Which Baby Carrier or Baby Sling Should You Buy?
By Hannah Fox
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 the right baby carrier or baby sling/wrap is the key to getting to grips with baby wearing. It needs to be comfortable, convenient and flexible for your little one, as well as for you and anyone else who'll be wearing it.
Read on for 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?
We’ve found Best Buy baby carriers and slings from around £40 upwards, so there's no need to spend a fortune.
Types of baby carrier and baby sling
There are various different types of slings and carriers on the market. The most popular are wrap slings and soft baby carriers, but others include pouch slings, ring slings, baby backpacks and seat-type carriers.
- 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-way or three-way, which reflects the number of positions you can carry your baby in.
- 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.
- 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. Some baby carriers and baby slings have the option to hip-carry, too.
Front baby carriers
This is probably the most common way to carry your baby. Front baby carriers allow you to carry your baby close on your chest, keeping them safe and secure. A front baby carrier is especially useful if your baby has reflux, and needs to be kept upright after feeding, or just really doesn’t want to be put down. You can keep your baby close, while keeping your hands free to carry on with you daily routine while your little one (hopefully) snoozes.
Most of the slings and carriers we tested go up to 35lb (16kg) for front carrying (or around three or four years), so you can keep front carrying for as long as your toddler is willing.
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: Some carriers have a minimum weight limit before you can use them, some may not be suitable if your baby is premature, older babies might 'grow out' of wanting to be carried on your front.
Back baby carriers
Pros: Great for extended carrying - especially older toddlers or children, who may get too big to go on your front.
Cons: Suitable to be used only once your baby is able to sit upright (from around six months), some parents find it hard to manoeuvre a child into position, some need two people to get a child into place.
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?
Baby carrying is quite a personal thing, and how comfortable it is will depend on the wearer, and getting the right type of carrier for you and your baby.
Slings and carriers shouldn’t give you aches and pains, even after prolonged use. Some parents in our tests felt discomfort in the shoulders, lower neck and lower back, but issues like this can be fixed with making some adjustments to the straps or buckles, and making sure it’s correctly fitted in the first place.
If you’ve not tried a sling or a carrier before, we’d recommend building up gradually before keeping it on for a long period of time. It can take a little while to get used to wearing a sling if you haven’t used one before.
If your baby hasn’t been in a sling before, it’s possible that they may cry when you first put them into it. It’s a new experience for them, and some babies may not like it initially. This can be quite worrying for a parent but, if your sling is on correctly and your baby is positioned correctly, usually a little walk around or a jig about and some comforting words can help to settle the baby.
Many factors can affect the comfort of a sling, for example lack of sleep. If your baby has had you up many times overnight, if you slept awkwardly so are stiff, or are achy from an exercise class, any of these factors can affect how comfortable you feel when babywearing. Choosing a carrier with good features, such as lumbar support or padded straps, can help to reduce discomfort, especially if you plan to carry your child for longer.
Browse our Best Buy baby carriers and baby slings.
Five things to look out for when buying a sling or baby carrier
A comfortable baby carrier or sling will mean you can carry your baby for longer. Features to look for include thick, padded straps; sturdy fabrics; and good leg and back bag support for your baby. As part of our tests, an ergonomics expert assesses each sling and carrier for how supportive it is for both the wearer and your baby, plus we take into account feedback from the parents in our user trials.
To double check how comfortable a carrier or sling is for you, we recommend trying it on before you buy. Head to a sling library, which will have a range of slings and carriers to try out. You’ll be able to get tailored advice on things like the most comfortable fit for you and adjusting your sling or carrier safely.
The weight of a baby carrier or sling can vary. A lightweight sling can weigh as little as 400g (that’s less than half a bag of sugar) and could be the ideal travel partner, while a structured baby carrier can be a lot heavier, as well as being big and bulky to carry around. The slings and carriers we've most recently reviewed weigh between around 0.3kg to 0.7kg.
If you plan to babywear a lot but don’t feel confident with a wrap, then a structured baby carrier might be a good choice. But if you’re travelling about a lot and will be combining babywearing with using a pushchair, then a lightweight wrap might suit you better, so you can stash it away easily when you’re not using it.
Some parents buy a lightweight sling to start with, then also buy a carrier at a later date.
You may not be quite as concerned about how bulky the baby carrier is – or how well it packs up – if you're wearing it only indoors. But if you want to use your baby carrier when you're out and about then, as we said above, consider one that's light and folds up neatly. If you intend to spend a lot of time outdoors with your baby, then consider a sun canopy to help protect their little head from the sun. Some carriers also come with sleep hoods. Both of these will add bulk, but are handy extra features.
4. Ease of use
If you, your partner, or another caregiver (or a combination of people) wants to use the carrier or sling, it’s definitely worth choosing one that can be adjusted to help get the best fit. 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.
If you’re not confident in working out how to carry a baby in a wrap, then a more structured carrier might be the way to go. 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.
Most sling manufacturers have videos available to help you learn how to put on your sling or carrier. We’d recommend taking a look at these and practising using your sling or carrier with a teddy to get to grips with it before your baby arrives.
5. Easy cleaning
A sling or baby carrier is bound to get dribbled or vomited on at some point. So check whether the one you've got your heart set on is machine washable, not just sponge-clean only, or comes with any other handy features such as dribble pads.
How long can your baby stay in the carrier?
You can carry your child in a sling or baby carrier for as long as they are content and you’re happy carrying them. Make sure the sling is adjusted properly and that your baby is comfortable in the sling. Always follow the TICKS advice for the safest way to carry your baby.
We’d advise starting 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 carrycot as needed.
Read our guide for more must-know baby carrier and baby sling safety.
Which baby carrier can you breastfeed in?
Many of the slings and carriers we’ve just tested have a position for breastfeeding. Check our reviews, or the instructions, to find out which ones are suitable to 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?
Many slings and carriers are designed to be used with newborns. You may have to put a special insert into the carrier which helps to raise your newborn so he or she sits higher on your chest. The top of your newborn's head should be close enough to kiss. Check the product specs or instructions to find out if the sling or carrier is suitable from birth.
Some carriers also offer the flexibility to use them with much older babies and toddlers, too. If you’re planning on babywearing for a long time, it might be wise to choose one that will last.
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: other parents don't tend to notice the weight of older babies if they’ve been carrying them since they were little, as their 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, we haven't seen much advantage in buying a carrier simply because it includes a dribble bib.