedestrians.

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

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