By Darien Wilson
You're shopping for your first sling, and you're searching for that one perfect carrier that will take you from newborn to preschooler. Well, you probably can't even imagine having a preschooler yet, but most ring slings and pouches will last that long, and you'll be there before you know it!
Babywearing lingo can be confusing to beginners. There are ring slings and pouches, and sometimes they’re both referred to as slings. How confusing can it get?!
In general, any piece of fabric used to carry a baby is called a sling, so both pouches and ring slings are called slings.
Pouches are one loop of fabric with a curved seam in the seat creating a deep pocket for baby. They are available in fitted or adjustable. Some pouches have padding.
Fitted pouches are a simple loop of fabric sized to fit the wearer’s body exactly. They are available in a wide range of sizes for a perfect fit.
Adjustable pouches may be shared between different-sized people, or as mom’s size changes during postpartum weight loss. Adjustability can be achieved many different ways, including but not limited to snaps, Velcro, zippers, or buttons.
Ring slings are long rectangles of fabric that thread through two rings for adjustability. The tail is the piece of fabric that hangs down from the rings. Pulling on the tail tightens the sling.
Some ring slings have "open tails", or a loose piece of fabric. An open tail may have a pocket. Others have "closed tails", which are sewn together and look like a strap. The tail may be tucked inside the sling for a more streamlined look.
Ring slings are available with or without padding. Padding is in the shoulder and/or along the rails (edges). Shoulder padding is intended for the wearer’s comfort, and rail padding is intended for the baby’s leg comfort. The amount of padding varies between brands, from extravagantly puffy to lightly padded. Padding can be hot, and like most sling design options, is a matter of personal preference.
By definition, pouches do not have tails, although there are a "hybrid" slings available with a pouch seam in the seat and rings and tail for
adjustability. Technically, these are ring slings. Hybrids are typically narrower than ring slings, and the pouch seam creates a deep pocket for baby, with less fabric.
With any babycarrier, it is imperative to get a good fit. Baby should ride high and snug to maximize the wearer's comfort and the baby’s safety. Baby's bottom should be no lower than 2” below the wearer’s navel. The outside edge of the sling should tighten to pull baby in close against the wearer’s chest.
Many ring slings available at big box discount stores are one-size-fits-all. Smaller parents often end up wearing baby too low. Padding along the rails stops the fabric from sliding through the rings, making it difficult to tighten. The carrier feels unsafe with baby dangling too low, especially if the outside edge is too loose. Unpadded rails make it easy to get baby comfortably high with a snug outside edge.
A perfect fit is very important with fitted pouches. Baby riding low in an overly large pouch will strain the wearer’s back. It is also unsafe for baby to be chin-to-chest in a deep pouch pocket. An infant support pillow or folded up blanket behind baby can help get a newborn baby more upright.
In a fitted pouch, the outside edge can be tightened with a shoulder flip. Alternatively, some people put a twist in the pouch to tighten the rails. Click here for pouch instructions, including the shoulder flip.
Pouches are often called the "training wheels" of babycarriers. Put it on, slip the baby in and go. There are few adjustments to make and therefore less to learn. Pouches have a streamlined look that many parents prefer. Pouches are lightweight and compact. They easily slip into a diaper bag when baby is not being worn. Dads often prefer the look of a pouch to a ring sling. Because they use less fabric and no rings, pouches can be less expensive than ring slings.
Pouches are not ideal for the tummy-to-tummy hold that some newborns prefer. It is possible to achieve a tummy-to-tummy hold in a fleece pouch, which fits more snugly and has more give than a cotton pouch. Unfortunately, fleece pouches are too hot for some climates.
Babies can breastfeed in the pouch much easier than in a front carrier. However, with less fabric, it is less discreet than a ring sling.
Ring slings have a longer learning curve than pouches. However, their adjustability means a perfect fit with every wearing.
Some young babies prefer the upright, or tummy-to-tummy hold, which can be difficult to achieve in a pouch. Young babies who cannot hold themselves upright tend to squish down into the pocket of the pouch. With a ring sling, the top rail can be tightened to support a young baby in a vertical position.
Some people feel that ring slings are easier for breastfeeding, because the whole sling can be loosened to lower the baby to the breast. Open-tailed slings also have a built-in breastfeeding cover. Breastfeeding in the sling is "advanced babywearing", and takes patience and practice to learn in any type of sling.
Ring Sling Pros
Easy to get baby high and tight
Adjustable for a perfect fit every time
Share between different-sized wearers
Comfortable, discreet breastfeeding
Best for snuggle/tummy to tummy hold
Long tail can have a pocket
Six positions including back
Use with preemie to preschooler
With practice, quick to put on
Simple, easy to pop it on and go
Shorter learning curve
Very lightweight and packable
Five positions including breastfeeding
No rings allow a more comfortable back carry
Use with preemie to preschooler
Can be less expensive
Ring sling cons
Longer learning curve
Some dislike the tail, especially dads
Takes up more space in diaper bag (especially padded)
Some find rings get in the way
Can be challenging to fit initially
Cannot be shared between different-sized wearers (fitted only)
Less discreet breastfeeding