Buyer’s guide to baby carriers

What a baby carrier is, why you might use one, and how to buy the perfect one for you and your baby.

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What is a baby carrier?

A baby carrier is a basically a comfy “pouch-on-a-harness” arrangement that lets you carry your baby against the front of you body or on your back, leaving your hands free.

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You may decide that owing to lifestyle, space or storage constraints, budget or personal preference that you’d like to use a baby carrier instead of a buggy as your sole means of baby transport. Or you could find a carrier is an additional piece of kit for times when it’s not convenient to take a pushchair somewhere, or for when they want that extra-special feeling of holding their baby close.

In addition to baby carriers, there are baby slings. Slings typically have less structure than a baby carrier. If you want to know more, check out our buyer’s guide to slings.

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Do you want a front or back carrier?

A front carrier is usually suitable from birth, and will let you to carry your small baby close to you, whilst keeping your hands and arms free. Generally, a front carrier has a shorter lifespan that a back carrier, because once your baby gets bigger, you’ll start to feel the strain of carrying her. A front carrier is soft and easy to pack away.

A back carrier is suitable for a baby who can sit up and support herself. It’ll let you carry your child until she’s 3 or 4 years of age. It’s usually more structured, consisting of tougher fabrics and sometimes a metal frame, so is bulkier and heavier and won’t pack away as easily. It’s great for walking and trekking, carrying an older and heavier child and for use over longer periods, because it’s a comfier carrying position. However, you won’t be able to see your baby.

Still not sure what carrier you’d prefer? Here are the pros and cons of each baby carrier type.

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Who will use it?

You need to think about whether you or you and your partner will be using the carrier. If it’s just you, you can just focus on your comfort. Look for broad, padded straps that evenly distribute your baby’s weight and different lumber support options. However, if you both want to use it, you need to select a carrier that can be easily adjusted to fit your different heights and shapes (and your clothes). The Mamas & Papas Morph takes getting the perfect fit for each of you a step further than most models, by allowing you to purchase separate sized harnesses for you and your other half, which the pod then attaches to.

Do also pick a colour/pattern that’s unisex! Also think about how strong you both are. A large metal-framed back carrier might be just the job for your hunky triathlete partner, but not so good for your size and strength.

Will you need to put it on alone?

With some practice, you should be able to put on a front carrier by yourself. Most MadeForMums reviewers agree it can be a bit of an art at first, but gets easier, though some models are definitely easier than others.

Some front carriers require you to fit the pod or pouch around your baby first and then attach that to the carrying harness, which you’re wearing. With other brands, such as the Baby Bjorn range, you can slot your baby in whilst the pouch is already attached to the harness. Drop the flap, pop in your tot, then hinge it back into place against your chest.

Harnesses may be put on over your head like a bib, or wrapped round your shoulders, waist or hips. Some models have various loops or clips on either side of your baby to close the pouch and affix it to the harness. Others have a fastening on just one side to make it simpler for you to do up. Do consider whether you’re left or right handed when you select a model like this! 

With most back carriers, you place the rucksack on the floor propped up on its frame and then put your baby in. You do up the harness and then hoist the rucksack onto your back.  Rather like carrying any big bag, you may well need help. Putting the carrier onto a level with your hips – such as a bench while you squat down means you can do this by yourself.  But remember you’ll need to take the carrier off again!

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How will you use it?

Think about when, where and how often you’ll be using your baby carrier before you select your product. Will you be going on long walks or just popping to the shops? Do you want to use it so you can get more things done around the house whilst soothing a colicky baby? Do you need to be able to store other items (purse, keys, change of clothes) in the carrier? Also think about whether you’re planning to breastfeed in the carrier.

If you want to get out and about to the shops with your carrier, look for one that’s not too bulky and can be packed away easily. You may be less concerned about the carrier’s size when trekking across fields, but its weight and the lumber support it offers wills be an important factor. You could also consider specialist cooling fabrics for longer trips, so you and your baby don’t get uncomfortably warm or sweaty.

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When will you start using it?

When choosing your carrier, you need to think about when you’re going to start using it. Do you envisage using it from birth – perhaps you’re even thinking about bringing your precious bundle home from hospital in one? Or do you think you’ll use it when your baby’s slightly older? 

Most front carriers are suitable from birth, but some can only be used from 3 months, so check before you buy. You can buy some useful accessories if you’re using the carrier with a very tiny baby such as dribble bibs and removable head support cushions.

Back carriers are typically suitable from 6 months onwards, when your baby can sit up.

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How long do you plan to use it for?

Most baby carriers are designed for different age groups, so you might end up buying one that’s suitable for your tiny baby, and then decide when he’s a bit older if you need to buy an additional product. Always check the minimum and maximum recommended weight guidance before you make your purchase.

You might find your baby doesn’t want to be carried this way once he’s more active anyway.  Similarly, you may not feel able to continue carrying your baby once he gets heavier. If you do want to carry your larger baby, look for a model that transfers weight onto your hips.

Alternatively, you could consider buying a carrier you can use now, as well as when he’s a bit bigger. Some of the multi-way carriers  offer this option, but most still don’t enable you to carry as big a weight as a structured back carrier.

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