Choosing a Carrier

Most parents find a baby carrier to be invaluable during the first year of their baby’s life. There are many types and styles to choose from. The different types of baby carriers fall into three main categories: slings, front packs and backpacks. Slings

These are made of fabric and are available in a wide variety of styles. They “sling” sash-style over your shoulder to hold baby in front of you. Slings offer many benefits to both baby and parent. Here are some of the most commonly cited by experienced sling-users:

A sling is perfect for the newborn months, when Baby needs to be held often in your arms, as opposed to being pushed at arm’s length in a stroller.

A sling is an excellent way to carry your baby around the house because it keeps your baby happy while leaving your two arms free to go about your daily tasks. Sling carriers are multi-purpose. You can use them to carry your baby, to create privacy for breastfeeding, and to cover your sleeping baby. Some feature a tail that can double as a blanket or coverup. Putting your baby into (and getting him back out of) a sling is a breeze. You can even get a sleeping baby in and out of one of these soft carriers without waking her. You can carry your baby in a variety of positions. Slings are small, lightweight and easy to transport. Slings 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 ľ or when you’ll be going in and out of the car frequently. Slings put your baby at the height of people’s faces instead of at their knees. You can use a sling right up through toddlerhood, when little legs get tired of walking.

An important note about baby 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 sling-user, a how-to video, or a knowledgeable sales clerk to help you master the art of baby slinging. Your local La Leche League leader may be able to offer pointers, too.

Slings are very much worth the effort. I bought a sling when my second baby, Vanessa, was born. I couldn’t figure it out, so I left it in the closet. When my third baby, David, was born, I attended a mother-baby class, learned how to use my sling ľ and was immediately hooked! I used slings extensively with my third and fourth babies and found them to be a marvelous baby care tool.


PARENT TIP

“I put my newborn in the sling so I could sit in bed at night with my toddler and read books. It kept us all together, my hands free and gave reading time to BOTH boys!”

Amy, mother of AJ (4) and Ryder (2)

Front packs

Front pack carriers are similar to slings in use 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 slings, such as their light weight and portability, and the fact that you can carry your baby while keeping your arms and hands free. Some allow you to choose between carrying your baby facing inward toward you or outward, facing the world – which is often fun for older babies. Settling the baby into and out of the carrier require more steps than a sling does. Moving a sleeping baby into or out of the carrier is difficult, unless the seat unbuckles separately from the harness. Front packs are better suited to a baby who is strong enough to hold his head upright.


Backpacks

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. Getting a backpack off (and putting it on) are typically two-person tasks. Backpacks are best for an older baby who can sit up well. 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 actually begin with one type of carrier and move on to another when their babies get older.

First, 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 ľ either at the store or with a friend who owns one. Actually 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.

PARENT TIP

“A baby carrier can help new adoptive parents to decline politely those who want to hold your baby while he still needs exclusive Mommy or Daddy contact. The carrier can be especially helpful in difficult situations such as visits to your child’s orphanage or former foster parents.”*

ľ Laurel, mother of 16-month-old Crystal

* This is also an excellent idea for parents who blanch at the thought of their tiny newborn being passed around the room from person to person!


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? Flexibility. Can you carry your baby in various positions?
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?

Baby Wearing – One Mom’s Experience

When I became a mom, something magical happened. An inner strength and desire to protect, love and nurture rose up within me. Desires, dreams and fears awakened in my heart that once lay dormant. I felt fit for the task and excited for the adventure of motherhood that stretched out ahead me. When my relatives went home and my husband returned to work I believe I handled the change exceptionally well. That is until our fridge containing a few leftovers and several bottles of breast milk finally forced us to venture out of the house to the grocery store. Until this point, I really felt that I was pulling off my new mommy role quite well. However, I had no idea that my little 5 pound 10 oz hunk of love could require so much extra effort for something as simple as a run to the store. Between loading and unloading the car seat, diaper bag, stroller, and to-do list I felt as though I may as well have been charting territory in a foreign land. After I returned home from that first adventure, I boldly decided that running errands alone with my baby was just too much work. The thought of pulling my Cadillac stroller and heavy car seat in and out of my car for another excursion was simply more than I could bear. Later that week, a lady at church breezed past my son and I, holding her new baby in a sling. Both she and her baby looked happy, content and close. In that moment, I knew I had to have one. I had just discovered my ticket to freedom.

Love At First Sight

I loved my first baby carrier so much that I started buying and trying other types of carriers to see how they compared. Each one seemed to offer something slightly unique and different that I loved. I was amazed at how many types, styles and variations were available. It was like a secret world opening up for me. I started learning that babywearing offered many benefits to the child including crying less, learning more, and increased IQ! I found out that babies that are “worn” also have been shown to exhibit reduced colic and spit-up with increased cardiac output and improved circulation. Not to mention the benefits for me! I could nurse with the carrier, shop without a bulky stroller and I was hands free and able to get things done around the house!

Taking it to the next level

As my collection of baby carriers grew, so did my knowledge of how to use them and the pros and cons of each style. If my son was just fussy and needing to be close on and off throughout the day or if I was making a quick run into the store I loved my pouch style slings such as the New Native Baby Carrier or The Peanut Shell. The simple tube design was quick to slip on over my arm and head to my shoulder. The way it hung on my body looked much like sash. I loved how easy it was to wear it like this throughout the day. It did not feel bulky or in the way and whenever I wanted to wear my son, I could slip him into the pouch in a matter of seconds–it was so easy to use. For days when I really needed to get work done around the house or for longer shopping trips, I often reached for my wrap style carriers. Wrap carriers, such as a Moby wrap or Moby D, are a specially designed strip of fabric. The long, (often stretchy) fabric is cleverly wrapped around your torso, over your shoulders, around your torso again and then secured at your waist with a knot or a d-ring. I found the wrap carriers to have a slight initial learning curve.

However, the clearly marked instructions quickly eased my mind and after my first few attempts I was a believer. Because their straps go over both shoulders and securely wrapped around me and my baby, he felt very close. I felt very comfortable, secure and ready to move. For long durations of wear, the wrap carriers became my staple. Finally, if I was visiting friends or family that wanted to share in the fun of baby wearing, I brought along my adjustable slings such as a Maya Wrap or Rockin Baby Sling. These adjustable carriers were very similar to the pouch style in the way that they hung from one shoulder to the opposite hip like a sash. However, they had an extra tail of fabric looped though a d-ring positioned by your shoulder. Although I did not enjoy the extra bulk created by this fabric tail when I was using the sling alone, it certainly allowed for an easy, adjustable, customized fit for all body types when I was sharing it with others. These adjustable carriers (as well as the wrap carriers) are also an economical choice for parents to share with each other rather than buying two separate sizes since they are a one size fits all option.

They each have a place in my heart

All of the carriers could be used from birth to 35 pounds and each offered a variety of carrying positions. So when I need a carrier, my question was not necessarily which carrier to use, but rather what need to fill. Each carrier was my favorite in its own special way. I feel that other moms can benefit from my experience when looking for their own ideal baby carrier. After all, just as no two mamas are alike, neither are their preferences for baby carriers. I compiled a sling comparison chart comparing a wide variety of baby carriers side by side under factors such as “reduces back strain”, “easy on, easy off”, and “discreet nursing”. Thankfully, with the myriad of choices available, and the right kind of helpful information, any mom is bound to find the baby carrier that is perfect for times when the arms give out but her heart just won’t let go. Equipped with the right carrier, she can join me and venture out of her home to chart new territory in a foreign land with her hands free to record her findings for future generations.