Babywearing is easier for parents and better for babies. There are hundreds of choices for baby carriers and slings, so the choice can feel overwhelming. It is not as hard as it looks. There are only a handful of popular baby carrier styles and from there it is a simple matter of choosing the fabric you like best.
Your choice of carrier may change as your baby grows. Many babywearing families start with one type of carrier and move to another as the baby moves through sizes and stages. You may find that a hip carry is your choice for an active toddler while shopping, and a back carry is better for longer excursions. While most carriers will allow a variety of carrys, you may find that a sling is most comfortable for one carry and a mei tai for another.
Most carriers will allow you to breastfeed easily. Some, such as a ring sling, offer extra coverage for privacy while nursing in public. Hands free nursing is one of the major advantages cited by moms who wear their babies.
Here are some basic types of carriers and their advantages and disadvantages.
Pouch Style Slings
These are the simplest sling to put on. Simply slip it over your head and arm and you are ready to wear your baby. The advantage of ease of use and the compact style of a pouch or native style sling is a big one for novice baby wearers. The drawback is that a pouch style sling is usually not adjsutable. If the size is right, you'll find it very easy to use. If the size is wrong it can cause back strain or even be unsafe for your baby. This makes it harder to share a carrier with another adult. Pouch slings are also very simple to fold and store in a diaper bag so they can be carried with you easily.
A ring sling is a long piece of fabric with 2 sturdy plastic or metal rings at one end. Ring slings are very adjustable and can be used for more than one adult easily. Some people prefer a longer sling, giving them a long tail that can be used to cover the baby in the sun or to provide privacy while nursing. Always be sure that the ring sling you choose is made with sturdy, safety tested rings and that the fabric is sturdy enough to withstand your baby's weight. You can get ring slings made with cotton, silk, denim or other materials.
Ring slings are great for their adjustability and compact size when folded. Drawbacks include an uneven distribution of weight because the fabric only crosses one shoulder. Some people love having the extra fabric in the tail others hate the dramatic feeling of a tail.
Mei Tai or Asian Baby Carrier
A traditional mei tai or Asian baby carrier is a simple cloth carrier with long straps. The straps wrap around your body to hold the carrier close to you and keep your baby secure. Mei tais offer more structure than sling style carriers so they can look intimidating at first. They are remarkably simple to use and can be used from birth to toddlerhood. A Korean podegi is a similar style of carrier although it is larger than a mei tai. These carriers have been used in Asian countries for generations. A well made mei tai can be shared with different sized adults and the even weight distribution makes them comfortable for longer periods. The long straps can be a bit more trouble to fold and they are a bit bulkier than a sling for storing in the diaper bag.
Wrap Style Sling
A wrap is basically a long piece of fabric used to tie your baby to you. Wraps offer endless variation and will fit almost anyone. A wrap can be made of woven or knit material and is usually several yards long. At first they can seem very difficult, but when I demonstrate wraps to my customers they are almost universally thrilled with how easy they are to use and how comfortable they are to wear. Because a wrap distributed weight on both shoulders, they are great for people with back problems.
There are many WAHM (work at home mom) made slings as well as a number of manufacturer's. You may choose to support a small family business or a larger business. As with any product, the quality will vary. Be sure that the baby carrier you buy is made with sturdy fabric and that any rings or hardware are safety tested. If the price is too good, chances are the manufacturer is taking shortcuts or using sub-standard materials.
Choosing a carrier is easiest if you can try on a few different styles. If you don't know anyone who has a sling or carrier for you to try, look for a babywearing group in your area. These groups can be found through The Baby Wearer or La Leche League. Many online baby stores also offer local demonstrations or rent a sling programs so you can try out their products.
No matter what baby carrier you choose, be sure to stay safe. Practice over a soft surface and get the help of another adult the first few times you use a carrier so you can be sure your baby is safe.