The day you try to go grocery shopping with a newborn in a bulky stroller, you’ll understand the wonders of baby carriers. But choose the wrong carrier and you could end up experiencing intense back pain and losing a lot of time each day as you struggle to load your kid in and out of some contraption.
A carrier should support a newborn’s head. The straps and buckles should be secure, and there should not be any space where your baby could slip out. Some people feel comfortable with slings and complex wraps, while these things exceed the limits of others’ coordination. Stay safe with a carrier that’s within your comfort zone.
Check the leg holes of front carriers to ensure that they don’t place too much pressure on your baby’s legs. Make sure an abundance of fabric doesn’t cover your baby’s face and restrict breathing. With slings, your baby’s head should not be tucked at an angle. You want your baby reclining, with her air passage open.
You’re about to strap 10 to 40 pounds to your upper body. Try the carriers on with your baby to see if it places too much pressure on your shoulders or strains your lower back. Light-colored, lightweight fabrics will keep the temperature down, too.
You should be able to load your baby without help from someone else. See if you can hold your baby with one hand and secure all the buckles and straps with the other.
Most carriers have versatile positioning. Front packs will hold your baby facing in (better for newborns, from birth to 3 months) or out. Slings, front/back packs, and wraps all allow you to hold your baby in a variety of ways.
Front carriers, like the Bjorn, position your child facing forward or backward. They have two shoulder straps and a fabric pouch, kangaroo-style. With newborns, you’ll need a head support. Most say they carry up to 30 lbs, but you won’t want to exceed 15-20 lbs hanging from your shoulders.
Some carriers, such as the Ergo or the mei tai, work as front and back packs (and even on the hip). Infants need to be able to support their heads. Once your child exceeds 15-20 lbs, switching to the backpack saves your back from potential pain. You can carry toddlers up to 40 lbs. However, it can be tricky to maneuver your child into backpacks on your own.
Slings work very well for breastfeeding mothers. The fabrics breath, and the styles distribute the weight to your lower back and hips. As children get bigger, slings can be used to position a toddler on your hip. They also tend to be stylish and look good even when worn with formal wear. Ring slings allow you to adjust the size, so dad and mom can use it. One downside; slings don’t secure your child with straps. They are secure, but within reason. They require some amount of intuitive caution.
Wraparounds, such as the Moby or Sleepy Wrap, consist of a long length of fabric, with which you basically tie your baby to your body. When used correctly, your child is very secure, breastfeeding is easy, and weight is distributed very evenly around your upper body. But you will need some time to load your baby before going out, and you may want to take a class in how to use it.
Framed backpacks, such as Kelty backpacks, distribute weight very comfortably for long hikes with a toddler or an infant who can sit up alone. They support up to 40 lbs.
Slings cost about $40. Front carriers, such as the Bjorn, cost $30 to $90; front and back carriers, $80 to $110; and framed backpacks run $40 to $200. You can find any of these carriers used and in good condition for a fraction of the price through local online parents groups, freecycle.org, or Craigslist.
Baby carriers are not foolproof. When using a carrier, bend at the knees when picking things up. Don’t cook or run or juggle knives. Also, keep tabs on your baby’s temperature. Your body heat, a hot summer day and the warmth of the fabric can raise your baby’s temperature to dangerous levels.
Many local baby stores offer baby-wearing classes, teaching you the appropriate way to use the origami-looking wraps. If you opt for these carriers, get some expert help.