Find out what to look for when buying a baby carrier, safety tips and why bag slings can be dangerous.
Baby carriers are great for soothing a colicky baby, getting a grizzly bub to sleep, managing an outing with 2 kids, or just keeping your hands free around the house. But you need to try before you buy.
Types of carrier
Some styles will suit a wearer’s body shape or size better than others — so it’s important that everyone who’ll be wearing the carrier tries it on. Different carriers are also more suitable for babies of different ages.
A carrier or sling should support a baby without overly restricting their head, leg and arm movement. The ideal posture for a baby is in a flexed “cuddling” position, with legs splayed (not too widely) and supported around the thighs and bottom.
A front pack is a padded carrier with straps over both shoulders, 2 leg holes and a crotch piece to support the baby. A young baby can snuggle up against you in the facing-inwards position. Many of these carriers also allow you to position your baby facing out, which gives an older baby more freedom of movement and more to look at.
Soft structured carrier
A soft structured carrier has a soft body and 4 straps that attach with buckles. Most can be worn on the hip or back, as well as the front.
A sling wraps over one shoulder and around your waist. It lets you carry your baby in front (lying down or sitting up), on your hip or on your back.
A wrap is usually a long cloth strip that’s wrapped and tied off around the body across both shoulders.
What to look for
If you're choosing a baby carrier, here's what to consider.
Make sure the carrier’s suitable for your child — check the recommended age and weight.
Broad well-padded shoulder straps that cross at the back will help distribute the baby’s weight. The straps shouldn’t pull too much on your neck or shoulders. A broad hip strap or waist strap will take some weight off your shoulders and limit sideways movement of the carrier, which adds stability.
All straps should be fully and easily adjustable with one hand and shouldn’t obscure a baby’s vision or cut into their face.
Clips and buckles are usually easier to do up and release than straps that tie up. Although ties will give more adjustment options.
The carrier should support a baby without overly restricting their head, leg and arm movement. Head support is particularly important for younger babies, who have little or no head and neck control. Construction and materials should be comfortable for the baby. Inside seams should be well-finished so they don’t rub or chafe. Breathable fabrics and gaps will help keep baby cool in summer (but you’ll need to dress baby warmly in cooler weather).
Instructions should be clear and concise — especially if you haven’t used a baby carrier before. Pictures or a DVD are helpful. YouTube is great for demonstrations too.
A machine washable carrier will be easier to clean.
Storage pockets can help store small items.
Baby-carrier support groups are popping up around the country: Slingbabies (based in Auckland) and Babywearing Wellington are 2 of the biggest. Groups meet regularly and mums get advice on how to use carriers. They can also use the carrier “library” to take them home to try. We think this is an excellent idea.
There are no New Zealand safety standards for baby carriers. So, what's important?
The carrier should provide support for the baby’s body, head and neck (see ‘What to look for’). It should also hold your baby securely — crucial for when you want to keep your hands free, or when you need to bend down.
Check the size of the leg holes. Leg holes that are too big can let babies slip through — this has been the cause of product recalls in the United States.
Make sure there are no points, sharp edges, choking hazards, small loops, clips, or buckles to trap small fingers and toes. Check your carrier often for ripped seams, sharp edges, and loose or missing buckles.
Hold your baby over something soft — like a bed — when you put them in a carrier.
Check your baby can breathe freely at all times.
Babies have suffocated while being carried in slings. They’re at risk if they’re placed incorrectly — they can’t move out of dangerous positions which block their airways. Babies who are low birth-weight, born prematurely, or have breathing problems such as a cold appear to be at most risk.
The Ministry of Consumer Affairs has advised against using a bag sling, which is shaped like a bag with a narrow strap. The baby can’t be placed in a safe position and can suffocate. The ministry also warns against using a sling that places the baby in a foetal position or lets the baby lie with a curved spine with their chin tucked against their chest: these positions block the baby’s airways.