By Elizabeth Pantley, author of The No-Cry Sleep Solution for Newborns ~~~
Babies love to be carried – but parent arms get tired. A baby carrier can be invaluable during the first two years of your baby’s life. There are many types and styles to choose from, so take your time picking the right match for your family.
Slings and soft carriers
These are made of fabric and are available in a wide variety of styles. They “sling” sash-style over your shoulder, or criss-cross over your back to hold baby in front of you. These offer many benefits to both baby and parent. Here are some of the most commonly cited by experienced users:
- Slings and soft carriers are perfect for the newborn months, when Baby needs to be held frequently in your arms, as opposed to being pushed at arm’s length in a stroller.
- Carriers are an excellent way to tote your baby around the house because it keeps your baby happy while leaving your two arms free to go about your daily tasks.
- Carriers with fabric tails are multi-purpose. You can use them to carry your baby, to create privacy for breastfeeding, and to cover your sleeping baby.
- Putting your baby into (and getting him back out of) a soft carrier is a breeze. You can even get a sleeping baby in and out of one of these pliable carriers without waking her.
- You can carry your baby in a variety of positions that may change depending on whether baby is awake or asleep and can change according to age.
- These are small, lightweight and easy to transport.
- Soft carriers are wonderful to use when a stroller would be inconvenient, such as up stairs, through large crowds or narrow aisle ways, or over rough terrain ¾ or when you’ll be going in and out of the car frequently.
- Carriers put your baby at the height of people’s faces so your little one can easily engage with people around you.
- You can use a carrier right up through toddlerhood, for those times when little legs get tired of walking.
An important note about baby carriers and slings: They can be confusing to use at first, and your baby can slide out of the bottom if not positioned correctly. Try to find an experienced user, a how-to video, or a knowledgeable doula, midwife or educator to help you master the art of baby carrying. Your local La Leche League leader may be able to offer pointers, too.
Soft carriers are very much worth the effort. I bought one for my first baby, but I couldn’t figure it out, so I left it in the closet. When my second baby was born, I attended a mother-baby class, learned how to use carriers ¾ and was immediately hooked! I used them extensively with my third and fourth babies from the day of birth and found them to be a marvelous baby care tool.
Front pack carriers are similar to slings and soft carriers, but are more complex in their structure. They have a seat that attaches to the front of you with straps that crisscross behind you; these straps secure the carrier to your body. Here’s what you need to know about front packs:
- The benefits of front packs are similar to many of those of soft carriers and slings, such as their light weight and portability, and the fact that you can carry your baby while keeping your arms and hands free.
- Settling the baby into and out of the carrier may require more steps than a sling does.
- Moving a sleeping baby into or out of the carrier could be difficult, unless the seat unbuckles separately from the harness for this purpose.
- Front packs are better suited past the newborn stage, for a baby who is strong enough to hold his head upright.
A back carrier is similar to a camping backpack. It has a seat for your baby that attaches to your back with a frame and straps that cross over your shoulders. A few things to know about backpacks:
- They’re perfect for an older baby who loves to look around and be carried high on your shoulders.
- Many backpacks have pouches for holding supplies.
- Some models have a canopy for inclement weather or sun protection.
- Backpacks are best for an older baby who can sit up well, or a toddler.
- They’re great for an all-day trip, such as hiking, shopping or visiting an amusement park
How do you decide which carrier to use?
No single baby carrier is perfect for all parents. Every parent has different needs, preferences and proportions. Many people begin with one type of carrier and move on to another when their babies get older, or start out with two different types and alternate between them depending on the current purpose.
Think about how you plan to use a carrier. Will you use it primarily at home, instead of a stroller while away from home, or both? Do you already have a stroller, or must your carrier fill all your baby-carrying needs? Defining its purpose will help you choose which carrier is best for you. Read the package information (or talk to other parents who own a similar carrier) to learn which purposes it serves best and to determine if it matches your needs.
The very best way to decide? Try carriers on ¾ either at the store or with a friend who owns one. Putting your baby in the carrier will give you the best idea as to fit, but if you are shopping without your baby (or don’t have your baby yet!) try using a stuffed animal from the toy department!
Points to consider when purchasing a carrier:
- Comfort. Does the carrier feel good to you?
- Fit for your baby. Does it seem to suit your baby well?
- Fit for you. Does it fit your size and body type? Can you carry the baby without strain?
- Safety. Will the baby be secure and well supported?
- Features. Does it meet your needs?
- Usability. Can you easily get your baby in and out of the carrier? How about putting it on and taking it off? Keep in mind that some models require practice.
- Construction. Does the fabric suit your wardrobe, climate and needs (i.e., lightweight for summer, weatherproof for outdoor use)?
- Care. Is it machine-washable or easy to wipe clean?
- Adjustability. Can it be tightened or adjusted to fit you when you are at home in indoor clothing or outside wearing a coat? Can you adjust it easily for use by others?
- Adaptability. Will it work for your baby now as well as six months from now?
- Appearance. Do you like the style? Will you enjoy wearing it?
Elizabeth Pantley is a mother of four, grandmother, and author of the bestselling book, The No-Cry Sleep Solution for Newborns plus 8 other books in the No-Cry Solution Series, which helps Moms and Dads through all key stages of parenting. Visit her at nocrysolution.com.