Once you become a parent, you stumble upon a whole trove of topics you didn’t even know existed in your previous, well-rested life. Things like nap schedules become a really big deal. You explore different philosophies about when and how your baby should eat solid food. And yes, even potty training is fraught with debate and controversy.
So it’s with a bit of humility that I declare myself an expert on the topic of baby carriers. As a new mother of a colicky newborn, holding my daughter close was the only thing that calmed her down during the endless hours of screaming throughout her early months. In my desperation, I became quite the baby carrier connoisseur and came to own more baby carriers than I care to admit.
Carrying your baby with a sling or carrier is commonly called “babywearing.” It’s become a movement in the world of parenting. There is an enormous market for many different types of baby carriers. There’s even a boutique offshoot of people willing to invest upwards of $1,000 in limited-edition prints and weaves.
But baby carriers don’t have to be complicated, elitist, or overly expensive. And unlike me, you don’t need to own a dozen. In this post, I’ll explore the pros and cons of the most popular ones on the market right now. But just in case you’re lost in a haze of exhaustion, we’ll give you the top choice first.
Best Baby Carrier Winner: Tula Free to Grow
If you want the most bang for your buck, look no further. The Tula Free to Grow accommodates your growing child from the tiny newborn months all the way through the squirmy toddler years. It can feasibly be the only baby carrier you’ll ever own. Tula has achieved cult-status in the world of babywearing, and for good reason. Their products are simple, gorgeous and high-quality. One online reviewer said that Tula is to the babywearing industry what Apple is to smartphones. I own their Standard Baby Carrier, which is great, but the Free to Grow is even more awesome.
Pros: It doesn’t need an infant insert because its panel has multiple height and width settings. That makes it infinitely customizable and versatile enough to grow with your baby from infancy through toddlerhood. It’s as simple as click, clip, and cuddle. The shoulder straps are nicely padded, which is important as your baby gets heavier. It’s easy to put on and take off and the prints are stunning.
Cons: Tulas can be a bit stiff when they’re brand new. As they wear over time, they get much softer. I don’t consider this to be a deal-breaker.
The Runner-Up: Boba 4G
I adore my Boba 4G. I received it as a gift when my daughter was born, and it has carried both my babies from infancy all the way through toddlerhood. It comes with a small infant insert that easily snaps in and out. In the earlier months, it was a little pillow that they could sit on. This is a big advantage over other soft-structured carriers, where the infant insert comes at an additional cost and is hot. The Ergo insert is as warm as a little comforter!
Pros: The Boba has not failed me. I recommend it without hesitation. In fact, my kids refer to all baby carriers as “Bobas.” In addition to all the major functional stuff, the Boba has also perfected some nice details, such as a shoulder snap to hold your purse in place.
Cons: Why rank my beloved Boba beneath the Tula? Because the Tula needs no insert at all. You’re already drowning in baby gear and accessories; the name of the game is to keep things simple.
Typically made of jersey cotton, these wraps are… you guessed it… stretchy. The stretchy wrap is designed for the first four to five months of a baby’s life, and its design is simple: it’s just a huge, long piece of fabric without buckles, straps, or buttons. It evenly distributes your baby’s weight across your back, hips, and shoulders, and is generally quite comfortable.
Pros: The stretchy fabric makes these wraps forgiving and accessible to new parents. Once wrapped and the baby is tucked in correctly, they can be quite comfortable and snuggly. They are also some of the most affordable options on the market.
Cons: As soon as my babies hit the ten-pound mark, the stretchiness of the fabric became a problem. No matter how tightly I wrapped, my baby would start to sag and droop downwards. So for me, the window of time that I used a stretchy wrap was quite short. They’re also extremely warm, which is great if you want to head out with your newborn in the winter, but I’d imagine a stretchy wrap would be sweltering in the summer.
Here are some stretchy wraps that we recommend:
Boba says you can use their stretchy wrap from birth to around 18 months, but I didn’t make it past four months before graduating to a more substantial carrier. It contains 5% spandex, which really makes it extra stretchy. It’s machine washable, something that’s a must for the early days of reflux and spit-up.
The Baby K’Tan is marketed as a wrap for the wrapping impaired, meaning it involves no tying. The K’Tan is sized to fit you, not your baby, so if you and your partner are different sizes, it’s not a carrier you can share.
The major difference between the Moby and the Boba is that the Moby is 100% cotton, which means it’s slightly less stretchy. When I held my baby in the Moby’s newborn hug hold, it was an extremely comfortable, snug, and secure experience. That made me prefer it over the Boba, but otherwise, they’re pretty indistinguishable from each other.
The bottom line: Stretchy wraps are nice to include on baby registries and represent an especially sweet, tiny time in your newborn’s life. But faster than you can believe, your tiny baby will grow into a long-limbed, squirmy toddler, and it will be time to retire the stretchy wrap to collect dust in your closet.
Soft-structured baby carriers
I consider soft-structured carriers, also known as SSCs, to be the workhorse of the baby carrier world. Though they’re pricier, I think that they’re 150% worth the investment. A good SSC will last you from the newborn days, through toddlerhood, and even beyond — I still carry my four-year-old around in an SSC.
Pros: Soft-structured carriers distribute the weight of the baby to your hips instead of your back, and can be worn cuddling your baby to your chest. Or, once your child is around six months and older, they can be carried on your back like a backpack. Most people find SSCs to be extraordinarily comfortable, versatile, and durable — a good one should last you multiple years and kids. It’s a matter of preference, but many people find it more convenient to deal with buckles and straps rather than wrapping long pieces of fabric that drag on the ground, especially with kiddos who are walking and like to go up and down a lot.
Cons: There aren’t many cons of soft-structured carriers other than their high price point. Since the products are so durable, I think even a used carrier should be a very safe bet.
Here are some that we recommend:
This popular carrier allows you to wear your baby facing outwards while holding them in the hip-safe “M position.” My kids liked facing outwards for occasional stretches of time, but my top complaint about the Omni 360 is that even with its adjustable seat options, the seat isn’t wide enough to accommodate your toddler much past one year. For a carrier that expensive, I’d expect it to last for many years, so it’s something to keep in mind.
Lillebaby 6-in-1 Complete – top choice for outward-facing
The Lillebaby has a wider seat than the Ergo Omni 360, meaning it can last you from infancy all the way through toddlerhood. It’s a bargain in comparison. It doesn’t require a separate infant adapter and n incredibly comfortable. An added bonus – it comes in beautiful prints. When facing outwards, it also holds your baby in an ergonomic position. No need to worry about hip dysplasia. One feature that’s extra nice is that it has a breathable mesh panel for maximum air circulation. This is great for summertime!
A word on the inward-facing vs. outward-facing debate
Chances are you’ve seen a baby in a carrier that’s facing outwards towards the world. Did you know that this is a highly controversial topic in the world of parenting? It is! Hardcore baby wearers are generally extremely against outward-facing baby carriers, for a few reasons.
When wearing your baby, it’s considered healthiest for your child’s legs form an “M” shape: their knees should be pulled up above their butt like little frogs. This is the healthiest positioning for their hips. Some outward-facing baby carriers (most infamously, the classic Baby Bjorn) do not support the thigh all the way out to the knee joint. When used for extended periods of time, they may contribute to abnormal hip development. These carriers are pejoratively called “crotch-danglers.”
The other big objection to wearing your baby outwards is that it doesn’t offer enough head and neck support (think: a baby whose head is bouncing as the parent walks). People also worry that it’s overstimulating for a small child.
So why would anyone ever wear their baby facing forwards? A lot of older babies with strong neck control love it! So like with many things in parenting, be sure to do your research. Try things out for yourself and make decisions that feel right for you and your family.
The bottom line: While different soft-structured carriers have slight differences in fit and functionality, generally speaking, it’s hard to go wrong. I’ve never known someone who owned an SSC and said it wasn’t worth it!
Woven wraps are generally considered advanced babywearing options. If you’re super into babywearing and have cash to spare, woven wraps are for you. A woven wrap is a long piece of fabric used to carry your baby, and notably, it has no stretch. When used correctly, they are extraordinarily versatile. You can use a woven wrap from the day your baby is born all the way through toddlerhood, and it can be tied in a million different ways for a front carry, back carry, hip carry…the list goes on.
Pros: Woven wraps are beautiful, versatile, and simple. They are fully adjustable and can be worn in many different positions. The world of woven wraps bleeds into the luxury textile industry, where people get obsessed with collecting different fibers, prints, and sizes.
Cons: Wraps can be intimidating for newbies. They have a steep learning curve, and you have to be very committed to learning different wrapping and tying methods. Additionally, once you enter the world of artisan hand-woven wraps, it starts to get very expensive. Finally, let’s just say it: the woven wrap world is kind of cultish!
Think of woven wraps like collector’s items, where you can nerd out with limited-edition, artisan crafted, one-of-a-kind items. A well-crafted woven wrap is a fashion statement and art form, all in one.
Didymos Wrap: Didymos is a well-respected brand that’s very popular in the world of advanced baby wearers. Made of 100% cotton, it’s easy to maintain, soft, and supportive. They have stunningly beautiful prints.
Hip Baby Wrap Sling: This wrap isn’t going to earn you much street cred in the world of babywearing, but the price can’t be beaten! If you’re trepidatious about entering the world of woven wraps, this could be a very budget-friendly place to start.
The Benefits of Babywearing
Why would you want to own a baby carrier in the first place? People have been wearing their babies for eons, mostly out of necessity. It’s a logistical solution to a physical problem: strapping your baby to your body frees up your hands and allows you to operate like a normal person. Before your baby can sit up on their own, wearing them in a carrier empowers you to go grocery shopping, navigate airports, and do housework. Religious iconography is even riddled with infant Jesus being held in a carrier.
“The Flight Into Egypt,” circa 1305 (fresco) by Giotta di Bondone
Most babies love to be held, carried, and close to you. After nine months in the womb, they know your smell and like to be close to your beating heart. One study showed that infants who were worn during the day cried and fussed 43% less overall and 51% less during “the witching hour” (evening time, when many babies are particularly irritable.) It’s warm, it’s cozy, it’s loving, and it creates a very sweet bond between caretaker and baby.
No need for strollers
It’s a matter of preference, of course, but many people also love that that baby carriers minimize the need for strollers. Strollers can be bulky, cumbersome, and very annoying. The mobility you have holding your baby close is a big advantage. If you’ve ever tried to navigate airport security, a New York City grocery store, or a street fair with a baby, you’ll probably agree that the agility you enjoy with a baby carrier is highly preferable to the nightmare of wrangling a stroller.
When can I start babywearing?
Anytime! Whether your baby is a newborn or a full-fledged toddler, babywearing is great as long as both parent and baby are comfortable.
How long can I wear my baby?
This is really up to you and your child. Again, as long as it’s comfortable for you both! My four-year-old still loves to be carried on my back in our Tula, though it’s definitely starting to get heavy for me. Tula makes a great Toddler carrier that’s designed for children from 25 to 60 pounds!
How do I wrap/get on this freaking thing?
Whatever carrier you have, there’s a video tutorial for it on YouTube. Really! There are tons and tons of tutorials that will walk you through how to wrap or adjust your carrier, step by step. For example, the MobyWrap YouTube channel even has two different videos on how to breastfeed while keeping your baby in the carrier!
What’s the deal with outward-facing baby carriers?
Like we reviewed above, many soft-structured baby carriers on the market do give your baby the option to face outwards. Be sure yours was designed specifically for that purpose before trying it. Look for one like the Ergo 360, which holds your baby’s hips in an ergonomic frog-like position and doesn’t “crotch dangle.”
Again, many hardcore babywearers are against outward-facing carriers, even ones with ergonomically-approved designs. They argue that facing outwards might be overwhelming for the baby, bombarding them with stimuli, and it makes it harder for you to respond to your baby’s cues. As with many things in parenting, see what you and your baby prefer and after doing some informed research. Trust your own judgment.
Why is Baby Bjorn so controversial?
Baby Bjorn is one of the better-known baby carrier brands out there. Some people love it because of its slick design and it’s so easy to get on and off. So what’s the problem? It’s a dreaded “crotch dangler,” meaning the baby is not in an ergonomically correct position. With prolonged use, this could cause hip dysplasia.
Can I breastfeed while my baby is in a carrier?
While I never managed to succeed at this acrobatic feat, many people say most definitely “yes.” Just adjust the shoulder strap and lower them down, and keep your baby completely vertical. Good luck.
What’s the deal with wearing my baby on my back?
Most babies achieve neck support by the age of six months, at which point you can start to wear them on your back in the rucksack position. Both my kids and I love it.
What about when it’s cold outside? How do you manage babywearing with a winter coat?
Babywearing is perfect for the wintertime when you want to snuggle and share body heat with your little one. After a lot of trial and error, here’s what I found to be the most comfortable:
- Dress baby warmly but normally — no need for a snowsuit or bunting. Just make sure they’re wearing a hat!
- Dress yourself warmly but normally.
- Put your baby on in the carrier.
- Zip up your coat with a jacket-expander. I first tried this one with clips but didn’t love it. I had more success with this zip-in panel.
You and your baby generate body heat together inside the comfort of your coat. Once you get inside, just unzip your coat normally.
What about when it’s hot?
To a certain extent, there’s not a lot you can do. It’s going to be hot and sweaty. But many people report success with stripping your baby down to his or her diaper and wearing them in a soft-structured carrier or another carrier that provides ventilation. I don’t recommend trying to wear a stretchy wrap or woven wrap.
My baby doesn’t seem to like babywearing. What do I do?
All babies are different, and some are definitely more into it than others. As long as you’re using a highly recommended carrier correctly, my best recommendation is to keep trying. Babies change and grow so quickly, and the child you know right now will be a completely different human in another month.
Conclusion: The Best Baby Carrier
The Tula Free To Grow is by far the best baby carrier I’ve used. While it’s a bit of an investment up front, it can grow with you from the newborn days all the way through toddlerhood. It requires no extra accessories or inserts and it’ll last you forever.
Having said that, like everything in parenting, which carrier is best for you is highly personal. It depends on what you and your baby find most comfortable. It’s really impossible to predict what you’ll both prefer. Keep an open mind, try different things, and good luck!