How to Choose the Perfect Baby Carrier

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One question I get asked all the time from new moms-to-be is which baby carrier to get. A soft wrap? A ring sling? A structured carrier?

I completely understand the confusion… there are a lot of choices out there, and it’s hard to know which is going to fit your lifestyle and preferences (both yours and your baby’s) best.

Going into this post, I feel it’s necessary to add a disclaimer: every baby is different and may show a preference towards a different carrier.

If you plan on baby wearing and would like to be prepared before your baby makes his arrival, there are definitely a few factors to consider when selecting your carrier, and I’m here to make that a little more clear for you.

So first off, though there are many different types of carriers, and then beyond that, dozens of different brands and styles of each type, we’re focusing on the three “main” types of carriers for this post: the soft wrap, the ring sling, and the structured carrier.

These three are the most readily available, and therefore, the most used amongst parents. Curious about which is which?

The soft wrap is often a long piece of fabric that is then tied around your body before inserting your child into the wrap.

A ring sling is a soft piece of fabric that often “slings” over one shoulder, creating a tight little “seat” for your little one to relax in.

A structured carrier is the more fixed–typically, you put the carrier which has been shaped perfectly to hold a child on, then place the child in it and tighten it to you. Let’s get a little more in-depth.

How to Choose the Perfect Baby Carrier

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The Soft Wrap

As mentioned above, this wrap is a soft piece of fabric with absolutely no structure to it.

Typically, it is very long and stretchy and can be twisted and tied around your torso in a few different ways to secure your baby from infanthood, all the way up to early toddler years, against your body.

Think of a MOBY WRAP or the BOBA WRAP (see my side by side comparison of the Moby and Boba Wrap).

This wrap can take a bit of practice to get right. It is literally a long piece of fabric that you will have to figure out how to twist around your body. There are countless how-to videos available to help a new mom or dad figure out how to do this.

Once you figure it out, it can feel like a big hug for your baby. She is held close to your heart, letting her hear that soothing heartbeat, and close to your body, keeping her both warm and secure.

When not in use, this wrap typically folds down pretty small, depending on the brand and style you go with.

You can use this wrap the day your baby is born, and continue using it right into the early toddler years, depending on the size of your child. Typically, these can be used up to about 25-30lbs.

The pros:

  • Safe, secure spot to wear your brand new infant from day one, close to your heart, within kissing distance.
  • Priced relatively low when compared with other carriers.
  • Can fold down small when not in use, which is great for traveling and storage.
  • Easy to wash.
  • Many ways to wrap and tie this soft wrap, making it highly versatile.

The cons:

  • There can be a bit of a learning curve to getting it right, and as it is an unstructured wrap, some moms question if they’ve got it “right.”
  • Tricky to put on when out and about. Because the soft wrap typically is very long, while putting the wrap on, one or both of the tail ends will most likely touch the ground. Not always ideal when not at home.
  • Taking the baby out of the wrap and then putting her back in is not always feasible without re-tying the wrap, as it does tend to stretch when in use.

Overall, the soft wrap is great for moms who spend a lot of time with their baby at home or are planning on wearing their baby for an entire outing.

It’s a great price point, it’s super comfortable for both mom and baby, and it is very versatile.

The Ring Sling

While it is a long piece of fabric, this wrap differs from the soft wrap in that it typically has two rings sewn into one end of the fabric.

Instead of tying the fabric around your body, you make a loop with the fabric and rings, insert your baby into the sling, and tighten the fabric.

You will then have your child hugged tightly against your body with the fabric slung over one of your shoulders and under the opposite armpit, fully extending along your back.

Think the HIP BABY or PURA VIDA slings.

The sling is my go-to wrap when I want something quick and easy. You literally put the sling over your head and under one arm, and you’re ready to go.

You will be able to wear your baby from infanthood until early toddlerhood, again depending on your child’s size. Max weight is usually 30-35 pounds, however, due to the nature of the sling, that can be taxing on your shoulder.

All the weight and pressure rests on one shoulder (and is slightly dissipated through your back) and after wearing a baby for a while, that can get uncomfortable for the parent.

The pros:

  • Easy, easy, easy to use. The learning curve for the ring sling is pretty much nonexistent.
  • Again, the cost of the ring sling is quite reasonable when compared to other carriers.
  • Folds down relatively small, which obviously helps with storage.
  • It’s quick to get the sling on and your baby in. There is no tying or clipping–basically, you throw it over your head, put your baby in, tighten it a little and go. Can be done in less than 5 seconds.

The cons:

Not an extended time carrier. While I do still bring this sling with me on trips, especially for traveling through the airport when my one year old will need to be held and put down often, it does get uncomfortable on your shoulder after too much time using it.

The metal rings on the sling can prove to be a small irritation. When traveling, often, we will set the metal detector off, and I usually have to take the baby out of the sling to get through security.

Also, while washing, you should air-dry the sling because of the rings. Not the end of the world, but something to consider.

The ring sling is a great option for the parent who foresees wanting to put their baby into and take her out of a carrier many times over the course of one “wear.”

It may not be the best option for the parent who is hoping to use the carrier on hikes and longer walks.

The Structured Carrier

This is the carrier that most parents think of first when they think of a baby carrier. Think an ERGO or a BABY BJORN.

It is very structured, and typically you clip into the carrier yourself, usually with straps around your shoulders and back, then strap your baby to you.

The structured carrier is arguably one of the easier carriers to use, as there isn’t much wiggle room in set up. You may be able to tighten straps to fit you and your baby perfectly, but really there isn’t a lot of guesswork in how it is set up.

Of the three types of carriers, the structured carrier often is the most expensive, however, this carrier typically can be used the longest (up to 45 pounds) and is very sturdy.

The pros:

  • Takes the guesswork out. There is typically a “right way” to use a structured carrier, and it is fairly simple to figure out how to use it as such.
  • Depending on the carrier you choose, the structured carrier can be very versatile, letting you carry your baby facing in, out, on your hip, or even on your back.
  • The most comfortable for long periods of time. If you plan on using the carrier whilst out for a long day of shopping or hiking, this carrier will be comfortable and supportive all day long.
  • Easy to get your child into and out of. Not quite as quick as a sling, but just as easy.

The cons:

  • It typically costs the most of the three options, depending on which brand and style you go with.
  • It does not pack up well. Because it is structured, it’s not easy to fold this carrier up and shove into a diaper bag.
  • Not as quick to wash. Most structured carriers can be thrown into the wash, but because the padding and material of the structured carriers are so thick, it takes a long time to dry.
  • The structured carrier is great for the parents who want to be wearing their child out and about for long stretches of time. It’s a much-loved carrier option.

As with any baby product, the product itself does not matter if your baby does not like it.

All three of these carriers, however, can be used pretty much from birth, and if you start wearing your baby early on, you may be able to influence his preferences when it comes to baby wearing.