There are many types of baby carrier available, offering various different features. Not all baby carriers are equally supportive for baby or comfortable for parent, so when looking for a baby carrier, check that the carrier you’re buying offers the following:
- Full, comfortable support for a baby’s spine, head, pelvis and thighs
- Weight comfortably distributed for the carrying adult
- Baby can be easily monitored
- It’s straightforward for you to use
- It is made from good quality materials using strong construction techniques.
Full, comfortable support for a baby’s spine, head, pelvis and thighs:
In order to support your child’s spine in the best position for optimum development, a carrier should support a baby’s spine all of the way along its length (and at least up to the shoulder blades for older babies and toddlers). For young babies, the spine should be fully supported from head to bottom in a comfortable, natural, gently curved position (as it is in the womb) and baby should not be able to slump forward. The head should be supported without covering the face as this could impede breathing. To comfortably support your child’s developing pelvis and hips in the optimum healthy position, their thighs should be supported knee-pit to knee-pit, with the knees above the hips. This also ensures that their weight is being spread along the length of their thighs, and the pressure is not all concentrated onto the pelvis and the base of the spine.
Weight distributed for parent:
A comfortable carrier holds a baby’s weight close to the parent’s centre of gravity and helps to spread the weight evenly across the parent’s shoulders, hips and torso. This means that the parent will have to make fewer adjustments to their posture while carrying, and will not feel uncomfortable pressure points on their shoulders and back. A good rule of thumb is that a good carrier should support you carrying your child in a position that you’d naturally hold them without a carrier (whether cradled in arms, held on your hip, or piggy-backed), and that you should be able to stand how you would normally when not carrying.
If you’re looking for a carrier that will last more than a few months for front and/or back carrying, or if you intend to carry regularly, we’d very strongly recommend that you go for a carrier that has some part that buckles or ties around your waist as this will really help to distribute the weight from your shoulders and upper back to your hips.
Baby can be easily monitored:
You should be able to tell yourself whether your baby is comfortable and content. Though less important for toddlers (who can more vocally ‘tell’ you what might be wrong), a carrier should allow you to easily monitor your baby’s wellbeing. If a baby is held away from parent, or with significant structural layers between them, then it’s much more difficult for a parent to notice changes in their child’s wellbeing (e.g. changes in temperature, whether they’ve filled their nappy or fallen asleep or are uncomfortable in a particular place etc.) As a guide, baby should be held in a ‘close enough to kiss’ position, and the carrier should hold them tightly against parent’s body, without anything covering their face.
Straightforward to use:
Though all carriers have a learning curve, and everyone has different preferences, there’s no point in buying a carrier that you always find a hassle to put on as you won’t enjoy using it. If you don’t like a carrier or don’t feel comfortable using it, your baby will pick up on your discomfort and is more likely to fuss when they’re in it. And if you find a carrier too complicated to use, then it’ll be harder to use it safely.
Good quality materials and constructions methods:
It’s obviously very important that a baby or child carrier is made from suitable, safe materials and is constructed to be secure and durable for carrying a heavy weight for at least 3-4 years. A poor quality carrier can be dangerous if it breaks or fails while you’re using it, so make sure you’re buying a quality carrier from a well-regarded source. Some carriers will detail their quality and safety polices online, and check user reviews for those that don’t very carefully before buying an untested product.
For essential guidelines on using all baby carriers and slings safely, see the Rules for Safe Babywearing here: http://www.babyslingsafe.com/