Baby Carrier Styles Described
As soft baby carriers have exploded in popularity, the number of options available has skyrocketed as well, and the variety can be intimidating to the uninitiated. The baby carriers considered by modern parents divide roughly into five categories: wraparound carriers or "wraps", ring slings, pouches, Asian-style carriers, and constructed carriers. Read on for a summary of each, as well as links to examples.
Wraparound Carriers, or "Wraps": We begin with our favorite type of carrier, which is also the simplest, conceptually. A wrap is just a strip of fabric that is tied around parent and child, traditional to many cultures around the world. It's deceivingly simple, extremely versatile, and incredibly comfortable. How it is used is somewhat dependent on the length of the fabric, so we split this category into "short wraps" and "long wraps".
Short Wraps: The simplest and most convenient of all baby carriers, rebozos are the traditional woven shawls used by Mexican women to carry all sorts of things, including their babies and young children. Typically 2-3 yards long, they are beautiful and very lightweight strips of fabric with fringe on the ends, and they are most often worn over one shoulder like a sash, with the ends tied together in a double knot. The baby can be on the front, hip, or back in a rebozo. This type of "traditional sling" inspired the design of the modern ring sling, and possibly that of the modern pouch, described below. For more information about rebozos, please check out the non-profit Rebozo Way organization. Many other cultures traditionally use short wraps as well, and now there are also modern versions made of thicker fabric.
Long Wraps: In some cultures the traditional wraps are more than three yards long, and they're worn wrapped around the mother's body several times. Most of the ways to wear a long wrap are symmetric, using both shoulders, instead of the sash-style one-shoulder method used with the short wraps. The baby can be worn in many different ways on the front, hip, or back. The traditional long wrap is typically made of lightweight woven fabric , but now there are heavier versions and also knit wraparounds known as "stretchy wraps." Long wraps are rapidly gaining popularity lately as modern parents discover their versatility and unparalleled weight distribution.
Examples of Woven Wraps:
- EllaRoo Wrap (lightweight, traditional style with fringed ends; handwoven in Guatemala)
- Storchenwiege (thicker, organic cotton fabric; made in Germany)
- BaliBaby Breeze (lightweight, cotton gauze fabric; hand-batiked in Bali)
Examples of Knit Wraps:
- Hug-a-Bub® (narrower, made in Australia of solid-colored cotton jersey with contrasting pocket)
- BaliBaby Stretch (wider, made in Bali of hand-batiked cotton jersey)
- Moby Wrap (wider, made in Thailand of solid-colored cotton interlock)
Ring Slings: The common modern form of the rebozo in the U.S. and Canada has a pair of metal or nylon rings attached to one end. The other end is sometimes sewn into a narrower strip so that it can be easily threaded through the rings. It is worn like a rebozo, with the ends kept together by the rings instead of a knot. As with a rebozo, the baby can be on the front, hip, or back in a ring sling. Ring slings sometimes have padding added to the shoulder and the "rails" (edges of the fabric), which can be barely noticeable or so thick that it is almost pillow-like. In most baby stores you will find only the heavily padded ones. Ring slings are especially appreciated for their easy, on-the-go adjustability: a big benefit for nursing and for quick changes between different adults and different carrying positions.
Pouches: The pouch is another version of a rebozo or ring sling. There are no knots or rings in this case though, usually just a strip of fabric sewn into a loop, worn like a sash. As with the previous styles, the baby can be on the front, hip, or back in a pouch. While the traditional slings can be tied to any size, and the rings are used to adjust the ring slings, a typical pouch cannot be adjusted, so that sizing becomes more important. Some pouches are adjustable, though, with snaps, buttons, or zippers for adjusting the size. Parents love pouches for their pure, portable simplicity and stylish appearance.
Asian-Style Carriers: These carriers are inspired by the Chinese mei tai, the Korean podaegi, and other traditional Asian carriers. They are most basically constructed of a rectangle of fabric with straps coming out near the corners (two in the case of a podaegi and four in the case of a mei tai). Just like the ends of a wrap, the straps of an Asian-style carrier are wrapped around the baby's and babywearer's body in various ways and tied, but in this case there is a wider rectangle of fabric that goes over the baby. These carriers can be worn on the front or the back. Asian-Style Carriers are a very convenient and comfortable option---the mei tai in particular is the fastest growing type of carrier at the moment in terms of popularity. The secrets to the mei tai's popularity are its easy-to-learn back-carrying option, its comfortable and effective weight distribution, and its stylish fabric choices.
Examples of Mei Tais: EllaRoo Mei Tai, BabyHawk Mei Tai.
Example of Podaegi: EllaRoo Podaegi.
Constructed Front/Back Carriers, Front Packs, Back Packs: These are more modern styles that we don't have much experience with, although we did own a Baby Bjorn long ago. These carriers usually keep their shape somewhat without a baby inside (unlike all of the cloth carriers above), and they have buckles and velcro and other modern closures. This was the first style to gain popularity with American parents, and can be found in many baby stores.
Other Carriers to Check Out: For some great ideas on how to use two ring slings together to achieve the symmetry of a wraparound, check out the MamaBaby slings. Any parent looking for a hip carrier that distributes some weight to the wearer's lower body should try the EllaRoo Mei Hip. Another innovative babywearing idea is the combination of multiple pouches as in the SlingSet.
Enjoy your baby carrier search!