How to buy the best baby carrier or baby sling
By Anna Studman
Expert advice on what to look for when buying a baby carrier or sling, so you can choose the best for you and your child.
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. Read on to discover 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 baby sling reviews to find the best one, based on parent and baby trials as well as our expert assessments.
How much do I need to spend on a baby carrier?
Our tests suggest that when it comes to slings and baby carriers, you do need to pay a little bit more for the best product. None of our Best Buys is generally available for less than £50.
Front carrying or back carrying sling/carrier?
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 he or she grows.
How comfy is using a sling or baby carrier?
This very much depends on the type of carrier or sling, how heavy your baby is and the design you choose.
All the slings and carriers we've tested gave some of the parents that wore them some aches and pains, usually in the shoulders, lower neck and lower back. Frequently they would put this down to the weight of the baby, but sometimes it was because straps or buckles were rubbing or digging in.
Ten out of 12 of the mums who tested the slings and carriers felt discomfort after a while. The amount of time they were able to wear one for before they felt discomfort was between 10 and 40 minutes, but some people were able to wear some of the slings or carriers for more than an hour without feeling any discomfort.
Choosing a carrier with good lumbar support helps to reduce lower back pain and enables you to carry a child for longer, but our tests show you can't just assume that a lumbar support will automatically make a carrier good – we've found both comfy and uncomfortable examples of carriers with lumbar support.
Browse our Best Buy baby carriers and baby slings.
What should I look out for?
A carrier that's adjustable
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.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?
Built-in storage bags
Parents in our user trial liked the fabric slings with a built-in storage bag, as long as this does not add extra weight.
Some slings and carriers claim to conform to a testing standard called Oeko-Tex 100 O 00-91 Swerea IVF. This is a globally uniform testing and certification system for textiles from raw material to finished product.
It tests for harmful substances that are prohibited by law, chemicals that are known to be harmful to health and parameters that are included as a precautionary measure to safeguard health.
Checking that the fabrics do indeed conform to the standard was not part of our testing.
A sling or baby carrier is bound to get dribbled or vomited on at some point. So check whether the carrier you've got your heart set on is machine-washable, not just sponge-clean only.
Babies love to chew on the straps or fabric of baby carriers, so it’s wise to have a dribble bib or bit of muslin to hand. They can also help you protect your clothing and tidy up more quickly if the baby is sick while in the carrier.
Some carriers come with dribble bibs. Others brands offer them as an additional extra. Overall we did not see much advantage in buying a carrier simply because it includes a dribble bib.
You can expect a baby carrier to add between 0.4kg and 1kg to the amount of paraphernalia that you will carry around for your baby. The slings we tested weighed about 0.3kg to 0.7kg.
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 folds up neatly.
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.
How long can my baby stay in the carrier for?
Advice from our lab ergonomics expert is that nobody, particularly small babies, should remain motionless or with their limbs in the same position for long periods.
You can carry your child in a sling or baby carrier for as long as he/she is content there. But remember that babies are heavy. If you're not used to carrying him/her like this, and you do it for several hours on the first go, it will take its toll on you.
Start with a short 10-minute carry to let your baby get used to the carrier and gently extend this to longer periods.
Always pay close attention to your child’s needs and switch between the baby carrier and, for example, a pushchair or crib.
Read our guide for more must-know baby carrier and baby sling safety.
What about carriers for newborns?
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.
Anything else I should know?
A baby carrier or sling 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.
Try taking the sling or carrier on and off, 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.
Which baby carrier or sling brand?
The range of companies making baby carriers and slings is pretty broad, which can make it even harder for parents to know how to buy the best.
Visit our best baby carrier and sling brands to find out which make parents rate as tops.