Your house looks like a frat party gone wrong and you ran out of clothes baskets two weeks ago. Basically, you need to wear your baby, i.e. strap him to yourself in some way as to give you free hands to take care of the encroaching madness. There’s all that awesome bonding and emotional attachment stuff too, but let’s be honest. It’s mostly the laundry situation.
So now that you know you want to wear baby, you need to pick a carrier. For your own sanity, don’t type “which baby carrier” into Google. The avalanche of options will drive you to your secret chocolate stash. Because there’s a million options, and a million opinions, and you could probably write a graduate thesis on How To Pick A Baby Carrier. Therein lies madness, and anyway, there’s that pressing laundry situation.
So let’s break down the basic types of carriers, the advantages and disadvantages of each, and where you can buy them locally.
If you think of the stereotypical baby carrier, you probably think of something like an Ergo: a fabric panel with straps and buckles. The proper babywearing lingo is “soft-structured carrier”, and there are more and more available for better prices.
Pros: SSCs tend to be very user-friendly: buckle and insert baby and go. You don’t fiddle with fabric or knots. They’re approachable, especially for caregivers (*cough* DADDIES! *cough*) who may be skeptical about how the heck this stuff works. You can wear them on the front from birth (some carriers require an infant insert); they give you the easiest back carry once baby can sit unassisted. Some kinds let you face baby forward.
Cons: SSCs can be super easy or super hard to feed baby in, depending on the position of your boobs, the angle of the bottle you prefer, etc. Most don’t offer a great fit for newborns – even with inserts – and because you have to mess with the buckles to get a good fit, they don’t transfer well between caregivers. Some may require a waist extender for fluffy mamas.
Budget: Target carries the Infantino Union, which runs around $30. It doesn’t allow a hip carry.
Standard: Target, Buy Buy Baby, and Babies R Us all carry the now-ubiquitous Ergo, which retails for around $100-120, depending on the color and model. WARNING: do not get suckered in by cheaper deals online. Ergos are counterfeited as often as twenty dollar bills, and the counterfeits are worth about the same. They aren’t safety-tested and have broken mid-use. Steer clear.
Deluxe: Buy Buy Baby sells ergonomic Bjorn SSCs that retail for upwards of $199. There is absolutely no reason to pay for these, and if you’re inclined to, you can get fancier SSCs with cooler prints online (try Tula or Kinderpack), which will cost less and look better.
Mei Tai: Not a Local Thai Place
Mei tais are a step less complicated than an SSC: instead of buckles, they have two sets of long straps that you knot. They used to be super hard to find, but Infantino developed a line of them (the Sash) available locally for great prices.
Pros: Mei tais have an easier learning curve than anything without buckles. They’re easy to nurse or bottle-feed in, since you can easily adjust baby downward, and multiple caregivers can use the same carrier. You can use a rubber band to cinch the body narrower for a tiny newborn, and roll the waist to adjust the height. They also give you an easy back carry once you’re ready for it. Truthfully, if I had to pick the One Carrier to Rule Them All, it would be a mei tai.
Cons: Long straps can drag in the dirt (the Sash has black straps for a reason!), and the hip carry option is awkward.
Locally: The only available option is Infantino’s Sash, which you can buy at local Targets (call around to make sure they stock it). It retails for around $35.
Pouch: Quick and Easy(ish)
Pouches look like an infinity scarf you put a baby in. They’re widely available for a bunch of price points, and can be super easy, no-fuss options.
Pros: Put it on and go; it’s cheap. Works well for toddler up-and-down.
Cons: Pouches can be tricky; in order to keep baby safe, they have to be sized properly – since you can’t adjust them, they have to fit just right. Cradle carries, with baby laying on his side, may come in the instructions but can be hard to keep safe. They can’t be used on the back, and you can’t share them with people who aren’t exactly the same size. It shouldn’t be depended upon for a primary carrier for all these reasons.
Budget: You can get a SevenSling for the price of shipping. It’s probably not worth it though: they dig horribly on the shoudlers, and the fabric’s super thin.
Standard: Target sells several pouches, usually the Munchkin brand. They retail for around $25.
Deluxe: Buy Buy Baby sells Balboa Slings (about $40+). They aren’t appreciably better in any way, though they are adjustable, but come in different prints. Their padded rail makes them especially squicky in a cradle carry.
Remember those belts from the 1980s? Ring slings thread like those. Basically a piece of cloth with rings at the end. You can wear them on your front or hip.
Pros: Easy for newborn-to-toddler, super adjustable for multiple caregivers. They’re simple to nurse or bottle-feed in. Newborns snuggle close, and because they’re so supportive, they’re one of two kinds of carriers safe for preemies with low muscle tone. Toddlers can get up and down quickly.
Cons: One-shouldered carriers might bother some people, though the weight is carried in the torso and not the shoulder. It takes some fiddling to get comfortable, and can’t be worn on the back.
On the Internet: Sleeping Baby, if she has stock, sells wonderful ring slings for $35. They’re my favorite brand and hold their resale value.
Stretchy Wraps: Tie It Up (and around and around and around)
If you think of a wrap, you think of a Moby. Basically, it’s one long piece of cloth you wrap around yourself like a Jedi knight and pop baby into. It feels like a t-shirt and stretches to accommodate baby. K’tans, which are stretchy wraps sewn into three two pieces (crosses and a waistband) also fall into this category.
Pros: Super adjustable, easy to feed baby in. It’s idea for skin-to-skin contact and cuddling. You’ll feel like a ninja.
Cons: Moby claims they work until 35 lbs; they really only last until baby hits 15lbs, when they start to sag horribly. They can be hot in the summer, since you’re swathed in fabric, and can only be used on the front and side. K’tans are also sized, which make them tricky to use safely.
Budget: Go to Joann’s Fabric, buy some stretch jersey, and cut it. The internet has directions. Wait for a 50% off coupon.
Standard: Target and Buy Buy Baby both sell Moby wraps for around $40. They come in lots of colors.
Mobys might make you look like a Jedi, but woven wraps actually make you a Jedi. They’re like a Moby but without the stretch, so you have to wrap around baby. You can get them in a variety of lengths, from the super-short rebozo on up. They aren’t available locally unless you DIY. And yes, you’re going to bug your eyes out at the price ($85+) for one long piece of freaking fabric. But take into account that it’s specially woven and tested to carry babies; it holds a good bit of resale value, and it’s good for newborn to toddler. The price per yard is actually cheaper than most fabrics at Hancock.
Pros: Totally adjustable; you can wear them on the front, back, or hip. A good woven will last you from newborn to toddler. Like ring slings, they’re safe for preemies with low muscle tone.
Cons: It’s cloth you wrap around yourself. Depending on the carry, it can be hot, and it’s got the steepest learning curve of any carrier.
Standard: You can buy a Storchenwiege, a Tekhni, or a Little Frog for under $100 new. If you’re okay with buying used (woven wraps tend to hold most of their value, and it’s worth not having to break in the fabric), you can get a higher-end Didymos for the same price.
Deluxe: Don’t fall into this rabbit hole of textile wonders. Just walk away. No, seriously, you can buy a custom-woven wrap for prices that could purchase a great car. Walk away. There is no end to this madness.
Of course, the best way to find a carrier that works for you is to try one out at a babywearing meeting. We have two babywearing groups in town, Babywearing International of Columbia, SC (www.columbiabwi.blogspot.com) and Babywearers of the Midlands. Both have active Facebook groups, lending libraries for mamas to try carriers, and meet at least twice a month. Check their pages for to learn more about each group’s focus, educators and/or volunteers, meeting times and topics.
And as always, it’s important to keep baby safe while wearing. Check out these guidelines, and be sure to read all the instructions carefully before you try your carrier.