Baby carriers and slings: Choosing a sling or baby carrier Choosing the best baby carrier for you
Choose a baby carrier that's comfortable, convenient and flexible for your little one, as well as for you and anyone else who will be wearing it. Here are some pointers to help you find a suitable model, and features you should look out for.
Once you've decided what features are important to you, you can use our independent baby carrier and sling reviews to find the best one, based on parent and baby trials as well as our expert assessments.
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Choosing a baby carrier
We asked nearly 600 parents who had bought either a baby carrier or baby backpack to tell us what they believed to be the most important considerations when buying.
These are the top six, and make a good starting point when deciding on which type of baby carrier to go for.
|2.||Ease of getting child in and out|
|5.||Back support for parents|
|6.||Ease of getting the carrier on and off|
(Which? baby products survey, January 2011)
Baby carrier shopping checklist
If you have a young baby, you'll need to choose between a single baby carrier suitable for use up to toddler size, or one specifically designed for young babies.
Deciding on the latter would mean you'd have to invest in a second baby carrier model if you wanted to continue using one – but many parents find it less comfortable using a baby carrier as their child gets heavier, and toddlers might not want to be carried once they become more active.
Who will be using your baby carrier?
If you and your partner both want to use the baby carrier, make sure you choose one that can be adjusted to fit you both.
Baby carrier adjustability
If you're willing to invest time in learning how to adjust a sling or carrier, your range of choice is greater. If you don’t have the time or energy, choose something easy to use with a minimum of adjustments. Things to consider include: can you get it on and off easily and while juggling a crying baby, and can you get it on and off on your own?
Outside versus inside use
Do you want to use your baby carrier to get out and about, or just for using around the house?
You may not be quite as concerned about how bulky the baby carrier is – or how well it packs up – if you're only wearing it indoors. If you want to use your baby carrier when you're out and about, however, consider one that's light and which folds up neatly.
Also, if you intend to spend a lot of time outdoors with your baby in a carrier, choose one that has a canopy to protect his or her head from the sun.
Look for slings or baby carriers that are easy to clean – check whether they're machine-washable, not just sponge-clean only. A sling or baby carrier is bound to get dribbled or vomited on at some point.
Some models have 'dribble bibs’ – you may find one of these useful when using a sling or carrier with a very young baby. Alternatively, you can fold a flannel or muslin square over the area where your baby's chin hangs.
Look out for the following:
- If there are leg holes, check these are well-padded and that there is good support and padding for your baby’s back and, for younger babies in particular, their head
- Look for shoulder straps that are wide and well-padded
- Metal parts (as in framed carriers) can get uncomfortably hot or cold depending on the weather, so ensure these won't be in direct contact with your or your baby's skin.
Think about whether you need a carrier with added bits and bobs, such as a 'soother pouch’ or a dribble bib – some models have these, and you may find them useful.
Front versus back-carrying baby carriers
Front baby carriers
- Pros: you can use it from birth as long as your baby meets the minimum weight requirement; you can see your baby clearly; you can often breastfeed discreetly using a front carrier; you can bond with your baby
- Cons: not suitable for very small newborns; slings offering front carrying have only a limited lifespan; you can't use them once your baby is over a certain weight (usually a few months old); older babies 'grow out' of wanting to be carried on your front.
Back baby carriers
- Pros: physically, this is probably the easiest way to carry your child; slings with back-carrying positions last longest – some up until your child is three or four years old – if your back can take it and your little one still wants to be carried
- Cons: not suitable from birth as you can use these only once your baby is able to sit upright; you can't see your baby.
For the best of both worlds, choose a baby carrier with multiple carrying positions for maximum comfort for you and your baby as they grow.
Before you buy a baby carrier
A baby carrier can seem fiddly – with a daunting number of straps, poppers, buckles or zips to master – so it's important to try out a range of carriers and slings before you buy to find one that fits properly.
If you're shopping in early pregnancy
Try a selection of slings to see how you get on with fastening devices and position adjustments. You should be able to get a good idea of what's comfortable for you before your bump gets too big.
Some shops have a weighted doll or teddy bear that you can put in the sling when you try it on, giving you an idea of how it will feel with your baby inside it.
If you're shopping in later pregnancy
Obviously the fit won't be ideal with your bump, so let your partner try it and have a good look at how it works. Check whether the shop will take it back, if it doesn’t fit you well after the birth.
If you're shopping with your baby
You need to feel secure and comfortable with your baby in the carrier, so try out a selection to see which feels most comfortable for you. Try taking the carrier on and off, and putting the baby in and out and making any adjustments; all the things you'll be doing when you're using the sling or carrier day-to-day if you choose to buy it.
Remember to take a look at Which? Local to find recommenced baby shops in your area.
Sling Meet is a local meeting network set up for parents to get together and talk about – as well as try out each others' – slings and baby carriers. Some groups rent out slings so you can try them for a little while before deciding to buy. Visit the Sling Meet website for details of your nearest and next Sling Meet gathering.