Tula, Ergo Baby, Boba, Beco, Lillebaby, Cuddly Wrap, Sakura. Woven wrap, soft structured, mei tai, stretchy wrap, sling. What are the differences? What does all this mean? There are just so MANY!
There are so many brands that it is hard to know which one is the right one for you, your baby and lifestyle. Here are the basics of choosing a baby carrier that fits your lifestyle, your baby and YOU!
Our first recommendation that we make is to have one carrier for the newborn stage and one for the older baby/toddler stage. The needs for a newborn and older baby/toddler are much different. Newborns love to be close. They love to feel warm, hear your heartbeat and smell your body. They came out of a tight, closed up, dark space where they heard primarily your voice, listened to your heartbeat and cuddled up tight. Which is why we love recommending a stretchy wrap, woven wrap or sling for the newborn stage. The wraps and slings bring baby nice and close to you with a soft fabric. They keep them warm, well bundled and cozy. As babies age, they like to move more and see what is going on. They want more autonomy and as a result we recommend soft structured carriers where babe can be worn on the front or back.
The stretchy wrap is my favourite newborn carrier because I find it distributes the weight nicely and has a relatively simple learning curve. Keep in mind that stretchy wraps will only work well for the first 4-6 months (but boy will it be worth it!). The woven wrap is a nice follow up to the stretchy wrap giving you more flexibility in positions, ties and long range use (most allow you to carry babies upwards of 45 lbs).
The sling is all around handy carrier to have in your "stash" (this is a word that avid babywearers use to describe their collection of carriers). Slings are fantastic in the newborn stage and work well as baby ages as a hip carrier. Since they are one shouldered some people find that they are not as comfortable as a woven or stretchy wrap or a soft structured carrier because they do not distribute the weight evenly (I agree!). However, they can be rolled up easily in your purse and once you get the hang of using one it can be put on quickly to soothe your baby or to run into a shop. We love our Sakura Bloom Linen Slings and our Chimparoo (Made in Canada!) organic cotton slings.
A Mei Tai is a combination of soft structured and wraps. They have a soft, flexible shape to them yet they function more like a wrap (less wrapping and more tying). Mei Tais are great for a family who is looking for the features of a stretchy or woven wrap but are worried about having to perform all the various ties.
Soft structured carriers, or as I like them to call them back pack style carriers, are a multi purpose carriers with clips, buckles and straps that can be worn from newborn right up to 45 lbs (more or less for some brands). They are an all purpose, universal carrier that works well for most families. Can be worn on the front or back (usually on the back once the baby is more than 6-12 months old). I still use one of these with my almost 4 year old when we go on long hikes. We use the same one for our 1.5 year old much more regularly (while cooking dinner, teething, out for a walk in the woods). View our soft structure carriers HERE.
In an ideal world, it would be great to have a stretchy/woven wrap, ring sling and soft structured carrier. If you have a budget for this type of arrangement you will love having the choice of which carrier to use and when. But alas this is not possible for everyone, nor does everyone necessarily want that many carriers. One is often enough for many families.
How do I decide which brand? That is a tough question and one that we get asked often. If you are lucky enough to live in Kingston, we have a wonderful Babywearing Tutorial and Loan Program whereby you can learn about all the styles in store and then try out 2 carriers in the comfort of your home. If you are shopping online, we are more than happy to discuss with you via phone or email which one might be best for you. There are many factors to consider - size of your body, size of your baby, lifestyle, etc.
As an example, a family that lives in a downtown core without a vehicle may want to have at least two carriers. They may want a soft structured carrier that has a tall back and wide base so that it can accommodate larger children (since they may be doing lots of walking) and a secondary carrier such as a sling for quick trips. Whereas a family with a vehicle who doesn't spend much time outdoors may not need the same features. They may just want a carrier to use casually around the house when their baby is younger as they will be using their stroller as the baby gets older.
I am not preferential to one brand over another and the statistics from our loan program show that when families try out various styles of carriers no one chooses one brand over another (they actually all sell equally). Even though brands like Tula tend to be trending right now, it does not mean that it is necessarily the best carrier for your family. This is one the many reasons we suggest getting in touch with us prior to making your purchase. if you would like to purchase a carrier on your own without assistance, we are CONFIDENT that you will be happy with ANY of our choices. All of these brands are well tested, well loved and extremely reliable brands. That way we can help you make the best decision possible for your family - after all we have fitted new moms, dads and even grandparents with thousands of baby carriers over the past 8 years!