How to Buy a Baby Carrier

Updated February 28, 2013

The best baby carrier is

  • Safe. Baby carriers are generally very safe. However, the improper use of wraps and slings can lead to a dangerous situation called positional asphyxiation. This can result in suffocation. Some experts say slings and wraps are not safe and should not be used at all. Other experts say that as long as they're used properly, they're perfectly safe. Be sure to read and follow all instructions for your sling or wrap carrier.
  • Ergonomically designed. The weight of the baby should be distributed evenly between the parent's hips and shoulders. For backpack carriers, it should be the hips, back and shoulders. There should be good head support for infants, and the baby's hips should be fully supported. Carriers with narrow support that allow baby to "crotch dangle" are not recommended by experts.
  • Well padded, yet breathable. In order to be comfortable, a baby carrier needs good padding on the shoulder straps, hip belt and where the baby's head lays. However, it should be made from a breathable fabric to allow body heat to escape so baby and parent don't get too hot.
  • Easy to use. If a baby carrier is too complex, it won't get used. If possible, try before you buy. This includes putting it on and bending and lifting and reaching -- but don't use your actual child, a plastic baby doll will do. It should also be easy to install and remove the baby, ideally without waking a sleeping child. Some carriers also allow nursing mothers to breastfeed.

Know before you go

What will you use the carrier for? A committed baby-wearer will want a carrier that gets high marks for comfort over long periods of wear. A new mom who only wants a carrier "just in case" will want one that's highly rated for infants. Hikers and backpackers will need a dedicated baby backpack, not just a soft-structured carrier.

How long do you plan to carry? Many parents completely eschew the stroller, opting instead to carry their babies well into toddlerhood. These parents need a carrier with a higher weight rating that can shift to different positions as their baby grows -- parent-facing to forward-facing, to back carry to hip carry. This will keep the child from getting restless and enable the parent continue to comfortably carry as their child gets bigger and heavier.

Who will be using the carrier? Many carriers accommodate a range of sizes; others come in small, medium, large and extra large, just like clothing. If mom, dad, grandma and auntie all want to get in on the babywearing action, be sure to look for a carrier that is highly adjustable and specifies a range of torsos/heights that it fits. If just one person is using the carrier, carefully study the sizing specs of the carrier to be sure you choose the correct size for you.

Buying tactics and strategies

A baby carrier is not a particularly pricey piece of merchandise, but many parents waste money on something that they find too uncomfortable to use. Here are a few tips to be sure you don't end up with a pile of baby carriers in the back of the nursery closet:

  • Buy used. We don't recommend buying a preowned sling or wrap carriers because they stretch with use and may be unusable by the time they're passed along. However, soft-structured carriers and backpack carriers can be a good value when bought used, especially the higher-end brands.
  • Buy from an authorized dealer. Baby carriers, especially high-end brands, are one of those products that are popular with counterfeiters. Before you buy, check out the list of authorized retailers on the manufacturer's website to be sure you're getting the genuine article.
  • Know the return policy. Be sure you can return the carrier if it doesn't work out. If the store won't take returns, check your credit card's policy; there are many cards that give you a 30- to 90-day return window.
  • Think gender-neutral design. Baby carriers are incredibly durable. All of the baby carriers we reviewed get super high marks for lasting forever -- even after repeated washings. If you're planning to have more children, think about looking for a fabric that will work for a boy or girl baby, as well as for the man or woman carrying it.