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Baby carriers

By Anna Studman

Using a baby carrier or sling when travelling keeps your hands free and takes up less luggage space. Here's what to look for before you buy.

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Framed back carriers

These are generally aimed at babies from six months old, because they need to be able to support themselves sitting up in order to use the carrier safely. The carriers have a rucksack-style appearance: your baby sits in a harness, supported either by a lightweight metal frame or rigid rucksack-style padding, and you attach it using padded shoulder straps and a waist belt.

Those models at the top end of the market are made by outdoor clothing and equipment specialists. Some have a fair amount of storage space, eg for clothing and food. With some models you can buy extras such as sun and rain covers.

As long as your child is willing, and your back can take it, you can use most framed back carriers until the age of three.

Pros Babies and toddlers are high enough to get a grown-up view of the world, some come with special features, carriers 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.

Cons You may need another person to help you put it on and take it off, the most expensive type of carrier available, need to allow extra head space when going through doorways etc, some babies will never tire of pulling your hair and ears.

Find out more in our guide to how to buy the best baby carrier, plus read important baby carrier safety advice.

Soft baby carriers

These are the simplest and most widely available carriers. Most are two-way carriers that will let you carry your baby either facing you or facing outwards to view the world.

For babies who can't support their heads, the carrier should have a padded headrest. This can normally be folded down for an older baby. These carriers are generally suitable for babies from birth up to 15 months. Soft carriers should be marked with BS EN 13209 Part 2:2005 to show they comply with safety standards.

Pros Two positions are sufficient for most parents and younger babies
Cons Not as versatile as other carriers

Find out what we think of the leading baby carriers and slings on the market in our baby slings and carriers reviews.

Multi-way baby carriers

Many models let you carry your baby in three positions – on your front, back or in a 'nursing' position. Four-way carriers have all these options plus the hip position.

Most multi-way carriers are of a similar design to the soft carrier, and have a harness-style appearance. Others are more like traditional slings. Multi-way carriers tend to be designed for babies from birth to either 12 months, 18 months or to a 14kg (31lb) toddler.

Pros More versatile than two-way carriers, longer lifespan, those offering a nursing position can be handy for breastfeeding
Cons Tend to be more expensive than soft carriers, can take a bit of practice to use correctly