Which baby carrier or baby sling should you buy?
Choosing the right baby carrier, sling or 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.
Types of baby carrier and sling
What's the most popular kind of baby sling or carrier?
When we surveyed parents, we asked them what kind of carrier they used or owned. Top of the list is a soft structured baby carrier, with 61% of parents saying they owned one. You can buy soft structured carriers from brands such as Baby Bjorn, Cybex, and Mamas & Papas.
The second most popular type is a wrap sling, such as those from Moby or Je Porte Mon Bebe, which 19% of parents own.
The third most popular carrier is a pouch sling, with 12% owning one of these.
Ring slings and wraps are owned by 5% of parents – popular brands include Close Caboo and Rockin Baby.
Baby backpack carriers are owned by 4% of parents.
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 are most popular. Some baby carriers and baby slings have the option to hip-carry, too.
Front baby carriers
- You can use it from birth as long as your baby meets the minimum weight requirement. Most of the slings and carriers we've tested go up to 35lb (16kg) for front carrying, which is around three or four years.
- You can see your baby clearly and bond with him or her.
- You can often breastfeed discreetly using a front carrier.
- They're useful if your baby has reflux and needs to be kept upright after feeding, or just really doesn’t want to be put down.
- Some front 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
- Great for extended carrying – especially older toddlers or children, who may get too big to go on your front.
- 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 back carriers 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 by making some adjustments to the straps or buckles, and making sure the carrier is correctly fitted in the first place.
It can take a little while to get used to wearing a sling if you haven’t used one before. So if you’re new to babywearing, we’d recommend building up gradually before keeping your sling on for a long period of time.
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 them to settle.
Many factors can affect the comfort of a sling. If your baby has had you up many times overnight, if you feel stiff after sleeping awkwardly, or are achy from an exercise class, for example, this 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 long periods of time, or regularly when they're older and larger.
How much do you need to spend to start babywearing?
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 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 the baby. We also 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 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 such as getting 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), 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 reviewed recently weigh around 0.3-0.7kg.
You may not be quite as concerned about how bulky the baby carrier is – or how well it packs up – if you're wearing it only indoors. But if you want to use your baby carrier when you're out and about, you may want to go for one that's light and folds up neatly when not in use.
Also for outdoors, consider a sun canopy to help protect your baby's 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 multiple people are going to be using your carrier or sling, it’s definitely worth choosing one that's adjustable to help get the best fit.
Adjusting your baby carrier properly is vital, so it's useful to have one that you can get the hang of fairly easily, with good instructions to help.
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 straightforward with a minimal number of adjustments.
For those who don't feel confident in working out how to carry a baby in a wrap, then a more structured carrier might be the way to go.
When choosing, consider whether you can get it on and off easily – while juggling a crying baby – and whether you can 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 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 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 on or vomited on at some point. Check whether the one you've got your heart set on is machine washable rather than 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.
Always follow the TICKS advice (see below) 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.
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.
Which baby carrier can you breastfeed in?
Many of the slings and carriers we’ve tested have a position for breastfeeding. Check our reviews, or the instructions, to find out which ones are suitable.
Which 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 that 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 are suitable to use with much older babies and toddlers, too. If you’re planning on babywearing for a long time, look for one that will last.
What about 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's most comfortable for you and adjusting your sling or carrier safely, it can be really helpful to visit a sling library or consultant to try any slings you're considering before you buy.
BabyBjorn, Ergobaby, or Mamas & Papas?
There's an enormous range of baby carrier and sling brands out there. Some are very well known and established, such as BabyBjorn and Mamas & Papas, while others are much smaller companies, often selling slings.
and are specialists in making soft-structured baby carriers with buckles and waistbands, although Ergobaby has also created a fabric sling. They sit at the top end of the price bracket. Other well-known brands and names, such as , and , make structured baby carriers, at lower prices.
Less well-known names, but equally popular with some parents, are brands such as , , and . These brands make a mix of slings, structured carriers and hybrid carrier slings, which have and buckles and straps, but may have less padding or lack a waistband.
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. You'll need to be discerning when looking for a deal, otherwise you risk buying an unsafe product. Read our guide to 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 to 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.