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Baby carriers

Baby carrier buying guide

Last updated: May 2014
Getting started

Getting started

Babies love being held, but even the most dedicated parent will find their arms need a break at some point. A baby carrier offers an easy way to keep your child close and comforted while freeing your hands to do other things. Whether you're busy with odd jobs around the house or out running errands, a carrier can come in handy. But we don't recommend using a sling-style carrier since they can pose safety risks.

Soft baby carriers let you "wear" your baby by strapping him to your body. Since babies love to be held close, many enjoy this cozy arrangement, and for some it might even ease their fussiness. With some carriers, you may be able to position your baby so you can discreetly breast-feed as well.

There are three major types of soft baby carriers: front strap-on models, hip carriers, and slings or wraps. Most soft baby carriers specify a minimum and maximum weight limit. You'll probably find that your baby will be too heavy to carry comfortably before he reaches the upper limit. Alternatives could be a backpack carrier or a stroller, for example, once your child is no longer an infant.

Slings and other front-mount soft baby carriers can pull your body weight forward, which isn't a natural carrying position, and can be hard on the spine and on the soft tissues.

Once your baby has full control of her head and neck and can sit up unassisted, you should switch to a backpack carrier since it will provide more structural support and put less stress on your body.

Strap-on and hip carriers

Strap-on carriers are designed for babies weighing from about 7 or 8 pounds up to 25 to 32 pounds, depending on the brand. Some strap-on carriers can be used from infancy (the minimum weight is about 8 pounds) in the inward-facing position, then outward-facing for children with full head control up to 25 pounds. Some can be used for full-term babies who weigh as little as 6 pounds, and some are for babies who weigh as little as 3 pounds.

Expecting twins? There are some strap-on carriers for two, which allow two babies to be carried in front of you. This might sound ambitious, but some parents love being able to move around with their babies while keeping them close. At least one carrier for twins can be used for preemies.

It's important to make sure that all strap supports are secure before putting your baby into a carrier. Front strap-on models with leg openings big enough for a child to slip through have been recalled. Some models now come with a seat insert for newborns to guard against that. Other models have straps, drawstrings, or other ways to narrow the openings so they fit snugly around the legs. In any event, adjust leg openings to the smallest size that's comfortable for your child.

Hip carriers, unless they have a headrest, are generally designed for babies who can hold their head up unassisted, weigh at least 15 pounds, or are at least 4 to 5 months old. The upper weight limit tends to be higher than front strap-on carriers' (35 to 40 pounds) depending on the brand, but to avoid back and neck strain, you should probably stop using one before then. Also, some hip carriers have been subject to recalls because the shoulder strap could detach from the hammock, causing a baby to fall.

The downside to using a soft carrier is that some infants just don't like being "worn" in the upright position (and if they get upset, they're literally "in your face" about it). Some dislike any carrier that feels too confining around the head, which is necessary in the beginning months with front strap-on models and hip carriers with attachable head supports. Also, if your baby falls asleep in a front strap-on carrier, you can feel stuck. Because your baby must exit from the top of the carrier, it can be tough to get her out without waking her. To address this problem some carriers let you unclip both sides of the front flap so you can lay the baby down without disturbing her. Another model lets you unclip the entire "pouch" from the harness.

Slings

Over the last 20 years, there have been at least 14 deaths associated with sling-type carriers, and dozens of injuries, including skull fractures, head injuries, and contusions and abrasions. Most occurred when a child fell out of a sling. Recalls of sling carriers in recent years have prompted ASTM International, an organization that sets voluntary standards, to develop one for sling carriers. The standard went into effect in February 2012 but has few test requirements and, in our opinion, fails to address the hazards of improper use.

Concerns raised by manufacturers, who requested a review that resulted in the ASTM standard, included not only fractures and bruises but also the risk of smothering. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has documented a risk of death from "positional asphyxia" or suffocation, particularly in infants younger than 4 months. Two positions can cause airway blockage and suffocation: When an infant bends his head forward and his chin touches his upper chest, forming a C-shape with his body; and when an infant is completely contained in a carrier with his head turned so that his face is pressed against the caregiver's body. Consumer Reports does not recommend the use of slings due to the large number of recalls of these products, some associated with death or serious injuries and the lack of adequate safety standards. Soft front carriers and backpack carriers are covered by safety standards that we think are adequate, making them safer to consider.

In March 2010, one million Infantino SlingRider and Wendy Bellissimo slings were recalled due to a risk of suffocation (at least three deaths were reported). About 1,200 Ellaroo Ring Sling baby carriers, sold from June 2007 through February 2008, were recalled in 2008 because the aluminum rings on them could bend or break, allowing the fabric to slip through the rings and cause a baby to fall. In 2007, about 100,000 Infantino SlingRider baby carriers, sold from July 2006 through February 2007, were recalled because of a similar malfunction in a plastic slider. Don't buy or accept as a gift any secondhand carrier or sling because defective ones could still be in circulation.

Some slings can be simple to put on and wear. Others resemble a fabric version of origami, which leads us to believe that some of the incidents with sling carriers are due to improper wearing or assembly, or a failure of the rings or other hardware. It's uncertain how an ASTM International standard can help to make these products safer or error-proof. For now, we think there are better ways to transport infants including strollers, handheld baby carrier and car seats, and strap-on carriers.

Consumer Reports has not tested or rated current models of any type of carrier. Brands and models are mentioned here as examples only.

Recommendations

There are parents who like soft baby carriers and there are those who mostly leave their carriers hanging on a hook in the closet. Because it's impossible to predict how you or your baby will react to one, it doesn't pay to register for a soft baby carrier or buy it ahead of time. Wait to buy until your baby is born. Ideally, you'll be able to get a little practice with a friend's carrier first. For the safety reasons we mentioned, we recommend a front or hip carrier over a sling, especially for the youngest infants who will typically be carried lying down. If you decide to buy a sling anyway, follow our safety strategies.

If you decide to buy a front or hip carrier and your baby is amenable, look for a comfortable, machine-washable one that can be fitted to your torso, with sturdy, adjustable straps that secure your baby snugly. It should also distributes your child's weight evenly and support her head. Check the carrier periodically for sharp edges, ripped seams, and missing, loose, or defective snaps, buckles, or rings.

With any type of carrier, follow the manufacturer's instructions carefully to make sure you use it properly, and be sure to send in the registration card so you can be notified in the event of a recall. Think about how much you'll use it before you buy one. That will help you determine what to spend. A low-priced version may be fine if you plan to use the front or hip carrier or sling only occasionally. If you foresee long jaunts with your baby or expect to be using your carrier a lot around the house, consider a higher-end model, which may give you more support and be more comfortable. Don't use a soft baby carrier for activity more rigorous than leisurely walking. If you want to pick up the pace, a jogging stroller is your best bet.

Certification for soft baby carriers

The Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association (JPMA) has certified several brands of soft baby carriers.

Certified soft baby carriers are deemed by JPMA to comply with voluntary guidelines set by ASTM International. Included in the guidelines are rules for leg openings to minimize the risk of babies falling through them. Certified carriers must also pass dynamic and static load tests to verify the limits on the amount of weight the carrier can safely support. They also carry warning statements (included in the instruction booklet, too) stating, for example, that small children can fall through a leg opening and that the product should be used only if your baby's weight is in a specific range, such as 8 to 26 pounds. We believe JPMA certification offers some assurance that a soft carrier is safe, but certification is not required by law and is not supervised by any government agency.

Slings are now covered by ASTM standards, although we do not think they adequately address all the hazards.

Types

Below are the three major types of soft baby carriers.

Front strap-on carriers


This type of carrier holds a baby in an upright position. An infant faces in and an older baby faces out or in. The carrier consists of a padded fabric pouch with leg holes that's attached to an adult shoulder and waist belt, which supports the baby.

Hip carriers


These are like a cross between a sling and strap-on carrier because they have adjustable straps and they're designed to be worn on your hip. With a hip carrier, your baby faces you just like you'd naturally carry her, but it's easier because your arms don't carry the weight.

Some front baby carriers can be worn on the hip as well. Some let you use them different ways, such as, as a front carrier or a hip carrier, or for children from newborn to toddler.

When you're wearing your baby in a front strap-on or hip carrier, you'll fit better in cramped elevators and other places where strollers can't easily go. And in some cases, it can also be safer. In supermarkets, for example, wearing your baby in a strap-on or hip carrier while pushing a cart is preferable to placing a car-seat carrier on top of the cart, which we don't recommend. And because strap-on and hip carriers offer supportive infrastructure and your baby sits upright, we think they're safer than slings.

Sling (also called wraps)

We recommend against this option due to safety concerns (see Getting started). Slings consist of a length of fabric that you wear over one shoulder and around your waist. A sling forms a comfy, portable nest for an infant, but babies should not be completely enclosed because of the possibility of suffocation. In the beginning you'll wear your baby in front. As your baby gets bigger and can hold her head up--at about the 6-month mark--you can shift your baby in the sling to your hip.

Features


Comfort should be your top priority, but you can also look for snazzy fabrics as well as features that add convenience. Here are some to consider.

Fabric


Strap-on carriers and hip carriers are typically made of 100-percent cotton, a cotton/spandex blend, nylon, or moisture-resistant polyester microfiber. Some come in fashionable colors and patterns. With slings and strap-ons, it's nice to be able to throw the whole thing in a washing machine. Some slings are available in a range of fabrics and patterns, including silks, organic cottons, retro colors, and more.

Fasteners

Carriers have a variety of buckles and fasteners for shoulder and waist straps and the seats. Whatever type of fastener your carrier has, it should be sturdy and require a lot of force to undo. Buckles that hold shoulder and waist straps should be easy to adjust and keep straps firmly fastened when the carrier is in use. Buckles and fasteners should be easy for an adult to use, but not so easy that a baby could undo them, and they should fasten tightly, but not in a way that could pinch your fingers.

Lumbar support


Well-made carriers may have a padded waist strap that helps to distribute your baby's weight from your shoulders to your hips and pelvic area. This is a definite comfort advantage. When you're shopping, try on a floor model and fasten the belt/waist strap to see if it's long enough and neither too high nor too low. Padding should be firm, not mushy. At least one type has adjustable lumbar support as well as an adjustable chest/back strap.

Shoulder straps


Shoulder-strap padding should be firm and wide so the straps won't dig in. Straps should be positioned so they won't slip off your shoulders or chafe your neck, and they should be adjustable while you're carrying your baby.

Side-vent insets


Babies can sweat in a carrier. To help keep them cool, some carriers have a panel of mesh-like material to promote airflow, or side insets that can be unzipped or unbuttoned to serve the same purpose.

Easy access


As we mentioned, many front strap-on models have buckles on each side that release a front flap. This makes it easier to get your baby in and out. This is handy not only for putting down a sleeping baby but when using a shopping cart once your baby can sit up by herself.

Removable head support for newborns


At least one model has a removable neck support for newborns and younger babies, as well as a removable hood to block sun or wind. In many models, you wear your infant facing you, and when the child is older the part of the carrier that supports the head is flipped down and then the baby can face out.

Storage pockets and covers


Some carriers come with a pocket for holding keys or cell phone, or maybe even a spare diaper. You can also get a variety of covers to keep out the sun, and you can get blanket covers, like miniature sleeping bags, that fit over the front of the carrier for wintertime wearing.

Brands


 

BabyBjorn

Björn Jakobson founded the company in 1961, and it remains a Swedish family company. Today its products can be found all over the world, with its U.S. headquarters based in Cleveland. The company’s baby carriers, bouncers, feeding gear, and bathroom products can be found at Babies "R" Us, Buy Buy Baby, and many other juvenile product retailers, and online.
www.babybjorn.com

Chicco

One of the largest baby brands in Europe, this 50-year-old company is part of the global Artsana Group, a “holistic, innovative lifestyle company” that encompasses everything you need to care for all generations of a family, from baby-feeding systems to cosmetics to medical supplies. Chicco (pronounced "kee-ko") is now in more than 120 countries across six continents. Available wherever juvenile products are sold.
www.chicco.com

Evenflo

For more than 85 years, Evenflo has been “meeting the needs of children from birth to preschool age,” with car seats, strollers, high chairs, play yards, and activity products, along with baby care products. Available at most retailers and online.
www.evenflo.com

Infantino

The Step2 Holding Company includes Step2 and Infantino. Both companies foster learning and development through creative play in children from birth to school age. Infantino is a leading infant toy company based in San Diego, and offers an extension to the Step2 preschool category. Products include creative baby toys and puzzles, innovative soft baby carriers, and baby travel systems.
www.infantino.com

Jeep

The Jeep baby carriers are made by Kolcraft—a company that began in 1946 in Chicago, when Leo Koltun made playpen pads out of cotton batting and oilcloth covers for babies. The company continued to grow, introducing the innovative Carri-Cradle in 1979, the first combination plastic infant carrier and rocker with a carrying handle. Kolcraft continued its expansion into manufacturing and distributing other product categories, including play yards, high chairs, walkers, and strollers. In the 1990s, the company introduced new categories, including bassinets, bouncers, swings, and juvenile furniture. Available everywhere juvenile products are sold.
www.kolcraft.com

Maclaren

The company began in 1965, when Owen Maclaren designed and patented his prototype Baby Buggy, the B-01. Today’s Maclaren Buggys are descendants of the B-01, from the lightweight frame and durable fabric, to the one-hand fold. Available where junvenile products are sold and online.
www.maclarenbaby.com

Okkatots

This Utah-based company is owned by a mother of five, who is also the product designer, a nurse, and grandmother of six. The company manufactures travel bags, diaper bags, and accessories. Available on the company’s website.
www.okkatots.com

Petits Richart

Founded in 2002, this Southern California-based company designs high-end, stylish, and sophisticated baby accessories, such as functional bags, layettes, carriers, and blankets. Available at high-end department stores, and the company’s website.
www.petunia.com

Scootababy

Based in Sunnyvale, Calif., the soft baby carrier is the only product this company sells, as the owner designed the carrier for her child. In 2008, she won the Top Choice Award from Creative Baby Magazine.
www.scootababy.com
 

Tot Tenders

Founded in 1978, this company is still designing products for multiples, such as the "MaxiMom" carrier for singles, twins, or triplets. Products for toddlers include handcrafted animal-theme backpacks with "tails" to hold for safety. Available online.
www.tottenders.com

Weego

While working for the Peace Corps in the 1960s, Mike and Ann Moore made an amazing discovery: Babies rarely cried when carried on their mother's backs. When their daughters came along, they recalled the contented babies they saw in other countries, so Ann and her mother created a soft baby carrier (the original one) that would keep her baby close, comfortable, and quiet. The Moores, now grandparents, were encouraged to update their original baby carrier for today's active parents and now make carriers for preemies and twins. Available online.
www.weego.com

lillebaby

Founded in 2001 with functional, stylish baby gear to help simplify life with a baby, this Colorado-based brand stays close to its roots, with an emphasis on research, innovation, improving quality of life, and style. The company started with a team of parents, designers, pediatricians, fashion consultants, a chiropractor, a rock climber, and others to make the best carrier possible. Available at select stores and online.
www.lillebaby.com

Shopping tips

Decide if you will use a soft carrier

If you're not sure, wait until after your baby is born before you buy one. Better yet, borrow one first. Try on a friend's carrier to see whether it is comfortable for you and how your baby takes to it. If she constantly wants to be held, a soft carrier may be just the ticket for relieving your aching arms. Also consider how much walking (or even hiking) you might do with your baby. As we've said, carriers are generally for babies under 20 pounds, while a backpack carrier (for babies who can sit up independently, usually around at least 6 months old) can be handy for day hikes and frequent outings once your child is older.

Don't buy one secondhand

Because strap-on carriers and slings have been subject to recalls, buying a new one makes it a little more likely it will be safer. To play it even safer, check any carrier you're considering on the Consumer Product Safety Commission's website at www.cpsc.gov or sign up for free e-mail notices of future recalls at www.cpsc.gov/Newsroom/Subscribe. And always send in the registration card for the soft baby carrier you select (and any product you buy) so you will be alerted directly about recalls by the manufacturer.

Try on the floor model with your baby

Take another adult along to help, especially if you're not familiar with soft baby carriers. We've discovered in previous testing that not all carriers and slings fit all builds. Doing a test run in the store will give you a quick take on sizing and the features each carrier or sling offers.

Consider a framed backpack carrier

This is an option when your baby can sit up unassisted and has full head and neck control (at about 6 months old, the earliest). These carriers are basically backpacks with a fabric baby seat and structured frame. Usual upper weight limits are about 40 pounds--which would accommodate a typical 3-year-old--plus assorted gear. See our backpack carrier buying guide.

Check the return policy

Some babies need time to adjust to a baby carrier; others never come around. So keep your receipt and the packaging the carrier came in just in case you have to return it.

Using a baby carrier safely

You might feel a little awkward the first few times you use any type of baby carrier. With practice you might get to a point where the carrier fits you and your child comfortably. Talking to other parents who use carriers can be very helpful, and you might be able to borrow one to see how you and your child like it. If you join a group such as the breast-feeding support organization La Leche League (www.lalecheleague.org), leaders often have experience with carriers and can help with hands-on advice.

Adjusting the carrier

Make adjustments before putting your baby in the carrier or sling. Mastering the rings and folds (with slings and wraps) so everything fits correctly takes time, even with clear instructions. But getting it right and frequently checking the hardware (without your baby in it) is critical to keeping your baby safe. This is one reason we don't recommend using slings. If your back or neck hurts from carrying most of your baby's weight on one side (with a hip carrier, for instance), give that shoulder a break.

You have to get your baby inside the carrier without a fuss, then learn to trust the carrier and get used to the initially uneasy feeling of having your baby suspended in front of you. Our advice is to read the directions carefully, then practice. Some manufacturers recommend that you rehearse with a teddy bear or doll until all steps become natural. That's not a bad idea.

Get used to wearing it inside your home, moving from room to room before venturing outside. Make sure you're wearing the carrier as comfortably as possible.

Other tips: Don't wear the carrier too low on your body. It can pull your back into a sway back position that's uncomfortable. Wear the baby up higher, on the chest, not lower on the waist. Also, remember to take breaks. No matter what carrier you use, don't use it all day. Your back needs a break.

Moving with the carrier

Learning how to move with a baby carrier can take practice. You can't lean over too much, and your back, shoulders, and legs have to adjust to the added weight. You'll also have to be mindful of your extra dimensions when going through doorways and around corners so your baby won't bump into anything. With front carriers, tripping--even over something minor like a crack in the sidewalk--could be a major issue since you can't see your feet. (On the other hand, your hands are free to balance yourself, which wouldn't be the case if you stumbled while carrying your baby in your arms.)

Although many carriers are designed to adjust and "grow" with your baby, some parents complain of lower back pain once their baby reaches about 20 pounds. A simple rule is to stop using any type of soft baby carrier when you sense you're approaching your own physical limits. Boissonnault recommends switching to a backpack carrier when children are older and have head control.

Do:

  • Recruit someone to help you when trying a carrier or sling for the first time, or practice in front of a mirror. You can also try practicing with a doll or stuffed animal.
  • Try putting your baby in for the first time when you're both fed and well rested. Sit down to do it, and don't stand until you feel that your baby is secure.
  • Avoid carrying your baby lying down or completely contained in a carrier because his chin can press against his chest, blocking his airway. His face should be free, not pressed against your body. To reduce the risks, why not wait a few months until your baby can hold his head up and be carried in an upright position? The front (tummy to tummy) or hip carrying positions are safer than laying an infant lengthwise in a sling.
  • Squat instead of bending over to reach for something when your baby is in a sling so she doesn't fall out.
  • If wearing a hip carrier or sling hurts your back, try shifting your baby to your other hip (or side) or stop wearing it and use a stroller instead.

Don't:

  • We don't recommend using slings at all but if you do, wait until your baby is at least 4 months old to reduce the risk of suffocation.
  • Don't wing it. Read the instructions (most sling manufacturers have detailed how-to instructions on their websites). And watch the video demonstration, too, if it's available, so you have a clear understanding of the product and how to wear it before transporting your precious cargo.
  • Don't wear your baby in a sling in a moving vehicle. She should be in a safe car seat anytime he's in a car.
  • Don't carry your baby while cooking or near open flames. The fabric may not be flame resistant, plus your baby could burn or hurt herself by reaching for something sharp or hot, and any splashes or splatters would probably hit her first.
   

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