Having trouble wading through all the choices? Here’s a quick overview of the basic types of carriers and what they do best and what they are not ideal for. Hope it helps! Keep an eye out for more detailed information on each type in future posts.
A wrap or wraparound carrier is the simplest carrier design available. It is simply a long piece of fabric that is wrapped around the body to create a pocket for your child to sit in. There is tremendous variety in fabric options, sizes, colors and patterns to choose from. My advice if you are overwhelmed by the choices is simply to choose something you like the look of and go for it! I suggest choosing one carry and learning it well before branching out and learning more.
Pros: Versatility!! Wraps can be used in a variety of ways, or carries, to carry your child on your chest, back, or hip. They can be used from birth until you can no longer physically carry your child and if you want one carrier to last all through your babywearing days, this is it. They are supportive and comfortable and can be used by more than one caregiver. You don’t have to worry about adjusting anything if you change between mom and dad, grandparents or another adult.
Cons: Wraps have a bit of a learning curve and sometimes people get overwhelmed by all that fabric! When you’re first learning it can take a few minutes to get it on correctly. After you do it a few times it does become muscle memory and many people end up finding it one of the fastest and easiest carriers to use. It’s just like learning to tie a shoe.
Ring Slings are made of a length of fabric with a set of 2 aluminum rings that are specially made for baby carriers. One end of the fabric is sewn onto the rings and the other, the tail, is left open. You thread the fabric through the rings and it is worn over one shoulder with the rings in corsage position. This creates a pouch out of the fabric for your child to snuggle into.
Pros: Ease of use and portability. These carriers fold up very small to be carried in a diaper bag or left in the car so it will be available when you need it. They are easily adjusted so can be used by multiple caregivers. There is no complicated wrapping or buckles to be adjusted. Once you have the tail threaded through the rings it just slides right on over your shoulder and you tighten the fabric around your baby by pulling the tail through the rings. This is also the easiest carry to use for an older baby that likes to ride on your hip and see what you’re doing!
Cons: Ring Slings are only recommended to be used in the front or hip carry positions. If you want to be able to back carry, you’ll want a different carrier. This is also a single shoulder carrier, meaning all of the weight you’ll be carrying will be on one shoulder. If you have back or neck issues or wish to carry for long periods of time this may not be your best choice. They are however, amazing for quick trips and newborns.
Mei Tais (pronounced MAY-Tie):
A Mei Tai at it’s simplest is a rectangle of fabric with four straps. Two come off of the top for shoulder straps and the other two tie around your waist. The variations between different brands are the padding, size, and of course patterns!
Pros: Super simple and easy to use! This is the carrier with the lowest learning curve in my opinion. It is able to be used on the front or back and is the easiest carrier to learn back carries with. No adjustments are needed to go back and forth between multiple wearers, which makes this an ideal choice if you can only purchase one carrier. They come in a variety of color and pattern options ranging from all black for those who desire to not draw attention to themselves to vibrant prints.
Cons: This carrier is sized to your baby, not the wearer. Because of this it is necessary to purchase more than one if you plan on wearing for many years. Mei Tais make excellent toddler and preschooler carriers, but you won’t be able to use the same one that you used as a newborn. For heavier babies, more structure or padding is wonderful which will distribute the weight better on your shoulders and waist.
Buckle Carriers or Soft Structured Carriers (SSC):
A buckle carrier is similar to a mei tai, except instead of straps you tie they are attached to the body of the carrier with buckles. These are the most common and mainstream of the ergonomic carriers and you’ll likely see them in the wild more often. They are simple and easy to use, and feel familiar to many people.
Pros: Ease of use and padding. To use this carrier you simply buckle and adjust the waist, hold baby next to your body, flip the carrier up and put your arms in the straps. Adjustment is done with a webbing strap that is pulled until the carrier is secure. They can be worn on the back or front, but really shine in a back carry! The dense padding at the waist provides excellent support for your back and gives baby a little lift so the wearer is more comfortable.
Cons: Lack of versatility. It can be worn on the front or back, but many find it only truly comfortable for a back carry. Although, I’ll admit that is a matter of personal taste. If you want to share this one with another caregiver you will have to readjust the buckles to that person’s size. Like a Mei Tai one size doesn’t fit all babies, but it will still last you a good long time depending on how fast your baby grows. You might expect to need one for a small baby and a larger one for a toddler.
I’m sure you can see why so many babywearers end up with many types of carriers. Each one has it’s benefits and drawbacks. While wraps and ring slings are perfect for supporting a newborn, buckle carriers and mei tais provide the quick on/off that moms of older babies love. I’m sure you will adore whatever you choose and of course please reach out to your local babywearing group or educator to help you learn to wear it safely and comfortably!