(A real-life guide to hands-free, happy-baby bliss for all.) 

PictureKaspar and Aaron rock a Boba 3G
Thank you to those of you who threw baby wearing quotes my way for my recent editorial piece on the topic! That'll soon go live on a big-name parenting site; I'll be sure to link you over when it does. Meanwhile, have a look at this Alt-Mama exclusive -- an in-depth guide to baby and tot wearing for every kind of mama, papa, family and kid! (I actually wrote this for another site that was bought out before the piece aired; my contract prevents me from shopping it around elsewhere, so instead it gets to debut here at Alt-Mama HQ. Enjoy!)

Baby wearing is a win-win for parents and littles alike. Besides crying less often and sleeping more soundly, babies who are 'worn' in a carrier, wrap or sling are comforted by the womb-like sounds, movements and safety they experience when held, closely and continuously, against their parents' bodies. The results are measurable; babies who are worn benefit from stabilized heart rates, stronger immune systems and improved motor development. Parents, obviously, enjoy this closeness with their infants immensely, while -- hello, convenience -- retaining the use of their hands.

Many of baby wearing's benefits, however, are less tangible, and more personal; from easy-access nursing to subtle, constant communication between babies and caregivers, baby wearing fosters the parent-child bond. This is true even as parents attend to the tasks and interactions inherent in their grown-up lives. In fact, as babies who are 'worn' grow, and become aware of their environments from the vantage points of their parents' bodies, their experience of the world -- and their observations of their parents' engagement with it -- helps them to develop psychologically and socially, too.

In many cultures, baby-wearing has always been a part of parenting life. In ours, it's making a comeback as mothers and fathers alike discover the ideal combination of closeness and freedom the practice provides. "I always felt I could do so much more with Eli in a carrier versus a stroller: take my dog for a walk, go to a museum, or simply go pee," says Stu Weiner, a father of two in New Canaan, Connecticut. "If I was cooking, I'd hand him a piece of whatever I was chopping. I think he eats a more varied diet now as a result of those days. But the biggest benefit has been our relationship. It was easier to talk with him about what we were seeing in the world when he was in the carrier. In the stroller, I couldn't hear him, so I would stop and lean over and deliver the shortest answer possible, so we could keep moving. Having Eli's and my body physically touching instead was great; there is so much that can be conveyed through mundane touch, like being strapped to your parent, that can't be conveyed in words or a brief hug. Eli's now six, and too big to be worn, but we remain close, and we talk about everything."

Many parents continue wearing their children into toddlerhood, as Weiner did, reaping benefits unique to this stage. As Jennifer Luettinger, a mother of one in Leesburg, Virginia says, "I still put Caden, who's fifteen months old, in the carrier when we're out and about. He seems most calm and happy when we have that constant close contact. Whenever we meet strangers, they remark how happy our baby is; I attribute it to long term nursing --we're still going -- and baby wearing. "

Successful baby and toddler-wearing often boils down to finding the best method for your body, baby and unique needs. "Types and brands of carriers are absolutely a matter of personal preference," says Megan McGrory Massaro, co-author of The Other Baby Book: A Natural Approach to Baby's First Year. "Newborns and preemies tend to do best in snug wraps, with their legs folded under them. As babies grow, and like to move a bit more in the carrier, a mei tai, or a soft structured carrier may work best. Toddlers get heavy, so a structured or soft structured carrier, like the Boba, which accommodates tall kiddos, can be a great choice--especially if mom needs a little extra support for a weary back! Pregnant moms will likely find that a hip (sling or pouch) or back carry is easiest on their growing bellies." 

Ready to wear your little one but wondering where to begin? I took an in-depth look at baby wearing's mainstay methods and brands. Read on for an inside look at the pros, cons and price-points for each, so you can find the perfect baby wearing method(s) for your family.

Click "Read More" below!

Moby Wrap: $47.95

PictureThat's a Moby Wrap on the right. Daddy-O is wearing a Moby Go.
Intro to product: The Moby wrap is a large, one-size-fits-all piece of soft, stretchable fabric; free of buckles and straps, parents adjust the Moby to fit their bodies -- and babies -- by tying the wrap more or less tightly as needed. With two methods for wrapping, and four possible holds for baby, the Moby Wrap is best suited to newborns, and babies in their first few months out of the womb; it's ideal for colicky infants, or those who are simply happiest when worn. Because the wrap is stretchy, and despite its weight-bearing claims, you'll probably want to graduate to a more structured carrier -- or a woven wrap -- when your baby is about six months old.

(Psst! We've got a Moby Go Giveaway coming up soon on Alt-Mama.com! Stay tuned.)

Age/weight: Infant through 35 lbs. 

Basic How-to: The two methods for wrapping the Moby -- "gathered" and "folded", respectively -- involve wrapping the Moby in a specific way around your body so baby's weight, once in the wrap, is distributed across your back and over both of your shoulders, much like a traditional carrier. Baby sits in front, on on "X" formed by overlapping fabric pieces, and is then secured by three overlapping sections of fabric. The Moby Wrap website [http://www.mobywrap.com] offers detailed instructions for four different holds, suited to different ages, and to your unique preferences.

Pros:

            •           The Moby Wrap creates a womb-like, secure hold that's ideal for small babies and colicky infants. Skin-to-skin contact is possible with the Moby Wrap.

            •           At $47.95, the Moby Wrap is relatively affordable, even for parents who plan to purchase a more structured carrier when their babies outgrow the Moby.

            •           The Moby Wrap can be shared among caregivers without requiring the re-adjustment of straps and buckles.

            •           The Moby offer four hold options, including a side hold; it works well for pregnant women, or parents wearing multiples.

            •           The Moby comes in a variety of prints and colors, with organic and woven options.

Cons:

            •           The Moby sinks and strains under the weight of bigger babies and tots -- many parents say this happens well before their babies reach 35 pounds --  and doesn't provide for a back-wearing position; consider purchasing another, more structured carrier for later stages.

            •           Learning how to wear the Moby wrap takes some practice. It's definitely doable, but moms wanting an easier time of it may prefer a fitted sling or a carrier that simply buckles on.

            •           On-the-go nursing in the Moby is a little tricky.

Website: MobyWrap.com

Boba 3G Carrier  $120-160

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Intro to product: Boba's carriers -- the company also makes wraps -- buckle across your waist and chest (or back) to distribute baby's weight primarily on your hips; the Boba is designed for parents to wear comfortably with babies of all sizes, from infancy through toddlerhood. More structured than a wrap or sling, and more lightweight than most backpack-style carriers, the Boba is, above all else, versatile; it fits moms and dads, small babies, and big tots. A host of nifty features facilitate these transitions. It's fairly expensive, however, and it -- for whatever reasons -- it doesn't work for everyone. You'll probably love this carrier, but you should 'try before you buy.'

Age/Weight: Infant (insert holds babies 7-15 lbs.) to 45 lbs.

Basic How-to: The Boba carrier buckles around your waist; its arm straps extend over your shoulders and secure via a buckle across your chest or back (depending on whether you're wearing it on your back or front), with baby secured in between the carrier's main body and, well, your body. All straps are adjustable, of course, and an infant insert and toddler foot straps can be switched in and out for age-appropriate comfort and function.

Pros:

            •           One of the most versatile carriers.

            •           Getting the Boba on and off is easy.

            •           Fits caregivers ranging in height from 5' to 6'3''. Petite moms and tall dads can share one carrier.

            •           Lots of color and fabric options, including organic.

            •           Carrier's body is 2-3'' longer than other brands, making it great for tall babies or toddlers, or those children who arch back suddenly in a back carry.

            •           Ergonomic positioning for baby, weight sits on parents' hips. Can be worn comfortably for long periods of time.

            •           Well thought-out features, including shoulder strap holders to keep your purse from constantly falling down your arm, adjustable chest strap, sleeping hood, foot straps for toddlers.

            •           One of the most popular carriers for breastfeeding; the carrier adjusts easily with baby still in it.

            •           Front and back carrying options.

Cons:

            •           Kind of pricey.

            •           Fabric is not as soft as some other carriers (some moms prefer the Ergo for this reason).

            •           No hip carry option. 

Website: BobaFamily.com

Ergobaby Original Carrier $115

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Intro to product: Ergobaby carriers (or "Ergos") are popular carriers with front, back and side-wearing options. With five snap levels, an adjustable chest strap and shoulder straps that extend from 24 to 45 inches in length, Ergos adjust for baby's growth, and suit infants through toddlers. Many moms swear by Ergos and keep theirs for years; the carriers are cozy, yet durable. Complaints about Ergos -- as far as fit is concerned -- usually come from dads.

Age/Weight: Infant (insert holds babies 7-15 lbs.) to 45 lbs.

Basic How-to: Like other strap-and-buckle style carriers, the Ergobaby buckles around your waist, and across your chest or back to hold its shoulder-straps comfortably in place. Instructional videos can help you get the hang of securing your baby in the carrier, but -- as with most carriers -- getting baby into a back hold position may at first feel more secure with the help of another adult.

Pros:

            •           Highly adjustable. The Ergo "grows" with baby, and can be shared among caregivers.

            •           Ergonomic alignment for baby.

            •           Fabric and design options available, including organic, "Performance" and "Sport" models.

            •           Large zippered storage pocket allows you to leave your purse at home.

            •           Front, back and side-wearing positions make it a good option for parents with multiples.

            •           Teething pads and weather covers included.

            •           Built to last through more than one baby. A good investment.

Cons:

            •           Some moms find the Ergobaby Carrier strains their backs with bigger babies and toddlers.

            •           Bulkier than other carriers of the same style.

            •           Shorter body than some other brands: larger babies can outgrow it quickly.

            •           If you're planning to share the Ergo with your man, you may want to borrow one for him to try first. (Some dads love it, some find it quite uncomfortable and nearly impossible to get on and off.)

            •           Counterfeit ErgoBaby Carriers are widespread; make sure yours is the real deal, or you definitely won't be satisfied.

            •           The side-wearing position "scrunches" some babies.   

Website: Ergobaby.com

Baby K'tan -- $49.95

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Intro to product: The Baby K'tan brand officially describes its carrier as "a wrap without all the wrapping… an ideal blend of a sling, wrap and carrier, providing the positions and benefits of all three." A lightweight and low-bulk option that seats  baby in an ergonomic position with lots of head support, the K'tan is an inexpensive and versatile option for baby wearing. Those wearing toddlers, however, may want something more supportive.

Age/Weight: 8 to 35 lbs.

Basic how-to:  The K'tan is composed of two loops of fabric connected by an adjustable back-support band. To put it on, you'll hold the loops together to form a single circle, and then put the circle over your neck like a necklace, with the support band behind your neck. Separating the loops and putting one arm through each will create an "X" across your front and back. Removing the strap from one shoulder so one loop rests on your waist and other rests diagonally across your torso will set you up in the basic starting position from which further adjustments will get you and baby into various holds. While (clearly) not exactly as "ready to wear" as advertised -- moms report that watching the instructional videos [http://www.babyktan.com/instructions.html] is essential to K'tan-carrying success -- most parents find getting the product on and off fairly straight-forward once they've learned how it's done.

Pros:

            •           Lightweight. Not as bulky as other carriers.

            •           Affordable.

            •           Multiple color and fabric options, including organic.

            •           Multiple hold positions.

            •           Great for newborns and small babies, but works for bigger babies and tots, too.

            •           Close, comfy fit.

            •           No strap adjustments, tying, or reaching for between-the-shoulder-blades buckles.

Cons:

            •           All hold positions are front or hip holds. Parents wanting to wear bigger babies and tots on their backs will need another product.

            •           Learning curve required.

            •           Not one-size-fits-all. Moms and dad will probably need different K'tan sizes making the K'tan less "affordable" if this is the case for your fam.

Website: BabyKtan.com

BabyHawk Mei Tai

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Intro to Product: 'Mei Tai' is a term for a category of Asian-style carriers that tie -- instead of buckle -- around a parent's body, by way of four long straps. The fundamental design of a mei tai carrier is fairly simple, and some parents even sew their own [http://handcraftedtravellers.com/handmade-mei-tai-baby-carrier-free-pattern/]. The BabyHawk Mei Tai is made with long, padded straps for extra comfort, and is fitted to suit newborns through toddlers. Its tie-on design makes it endlessly adjustable in front, back and side-carry positions. Some moms, however, find tying the carrier complicated, especially while balancing baby before the straps are secured. Others find they must make frequent adjustments for fit while out and about with baby.

Age/Weight: Infant (with insert) through 40 lbs.

Basic How-to: To get your baby into the Mei Tai, you'll tie the carrier's waist straps around your waist so that the carrier hangs down, with its pattern against your body. Holding baby at the level of your waist and just above the carrier, you'll flip the carrier's body up over baby's body, so the carrier's pattern faces out). Loop the straps over your shoulders, crossing them over your chest or back, then under the carrier, cradling baby's butt. The straps then loop under baby's legs -- or across her back, if she's tiny -- and around your waist again. The BabyHawk website includes detailed step-by-step instructions [http://www.babyhawk.com/Instructions/] for the various front and back holds.

Pros:

            •           Fits infants through toddlers.

            •           Looks great.

            •           Highly customizable. BabyHawk allows moms to buy Mei Tai carriers ready-made, or to design their own; parents rave about the beautiful fabric options.

            •           Front, back and side-wearing positions.

            •           Tie-on design provides lots of support and endless adjustability (caregivers can share one carrier without re-adjusting straps between use).

            •           Pockets and toy loops available as optional add-ons.

Cons:

            •           Getting the carrier on and off takes some practice; some parents find navigating straps while balancing baby challenging. A buckle-on carrier like a Boba or an ErgoBaby may be a better choice for parents wanting a similar carrier style without the learning curve.

            •           Instructions for the side-carry hold are not available on the website. Some moms report this hold isn't as comfortable as the front and back hold options.

            •           Some parents find they need to tighten the straps repeatedly while wearing the carrier.

            •           The carrier is not very well ventilated, and runs warm. Not the ideal choice for families in hot climates.

Website: BabyHawk.com

Baby Bjorn Active -- $129.99 

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Intro to Product:  The Baby Bjorn is a classic; your own parents might even have worn one! Having had over forty years to work the kinks out of their products, Baby Bjorn is one of the longest running carrier brands. That being said, their carriers are not for everyone. As Megan McGrory Massaro, co-author of The Other Baby Book: A Natural Approach to Baby's First Year [http://theotherbabybook.com] notes, "The Baby Bjorn is ubiquitous. And if it gets parents to hold their babies close, hurray. Many parents don't know, however, that a carrier that promotes forward facing for long periods of time can be damaging. Babies' heads and necks are not supported; normal spinal curvature is compromised; and this position places undue pressure on babies' groin areas. Additionally, babies can get easily overstimulated while facing out. One recent study found that babies in outward facing strollers had elevated heart rates and levels of anxiety. Inward facing babies, who could interact with their caregivers, were twice as likely to do so, as well as to laugh, and fall asleep." The Baby Bjorn Active allows for babies to face inward or outward -- some babies, after all, simply prefer facing out -- and its extra back support takes baby's weight off of caregivers' shoulders, so parents can be comfortable, too. Some parents love this and say it works wonders, while others experience back strain in the Bjorn, regardless, especially as their babies grow.

Age/Weight: 8 to 26 lbs.

Basic How-To: The Baby Bjorn Active is composed of two pieces -- a front and back portion. To wear it, you'll first pull the back portion onto your body, pulling the shoulder straps on to your shoulders, and adjusting the back support. You'll then adjust the front portion to baby's size, and attach it to the back portion, at your waist. Getting baby in simply requires securing one side of the carrier completely, by way of some snaps and a hook, lifting baby in to the open side, and, finally, closing that side of the carrier around her.

Pros:

            •           Color and fabric choices, including mesh and organic.

            •           Easy to get on and off.

            •           Back support feature is a saving grace for some parents with back problems.

            •           Popular carrier for dads.

            •           Great choice for newborns and small babies; some parents use a Bjorn on the front and another carrier on the back to wear an infant and an older sibling simultaneously.

Cons:

            •           Not for bigger babies and toddlers.

            •           Kind of pricey. (Especially considering the limited weight-appropriate window.)

            •           Some parents -- particularly moms -- find the carrier uncomfortable, despite its back support feature.

            •           Encourages outward facing carry position -- not ideal for baby's alignment, and may overstimulate.

Website: BabyBjorn.com/us

Deuter KangaKid $159.95 (price varies by retailer)

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Intro to product: The KangaKid is part backpack, part child carrier. Targeted at outdoorsy parents toting young tots on hikes, its generous storage capacity makes it ideal for urban families, too; the KangaKid compactly replaces the need for a stroller and a separate diaper bag. In addition to its structured child seat portion, which zips neatly away when not in use, several compartments provide ample room for clothing, diapers and snacks. A small pocket perfectly sized for keys, wallets and phones saves you from rummaging for these items when you need them, and mesh side pockets hold water and baby bottles upright and within easy reach.  Designed with back support and ventilation in mind, most parents find the carrier comfortable, even after wearing it for a couple of hours. The downside? The pack's maximum recommended weight-bearing load is only 33 pounds… including baby, the pack itself, and everything you stash in it. Since babies generally shouldn't be worn on your back until they're around six months old -- some parents wait even longer -- this pack will have a limited lifespan, despite its quality construction. (The upside? You can buy one second-hand on eBay for a fraction of the retail price.)

Age/Weight: 6 months to 2 years (approximate)

Basic How-to: Unzipping the child seat portion of the pack will reveal the padded seat and five-point safety harness. You'll lift your child in to the seat via its side entry points, secure the harness's straps -- which fasten and adjust much like a car seat -- and buckle the side entry point closed. As with many back carriers, the process of loading your child in the carrier and then on to your back is easiest with another adult's help, but not impossible without it.

Pros:

            •           Lots of storage space -- no need for a diaper bag.

            •           Popular carrier for dads.

            •           Ventilated design -- caregiver and tot stay cool.

            •           Detachable sunroof  (sold separately)protects kids from glare and burning.

            •           Aluminum stays supporting child seat are internal, unlike similar brands' packs.

            •           Child seat zips away when not in use.

Cons:

            •           Kinda pricey.

            •           Limited usability due to low weight limit.

            •           Getting pack on and off without the help of another adult is challenging.

Website: deuter.com

Infantino Flip $40

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Intro to product: A super-affordable version of the Baby Bjorn Active, the Infantino Flip offers inward- and outward-facing holds for baby, and extra lumbar support for caregivers. Unlike the Baby Bjorn Active, the Flip also allows parents to wear babies on their backs. Buying the Flip won't set you back by too much, but, although it works wonderfully for some families -- and saves them a chunk of change -- others report that, with this product, what you pay for is what you get. Weak seams, ineffective back support, and safety complaints top the "fail" lists for these unhappy customers.

Age/Weight: 8 to 32 lbs. 

Basic How-to: As with the Baby Bjorn Active, you'll put the Flip's shoulder straps on first, adjust the back and lumbar straps to fit, adjust the front portion of the carrier to baby's size, put baby in form the side and re-buckle the carrier to secure it around baby.

Pros:

            •           Inexpensive.

            •           Lightweight, breathable mesh fabric.

            •           Easy to get on and off.

            •           Front, side, and back carry options.

            •           Inward and outward-facing holds.

Cons:

            •           Carrier not highly adjustable for baby's size. Some parents say they don't feel their babies are secure in the Flip.

            •           Cheap construction.

            •           Limited color and design options.

            •           Parents say the carrier's shoulder straps run small -- may not fit dads comfortably.

            •           Carrier must be taken off to make sizing adjustments.

            •           Lumbar support ineffective for some parents -- carrier causes back and shoulder strain.

Website: infantino.com

Maya Wrap  $68.00

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Intro to product: More of a ring sling than a wrap, the Maya Wrap is adjustable, comes in a variety of fabrics, and accommodates several carrying positions; babies can ride in an infant hold, kangaroo-style (facing out), on the hip, and even on a caregiver's back. Lightly padded at the shoulder, the Maya Wrap is ideal for long-term baby wearing, discreet nursing, and for all body types (the Maya Wrap is endlessly adjustable for a custom fit). This is a versatile product with a dedicated following. If you want to try it and to love it, too, we recommend finding a mom who's already mastered the on/off maneuver to show you how it's done. DIY Bonus: Maya Wrap offers a free online pattern, and instructions, for sewing your own baby sling.

Age/Weight: Infant to 35 lbs.

Basic How-to: Folding the Maya Wrap's fabric and threading it through the two rings, as if threading a belt, creates a pouch for baby. After draping the sling over one shoulder and situating baby, you can position her in various holds by loosening, tightening and shifting the sling appropriately.

Pros:

            •           Great for discreet breastfeeding, without the hassle of a separate cover.

            •           Ideal for toddlers who want to be up, then down, then up, no-- down! And up again!

            •           Color and fabric options.

            •           Mid-range price makes the Maya Wrap a more affordable option than some other, less versatile carriers.

            •           Woven fabric won't stretch and sink under bigger babies' weight.

            •           3rd party verified fair trade and made without the use of child labor.

            •           Numerous holds: infant, kangaroo-style, on the hip, on caregiver's back.

            •           No need to remove baby from sling to adjust fit and hold positions.

            •           Allows for baby wearing during pregnancy.

            •           No buckles or adjustable straps.

            •           One size fits all -- Maya Wrap can be shared among caregivers.

Cons:

            •           Moms with heavier babies/tots tend to prefer other carriers (Ergos, etc.) for longer wear.

            •           Some parents experience back strain, even when frequently switching weight-bearing shoulder.

            •           Getting product on and off (and baby into various holds) requires practice. Even the instructions and online tutorials frustrate some parents to the point of giving up. Parents who prefer to kiddo-wear without the learning curve may prefer a more structured carrier.

Website: MayaWrap.com

A Word About Pouches

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Pouches are a type of sling that work particularly well for wearing multiples, breastfeeding, and baby wearing while pregnant. An excellent option for beginner baby wearers who'd rather not adjust straps, tie knots or spend much at the outset, pouches tend to run in the $30 range. Although not one-size-fits-all (you'll need to choose the size that's right for your body), pouches are both versatile and easy to use. Basically a large loop of fabric that folds in half and drapes over your body to form a "pouch" for baby, you'll be able to experiment with different holds (kangaroo, hip, belly-to-belly) and get baby in and out as many times as necessary, without the hassle.

Note that slings and pouches don't necessarily feel as secure as structured carriers -- though they are safe, when worn correctly. Whether they feel secure enough for your needs is ultimately up to you. But since pouches tend to cost far less than Bobas, Ergos and Bjorns, experimenting with them won't break the bank. 


 





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