How to Choose a Baby Carrier

Baby carriers have been around since ancient times, when people found ways to strap their babies to their bodies so they could free their hands and arms for other tasks. The rhythmic movement of the parent can relax a colicky or distressed baby and, at the same time, promote the bond between parent and child.

Wearing a pack in front or back requires gradual muscular adjustment on the part of the parent. The packs don't lessen the sense of weight, they simply place all the weight on the shoulders instead of the arms. Over time, this strengthens a parent's legs, neck, and shoulders.

Carriers are ideal for rural walks where strollers cannot go.

Carriers are ideal for rural walks
 where strollers cannot go.

Packs function best on hikes and long walks and are terrific in places where strollers and carriages would be bulky and awkward. But they can be clumsy in confined areas, such as in stores. Once a child can sit up, a backpack is more comfortable for the parent than an infant carrier, and it allows the child to have a view of more than just his parent's shirt. Backpacks are made to accommodate children weighing up to 25 pounds.

Getting the baby in the pack and putting it on takes practice and, initially, someone else's help. Most parents balance the pack on a knee and place one arm into the appropriate strap before swinging the baby and pack around to put the other strap on. Others back into the pack, which they have placed in a chair with the baby already in it. All packs come with directions to help you adjust the pack to fit and to guide you in learning to shift the baby and the pack onto your back.

Packs are of two basic types: those made solely of fabric and worn in front and backpacks with tubular metal frames.

Soft fabric carriers are especially useful for the newborn and the young baby, who will usually be soothed by your body's rhythmic movement. Some carriers are designed to have the baby facing outward, away from your body, but most carriers snuggle your baby close to your chest, which is preferable for a very young baby. While you can use a fabric carrier with an older, heavier baby, it will feel like a heavier burden on your shoulders.

Tubular-frame backpacks are made especially for babies older than six months of age who can sit up and who like viewing the world over your shoulders. The frame helps to redistribute some of your baby's weight off your shoulders and onto your back or hips.

When shopping for a soft carrier, look for the following:
  • Heavyweight and completely washable fabric. Corduroy, cotton, polyester, and denim are excellent.

  • Well-finished seams, especially at stress points, such as where the straps fasten to the pack.

  • Ease of use and a good fit. The shoulder straps of some models are spaced too far apart or are too long. Try the carrier out in the store.

  • Heavy-duty strap fastening, preferably made of metal. It should be easy to adjust and able to hold the baby's weight securely.

  • Appropriate-sized crotch width and leg holes. The crotch width of the seat should not force the baby's legs into an uncomfortably splayed position, and the leg holes should be very soft and not higher than the seat, which could cut off circulation to the baby's legs.

  • Adjustability. The carrier should adjust to accommodate a growing baby, either with seams you can let out or adjustable straps. Read the directions and experiment before you buy it.

  • Thick and firm shoulder pads for maximum comfort.

  • A built-in head support to prevent baby's head from flopping.
In addition, some carriers have discreet zippers for nursing so you don't have to take the baby out. Other carriers have instructions for how to use the carrier while breast-feeding.

A tubular-frame pack should offer the following:
  • Very thick shoulder pads to keep the straps from gouging your shoulders.

  • A good fit. Try the pack on to see how its length and width fit you. It should feel comfortable with the baby in it; the top rail should not dig into your backbone nor should the frame interfere with your arm movements.

  • Correct strap positions. The straps should hit you directly on top of the muscles halfway between your neck and your arm. Straps set too widely cause undue postural stress. If too narrow, they may cause chafing and constriction around your neck.

  • Seat design and leg holes that are comfortable for your baby. The crotch of the seat should be narrow enough not to force the baby's legs too far apart. The leg holes of the seat should be flush with the seat-not higher than the seat-so as not to cut off circulation to the baby's legs. The rims of the leg holes should be soft, not scratchy.

  • A sturdy, easy-to-operate seat belt to prevent your baby from standing up in the carrier.

  • Padding on the front rail to protect gums and teeth when your baby mouths the front bar of the carrier frame as you walk.

  • Sturdy, stretch-resistant, and easy-to-clean fabric. Make sure the seams, especially those around the top rail of the pack, are reinforced around high-stress points. This ensures your baby's safety.
Other helpful features include the following:
  • A storage section at the base of the pack.

  • A pack with a padded pelvic belt to help redistribute the weight from your shoulders onto your less vulnerable pelvic area. This is a worthwhile feature if you're going to be hiking or camping.

  • Support stands. The stands help when putting the baby in the pack and mounting it on your back. Some manufacturers, however, claim the stand enables you to use the pack as an infant carrier. It doesn't. Do not use them as infant carriers because they're unstable and can topple over easily. If you do buy a pack with a stand, examine the hinge mechanism to be sure it can't capture or crush fingers in its scissoring action.
As your child gets closer to being able to walk you will need a whole new set of equipment. In the next section, we will learn about infant seats, jumpers, swings, and gates.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.