Baby Wearing 101: Baby Slings and Baby Carriers Explained

 

babywearing - baby slings, baby wraps, and baby carriers explained
It’s International babywearing week! Baby wearing is a central feature in my parenting style – it allows me to keep my babies close while completing household chores and spending time with my family. To celebrate, I thought I’d go over some of my favorite baby carriers, and how I use them.

Wrap carriers

I first discovered baby wearing as a seven-year-old living in Guatemala, where babies are carried about on their mother’s backs in stunningly beautiful lengths of fabric. Soon my sister and I were searching the house for bits of cloth to carry our babies in. I have yet to master what, from the outside, looks like a very simple back carry, but I do love wrap carriers, which are made of much longer lengths of fabric.
My knit carrier (featured both in the photo above and in the button for this blog hop) is my go-to carrier for little babies, but it works for older babies as well. The top photo of this post features newborn Anna in this wrap; the button photo at the end of this post features an eight-month-old Emma in the same wrap.
 
I love wrap carriers best for little babies because, because they provide complete support and keep your baby up close and secure.

People also make wrap carriers out of woven (non-stretchy) fabric. I’ve never owned one, but I think it would be best for older babies. You can use a woven wrap carrier for both front and back carries, but my kids have never gone for the back carry in this style of carrier.

Slings

Slings come in several varieties – sized, cocoon (also called pouch) style slings and more adjustable ring slings.

Sized sling baby carrier - cocoon / pouch style baby carrier

Right now I’m using the sized sling for Anna that you can see in the photo above. You can tell that she is much less secure in the sling than in the wrap, but it still creates a way for me to carry her about with some extra support. I keep my sized sling in my diaper bag – it’s small enough that it fits easily, and it’s perfect for going from the car to the school to pick up my kids. Pouch-style slings like this come in a huge variety of woven fabrics, and they can look quite elegant – like the one I’m wearing. You can used these slings for a hip carry with older children.

I don’t currently own a ring sling; it’s on my list of things to make. Ring slings are very simple – all you need is rings that are tested to hold your child’s weight, and a length of fabric. Ring slings can do everything a pouch sling can do, but they are more adjustable. The adjustability means they also require more fabric than a sized sling.

Please note that baby slings, especially, can be used incorrectly. Your baby should always be upright – not sideways – and you need to make sure that they can breathe easily. Any babywearing should be a chance for you to be more aware of your baby – not less. The Consumer Product Safety Commission has issued some helpful guidelines for safely carrying babies in slings, which I recommend reading.

Structured Carriers

I remember carrying my youngest brother and sister in a backpack-style structured carrier in the 1990s. These frame backpacks have mostly been replaced by soft structured carriers – like the ERGO baby carrier, which we own. While I don’t use the ERGO much for little babies, I love soft structured carriers for heavier babies, especially once they are old enough for a back carry. Johnny lived in the ERGO carrier for much of his babyhood, happily observing life from a safe spot. Our ERGO wins points for being the one carrier Mike is happy to use, and I find it to be the most surreptitious-nursing-friendly carrier!

Asian Inspired Baby Carriers

Mei Tai style and other Asian-inspired carriers for me fall somewhere in between soft structured carriers and wrap carriers. I love the carrier below (holding 17-month-old Lily), which is made out of a soft flannel material. I feel that Mei Tai carriers offer more support than a sling (because the weight is distributed across both shoulders and both hips), but a little less support than a good structured carrier. Like a structured carrier, they can be used for front, back, or hip carries, but your baby usually cannot face out. A Mei Tai carrier won’t hold your baby as securely as a wrap, but they are much easier to put on and take off. Made from the right fabric, Mei Tai carriers can look quite elegant.

Mei Tai style carrier

Choosing the Right Baby Carrier

I own all of these carriers. Right now I mostly use the sling and the wrap carrier, but as Anna grows I suspect that I will shift to using the Mei Tai and ERGO more. I find that I come back to my ERGO (for babies four months and up) and wrap (for babies under four months) over and over – so if I could only own one, it would be one of those. The wrap isn’t hard, once you learn how to do it, and the ERGO provides the best weight distribution out of the carriers I have. However, I think that both sling and Mei Tai carriers look more elegant, and they also take up less space in a diaper bag – and beautiful, affordable handmade versions of both can be found on Etsy.

So, to summarize, here are the pros and cons of each one, from my point of view:

  • Wrap
    • Pros: Great support for mom AND baby, versatile once you get the hang of wrapping. Can look elegant with the right fabric. Baby is held very securely.
    • Cons: It’s a lot of fabric, which can make it hard to put on if you’re out and about. And many people are too intimidated by the wrapping to give it a go (it’s really not that hard – remember, I couldn’t master the Guatemalan back carry but I’ve got this down!)
  • Sling
    • Pros: Takes up almost no space in a diaper bag, can look very elegant.
    • Cons: Not the best support since weight is distributed across a single shoulder and the opposing hip, and baby is not held as securely as any of the other carriers.
  • Structured carriers
    • Pros: Great support, dad-friendly, good for surreptitious nursing.
    • Cons: Not ideal for tiny babies, not as elegant as the other three options.
  • Mei Tai
    • Pros: good support, less bulky than a structured carrier, and can look more elegant than a structured carrier.
    • Cons: You lose the padding you get from a structured carrier, and I don’t consider it ideal for tiny babies – although two of my sisters loved using it with their newborns.

afterschool linky


a book full of baby play ideas that will help you enjoy parenting a baby and bond with your baby.

Comments

  1. says

    What a coincidence! I also first found out about babywearing while in Guatemala. Granted, I was much older, a recent college grad doing missionary work there for the summer, and I’ll never forget seeing that mama at the market with a little bundle on her back. As soon I found out I was pregnant I knew I had to get a carrier. 12 months later, my husband & I still rely on the Sleepywrap, but since my little girl is >20lbs. already, it’s getting a little uncomfortable. I can’t shell out $100 for an Ergo, as much as I’d like to, but maybe the mei tai could be a good option! Thanks for sharing

    • maryanne says

      Mei Tais make great, affordable alternatives to ERGO carriers, in my opinion! If you sew, there are lots of patterns out there, including free tutorials on the internet. The one pictured in this post is one I made using a McCall pattern, that I got for $1.99 when it was on sale at JoAnn.

  2. Amber liddle says

    haha, I’m another one that found out about carriers in Guatemala! I started out with a pocket sling when Ingrid was 6 mo old, but with Otis I had a Moby and an Ergo. I think if I had to choose only one I’d go for the splurge of the Ergo. Even though he was tiny, I was still able to use it from the time Otis was a month or so old. And at almost two we still use it!!

  3. says

    Abby just wasn’t a baby carrier type. In the sling she acted like we were trying to kill her. When she was 4 months old or so, she did go in the Baby Bjorn a few times facing out. She hated facing in.

    My sister’s boys liked the sling and I always love to see sweet, sleeping babies in slings. So cute!

    • maryanne says

      Lily didn’t like being worn as much as my other kids – and she was the only baby who liked the Baby Bjorn some friends gave us as a hand-me-down. It hurt my shoulders, though (it was one of the original ones, I think the newer ones are better), so we passed it on to someone else and no longer have one.

  4. Tara says

    How do you make your own slings?! And the ring sling?!
    I am a wrap carrier from newborn stage till ? and only (in various positions and wrap styles) in front.
    For the back I use my ERGO (I finaly spent the money on it with Phinia because I needed to get her on my back quickly to protect her from Audrey’s overflowing affection :) – this is the only carrier we bought; all others were gifts, which Robin actually finds very uncomfortable on his chest (?!), so he prefers the wrap carrier or his shoulders (when they are bigger). For hikes we received a special hiking carrier with sun and rain protection extras included.

    • maryanne says

      That’s why we spent the money on an ERGO – to keep Johnny out of Emma’s reach! Sometimes there just isn’t time to fuss with a wrap!

      For the ring sling, you just need a length of fabric and the rings that are made for slings. You might be able to find some online? I have patterns for regular slings and a Mei Tai, and if you google it you will find tutorials for both :)

  5. says

    Great post! I love the idea of being able to try out a bunch. I had a fleece sling and I loved how simple it was. I also had a baby bjorn and liked that one too but I have to be honest, I didn’t use them as much as I thought I would. I blame it on content and heavy babies, one 9-3, one 10-3 as newborns.

    • maryanne says

      Those are BIG babies! The three other carriers I described all provide better support than either a baby bjorn or a sling, at least in my opinion :)

  6. says

    Oh my goodness I love the photo of you with Lily in the MT. Gorgeous!!! I’m a wrapper myself, although lately I’ve been reaching for my Olives and Applesauce soft structured carrier for quick back carries.

  7. says

    I LOVE all your sweet baby wearing photos, MaryAnne! I guess my baby carriers would be antiques now, but with my babies born in 1985 and 1990 I loved using front carriers when they were little and structured carriers when they were older. My husband loved using the structured carriers, too! I linked up and pinned your post to my Babies – Activities and Ideas Board at http://pinterest.com/debchitwood/babies-activities-and-ideas/

  8. says

    My Mom used an Asian baby carriers with me, and then we tried to figure out how to use it again when my boys were born, and the straps were too short for me!
    I used an Ergo variation with my kiddos and like it. Of course I also liked my stroller because it had a place for tired toddlers to climb onto also, so that was a big help for me.

  9. says

    A baby should never face forward in a carrier. Especially a stretchy wrap. And when you tell people about back carriers you should also inform them that a back carry should NEVER be done in a stretchy wrap. You are supposed to use a woven wrap. That’s a complete safety issue

    • says

      Thanks for sharing. I was only writing about back carrying in the context of a woven wrap, if you read the post.

      The wrap I have came with instructions for a facing out carry. It’s got the same give as the woven wrap I now own – it’s a very tight knit. But my babies have only faced out when I was supporting their weight as well, and never for long. The positioning still looks better than a bjorn, to me. If you have any articles on this you’d like me to read, I’d love for you to pass them on.

    • says

      Hi Gabrielle,

      I did some research, and it does look like the manufacturer of my wrap no longer recommends facing out, so I’m updating the post to reflect this. Thanks for sharing that information.

      The manufacturer does say their wrap can be used for a back carry (see here: http://www.babylonia.be/p/9/Baby_Carriers/tricot_slen/BDDTS). Doesn’t mean that a woven carrier would not be better. As I mentioned in the post, it’s not a carry that I’ve used – and I wrote about it in the context of woven wraps.

      I always appreciate readers bringing up concerns or other issues with my posts – thank you!

    • says

      I would love to see research on this, if you have links. I would never recommends a stretchy wrap for a larger baby, but my newborns feel extremely secure in a well-wrapped tight knit, and I’ve never had any issues with material sagging. And a quick search of the babywearing sites I’ve read gave the same opinion.

    • says

      I can confirm MaryAnne’s information about the UK National Heath Service. My Son J was in SCBU for 5 days after birth on the Unit there was a selection of Moby and Stretch wraps (close wrap)which are made from knitted Jeresy or knit cotton so that they will stretch and they are used for Kangaroo care of the babies. When attending antenatal classes with the NCT (National Childbirth Trust) there was one of the 6 session about baby wearing with a babywearing coach present. For newborn until 5 to 7 months (depending on when they are able to sit unsupported) a knit stretch wrap is the recommended type it keeps babies legs in the frog position most healthy for hip alignment and is most secure.

    • says

      I agree with you, that a woven wrap makes a lot more sense for a back carry, Gabrielle. I was just commenting that when I visited the knit wrap site they were recommending it (which surprised me). Thanks for clarifying your comment.

  10. Tozai says

    The Sling Library is fabulous – I’ve tried out two carirers and had loads of advice from Emily about all the different choices. My daughter is one – I started out using a jersey sling for the first few months and then started using a Baby Bjorn but now using the BB for any length of time gives me a sore lower back. Not so with the slings in the Library – the two that I tried were super comfy, even for a whole day out. Having the opportunity to actually try the carirers before buying is so helpful – it would be awful to buy one and then find that it wasn’t comfy. Also – going to the Library was fun – lots of mums with different aged babies trying out different slings and swapping experiences and Emily on hand to tell us the pros and cons of each one. Seriously brilliant – so glad that a friend recommended it to me.

  11. Emre says

    The Sling Library is an excellent srviece and I am pleased I found out about it. Emily is very helpful, approachable and knowledgable.I have borrowed 5 slings in total, a Mei Tai, ring sling and 3 soft structured slings, an Ergo Performance, a Boba and a Connecta. My favourite of the soft structured slings has been the Ergo Performance. I am going to buy one for myself today. It’s really comfortable and has been tried by other members of my family who all agree. I have been on two long walks over the last week with it and found it comfortable, supportive and lightweight. We’ve also used it to carry my son around the house while doing stuff round the house. We are pleased to find that it is proving to be quite good to send him to sleep in too. Also, there are two pockets at the front, one with a sleep hood and an empty one which is just big enough to carry a few nappies and wipes.

  12. says

    I love babywearing but am not sure how it fits into thstage we are currently in
    – helping baby distinguish night from day. When I wear him, he is so comfortable he sleeps a lot, meaning he tends to be up more at night. Do I need to cut back during the day so he has more awake time, or do you have other suggestions?

  13. says

    Just had an epiphany about this after reading Dr. Sears. I think our baby’s nighttime sleep has gotten worse as we’ve been trying to get him more tired in the day. Just as kids resist sleep less with earlier bedtimes, our son isn’t sleeping well at night because he isn’t getting enough sleep during the He was doing fine before, we were just trying to begin some gentle sleep-training. Another instance of trying to fix a problem that didn’t exist I am curiou if this was also your experience.

    • says

      That has definitely been my experience! With my youngest (baby #4) I’ve emphasized making sure she gets the sleep she needs during the day more than with any of the others – and she sleeps awesomely at night. And I’m noticing that the bad nights tend to come after a day when she had her naps disrupted…

      I also had huge success with bedtime after moving it up half an hour. Every time we try to move it later we get the resistance you described when it’s time for bed, even though that seems counter-intuitive since they must be more tired.

  14. Megan says

    i love baby wearing! I’m due in nearly 60 days and cant wait to wear my baby! I especially love the Moby! I got it when my son was nearly 3 months old and i adored it. he was a big baby so i didnt get to wear it as long as i wanted to, but i still wore it for a few months! then wore it with my nephew and friends baby boy! :) i have the maya wrap, which i love when the baby gets older, my oldest daughter fit into it from about 6 months to over 2 years old. i like that it has extra fabric for you to cover while nursing! i was just given the baby hawk and im not sure how that will work with a little tiny one, but we will see! :) thanks for posting this and getting the info about baby wearing out there!! :)

    • says

      It’s always great to hear from another babywearing fan! The Baby Hawk looks like a beautiful carrier – I hope it works out for you! Good luck with the rest of your pregnancy!

  15. natalie says

    I love the moby. I had tiny babies (first was born at 5.1, twins born at 3.6 & 3.7) so it has had a long life for us. Unfortunately between pregnancies I lost it between moves and had to buy another! Another bonus for the moby is thst I am able to carry both boys at once. Weight limit is 35 lbs, so as long as I can comfortably carry both I will! My daughter loved it until about 8 months when she only wanted to explore, but rece tly has seen me use it with the boys (jealous a bit) and has wanted me to use it with her, which is easier than carrying her alone!

  16. says

    The different baby carriers always looked so comfortable for both parent and baby, but I struggled to use mine. My husband used it more, and honestly it looked adorable. With baby number 2 I’m definitely going to give it another try.

Thanks for taking the time to comment!