As well as encouraging a close bond between parent and baby, carriers (also known as slings or 'papoose' if you're Piers Morgan) offer a great way of getting around without being encumbered by a stroller, pram or pushchair.
How much you spend depends on what you want. Are you keen on a fully featured, ultra-supportive carrier or one that more closely resembles a simple cloth sling? As with prams, there are some big name brands that will see you right, as well as a couple of newer names that are looking to entice parents with an all–new approach.
Which carrier or sling should I buy?
There are pros and cons to each type of carrier and sling, of which there are three main types: a structured carrier, a stretchy wrap or ring sling.
A structured carrier is often the go-to for many as it is easy to use, can often be used until your child is much older and offers a variety of carrying positions.
Once you have adjusted it to suit you, you just need to buckle it on and off, making it really convenient - though this convenience usually comes at a price and these are often the most expensive type to buy.
Stretchy wraps are at the other end of the scale, and are usually one of the most affordable options. They are best suited to younger babies, as they don't feel quite as supportive as babies get heavier.
That said, they are invaluable for giving you your hands back when you're struggling to put your baby down in the early weeks. They can be a bit fiddly to put on but you can get more options now that are easier to tie.
Ring slings are a slightly more traditional type of carrier, and are usually for more seasoned sling users - but don't let that put you off. They're popular with those in-the-know for good reason.
Made from a range of woven materials that measure around 2m long and 60cm wide, ring slings sits across one shoulder. One end is sewn onto two strong rings and the other end is threaded through the rings to secure it. Your baby sits on the opposite side of your body, in almost a hammock-type seat.
It will take some practice to get right, as it doesn't have the stretch in it of a stretchy wrap to help get it snug, but ring slings can be adjusted for several different carrying positions and are more supportive as baby grows.
It's also worth mentioning half buckle wraps, which offer the comfort of a woven wrap with the convenience and simplicity of a buckle carrier. This could be a good halfway house if you're torn between a carrier and a sling, but they're usually more limited on carry positions compared with a full carrier.
Before you buy, it might be worth finding out if there is a sling library local to you, where you can try them out first. NCT
How do I use a baby carrier or sling?
Using a carrier can be daunting the first few times you use it and you'll want to practice to make sure you're confident in putting it on. Often doing it in front of a mirror or with your partner nearby to help is a good idea for the first couple of tries.
First and foremost, you should be aware of their hip positioning. All the carriers and slings we recommend here are ergonomic and designed to be hip healthy, but you will need to make sure you're wearing them correctly too. This means positioning your baby with their knees higher than their bottom - often described as a "frog-legged" or the "M" position.
Once baby is in position, make sure that you follow the TICKS guidelines that recommend baby is:
- Tight up close to you, meaning no fabric is slack
- In View at all times, meaning you should be able to see your babies face by glancing down
- Close enough to kiss, meaning you should always be able to kiss baby's head
- Keeps head off of chest, meaning there should always be at least a finger's width of space between their chin and their chest, to ensure breathing isn't restricted
- Supported back, meaning it should be supported in its natural position, helped by ensuring they are pulled in tight enough
Baby Bjorn Carrier One Outdoor
Baby Bjorn has long been the leading name when it comes to baby carriers. And while it offers a number of different models, this top–of–the–range effort is superb, especially for those who intend to use a carrier more than a pushchair.
A ruggedised take on its standard Carrier One, it comes in water and dirt resistant material that can be easily cleaned. There’s an insert to ensure smaller babies sit at the right height on your chest, which can be removed when they’re older.
Best of all, it can be used front–facing or placed on your back, giving your kids a different perspective on the world. The clips are sturdy and easy to attach and while it will take practice to get wriggly babies into place, once you’ve got it down you’ll love this carrier.
Ergobaby Omni 360
Ergobaby is Baby Bjorn’s biggest rival and the Omni 360 is its flagship carrier. Where it really stands out against the competition is its carry positions. Along with standard front–facing, parent–facing and back options, it can also be used in a hip position. Mums can use this position to breastfeed their baby hands free.
The Omni 360 has been certified as ‘hip healthy’ by the International Hip Dysplasia Institute (IHDI), meaning it won’t place undue strain on your pelvis when used for long periods. Like the Bjorn, it will work for toddlers up to 15kg, and has a newborn insert attached, so there’s no need to buy a separate seat for younger babies.
There’s also a UPF 50+ fold away hood to protect babies in hot weather and when the rain comes down, as well as a detachable storage pouch.
Norwegian brand Stokke does a strong line baby equipment, from high chairs to nursery furniture, and its baby carrier is among the best on the market.
The standard MyCarrier, which costs £99, can be worn on your chest, with parent–facing and front–facing positions. As with the Baby Bjorn and ErgoBaby, it works for toddlers as well as small babies and is IHDI certified too.
The design is a lot more stylish than the other options here, lacking that functional look that so many kid–friendly products seem to put first and foremost. That’s not to say this is in any way style over substance. The MyCarrier is comfortable to wear and easy to wash too once the inserts are taken out. A back carrier is sold separately.
Baby K’Tan Original
Traditional cloth slings can be wonderful. But putting one on securely and learning how to tie it properly feels as if it requires a degree in quantum mechanics. Challenging at the best of times, putting one on when sleep deprived can feel nigh on impossible.
That’s where the Baby K’Tan comes in. Its simple, two loop design is a breeze to slip on. You can have your baby in the sling and be on the move just a couple of minutes after getting it out of the box. It can be used in front and parent-facing positions.
The K’Tan is made to fit, so it can’t be easily swapped between parents. But with a price tag of under half of the bigger names here, that’s a problem we can live with. Best of all, you can throw it into the washer and dryer, perfect for when those inevitable accidents occur.
Connecta Baby Carrier
Suitable for older children weighing up to 23kg (50lbs, you’ll need to buy the right carrier size though), Connecta’s Baby Carrier sits between the K’Tan and other models here in terms of price.
The design is simple but effective, with a couple of straps and a pouch where your child can sit comfortably while you take the strain. Made from 100 per cent organic cotton, it’s extremely lightweight and, unlike the Baby Bjorn or ErgoBaby, can be easily bundled up and put into a handbag or backpack.
Available in a wide array of colours and styles, from plain black to a unicorn pattern, this is a snazzy, less pricey alternative to the big brand versions, without compromising on comfort or quality.
Tula make some of the loveliest carriers out there, with gorgeous fabrics that help them stand out from the rest, like this rainbow design. They’re also seriously comfortable to wear, with options in their arsenal that cover you until your little one is 27kg (60lbs).
The Tula Explore is the company’s newest addition, which adds in the ability to front carry your baby in a forward position, as well as having them parent facing or back carrying. It is suitable for babies from birth (from 3.1kg/7lbs), without the need for any additional insert, and has a weight limit of 20kg (45lbs).
comes with a handy front pocket for storing things like keys or your phone, has
a removable hood for when it rains, and is easily adjustable for breastfeeding
on the move.
A worthy investment that should last you for years.
Lenny Lamb Ring Sling
Lenny Lamb make some of the most gorgeous ring slings we’ve seen, and at prices that won’t break the bank. They’re made of a really strong, supportive jacquard weave fabric, that has been tested up to 15kg, for toddlers up to around the age of two.
That said, do bear in mind that 15kg is a hefty weight to be carrying on one shoulder for long periods, so you might want to consider a two-shouldered wrap or a more structured carrier once baby starts to get bigger.
With 2.1m of fabric to play with, one size should fit most, making it a flexible option for all body shapes and sizes. If your baby loves being carried around on your hip, this is definitely worth a look.