Which Baby Carrier or Baby Sling Should You Buy?
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.
Choosing a baby carrier or baby sling/wrap that's comfortable, convenient and flexible for your little one, as well as for you and anyone else who'll be wearing it, is the key to getting to grips with babywearing.
Read on to key buying info, such as how much you need to pay for a good sling or baby carrier, whether to go for a BabyBjorn or a Mamas and Papas, and all about slings and baby carriers for newborns.
Want to find out which came top in our independent tests? Compare our 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 you need to spend to start babywearing?
Our tests suggest that when it comes to slings and baby carriers, you do need to pay a little bit more for the best. None of our Best Buys are generally available for less than £70.
Types of baby carrier and baby sling
There are a range of different types of slings and carriers on the market, including pouch slings, ring slings, wrap slings, soft baby carriers, baby backpacks and seat-type carriers.
- A pouch sling is a piece of fabric sewn together at the ends and folded to form a pocket in which your baby nestles. Pouch slings go over one shoulder like a sash, and your baby sits in the pouch on the front or back.
- A ring sling 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
- 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.
- Soft baby carriers, or buckle carriers, are the most widely available type of carrier. Most are either two or three-way, which reflects the number of positions you can carry your baby in.
- Baby backpacks (either framed or unframed) have a rucksack-style appearance.
- With a hip seat-type carrier you carry your child on your hip.
Find out the pros and cons of each type in our guide to types of baby carrier and baby slings.
Front carrying or back carrying?
When you're babywearing you often have the choice of how you want to carry your baby: on your front, or on your back.
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 might '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 unaided; 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.
Which baby carrier is most comfortable?
This very much depends on the type of carrier or sling, how heavy your baby is and the design you choose.
All slings and carriers will give you some aches and pains after prolonged use, usually in the shoulders, lower neck and lower back. Usually, this is down to carrying your baby for an extended period of time, but sometimes it can be because straps or buckles are rubbing or digging in. It's important to make sure you're used to putting your sling or carrier on and adjusting it properly.
If you’ve not tried a sling or a carrier before, you should gradually build up your usage before keeping it on for long periods of time, as it can take a little while to get used to. You can ask a sling library for more information and help on getting used to using a sling or carrier.
Choosing a carrier with good lumbar support helps to reduce lower back pain and enables you to carry a child for longer. However, as 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.
Five things to look out for when buying a sling or baby carrier
This is one of the first things you need to look for in a baby carrier. Features to look for include thick, padded straps, sturdy fabrics, and good leg and back bag support for your baby. To properly assess how comfortable a carrier or sling is for you, it's helpful to try it on before you buy. As part of our tests, an ergonomics expert assesses each sling and carrier for how supportive they are for both the wearer and your baby.
You can expect a carrier to add between 0.4kg and 1kg to the amount of paraphernalia that you will carry around for your baby. The slings we've most recently reviewed weigh 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. But if you want to use your baby carrier when you're out and about, then consider one that's light and folds up neatly.
If you intend to spend a lot of time outdoors with your baby, then choose one that has a canopy to protect their head from the sun.
4. Ease of use
If both you and your partner both want to use the 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 with a minimal number of adjustments.
In the same vein, adjusting your baby carrier properly is vital, so it's helpful to have one that you can get the hang of fairly easily, with good instructions to help. 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? Our reviews assess these factors based on parent trials and expert assessments, and we also look at the clarity of the instructions that come with each carrier.
5. Easy cleaning
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
How long can your baby stay in the carrier?
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 they are content. But remember that babies add weight, so if you're not used to carrying them 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 gradually 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.
Which baby carrier can you breastfeed in?
Check the instructions, or our reviews, to find out which baby carriers and slings you can use for breastfeeding.
Are baby carriers safe?
Yes, if used properly. It's important to make sure you know the basics of sling and carrier safety before you start using one. Follow the 'TICKS' rules for safe babywearing, and read our guide to baby carrier safety to learn about safe positioning for your baby, as well as keeping your back and spine protected.
What baby carrier is best 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 as your child grows.
Rachel Coy, of the North East Sling Library in Durham, notes that most people expect to buy a different carrier as their baby grows – as 'those which are birth up usually require some form of adaptation, so are not ideal for small babies because they're trying to accommodate for a large range.'
Baby carriers for toddlers
Some 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. This depends on personal experience, though: Rachel Coy says that 'you don't tend to notice the weight of older babies when you've been carrying them since they were little, as your body gets used to it'.
Where to try baby carriers
Given the importance of practising babywearing, finding out what is most comfortable for you, and adjusting your sling or carrier safely, once you've found a sling or carrier you've set your heart on, it can be really helpful to visit a sling library or consultant to try before you buy.
BabyBjorn, Ergobaby, Mamas and Papas – which baby carrier brand?
Visit our best baby carrier and sling brands to find out which make parents rate highly.
How to spot a fake baby carrier
Buyers beware! There's a large counterfeit market for certain carrier brands, such as Ergobaby and Moby Wrap, so you need to be discerning when looking for a deal, otherwise you risk purchasing an unsafe product. Read our guide to spotting a fake baby carrier or sling so you know what to watch out for.
Anything else I should know?
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 your baby is sick while in the carrier.Some carriers come with dribble bibs, while others brands offer them as an additional extra. Overall, haven't seen much advantage in buying a carrier simply because it includes a dribble bib.