By ElizabethPantley, Author of Gentle Baby Care
Most parents find a baby carrier to be invaluable during thefirst year of their baby’s life. There are many types and styles to choose from.The different types of baby carriers fall into three main categories: slings,front packs and backpacks.
These are made of fabric and are available in a wide varietyof styles. They “sling” sash-style over your shoulder to hold baby in front ofyou. Slings offer many benefits to both baby and parent. Here are some of themost commonly cited by experienced sling-users:
- A sling is perfect for the newborn months, when Baby needs to be held often in your arms, as opposed to being pushed at arm’s length in a stroller.
- A sling is an excellent way to carry your baby around the house because it keeps your baby happy while leaving your two arms free to go about your daily tasks.
- Sling carriers are multi-purpose. You can use them to carry your baby, to create privacy for breastfeeding, and to cover your sleeping baby. Some feature a tail that can double as a blanket or coverup.
- Putting your baby into (and getting him back out of) a sling is a breeze. You can even get a sleeping baby in and out of one of these soft carriers without waking her.
- You can carry your baby in a variety of positions.
- Slings are small, lightweight and easy to transport.
- Slings are wonderful to use when a stroller would be inconvenient, such as up stairs, through large crowds or narrow aisle ways, or over rough terrain ¾ or when you’ll be going in and out of the car frequently.
- Slings put your baby at the height of people’s faces instead of at their knees.
- You can use a sling right up through toddlerhood, when little legs get tired of walking.
An important note about baby slings: They can be confusingto use at first, and your baby can slide out of the bottom if not positionedcorrectly. Try to find an experienced sling-user, a how-to video, or aknowledgeable sales clerk to help you master the art of baby slinging. Your localLa Leche League leader may be able to offer pointers, too.
Slings are very much worth the effort. I bought a sling whenmy second baby, Vanessa, was born. I couldn’t figure it out, so I left it inthe closet. When my third baby, David, was born, I attended a mother-babyclass, learned how to use my sling ¾ and was immediately hooked! I used slings extensivelywith my third and fourth babies and found them to be a marvelous baby caretool.
Front pack carriers are similar to slings in use but aremore complex in their structure. They have a seat that attaches to the front ofyou with straps that crisscross behind you; these straps secure the carrier toyour body. Here’s what you need to know about front packs:
- The benefits of front packs are similar to many of those of slings, such as their light weight and portability, and the fact that you can carry your baby while keeping your arms and hands free.
- Some allow you to choose between carrying your baby facing inward toward you or outward, facing the world – which is often fun for older babies.
- Settling the baby into and out of the carrier require more steps than a sling does.
- Moving a sleeping baby into or out of the carrier is difficult, unless the seat unbuckles separately from the harness.
- Front packs are better suited to a baby who is strong enough to hold his head upright.
A back carrier is similar to a camping backpack. It has aseat for your baby that attaches to your back with a frame and straps thatcross over your shoulders. A few things to know about backpacks:
- They’re perfect for an older baby who loves to look around and be carried high on your shoulders.
- Many backpacks have pouches for holding supplies.
- Some models have a canopy for inclement weather or sun protection.
- Getting a backpack off (and putting it on) are typically two-person tasks.
- Backpacks are best for an older baby who can sit up well.
- They’re great for an all-day trip, such as hiking, shopping or visiting an amusement park
How do you decide which carrier to use?
No single baby carrier is perfect for all parents. Everyparent has different needs, preferences and proportions. Many people actuallybegin with one type of carrier and move on to another when their babies getolder.
First, think about how you plan to use a carrier. Will youuse it primarily at home, instead of a stroller while away from home, or both?Do you already have a stroller, or must your carrier fill all yourbaby-carrying needs? Defining its purpose will help you choose which carrier isbest for you. Read the package information (or talk to other parents who own asimilar carrier) to learn which purposes it serves best and to determine if itmatches your needs.
The very best way to decide? Try carriers on ¾either at the store or with a friend who owns one. Actually putting your babyin the carrier will give you the best idea as to fit, but if you are shoppingwithout your baby (or don’t have your baby yet!) try using a stuffed animalfrom the toy department.
Points to consider when purchasing a carrier:
- Comfort. Does the carrier feel good to you?
- Fit for your baby. Does it seem to suit your baby well?
- Fit for you. Does it fit your size and body type? Can you carry the baby without strain?
- Safety. Will the baby be secure and well supported?
- Features. Does it meet your needs?
- Usability. Can you easily get your baby in and out of the carrier? How about putting it on and taking it off? Keep in mind that some models require practice.
- Construction. Does the fabric suit your wardrobe, climate and needs (i.e., lightweight for summer, weatherproof for outdoor use)?
- Care. Is it machine-washable or easy to wipe clean?
- Flexibility. Can you carry your baby in various positions?
- Adjustability. Can it be tightened or adjusted to fit you when you are at home in indoor clothing or outside wearing a coat? Can you adjust it easily for use by others?
- Adaptability. Will it work for your baby now as well as six months from now?
- Appearance. Do you like the style? Will you enjoy wearing it?
This article is an excerpt from Gentle Baby Care by ElizabethPantley. (McGraw-Hill, 2003)