Babywearing 101: Which Baby Carrier Should You Get?

Babywearing is my second great love after car seat safety. I've worn all three of my children, and few things make my mama heart burst more than having a sleepy baby snuggled against my chest as I go about my day. I honestly don't think I could function as a mama without babywearing, for the convenience it provides, as well as for the way I feel it has bonded me to my children. 

My sweet Felicity girl in the wrap, just 2 months old

I talk with expectant parents all the time about baby carriers, and the conversation usually starts off with a young couple semi-whispering to each other and picking up the different types of carriers. After I approach them and ask if they have any babywearing questions, they sheepishly look at each other and say, "Can you just tell us what's the difference between all of these? There are so many styles!"

There really are a lot of carrier styles, but the tried and true, Big Three (as I like to call them!) are your stretchy wrap, ring sling, and soft-structured carriers. Lets go through pros, cons, and considerations of each!

The Stretchy Wrap

Price: $

Use: Birth - 25 lbs (if your baby is under 8 lbs, check with your pediatrician before babywearing. Also note that this carrier becomes less practical than other carrier styles around 6-8 months. The fabric stretches more with baby's increased weight and doesn't support as well when wrapped.)

Carry Positions: One - front facing inward. (While you technically can do a hip carry with a strechy wrap, I feel like it is difficult to master, and by the time your child is able to sit on your hip at about 5-6 months the stretchy wrap begins to be less practical as your child gets heavier. So I don't feel like it really counts.)

Learning Curve: Fairly steep. Because you have to wrap the fabric around your body many times, and in a very specific way, the stretchy wrap tends to be the hardest to master out of all the carrier styles.

Pros: least expensive carrier option, small enough to fit in a diaper bag, distributes baby's weight on both shoulders.

Cons: inconvenient to wrap when not at home (tails drag on the ground when wrapping), least versatile, can get very hot since there are many fabric layers wrapped around.

This carrier is perfect for: Parents on a budget, or those who only want to babywear occasionally for convenience during the first 6 months of baby's life.

My personal opinion: I do like wraps quite a bit during the newborn stage! I love how easy it is to pull the shoulder panel fabric behind baby's head to offer extra support when baby falls asleep. Because it does take the longest to put on, I use my wrap the least out of all my carriers. After learning to use the ring sling, (which is a much more versatile carrier with more longevity of use), I pretty much only use my wraps if both of my slings are dirty.

Favorite brand: Happy Wrap, $48. (made out of organic bamboo rather than cotton, so it's moisture wicking and anti-microbial. And cheaper than Solly, which is the brand most have heard of.)

The Ring Sling

Felicity at 18 months, in a comfortable hip carry.

Price: $$ - $$$ (depends on fabric type)

Use: Birth - toddlerhood (up to 35 lbs, which is your average 4 year old)

Carry positions: Four (front facing inward, front facing outward, hip carry, and back carry)

Learning curve: Medium. Quicker and easier to get baby in a front facing inward or hip carry than a stretchy wrap, but takes a bit more time to master than a soft-structured carrier. Back carry is an advanced carry that takes more practice.

Theodore in a back carry at 8 months

Pros: can be used for a long time, easy to fit in a diaper bag, quick to put on, many carry options, easy to breastfeed in, very aesthetically pleasing, lightweight

Cons: Puts baby's weight on one shoulder (not a great choice if you have back or shoulder problems)

This carrier is perfect for: Parents who want one carrier to take them from birth through toddlerhood, parents who don't want to sacrifice style for function. If you can only afford to get one carrier, this is what I would recommend. 

My personal opinion: The ring sling is HANDS DOWN my favorite carrier style. I love it for how quick it is to put on. I can get my squirmy baby in the sling and completely situated in under 45 seconds. I love that it's such a pretty way to wear your baby. I wore Theodore in the sling for photos during my brother-in-law's wedding! One good thing to note is although the ring sling does put more weight on one shoulder, the more you wear your baby, the more your musculature develops for carrying baby that way. I can wear Theodore in the sling for close to an hour before my back and shoulder gets too tired. Favorite, favorite, favorite. 

My favorite brand: Sakura Bloom, $98 - $160 depending on fabric. Wildbird is another popular brand. I have a Sakura and a Wildbird sling, and although slightly more expensive, I do prefer my Sakura. The fabric quality is a bit better and I feel that it supports me and my baby better. Plus it broke in more easily and is softer. 

The Soft-Structured Carrier

Theodore at 6 months, at the top of our hike.

Price: $ - $$$

Use: Most can be used birth - 45 lbs. Some require the use of an additional infant insert until baby is 12 lbs. 

Carry positions: 2-4, depending on the carrier. Most can do front facing in, hip carry, and back carry. Some can also do front facing out.

Learning curve: Easy. This carrier style requires very little practice. Clip some buckles and tighten some straps and you're good to go!

Pros: distributes baby's weight across shoulders, back, and hips, making it comfortable to wear for longer periods of time. Straps are usually padded and quite comfortable. Many carriers have sunshades and zipper pockets, which are convenient features for parent and baby. Great for hiking and outdoor activities, and a great choice for carrying older children. 

Cons: Not small enough to pack down into a diaper bag. Can feel kind of bulky when wearing a smaller baby. Hip carry in a soft-structured carrier is not super comfortable or easy to do, so if you like to carry your baby on your hip, this may not be your best option. Since the straps are padded and more bulky, it can be difficult to wear this carrier with a diaper bag.

This carrier is perfect for: Active parents, and dads! Most men prefer to use a soft-structured carrier for it's simplicity and the fact that it looks a little more rugged and manly, so if you want dad to wear the baby, this is a great choice!

My personal opinion: Our soft-structured is my carrier of choice if we're going to be out for a long time. I use it whenever we hike. I mostly keep the soft-structured in our van so I have it when we're out adventuring. I don't love using the soft-structured before 5ish months–it just feels overwhelming and bulky to me with smaller babies, so I would rather have a sling for the newborn stage. We've gone on lots of great adventures with our soft-structured carrier, though! I've hiked many a mountain in several states with a sleeping baby on my back.  

My favorite brand: Ergobaby (specifically the Omni 360 Cool Mesh), $180. I love this carrier because it can do all 4 carry positions and does not need an infant insert. Plus, the mesh means more airflow, so more comfort for parent and baby when it's hot out. I also just love Ergobaby's dedication to hip health, and always making certain their carrier correctly support baby's hips!

While I truly feel like there is room for all carrier styles in your babywearing arsenal, I understand it isn't realistic for everyone to buy one of each. I hope this post helped you narrow down what style would be best for you! If you have any additional questions, please ask in the comments! I have experience with more carrier styles than just the ones I mentioned, but since they're less popular, I chose not to cover them here. 

Do you plan to babywear? Have you worn your babies? What carrier style is your favorite?

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