carriers offer a hands-free way to keep infants close
Baby carriers can be
a lifesaver for busy parents. The right carrier enables mom or dad to hold baby
close, while freeing up their hands to get something else done. Some even allow
The best carrier for you is one that
you and your child both feel comfortable with, is easy to use, and holds up
over repeated use. Most baby carriers are well padded, adjustable and made with
child-safe fabrics. Organic fabric choices are widely available. Always keep
your receipt, as you may have to try a few carriers before finding one that
fits you, your baby and your lifestyle.
Baby carriers are just one part of a new parent's arsenal of baby gear.
If you're searching for other baby products, check out our reports on baby monitors, baby gates, high chairs, portable cribs, baby swings, car seats and strollers.
Types of Baby Carriers
Soft-Structured Baby Carriers
Soft-structured carriers give ample support provided by a combination of straps, buckles or clips. Many can be worn with the baby facing in or out. These carriers are padded and adjustable for different users, and most do a good job distributing the baby's weight evenly between the parent's shoulders and hips to ease potential back strain. They tend to be more intuitive than wraps and slings, and some are able to accommodate children from birth through toddlerhood, though they may require a separate infant insert. Whatever you choose, be sure it has the newer type of construction, with a wider panel for the baby's crotch to properly support the hips and affect healthy hip and spine development.Wrap Carriers
Wraps support the baby with soft fabric that is draped across the parent's body. Unlike soft-structured carriers, they do not have built-in support. However, wraps can be more versatile, allowing a larger number of carrying positions. They are quite nursing-friendly and can be suitable for even the smallest newborns. They're also easy to ball up and carry, though they still may be too bulky for diaper bags. Ease of use is the biggest downfall with wraps – some are simply giant pieces of fabric that parents must learn to tie in a number of ways. Even after some practice, this can be inconvenient, especially in public. Sling Carriers
Like wraps, slings have no internal support. Some have a ring to thread fabric through that makes them more adjustable; others are simple pouches. Like wraps, slings are a favorite of nursing mothers because they make it easy to breastfeed discreetly. In general, slings are easier to use than wraps because they can be thrown on very quickly.
The best baby
These days, the most popular baby carriers are soft-structured
carriers. Many parents are willing to pay a premium for them because they offer
a hard-to-beat combination of ease of use, versatility, durability and comfort.
For many, these carriers are even a convenient, hands-free alternative to
The Ergobaby Four Position 360 (Est. $160) is a favorite
among parents because it keeps both wearer and baby comfortable, and allows a
range of positions. It's suitable from 7 to 33 pounds, but up until 12 pounds
parents must use the Easy Snug Infant Insert (Est. $25)
with the carrier.
As its name suggests, the Four Position 360 allows
parents to carry their babies four different ways: Facing in, facing out, on
the hip or on the back. Reviewers particularly appreciate that this carrier
always keeps babies in a comfortable, ergonomically correct "frog leg"
position. It's also comfortable for parents: Experts with BabyGearLab.com say
the padded shoulder straps and wide waistband keep weight evenly distributed. Most
parents agree, saying they don't feel much back or shoulder strain even after
Reviewers give the Four Position 360 mixed reviews
for ease of use. Most say it's quite easy to put on and the straps are easy to
adjust, but some find the buttons that help reposition babies a bit fussy
compared with snaps or buckles on other carriers. One feature reviewers
particularly dislike is the Velcro waistband, which they say is loud and next
to impossible to adjust once on. On the bright side, most report that it's easy
to nurse in this carrier by simply loosening the straps a bit.
The Ergobaby and infant insert are made of machine-washable
cotton. The carrier has a hood but no storage pocket. One version is made with
two breathable mesh panels for parents who live in warmer climates. A
compatible Teething Pad (Est. $24) and Weather Cover (Est. $50) are among available accessories. Parents say Ergos last for years, and they expect this model to last,
Parents who are OK trading the Ergobaby Four
Position 360's versatility for longevity will want to look at the Tula Ergonomic (Est. $150). Every Tula is available in two sizes:
baby, appropriate from 15 to 45 pounds, and toddler, for 25 to 50 pounds. The Tula Infant Insert (Est. $40) is available separately to make the
baby-size Tula appropriate for newborns and babies smaller than 15 pounds.
Babies and toddlers can use the Tula in two basic
positions: front facing in, and back carry – they cannot face out or be
carried on the hip. Like the Ergobaby, the Tula has a wider base that keeps
babies' hips at a proper angle, and experts with BabyGearLab.com praise the
roomy fit and padded leg holes for keeping tots comfy. They also give the Tula
top marks for parent comfort, giving particular praise to the well-padded
waistband and lack of pinch points. Parents agree, saying the Tula keeps the
weight of even heavier kids well-distributed.
The Tula also gets strong marks for ease of use. BabyGearLab.com's testers say it's more intuitive than
similar carriers, with an easy-to-adjust waist buckle and shoulder straps.
Parents say it's easy to nurse their babies in the Tula, which comes with a
large, removable hood that can double as a nursing cover. The hood is also a
favorite for keeping sleeping babies cozy.
Hand-sewn from 100 percent cotton that's certified
to be free of harmful substances, Tulas come in a
huge array of colors and patterns. They are machine washable and come with a
storage pouch on the waistband. Tulas have a strong
reputation for durability, with some parents paying close to or more than full
price for used Tulas, especially in a desirable
If you don't want to spend more than $100 on a
soft-structured carrier, you don't have to. One of the best-reviewed options
that's easier on the budget is the Baby Bjorn Original (Est. $60). Suitable from 8
to 25 pounds, the Original doesn't have the longest lifespan, but it still draws
lots of praise from parents because it's inexpensive and easy to use. No insert
is required for small babies.
The Original can be used facing in for smaller babies and facing out
once babies reach about 4 to 6 months and can hold their heads up. Parents of
newborns and small infants say their babies are very comfortable in the
Original. However, they also say their child outgrows the carrier long before
the 25-pound weight limit, and that carrying larger babies can cause neck and
back strain. Heavier and taller parents also say this is not a good fit for
them. Some parents say they are uncomfortable with the pressure the carrier
puts on their baby's crotch – while research is mixed, some dedicated
baby-wearers steer clear of this Bjorn because they say the seat isn't wide
enough to provide optimal support for babies' hips.
One of the most popular features of the Original baby carrier is
the two-part, side-latch design that allows parents to remove babies without
waking them; they also love how easy it is to put on and take off. It gets
mixed reviews for being breastfeeding-friendly -- again, this seems to be
easier with a smaller infant. The carrier is machine-washable and built to
last, and many parents say it still looks like new after being used with
multiple children. There are several fabric choices, including regular cotton,
softer jersey and breathable mesh.
Though they aren't as popular as soft-structured
carriers, baby wraps and slings have a devoted following. Wraps are
particularly popular for parents of newborns and small babies who want to keep
their children as close as possible, while slings offer a little more breathing
room and a shorter learning curve.
The Baby K'tan (Est. $50) wrap gets raves for
eliminating the extra fabric and long learning curve common on other wrap-style
carriers, while providing the same close, swaddled support. The K'tan's interlocking
fabric loops allow several possible positions for soothing and carrying babies.
While the K'tan is suitable from 8 to 35 pounds, most parents and reviewers say
it is most useful and comfortable for smaller babies.
According to parents, the Baby K'tan distributes
weight more evenly than a sling, causing less back and shoulder strain.
However, some still complain that it pulls on their shoulders, particularly as
the baby grows and stretches the fabric. Many parents swear by this carrier for soothing colicky babies and relaxing
babies with reflux enough to sleep in an upright position. The
carrier offers at least five carrying positions, including forward-facing once
the baby has complete head and neck control.
The Baby K'tan is comprised of two jersey-knit
loops and a separate sash that ties around the middle. Parents love that they
don't have to wrap, knot or loop excess fabric and say the learning curve is shorter
than with other wrap-style carriers. They also say it's easier to get the baby
into and out of the carrier. That said, many note that you can't adjust the K'tan
for tightness: You have to pick one of five sizes from the get-go, making it
hard for parents to share. On the bright side, the K'tan is easy to machine
wash and dry, and some say drying a stretched-out carrier can shrink it back to
its original size. Some say the K'tan gets hot, particularly when used with the
sash. K'tan makes two other versions of the carrier to address this concern:
One has mesh, while the other has quick-dry polyester tech fabric.
Buyers who would prefer a one-size-fits-all wrap have
a strong candidate in the Boba Wrap (Est. $40). Like the
Baby K'tan, it's suitable from birth up to 35 pounds and does not have buckles,
snaps, straps or any other structure. However, while the K'tan is made of two
loops and a sash, the Boba Wrap is made of one long, 5.5-yard length of fabric
that should accommodate all wearers.
Parents can stretch the Boba fabric quite wide over
their shoulders while wrapping to better distribute their baby's weight. But as
is the case for most wrap-style carriers, this works better with smaller
babies, and some parents report aches and pains trying to carry older, heavier
tots. Unlike the K'tan, the Boba Wrap doesn't allow babies to front-face. In
fact, it only recommends two particular facing-in holds: one for newborns, and
one for older babies.
The Boba Wrap gets mixed reviews for ease of use:
Parents like that the same size works for all wearers, unlike the K'tan.
However, it also has a longer learning curve. Experts with BabyGearLab.com say
they appreciate the detailed directions, but "it still takes some practice" to
put it on quickly and confidently. Since the fabric is quite long, some
reviewers note it can be awkward to put on when they're out and about. Once on,
however, the Boba is quite comfy for babies and easy to nurse in, they
The Boba Wrap is made of cotton and a touch of
Spandex for stretch. It comes with a storage pouch and is available in at least
eight colors, there's also an organic cotton option. Users can toss it in the
washer and dryer, and reviewers say it's durable enough to last through
Parents who prefer
an easier-to-use sling to wrap carriers rave about the Maya Wrap Ring Sling (Est. $80),
suitable from birth to 35 pounds. Many users love the simplicity and
versatility of the Maya for nursing and keeping their baby close. They also say
the Maya makes a good pouch for babies and hip carrier for toddlers, but note
that there is no back-carry position.
Comprised of a
wide, folded length of cloth, the Maya is worn over one shoulder and around the
back. The folded fabric creates a pouch in front that holds the baby, and a
double ring holds the cloth together. In order to distribute the baby's weight
evenly across both shoulders, the fabric across the parent's back has to be
adjusted correctly, which reviewers note takes practice. Some parents also
struggle with pulling the outside fabric tight enough for a secure, hands-free
of the Maya makes it a favorite for nursing at home and on the go. The pouch
can be adjusted to support the baby's head while nursing, allowing mom to keep
her hands free to help the baby or attend to other tasks. The Maya has a tail
of loose fabric that hangs out of the tightened rings. Some find this extra
fabric to be a nuisance, but many like to use it as a privacy shield for
nursing or as a sun shield. The tail also has a pocket large enough to hold
keys and a wallet or an extra diaper.
The Maya comes in
four different lengths, and parents say it can be worn comfortably by different
sized parents by opting for a size in the middle. Made of breathable,
hand-loomed cotton, it keeps babies close without overheating, many say. The
sling reportedly stands up to the test of time without shrinking, stretching or
discoloring, and it can be machine washed and dried.
We found two sites that have performed recent comparative testing of
baby carriers: BabyGearLab.com and TheNightlight.com. Both sites
focus on soft-structured carriers and wraps. The book "Baby Bargains" by Denise
and Alan Fields also offers extensive write-ups on baby carriers with picks
made based on expert and parent feedback. Other helpful sites that incorporate
both expert and parent opinions include BabyCenter.com, LuciesList.com, BabyList.com and Parents.com. As always, Amazon.com offers
the most extensive and detailed collection of user reviews; other useful sites
in this category are BabiesRUs.com and Target.com.