There are two main types of baby carriers around – front carriers and back carriers. There’s also a less common third type – multi-way carriers. Here’s what each can offer you.
Front carriers – the pros and cons
Front carriers are typically suitable from birth onwards, allowing you to carry your small baby close to you, leaving your arms free. Some front carriers enable you to breastfeed at the same time. With a front carrier, your baby initially faces inwards to your chest. But once she is older and has more strength in her neck, she can face outwards. This also means she can see what’s happening in the world.
Front carriers are structured, but made of softer fabrics, with adjustable straps. They consist of a structured fabric pouch in which your baby is held against your body. The pouch is attached to straps that wrap around your shoulders and back (and sometimes hips) to support your back. The carrier is often adjustable for both you and your child, by using buttons, loops or straps.
They are usually washable, soft, small and easily packed away. With most front carriers you can put your baby in yourself, but it can take a few times to get the hang of it. On the negative side, once your baby gets bigger, you may well feel the strain on your back and she may no longer want to be carried this way.
Back carriers – the pros and cons
Back carriers are suitable for babies who can sit up and support themselves – generally you’ll see them labelled as being okay for use from 4 or 6 months. If you imagine a rucksack with your baby sitting in a special seat, harnessed into the top looking out over your head facing the same direction as you, you’ve got a rough idea of how a back carrier looks. This is probably the easiest way physically to carry an older baby or toddler, and a back carrier can last until your child’s 3 or 4 – if your back can withstand it!
Back carriers are typically more structured, consisting of tougher fabrics and sometimes a metal frame.
Many back carriers have freestanding legs (like a portable chair), so you can load your baby into it whilst it’s on the ground, then hoist him up onto your back within the carrier. Look for adjustable straps that fit round your hips to balance his weight.
Back carriers are useful for more serious walking or hiking, and you can often purchase useful rain and sun protectors, but they are a bulkier and heavier piece of kit than a front carrier.
Multi-way carriers – the pros and cons
Some carriers allow you to carry the baby in a cradle position, such as the lie-flat Mamas & Papas Cybex i.GO, on the hip, or even adjust to become back carriers. These are multi-way carriers.
Multi-way carriers typically don’t have as much structure or support as a conventional back carrier and wouldn’t be suitable for longer treks.
For some, the idea of carrying your baby in front of your body, with your baby on her back, doesn’t feel close or secure enough. It’s also not that convenient if you want to move easily in crowds.
Before you purchase a carrier, check out our buyer’s guide to baby carriers, to help you find the right one.