People have been “baby wearing” since time immemorial, across all cultures. And though many of us were taken out for a stroll by our parents in a traditional baby carriage, increasing numbers of studies have proven that wearing your baby close to your body is best for your baby’s physical and emotional development. And wearing your baby makes it easier to keep your hands free for daily tasks while keeping baby close.
A study in the journal Pediatrics has shown that babies who are worn for three hours a day cry 43 percent less overall, and 54 percent less at night. And when you have your baby in a carrier or sling, you are better able to pick up on baby’s cues. Baby can hear your heartbeat, tune into the rhythm of your breathing and is comforted by the gentle rocking motion of your body as you walk. Babies who are “worn” feel more secure, develop greater self-confidence, and premature babies have been shown to put on weight faster.
Not all baby carriers are the same, however. Though many women in traditional cultures use a simple shawl to tie baby to their body, there are now a wide range of options, including ring slings, backpacks, front carriers, pockets and wraps. Each has its advantages and disadvantages, and it’s often good to have at least two different types to keep on hand for different situations. Mom may prefer the ease of a ring sling for breastfeeding, while dad enjoys taking baby out in a backpack.
There are six basic types of baby carrier. They are described below, along with some of the advantages and disadvantages of each so you can choose the right one for you:
Wraps – The most traditional of the carriers, wraps consist of one long, wide piece of fabric that can be wrapped around the body in a wide variety of ways to create a pouch for baby to sit in. As it is usually wrapped around both shoulders, it distributes baby’s weight evenly so as to avoid putting undue stress on your back, neck and shoulders. Some people find the volume of fabric daunting, but once you learn how to tie it, it is the most versatile of the carriers.
Ring slings – One long length of fabric that is woven through two rings at the shoulder creating an easily adjustable pouch that baby can be cradled in, or sit up in facing forward, backward or on the hip. Shoulder padding is available in some models. This type of sling is useful for breastfeeding, as a baby in the cradle position can nurse undisturbed within the folds of the sling, and the tail can be draped discreetly over baby if you wish. Its adjustability makes it easy for both parents to wear. Can sometimes be hard on your back, neck and shoulders, particularly as baby grows into a toddler.
Pouch sling – A sewn pouch designed to be worn across the body, with the strap on one shoulder and baby sitting in the pouch on your opposite hip. These are not adjustable, and can be hard on the neck and shoulder when wearing baby for any length of time, though it is very easy to pop baby in and out of.
Mei Tai carriers – Not as complicated as a wrap, but more versatile than a structured carrier, the mei tai (pronounced “may tie”) consists of a lightly padded square of fabric, with four padded straps to wrap around your shoulders and waist. It is comfortable and versatile, allowing you to carry baby on either your front, back or hip (though not in cradle position), and it can be worn from infancy through toddlerhood.
Front pack or structured carrier – Designed to be worn with a baby old enough to support his or her head, baby sits up facing either toward you or looking out, and some models can also be worn on the back. Baby’s weight is evenly distributed, though some models can sometimes put excessive pressure on baby’s crotch or lower spine, particularly as the baby grows heavier.
Backpack – A metal frame supports this structured carrier for babies who are able to sit up on their own. Good for hikes or long walks with baby. Always be aware of things such as low-hanging branches, as a toddler’s head can sometimes be higher than yours in this type of carrier.