The sheer number of baby carriers on the market can make an expectant parent's head spin. Yet there are really only four types: sling carriers (also called wrap carriers), front carriers, convertible carriers and backpack carriers.
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, including washing and drying. Most baby carriers are well padded, adjustable and made with child-safe fabrics. Organic fabric choices are widely available. One important note: Always keep your receipt. You may have to try a few different carriers before finding one that fits both you and your baby.
Sling or wrap carriers support the baby with soft fabric that is draped across the parent's body. Most styles also drape over the shoulder for extra support. Some slings have rings that help with adjustments; others are simple pouch-like designs that are best for babies once they have full head control.
The most important thing to know about sling carriers is that a baby should never be curled in the carrier with his head forward in a C-shape. This is a suffocation hazard and has led to infant deaths and product recalls. It's crucial to read and understand all instructions for use before using one of these carriers with a baby, especially a child under 4 months. However, when used properly they are as comfortable and enable a mother to nurse discreetly. They can be used from infancy to toddlerhood.
Front carriers are soft-structured carriers that can be used from birth, although sometimes they require an insert for newborns. Some front carriers can be worn either with the baby facing the parent, or with the baby facing outward (once he or she has good head control). Front carriers are padded and adjustable, and the best of them distribute the baby's weight between the shoulders and hips to ease the strain on the parent's back.
A few of these carriers have the old-style "crotch dangle" type of carry, which means the part of the carrier that holds the baby is narrow and does not support the baby's hips. Some experts worry that this lack of support may lead to hip dysplasia or affect healthy spine development. Front carriers are a good choice for infants and younger toddlers.
Convertible carriers are front carriers that can also be worn on the back or shifted to put the baby's weight on the hip. Most convertible carriers have an outward-facing option when used as a front carrier, but some do not. The best convertible carriers have good padding and a number of adjustments for comfortable weight distribution. These carriers are good for infants to older toddlers, depending upon the variety of carry positions.
Backpack carriers are for the active parent who wants to take their child along on hikes or long walks. These carriers enable a child to sit up high and see the action. The best backpack carriers are ergonomically designed so the child's weight is evenly distributed between the shoulders, back and hips. It should have a five-point safety harness for the child. There should be storage options for gear as well, just like in any serious hiking backpack, and it should be possible to put it on and take it off without help. These are for older babies with good head control.
ConsumerSearch has analyzed dozens of expert reviews and hundreds of owner reviews to evaluate baby carriers in all four categories for comfort, ease of use and durability. The result is our picks for the best carriers for you and your baby.