Choosing the right baby carrier

Deciding on a baby carrier can be a challenge. Here’s what you need to know before you buy.
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Kathleen Colquhoun, a new mom in Vancouver, knew she wanted to babywear before her daughter, Fiona, was born, but she was overwhelmed by all of the different styles of carriers. She soon found out that her newborn had her own opinions about what kind of carrier worked best, too.

“I read that you should never have your baby facing out in a carrier because it can be overstimulating, but when your baby does nothing but scream and cry and arch her back, you might have to try,” says Colquhoun. She already had two styles of soft-structured carriers, but thought a sling might be the solution. Then she saw a warning label about hip dysplasia (an abnormal development of the hip joint where the ligaments and tissues are too loose, allowing the thigh bone to move around too much in the socket), and returned it. Next, she tried a wrap-style carrier, but was warned by a salesperson that it wouldn’t provide enough spine support for a young baby.

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Like many new parents, Colquhoun was confused by conflicting information and safety warnings. “It seemed every way we turned there was something wrong with each carrier — if it’s not causing hip dysplasia, it’s wrecking their spine or causing stimulation overload.” According to babywearing expert Kelly Drury Laffin, of the Canadian Babywearing School in Edmonton, there’s a lot of different information out there that causes new parents undue stress. For starters, it’s acceptable (but not optimal, Drury Laffin warns) to allow your baby to face out once she reaches four months and has adequate head control. As for hip dysplasia, “there is no research showing that it can be caused by carriers,” she says. In fact, if used correctly, baby carriers actually support healthy hip development.

To pick the style of carrier that’s right for you, Drury Laffin suggests shopping at a store with trained staff who can walk you through all the options. It may also pay off to purchase your carrier after your baby arrives, so you can try it on together.

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Slings and wraps offer cozy comfort in multiple carrying positions and, in some cases, an easier fit for newborns because the stretchy material does a good job of cradling little bodies and providing support. They’re light, stretchy, compact for travel and wash easily. Their main downside is the steep learning curve — parents need to pay close attention to the instructions. “It’s a good idea to have someone nearby to spot you the first few times, while you learn how to put the baby in securely,” says Drury Laffin. By comparison, the soft-structured options are basically just snap-and-go. They put more emphasis on ergonomic design and can carry kids right through their toddler years.

While some carriers are accompanied by extensive safety information, keeping your baby secure while she’s strapped in mostly boils down to common sense: Check for wear — like ripped seams or torn straps – on a regular basis, don’t use your carrier while doing activities where you risk falling, and ensure that your baby is correctly positioned (this means upright with her head under your chin, secured tightly enough to support her back and to hold her in place if you bend over, and her feet should be dangling while the seat of the carrier supports her thighs). With slings, your baby’s body should contour to your body, and she should be placed in a semi-reclined position to promote healthy spinal cord growth.

In the end, Colquhoun persevered. She used the sling during the newborn phase, and then the soft-structured carriers for toting around her daughter, who’s now eight months old. “I can cook, clean, go for walks, whatever I need,” she says. “It gives me a lot of freedom.”

A version of this article appeared in our November 2013 issue with the headline “Hang tight,” p.70.

 

Once you find the perfect baby carrier, you’ll need to know how to wear it! Check out this video on the best way to wear your baby carrier to find out:

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