A baby carrier/sling can help you get the shopping done while keeping your baby content. It's important to note that different styles of baby carrier suit different body shapes and sizes, for both parent and baby. Correct fit is vital, not just for baby but for parents too, so try on a few different models before you buy.
And that means both parents need to try it on – in a recent CHOICE survey 23% of dads reported noticeable discomfort, the baby almost falling out or even injury to the baby, when wearing a carrier or sling. So, if dad is going to wear the carrier or sling too, it needs to be adjustable in order to fit both parents.
There are three main styles of baby carrier/sling to choose from:
- A soft padded carrier (pouch) worn on your front. These allow your baby to snuggle up in the face-in position. Many carriers also allow you to position your baby face out, which allows more freedom of movement and visibility for an older baby.
- A sling, also worn across your front, usually offers not just the vertical face-in and face-out positions, but also the 'peapod' position, where a young baby is carried wrapped around or across your body.
- Backpack carriers usually have rigid frames and are suitable for older babies and toddlers.
What to look for
- There is no Australian standard for baby carriers and slings; look for certification to the European standard EN 13209-2:2005 or the US standard ASTM F2236-08.
- Broad, well-padded shoulder straps that cross at the back help to distribute the weight.
- A broad hip or waist strap will take some weight off your shoulders and limit sideways movement of the carrier, adding stability.
- Try the carrier before you buy. Try your friends' carriers and slings, or try on carriers in the shop to make sure they fit firmly and the straps are long enough to fit other potential wearers. The baby’s weight should be evenly distributed.
- All straps should be fully and easily adjustable with one hand. They shouldn’t obscure a baby’s vision or cut into their face.
- Make sure you can put it on and take it off easily without assistance. Clips and buckles are usually easier to do up and release than straps that tie up.
- The carrier should support a baby sufficiently without restricting head, leg and arm movement.
- Adequate head support is particularly important for younger babies who have little or no head and neck control yet.
- For the baby’s comfort, inside seams should be well-finished so they don’t rub or chafe.
- The loose fit of a baby sling allows you to breastfeed a baby, which could get a bit awkward in a pouch. However, a sling can also be bulky for smaller babies, uncomfortable to wear, or offer less security for older babies.
- Clear and concise instructions are important, especially if you haven’t used one before. Pictures are helpful, as is a video, or instructions printed on the carrier itself.
- Most of the carriers trialled indicated a suitable weight or age range from birth up to 18 kg or even preschool age. While some of these ranges can be useful to see whether it’s suitable for a small newborn baby, in most cases you or your baby will decide when it’s time to stop using a carrier — the baby will get too heavy or wriggly for you to carry them safely, too big to fit in comfortably, or will find it too confining.
- Consider the season you’ll be using it. Lightweight carriers with a more open design may be more comfortable for the baby in warmer months.
- If you plan to use it for more than just a few months, make sure it can accommodate your baby’s growth. A facing-out option is particularly important for carrying older babies.
- Useful features include a ‘dribble-guard’ to protect your clothes, a pouch for your wallet or keys and a rain guard or sun cover.
For more information on how we test, including the results of our test, check out our report on Baby carriers and slings.