There are five basic types of sling/baby carrier: Pouches, Ring Slings, Soft Carriers, Wraparound Slings, Hip Carriers. Many experienced babywearers will own one sling of each style, as they each have their own strengths, however, you may find that one type of carrier will fit your needs better than others. Below is a section on each style with a description plus some of the pros and cons and a link to the relevant section of our using a sling page, even more information can be found on our blog. If you would like more information or help choosing the right sling for you and your baby do Contact Us.
Our Choosing a Sling page has recommendations based on criteria such as the age of your baby and possible carrying positions.
One Shoulder Slings
Both Pouches and Ring Slings are classed as one-shoulder slings as the sling is worn diagonally across the body like a sash. This makes them more suitable for wearing for shorter periods of time due to the fact the weight of your baby is not distributed as well as with a two-shoulder sling. For more information about the differences between the two styles please see this article – Pouch or Ring Sling?
What are they?: A Pouch Sling is essentially a simple loop of fabric, usually with a curved seam sewn in which is folded in half lengthwise to make a pouch and worn over one shoulder. Suitable for use from birth to around 30lbs they are an excellent simple ‘pop and go’ carrier.
What are the options?: Different fabrics such as cotton and fleece, some of which have added stretch, and there is a huge choice in colours and patterns. Some pouches are available in different sizes and it is important to get the right size for the person wearing it (our Pouch Sling page has a guide for measuring yourself for a perfectly fitting pouch). Other designs are adjustable with either poppers, buckles or buttons and therefore fit a range of sizes, often making it possible for similar sized people to share a pouch.
How are Pouches used? You put your head and one arm through the pouch so the open edge is closest to your neck and your baby sits or lies in the ‘pocket’. It is possible to do a front carry, both reclined and upright, and a hip carry with a baby who has good head and neck control, experienced users can also do a back carry for a short time and with extreme care.
Advantages of Pouches: Good budget option as they are the most inexpensive baby carrier. Fold up very small so can be popped in a changing bag or handbag which is very useful when you have a walking child who needs to be carried for short periods. Quick to put on and simple to use.
Disadvantages of Pouches: It is not possible to do an upright front carry with a tiny baby therefore we don’t recommend buying a pouch before your baby is born as an upright position is preferred by many babies. Also pouches are a one-shoulder sling therefore when carrying a heavier baby or toddler, it is recommended that you regularly swap the shoulder you wear the pouch on to avoid any strain on your back or shoulders. Unless two parents are very similar in size it is not possible to share a sized pouch.
What are Ring Slings?
What are they?: Ring Slings are a one shoulder sling based on the traditional carriers of South America. The fabric is threaded through a set of rings (usually aluminium or nylon) forming a pouch in which a baby/child sits. The fabric that hangs down from the rings (called the ‘tail’) allows you to tighten and adjust the sling for a perfect fit. Suitable from birth to toddler and relatively quick to learn to use.
What are the options?: Padded or unpadded styles and a huge range of materials and colours. There is some variation in shoulder design and some slings offer a pocket on the tail as well. Although they come in various sizes, the only real difference is in the length of the tail and therefore most parents can share one sling.
How are Ring Slings used?: Worn diagonally across the body with the rings sitting on the front of your shoulder. It is possible to do a front carry from birth (upright and reclined) and hip carry with a Ring Sling, and babies can easily be moved from one position to another if needed for feeding or naps.
Advantages: It is possible to carry even a newborn upright making them more suitable for babies with reflux than a pouch. Very poppable so useful for newly walking toddlers and quick to put on. One of the best styles of sling for breastfeeding.
Disadvantages: Not as suitable for parents with back or shoulder problems due to the one-shoulder design. More fiddly than some slings as getting used to adjusting the sling takes a little practice.
What are Soft Baby Carriers?
Soft Carriers are based on traditional Asian baby carriers and are excellent sling for people with back problems as they distribute the weight evenly through the whole of the wearer’s torso. Babies are held in an upright position on the wearer’s front or back which is preferred by those with reflux and colic/gas problems. While breastfeeding is possible, they are less easy to breastfeed in than other styles. There are two styles of soft carrier – Mei Tais and Soft Structured Carriers (SSC) – for more information about the differences between the styles please see this article – To Buckle or Knot to Buckle.
What are Tie-On Baby Carriers?
What are they?: Mei Tai (pronounced May Tie) are the less structured style and are a westernised version of the traditional carrier of China. They consist of a square or rectangular panel of fabric with a (sometimes padded) strap coming off each corner. Some styles have a headrest or sleephood. They can be used from birth up to around 35-45lbs
What are the options?: Mei Tai are made from a variety of fabrics, such as cotton twill or corduroy, and usually have a patterned fabric on one side of the panel and lots of gorgeous designs are available. They are totally reversible, usually to a plain side the same colour as the straps. They are usually one-size although longer straps are available as an option on some brands.
How are Mei Tai used?: The straps tie with a simple double knot – the shorter two straps tie around the waist of the wearer and the long straps go over the wearers shoulders and are tied, either under the babies bum or at the wearers waist. A baby can be carried in an upright position on the front, back and some manufacturers include instructions for a hip carry. Can be used from birth with the baby’s legs crossed inside the carrier.
Advantages of Mei Tai: Quick to learn how to use. Supportive with heavier babies and toddlers and comfortable for long periods of time. The lack of buckles makes them very adjustable and they can be tied exactly where is comfortable. Equally suitable for different sized parents. Secure and hands free carrying positions, especially with an older baby. Two carriers in one due to the reversible design.
Disadvantages of Mei Tai: Not as easy or quick to tie when out and about due to the long straps and take a bit longer to put on than a buckle carrier. Some babies do not like having their legs inside a carrier so not always suitable until a baby is big enough to have their legs out (between 4 and 7 months).
What are Buckle Baby Carriers?
What are they?: Buckle Carriers – also known as Soft Structured Carriers (SSC) or Baby Back Packs – are the more structured style of soft carrier and are therefore more ‘mainstream’ looking. The straps are often heavily padded and have a section of webbing threaded through plastic buckles which fasten the carrier. Some suitable from birth, others from 4-6 months, up to toddler. One size fits most.
What are the options?: More variety of colours and fabrics than there used to be and some styles have a stiff waistband. Many buckle carriers have a sleephood/headrest to support the head of a sleeping child and there may be pockets in the body of the carrier or accessories such as waist pouches. Some designs are suitable from birth – either because of an integral or separate infant insert, or because it is possible to narrow the seat of the carrier for young babies.
How are Buckle Carriers used?: Most commonly used for an upright front or back carry facing the wearer (although some models do allow for a hip carry or a forward facing position) the short straps are simply buckled around the waist and the wearer’s arms put through the loops of the shoulder straps.
Advantages of Buckle Carriers: They are very simple to use and quick to put on whilst out and about. Buckle carriers are exceptionally comfortable and a good choice for people with back, pelvis or shoulder problems as the design is very supportive for long periods of time with a heavier child. Very popular with dads.
Disadvantages of Buckle Carriers: Designs with a stiff waistbelt are bulkier. Due to restrictions in the adjustability caused by the heavy padding and buckles, parents who are either petite or very broad may find some styles of buckle carrier less comfortable than others.
What are Wraparound Slings?
Wraparound Slings are available both in stretchy and woven fabrics and are the perfect from birth onwards carriers. Although they do have a steeper learning curve than other styles of carriers, they are also the most versatile. They are also easy to breastfeed in unless you have very large breasts. Both styles are available in a variety of colours and fabrics to suit almost every taste. For more information about the differences between the two types of wrap, please see this article – Wraparound Slings – Stretchy or Woven?
What are Stretchy Wraparound Slings?
What are they?: Stretchy Wraps are a long piece of stretchy fabric usually jersey cotton or fleece. Suitable from birth onwards but generally work best up to around 20lbs and especially good with newborns and young babies.
What are the options?: Come in a range of colours, some with a patterned central panel. Generally only available in one length and this varies slightly between brands but usually around 5 metres.
How are Stretchy Wraps used?: The sling is pre-tied before putting the baby in and a baby can be carried on the front, either in an upright or reclined position.
Advantages of Stretchy Wraps: Extremely secure hands-free carrying positions for young babies. Very comfortable even for people with back problems and following a caesarian section birth. Pre-tying makes them very poppable and very useful for parents who frequently need to use the car. A fantastic tool for kangaroo care for premature babies and newborns. Suitable for breastfeeding. One size fits most and very adjustable.
Disadvantages of Stretchy Wraps: Will have limited life span for a chunky baby and not supportive enough for carrying babies over 12 months. Not suitable for back carries. Petite parents may find the amount of fabric overwhelming.
What are Woven Wraparound Slings?
What are they?: Woven Wraps are a long piece of fabric which is specially woven to be comfortable for you and your baby without having too much stretch. Usually made from cotton but also available in blends of linen, hemp, wool, silk and cashmere. Suitable from birth to toddler.
What are the options?: A wide range of colours and patterns and the thickness varies between brands from light breathable gauze-type fabrics to heavier weight woven cotton. Many wraps are made from organic fibres with certified non-toxic dyes. Woven wraps come in a variety of lengths to suit different body shapes and tying methods. The basic two-shoulder carries (as seen in the photos) are the most popular carrying positions and very comfortable from birth upwards and for these, one long wrap (4.6m or longer) will suit most families.
How are Woven Wraps used?: The wrap is wrapped around the wearer and child and tied with a knot. A baby can be carried on the front, back and hip and there are many variations although obviously you don’t have to try lots of different positions, many parents are happy sticking with one that they have mastered and find comfortable.
Advantages of Woven Wraps: Incredibly versatile with many carrying positions possible. Very adjustable and comfortable for any size wearer even those with back problems and with chunky babies and toddlers. Lots of instructions to be found on the internet for anyone wanting to try new positions or pick up tips. Excellent for breastfeeding and kangaroo care. Available in organic and natural fibres, wraps have lots of other uses like a blanket or sunshade.
Disadvantages: Steepest learning curve of all slings so require a bit of practice. Not as quick to put on, especially out and about.
What are Hip Carriers?
are suitable for use on the hip only and therefore can only be used when the child is able to sit up by his or herself. They should be used carefully by those with back problems and sides should be swapped regularly. Some models do allow for a short-term front or back carry as well. As hip carriers are adjustable they can be used by multiple users, and tend to be simple and modern in design.