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Pouch sling? Wrap sling? Ring sling, or baby carrier?

By Anna Studman

Find out which sling or baby carrier is best for you and your baby, as well as the pitfalls to avoid. 

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Whether you go for a ring sling, pouch sling, baby backpack or another type of baby carrier will depend on a few factors, including the age of your baby, your personal comfort and the practicality of each type for your lifestyle.

With so many styles to choose from, we've rounded up the main pros and cons to help you get a sense of what might work for you. Once you've got an idea of the type of sling or carrier you might be interested in, take a look at all our baby carriers and slings reviews to see which ones scored best in our tests.

To make sure you and your baby are comfortable and happy, choose one of our Best Buy baby carriers and baby slings, all of which have been through stringent tests with real parents and their babies. We only give a Best Buy stamp to those that are easy to get on and off, comfortable to wear and provide your baby with a safe place to bond with you.

Types of baby slings

Pouch sling

A pouch sling is a piece of fabric sewn together at the ends and folded to form a pocket in which your baby nestles. They go over one shoulder like a sash, and the baby sits in the pouch on the front or back.

Pros: These slings are usually quick to get on and off, and compact enough to fit easily into a changing bag. Plus, they are reasonably priced.

Cons: Most aren't adjustable, which can make it difficult to get a snug carrying position, especially for newborns. Make sure you choose the right size – mums and dads will probably need one each.

Price: Can start from as little as £15.

Age suitability: Pouch slings can be used from birth to toddler, but because the weight of your baby is concentrated mostly on one shoulder, you might not want to use it as your child gets larger.

Ring sling

This is a piece of fabric that threads through two rings, forming a loop. The sling goes over one shoulder and is fastened by pulling the fabric through the rings. Once you've mastered how to adjust the rings and thread the fabric through, these are among the easiest slings to use.

Pros: Ring slings are quick to get on and off, and one sling should fit both parents. They're ideal for breast-feeding, as the tail of extra material can be used to discreetly cover you and your baby.

Cons: Some rings have padding in the shoulder and edges for comfort – but very padded versions can be more difficult to adjust and may be bulky. Ring slings can become uncomfortable over long periods of time when used with heavier children. They also don't distribute your baby’s weight evenly between both shoulders, so wearers with bad backs should be careful to switch between sides.

Price: Around £30-60.

Age suitability: Ring slings are suitable to use from birth to toddler, normally around 15kg.

Wrap sling

A wrap sling is simply a piece of woven or stretchy jersey-type fabric that you wrap and tie around your body so your baby is held securely. Stretchy materials make it possible to tie the wrap on first, then slip the baby into place – great for a newborn. Woven materials are better for heavier weights, as they have less give and hold the toddler close to you.

Pros:  By wrapping the fabric around the waist and shoulders, you can distribute your baby’s weight, which makes these slings comfortable to wear over long periods of time – even with a heavy toddler. The wrap can also be folded up and used as a blanket or changing mat. There are numerous different sizes, tying methods and carrying positions, and excess fabric can be used for discreet breast-feeding.

Cons: Although they're the most versatile, they're also probably the most difficult type of sling to get the hang of, so follow the instructions carefully until you're sure what you're doing, forward-facing carrying isn't generally recommended with a woven wrap.

Price: Around £40-80.

Age suitability: Wrap slings are suitable from birth to around two years (or up to 14 kg).

Types of baby carrier

Soft baby carriers

Soft baby carriers or buckle carriers are the simplest, most widely available type of carrier. Most are two or three-way carriers: you can carry your baby on your front, either facing you or facing outwards (once they are at least four months old), and many now have a back carry position, too. Some also have a hip carry position.

The baby is held in an upright position. For very young babies unable to support their heads, the carrier needs to be used with a padded headrest, which is usually built into the body of the carrier. These can normally be folded down for an older baby, but a word of warning – babies love to chew on them, so make sure you have a dribble bib to hand.

Look for baby carriers marked with the BS EN 13209 Part 2:2015 safety mark, to show they adequately meet safety standards.

Pros: They're usually easy to learn to use and are adjustable, so they can be used by more than one parent. 

Cons: It can be harder to breast-feed than with other sling types, some require you use an additional insert with newborns.

Price: Varies very widely – from £30 to £100+ depending on features and brands.

Age suitability: Most soft or buckle baby carriers are suitable from birth to 12 kg (around 18 months), but they can go up to 20kg depending on the brand.

Baby backpacks

There are two types of back carrier - framed or unframed. 

Baby carrier framed backpacks have a rucksack-style appearance: your baby sits in a harness, supported by a light metal frame or rigid backpack-esque padding. You secure it using padded shoulder straps and a waist belt.

Baby backpacks with a metal frame are usually designed so you can stand the carrier upright on its own – making it easier to get your child in and out. With some, you can buy extras such as sun and rain covers. More expensive ones are made by outdoor clothing and equipment specialists. Some baby backpacks even have space to store extra clothing and food, for example.

Unframed backpacks are smaller and lighter. If you plan on long hikes and outdoorsy adventures, a framed carrier may well be worth it for you. Otherwise an unframed carrier or soft baby carrier with a back carry position may suit your needs.

Pros: Lots of adjustments are possible, and both parents can use the same backpack carrier. Because your child will be high up, you'll need more space to turn around, and must allow extra head space when going through doorways – but your child will be able to get a good view of the world.

Cons: Size is the main drawback with framed carriers. Watch out for the metal parts of the backpack getting uncomfortably hot or cold to touch.

Price: They range in price from about £50-£100+.

Age suitability: Baby backpacks are generally suitable from around six months and some can be used up to 20kg (around four years old).

Other options – eg the Hippychick Hipseat

What is it? The Hippychick hip seat is essentially a back-supporting belt with an integral padded foam shelf. The Hippychick allows you to carry a child naturally on your hip with a little help to reduce back strain. You simply click the belt around your waist – it fits all sizes, with extensions available for larger figures – and sit your child on the seat. The seat provides a firm shelf for the child to sit on and supports their increasingly heavy weight from underneath. Your back stays straight, and your baby is tucked into your chest on whichever side is more comfortable for you. The hip seat also has secure inner pockets and is machine washable. You still need to keep your arm around them.

Price: Typically cost around £35-£40. 

Age suitability: Suitable from six months to up to three years, or 16kg.

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