What type of babycarrier is right for me? A brief guide
There are many considerations, whether you are choosing your first (or tenth!) carrier. You will need to refer to a number of other articles as you work your way through this list:
Glossary for those who are new to babywearing or not sure of the terms.
How old is your baby?Some babycarriers are only suited (or best suited) to a particular age. Some can be used for a wide range of ages, but might not be the best option for a particular age, or for you. Comparision of Carriers chart includes ratings for each type of carriers for each age group to get you started.
What position/s do you prefer to use when you carry your baby?If you don't currently wear your baby, what position do you use when carrying your baby in your arms: on your hip, shoulder, cradled, piggyback? If you haven't yet looked at the links listed above, check out Carrying positions and the Babycarrier/position chart to work out which babycarriers will be suitable for your baby's developmental stage.
Do you have any physical problems that could restrict your choice?
Back problems. Look for a carrier that lets you wear your baby close and high, keeping his centre of gravity above yours and as close in as possible. Your babycarrier should distribute your baby's weight widely to reduce strain. A well-adjusted sling or pouch should not cause back strain but may aggravate an existing problem. Adding a second sling helps distribute the weight over two shoulders and if you wear the rings on your hips (or waist), the two tails can be tied together, effectively allowing some weight to be transferred to your hips as well. Wraparound carriers can be a good choice, as they spread the baby's weight widely over both shoulders as well as to your waist/hips. Soft carriers vary considerably. Look for one with a waist/hip strap that effectively transfers much of your baby's weight to your hips (see reviews to check these out). Unstructured or (Asian-style) soft carriers are flexible enough to hold your baby very close to you and are generally a better choice than the structured soft carriers if you have back problems.
If you have shoulder problems on both sides, a podegi or other torso carrier is a possible option. These tie around your chest, avoiding the shoulder area altogether. A wraparound carrier supports some weight on your shoulders, but spreads it very widely; you would probably want to avoid the "rucksack" carries. Some soft carriers and frame backpacks effectively transfer weight from your shoulders to your hips. Which would work best for you depends not only on the design of the carrier, but also your shape (torso length and shoulder shape in particular).
With shoulder problems on one side you could use a sling, pouch or hip carrier worn on the opposite shoulder (although it is generally recommended that you swap shoulders regularly when using a single-shoulder carrier). You could also use any of the options suggested above for shoulder problems on both sides.
With sacroiliac joint problems, avoid a babycarrier that forces you to sit with your legs apart to provide room for your baby. Also avoid a carrier that makes it difficult to get up and down from a chair. Carriers where the baby's legs dangle straight down are the most problematic (including many structured soft carriers).
One babycarrier or more?If you would like one babycarrier to see you through until your babywearing days are over, consider a multi-purpose carrier that has many options for positions and will still be comfortable with a heavier child. Slings, rebozos and wraparound carriers are very versatile. If you choose a sling, adding a second sling (on the opposite shoulder) adds even more versatility and enables you to comfortably carry a heavy child. If you can afford to choose more than one babycarrier, each can be more purpose-built for baby's age or for different activities. Many new babywearers start out with one babycarrier, then decide that babywearing works so well for them and their baby that they want at least one more. A babycarrier that works well for front carries is more crucial when your baby is young; you may wish to choose a second carrier that excels at back carries or hip carries once your child is a little older.
What activities will you use the babycarrier for?Consider whether you want to be able to breastfeed, do housework, gardening, go for long walks, sit down, rock your baby to sleep, wear your sleeping baby, put your sleeping baby down... you will think of others too. Some activities are easiest with a particular type of carrier or a particular position. For example, wearing your baby on your back is great for housework and gardening, but not so convenient if your baby falls asleep and you want to be able to put her down. For swimming or showering, a mesh, water or Solarveil™ sling is convenient and will dry quickly. For breastfeeding, your baby's age is one consideration, and your own body shape (torso length, breast size and shape) is also important in determining the best position and babycarrier to try. Babies can get used to sleeping vertically (and newborns will usually sleep in any position) but you may prefer your baby to be a reclining position for sleep. Many older babies will happily sleep on your back, and a piece of cloth can be tied around as a support for a floppy head. If you wish to put your baby down when she sleeps, a babycarrier with a high poppability rating will be your best bet (see the comparison of different types of carriers).
See the article on Safe Babywearing for further ideas and restrictions.
How adjustable does your babycarrier need to be?Will more than one person be using the carrier? How different in shape and size are the different people? Also consider the adjustability factor if you are likely to gain or lose much weight.
Some carriers are widely adjustable. These include wrap-around carriers (choose one long enough for the larger person); unpadded slings; soft carriers, especially unstructured ones; torso carriers and rebozos. Some babycarriers are adjustable within a limited range: padded slings and adjustable pouches. Non-adjustable pouches are custom fit to the individual and not at all adjustable.
What type of babycarrier suits your personality?If you want to be noticed when you wear you baby there are many babycarriers made of beautiful fabrics to choose from. Do you prefer a functional look? Some carriers come in a range of different fabrics to suit most people, others have only limited options. Some attract attention by their design or novelty value. Do you feel (or want to feel) connected to the women of the world who have carried their babies throughout history? Then a traditional babycarrier might be for you. Do you have the patience (and time) to learn how to tie a wrap-around carrier? Do you like buckles, rings and ties or something you can just throw on without needing to adjust it, like a pouch? Are you confident, do you have time to practise or someone to give you hands on help? If so, then a babycarrier with a steeper learning curve is not out of the question.
What extremes of climate will you need to cope with?For hot weather, the coolest options are carriers made of cotton or mesh. Check the thickness of the fabric: although cooler, thin fabrics may not be as durable, and are more likely to cut into your or baby's flesh. Synthetic fibres, multiple layers of fabric and padding will also make a babycarrier hotter both for you and your baby. Of course, just having your baby smooshed against you generates a certain amount of heat. In general, babies seem not to be bothered by this and babywearing is very common, historically, among peoples in hot climates.
For really cold weather, there are a few options:
Most babycarriers will fit on your front under your warm coat (especially if the coat is one you used while pregnant. This is the option most used by women in traditional societies in cold climates. If your climate is very cold, you may wish to consider a coat specifically designed for babywearing (see the reviews section). Most of these are designed for wearing your baby on your front and can be supplemented by a dickey. One type of coat is designed for back carrying and has an in-built babycarrier -- this is the amauti (or amautik) traditionally used by Inuit women (and men).
Choose a warm carrier (such as one made of fleece, or one that wraps around you many times such as a wraparound carrier) and a position that encloses most of your baby's body.
Rug your baby up inside the carrier. (In Greece, it is traditional for babies to be swaddled and then carried in a sling.) Beware: if your carrier is not very adjustable, your baby might not fit when thickly clothed.
Will you need to carry more than one child at the same time?Some babycarriers are specifically designed for carrying multiples. Others such as slings, pouches and hip carriers are adaptable enough to allow you to carry twins. If you would like to carry two children of different ages and sizes, you will probably find it easiest to carry the smaller one on your front and the larger on your back. This can be tiring but works reasonably well while your younger baby is fairly small. Two soft carriers, used in combination, work quite well for front plus back carries.
If your older child is used to being worn, you can continue to carry her for short periods each day after your new baby arrives to ease the transition. However it is important not to push yourself too much in the post-partum period, as the "joint-softening" hormone, Relaxin, will still be acting on your ligaments, leaving your joints prone to over-extension.
Putting it all togetherOnce you have your list of requirements your next step is to evaluate the different types of carriers. The Comparison of babycarriers chart can help you with your assessment. Take your time and read as much as you can about the different types of carriers before you decide. More importantly, try as many different babycarriers as you can lay your hands on. If this will be your first experience of babywearing, try to organise some hands-on instruction, especially if you have decided on a sling or wraparound carrier - this can make the difference between an "Aha" experience and a disappointment.
There is no one "right" babycarrier for everybody. Not only do we all have differing circumstances and needs, but there is also an indefinable element in how every individual relates to each babycarrier - for example, while one person will instantly "grok"# wraparound carriers while another just won't manage to get them to work for her.
Choosing the general type of carrier is the biggest step, but your work is not quite over. There are significant differences between brands that can make one work for you while another is totally inappropriate. Here is where the reviews on this site can help you - find out details about each babycarrier and see what others have to say. You can also find a vendor using our Vendor Reviews. Be assured that most vendors offer plenty of after-sale support to help make your babycarrier work for you and if you are not happy, most offer exchanges and refunds, providing the carrier is still "as new" and has not been washed. Additionally, some vendors offer a rental program so you can "try before you buy".
You might like to try improvising a carrier to start with and see if you like it. For improvising, as well as sewing your own carrier, check our:
Having bought (or made) your new carrier, try it out for a while. Then please, come back and let us know what you think by submitting a review. Your opinions can help someone else who is starting out J
# grok means to enjoy and relate to something on a very deep, almost intuitive, level. Term courtesy of Robert Heinlein ("Stranger in a Strange Land") and very aptly applied to babywearing by Jennifer Rosenberg.