We’re now living in a time with more baby-carrier options than ever — partly because Attachment Parenting activists have brought the ancient benefits of baby wearing to the mainstream, but mostly, and most importantly, because we need them. They give us the freedom to move and use two arms — whether it’s to run errands or vacuum the living room — all while having our babies snuggled close. Baby carriers are also a convenient (and often necessary) way to soothe, breastfeed, and lull babies to sleep.
Despite feeling overwhelmed by the variety of contraptions to choose from, this really is a good problem to have. The various carriers on the market come with different features and aesthetics that address different issues. I’m convinced that there’s no one “perfect” baby carrier for the masses — it depends on a number of factors: your build, your baby’s size, how you’ll be using the carrier, and how long you’ll be using the carrier, for example. And even beyond all of that, it can largely come down to a personal preference.
That being said, some carriers are simply designed better than others. I consulted with baby-wear experts at the popular boutique Waddle n Swaddle (who objectively fit hundreds of new parents for the right carrier), interviewed dozens of moms, and put the newest models to the test to find the best baby carriers for you.
My biggest piece of advice is to try on carriers before buying, preferably at a store with a baby-wearing expert on hand, and to definitely keep the receipt — because even the most versatile carrier isn’t one-size-fits-all. (Are you a baby-wearing newbie? Read our Reference Guide below for more information.)
What’s YOUR favorite? Tell us in the comments below what you want to see on next year’s list!
Jump to a brand:
Baby Carrier Reference Guide:
Soft-Structure Carriers (SSC): BabyBjorn revolutionized the industry with their soft-structured carrier — a simple, modern-looking carrier that straps, snaps, and buckles a baby to your chest. There are now a slew of different soft-structure carriers that vary in support, bulkiness, and carrying options. This is probably the most popular carrier option here in the States, mostly due to its shorter learning curve.
How do soft-structure carriers support babies?
There are two main types of soft-structure carriers: Those that suspend babies from their crotch and have their legs dangling more straight (such as the BabyBjorn, Snugli, Chicco, and Britax), and those that support their bottom and thighs in a more wide-leg, frog-like position (such as the ERGO, Boba, Beco, and Stokke).
One of the biggest controversies in the babywear world is that “crotch-dangling” carriers can cause hip dysplasia — a condition in which the hip joint doesn’t develop normally and causes pain later in life. While organizations like International Hip Dysplasia do recommend carriers that support the thighs (not dangling straight), the medical literature (including Boston Children’s Hospital, Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital, and the U.S. National Library of Medicine) cites that hip dysplasia is caused by genetics and conditions in utero — not baby carriers.
That being said, Developmental Dysplasia of the Hip (DDH) affects one or two out of 1,000 babies with virtually no early symptoms, and with the highest incidents being in breech-born babies, first-born babies, females, and children with a genetic history of DDH. If the condition is caught in the first six months, babies might be put into a harness that splays legs into a frog-like position — suggesting that a wide-leg carrier might be healthier for those predisposed for DDH. That’s not to say that a BabyBjorn (or Bjorn-like carrier) causes hip dysplasia, and that’s not to say that an ERGO (or ERGO-like carrier) cures hip dysplasia. The research is still ongoing.
Another issue is baby’s comfort, and many in the babywearing community claim that a dangling design simply can’t be comfortable on the crotch area. While this is largely up to you to decide, BabyBjorn argues that a baby’s center of gravity isn’t the same as an adult’s; therefore a child’s weight is distributed differently. “The brunt of the weight is not on the seat, but is also distributed onto the baby carrier’s back, head and neck support,” writes BabyBjorn in their FAQ section. “The child’s low body weight is also a vital factor resulting in almost no pressure being placed on the baby’s crotch.”
Again, it’s a judgment call on your part as there isn’t an overwhelming amount of scientific and medical research to support either claim.
Mei Tai Carriers: Inspired by traditional baby carriers in Asia, the Mei Tai carrier is basically a rectangular piece of fabric with four straps at each corner that securely tie without any big buckles or bulky structure.
Wrap Carriers: Wrap carriers wrap and tie around your body to form almost a pouch-like T-shirt, and they’re notoriously praised for keeping newborns and small infants snuggled close while supporting their entire bodies. In fact, most wrap-using moms will be quick to say how life-changing a wrap carrier is during those first few months, especially for those who want to discreetly breastfeed in public. Some people are intimidated by the wrapping, but this choice can be an incredibly versatile, long-lasting baby-wearing option once you get the hang of it.
Sling Carriers: There are basically two kinds of slings: ring slings and pouch slings. A ring sling is a rectangular piece of fabric that’s threaded through two rings to create a sling-like pouch that can be adjusted for your baby’ size and your body’s frame. A pouch sling, on the other hand, is basically a tube-shaped piece of fabric that you can slip on quickly and easily. Both of them distribute weight over one shoulder (unlike a wrap carrier) and can be used for a variety of carrying positions.
You might be uneasy about slings — someone probably told you that babies can fall out or be suffocated — but it’s a safe carrying method if used correctly. For that reason, I highly recommend choosing an adjustable sling (typically a ring sling), because the danger lies in using one that’s too big or too small for your frame. If you prefer a one-size pouch sling, always get it professionally sized for your body and never share with bigger or smaller caregivers.
And regardless of which kind of sling you choose, it’s important to read the instructions carefully. The learning curve is higher.