Criteria of good baby carriers

There are so many different carriers and slings that it is impossible to list and review all of them. However, there are certain criteria for good baby carriers and if you know about them it's much easier to find something suitable (and sort out the ones which aren't ideal):

A good carrier...

  1. allows to carry your baby in the ‘M-position
  2. doesn’t only have fabric in the crotch but supports both baby’s thighs as well
  3. supports baby’s rounded spine on its whole length
  4. has a good head support
  5. should be adjustable - both for parent and baby
  6. spreads baby's weight well over the parent’s body
  7. is made of materials that aren't harmful for your baby

Does the carrier allow to carry your baby in the M-position?

In the M-position baby's knees are higher than baby's bottom and his legs are spread apart in an angle of ca. 90°. Check out photos of a baby carried in a carrier or try the carrier with your baby and you'll easily notice if you can achieve the M-position. On the page about anatomy you find more information about correct positioning.

Does the carrier support both baby's thighs?

The fabric at baby's bottom should reach from knee to knee. This way you can avoid dangling legs and achieve the ideal M-position. Imagine what would be more comfortable for you: hanging from your crotch on a bit of (padded) fabric or having both your upper legs supported too.

Does the carrier support baby's rounded back like a bandage?

Good support for the spine is necessary because small and sleeping babies cannot hold themselves upright. Their muscles aren't strong enough yet, or they are too relaxed. Without enough support they will slump in the carrier which may even lead to breathing problems.
Also the sling should allow for the spine to be rounded because babies are born with a rounded back and straightening of the spine to the well-known S-shape is a process which takes about one year.

Does the carrier offer sufficient head support?

Especially for newborns who cannot hold their head and for sleeping babies it's important that a carrier supports their neck and head well. If you feel you have to hold your baby's head while having her in a carrier then head support is not good enough.

Is the carrier adjustable both for the baby and for the parent?

Your baby will grow and you will loose weight (probably) so it's important you can adjust the carrier to everyone's need. Infinitely adjustable are wraps, and in structured carriers (the ones with buckles and straps) check out how well they adjust, especially around baby's upper back and neck. Some carriers in highstreet shops don't adjust well at all. Having an adjustable carrier is also important if you want to share it with someone.

Does the carrier spread baby's weight well over the parent's back?

Also an important factor to consider is how comfortable a carrier is for you. You won't use it if it hurts your back and then what would be the point in having it?
What people find comfortable differs - we are individuals after all. In general look out for wide and/or padded straps. The closer and higher up you can carry your baby the less his weight will pull on your shoulders. The closer the straps are to your neck the more strain you will feel on your neck - it's better to carry the weight with the bony part of your shoulders. For older babies use a carrier which transfers weight on your hips, e.g. soft structured carriers like the Manduca, Ergo or Beco. If you have back problems there probably still is a way to carry your baby comfortably, especially on your back.

Here a few examples how different slings spread the weight over the parent's back:

front carry (cangaroo) in a woven wrap
hip carry
(hip cangaroo) in a woven wrap
ring sling
Tomy carrier

Are the carrier's materials harmful for your baby?

Another point to consider are the materials a baby carrier is made of because your baby will get parts of it in his mouth - babies love chewing straps. Ideally they should be organic or tested for harmful substances (the ökotex100 label shows that it's safe). Baby carriers made from synthetic fabrics may make your baby sweaty and overheated whereas natural fibres may need more care. Generally baby slings are available in all sorts of materials, even with silk or cashmere.
It's worth taking a look on the label to see how a carrier can be washed. Many of them can be machine-washed and some can even be tumble-dried, which comes in very useful if your baby tends to puke regularly.

Apart from the materials check also if there are any buckles or other parts that might hurt your baby or may be uncomfortable for him or for you. It's always best to try a carrier before you buy it.


© Mirjam Brockmann 2009