Baby carriers are one of the most useful items for parents. So choosing the right option from the various types of baby carriers is important! I love baby carriers and have used, um, a lot of them with my three kids. Probably more than is reasonable. Let’s take a look at the carrier types:
There are 7 types of baby carriers: soft structured carriers, stretchy wraps, woven wraps, ring slings, pouch slings, mei tais (also called “meh dais”), and baby carrier backpacks.
Types of Baby Carriers
Which carrier you choose depends on personal preference/comfort, the age of your baby, and what types of activities you plan on doing. There’s no single “best” carrier, but each type of carrier has pros and cons and works differently.
In this post I’ll go over the seven types of baby carriers, which will hopefully help you decide which route you want to go. Or you can be like me and not so much pick a “route” as “pick lots of carriers.” Ha!
(And if you’d like more general information on babywearing, my babywearing for beginner’s post should have you covered).
For me it has been worth it to get a few types of baby carriers to have some different options on hand. And because I just like carriers. Stop judging me! Just kidding, you can judge me, I can’t stop you.
Even though I prefer to have a few carriers, it’s quite possible to get one carrier that can work from the newborn stage straight through to toddlerhood.
First up – arguably the most common and popular type of carrier on the market, the “soft structured carrier.”
Soft Structured Carriers (SSCs)
Soft structured carriers can be used for babies roughly 7-50 lbs., depending on the particular carrier.
Thanks to *baby model* Ani, you can see that there are different positions you can use with these carriers.
*She is not really a model but she is really a baby.
Structured carriers like the ones shown above are the go-to for a lot of parents, particularly once your baby is out of the early days of life as a newborn. Personally this is my favorite all-around carrier type, and what I’ve gotten by far the most use out of over the long-run with my kids.
A soft structured carrier is made of a soft material, but it’s sewn into a structured seat. These carriers have padded shoulder straps and buckles. No elaborate wrapping is needed, which is a plus for a lot of people (myself included).
SSCs can be adjusted for whoever is wearing it. Your child’s weight gets evenly distributed across your shoulders, which I think is a huge plus. Even though I tend to have shoulder pain, when I’m wearing one of my structured carriers I don’t typically have a problem, even after an extended amount of time carrying my baby.
Soft structured carriers are convenient, easy to master, and practical for long walks, outings to the park, etc. I also like them when I need to get some chores done in the house and I have a fussing baby! The back carry position is especially useful if you have an older baby and want to keep your hands free.
Soft structured carriers are useful for YEARS, not months. So if you only want to buy one carrier, this is the route I would recommend.
SSCs for Newborns
If you’d like a structured carrier but don’t want to spend extra money on an infant insert, some options that can be used from birth without an insert include the Tula Free-to-Grow, the Ergobaby Omni 360, the Beco Gemini, and the Lillebaby Complete Original.
*You should always check the minimum weight requirements, particularly if you have a smaller newborn or a preemie.
For a more comprehensive look at carriers for infants, including video tutorials, you can check out my post on the best baby carriers for newborns.
Pros and Cons of Soft Structured Carriers
- Easy to Use
- Convenient and sturdy
- Can use for babies right through the toddler stage
- Multiple carrying positions
- They can be a little big for newborns and some need an infant insert
- More pricey than most wraps
A wrap is simply a long piece of fabric that you need to wrap around yourself and your baby. While the product itself is a simple piece of fabric – wrapping is not simple! It can be mastered with some practice, but it does take a little work to get the hang of wraps.
There are two types of wraps: stretchy wraps (like the Moby), and woven wraps.
Stretchy wraps can be used for babies from birth to 20 lbs.
Stretchy wraps are basically long, stretchy pieces of fabric that can be wrapped around your body and over your shoulders. Wraps are relatively inexpensive and very versatile. They’re especially good for young babies, and they’re really cozy.
Strechy wraps go onto your body before putting the baby in. The fabric criss-crosses multiple times in order to keep your baby secure.
Wraps are made of different fabrics, including cotton, gauze, wool, linen, etc. Gauze is great in the heat.
Some of the wraps feature very warm fabric (I’m looking at you Moby). This is ideal for a winter baby, but if you’ll be having your baby in the spring or summer, you’ll want to consider a wrap made of thinner material, like the Solly.
Once your baby gets larger than 20 lbs., stretchy wraps begin to sag and hurt your shoulders. That’s your clue that it’s time to move along, likely to a structured carrier or woven wrap.
Woven wraps are the most versatile and long-lasting of the carriers – they can be used from birth straight past toddlerhood! That’s quite a long run.
Woven wraps are for the Usain Bolt’s of motherhood – this is some advanced baby-carrying, and it takes practice! You’re not going to just toss one of these bad boys on without spending some considerable time watching YouTube videos on wrapping, or attending a class.
The main thing to distinguish woven wraps from stretchy wraps is the fabric. Woven wraps, like stretchy wraps, are long pieces of material that are used to wrap your baby to your body. However, woven wraps are thick, woven fabric that is not at all stretchy.
Woven wraps are commonly made of cotton, but there are also blended wraps that combine linen, silk, wool, or bamboo with cotton.
With woven wraps, the baby is wrapped onto the wearer, vs. being put into a carrier that’s already attached to your body. This is partly why these particular wraps take more practice. The fabric is also LONG and that can be daunting for a busy parent who just wants to pop into Trader Joe’s.
All this being said – some people love using woven wraps! So I don’t want to discourage anyone. This always seemed a little much for me personally, but I can see why people would get into it.
Pros and Cons of Wraps
- Ideal for newborns
- Multiple carrying positions
- Woven wraps can be used for years with your child
- More of a learning curve
- The long fabric can be a lot to manage and can drag on the ground
- Stretchy wraps start to become less comfortable as your baby gets bigger
Slings are worn over one shoulder, versus over both shoulders like the other carrier types.
There are two sub-categories of slings: ring slings and pouch slings.
Rings slings are appropriate for babies from birth to 35 lbs. depending on the carrier and material.
Ring slings can be either “single layer” or “double layer.” Single layer slings tend to be easier to adjust. Double layer slings can accommodate heavier toddlers, up to 35 lbs. Single layer slings typically go up to a 25 lb. weight limit.
You need to check your individual sling to confirm the weight limit, as it can differ from product to product.
Ring slings are similar to short woven wraps. The fabric is gathered on one shoulder and attached together with two metal rings (hence the name “ring sling”).
The material gets looped across your body and threaded through the rings, which end up sitting below your shoulder.
Your baby will be placed between the sling and your body, and the top and bottom edges of the sling get tightened to make a seat for your baby, who will be sitting securely against you.
Trying out the Moby Ring Sling with my 11 month old daughter.
Note: I bought a Moby Ring sling to test out for this post, and it wasn’t comfortable for me personally. My shoulders and neck tend to hurt, and with my baby (who was 11 months when I tried a ring sling) I felt way too much discomfort in having all the weight on one shoulder versus distributed evenly on both shoulders.
If I had used a ring sling with a newborn I think it would have been fine, and lots of moms seem to prefer a ring sling for newborns above all other carriers.
Pouch slings are basically large circles of fabric that get curved into a pouch for your baby. Babies sit in a deep pouch that’s in front of your body, and are in a semi-reclined position either in the pouch or on your hip.
It’s crucial to make sure that your baby’s airways are clear when they’re in a pouch sling, particularly in the semi-reclined position.
Pros and Cons of Slings
- Fast to put on and take off
- Ideal for newborns
- Weight is not evenly distributed, which can be an issue if you have shoulder or back pain
Mei Tais are appropriate for babies from birth to 44 pounds depending on the carrier.
These Asian-style carriers (also called Meh Dais) are a hybrid between soft structured carriers and woven wraps.
Mei Tais have straps that go over your shoulders and typically cross, then wrap around you and the baby so that they can be tied at the baby’s back or your waist. These carriers have a belt that ties around your waist and is attached to a panel that works as both the seat and back for the baby.
Mei Tais don’t have buckles, which can make them easier to adjust for your particular body type. Some people also find them to be more comfortable than SSCs.
Pros and Cons of Mei Tais
- Highly adjustable to fit your body
- Lots of attractive fabrics to choose from
- Slightly higher learning curve than a soft structured carrier
Baby Carrier Backpacks
Finally, you may want to consider a baby carrier backpack, if you’re intention is to go on a hike with your baby. This type of carrier wouldn’t make much sense for daily use, as it’s much larger and heavier duty than the other carriers. But it would totally make sense if you’re on a mountain!
The Wirecutter extensively tested 10 different hiking baby carriers, and their top pick was the Deuter Kid Comfort for the “most likely to keep both parents and kids feeling like happy campers.” Because they test things so thoroughly, for my money I would trust the Wirecutter on this one. You can read their full review here.
This type of backpack baby carrier is definitely a specialty item, but if you’re an active, outdoorsy family it may well be worth the investment, particularly if you’d like to get your baby out on the trails. If you want to check out the current list price of the Deuter Kid Comfort on Amazon you can find it here.
Note: If you’d like to carry your baby on your back but don’t need to be super hardcore with it, you can do this with other carrier types as well (like a soft structured carrier). You just need to make sure it’s an older baby with good head and neck control.
Pros and Cons of Backpacks
- Very sturdy and rugged for outdoor activities
- Allows you to remain active outside if this is important to you!
- Really only practical for hikes, trails, etc.
- More expensive than other carriers
There is something for everyone when it comes to baby carriers. While they will not replace a stroller for most people, having a carrier or two on hand can make a huge difference in your life as a parent. And with so many different types of baby carriers on the market, you’re bound to find something that works for you.
Personally, I like the soft structured carriers the best overall, and my favorite carrier in that category is the Lillebaby. It’s comfortable, has a great storage pocket, and is cozy feeling, more so than some of the other structured options.
Let me know what carrier you like the best in the comments!
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