Looking for the best way to wear your baby? In this review, we took 15 of the top-rated and most popular baby carriers on the market today, and tested them extensively over a four month period to find out which ones came out on top. Comfort? Ease of use? Back strain issues? To find out, we used each and every carrier on a cadre of babies ranging from newborn to toddler to see how performance changes with growth. Carriers were then rated side-by-side on the following: baby's safety, baby's comfort, parent's comfort, ease of use, and ease of cleaning. Read on to learn which products came out on top.
The two top-scoring carriers were so close that we couldn't pick just one, so the Tula and the Onya are sharing this honor. With functional and friendly infant inserts and a maximum weight of 45 pounds, both theOnya and the Tula are very worthwhile, long-term baby wearing investments.
The feature that sets the Tula Ergonomic Baby above the rest is its simplicity. All of our product testers agree on its intuitive nature as it is super straightforward and easy to use. It is also exceptionally well-made, has a fantastic fit, and comes in a variety of lovely patterns. Another feature that sets it apart from its competitors is the overall coverage of the carrier, meaning the seat is much wider and taller than other carriers. This wideness keeps baby's legs and hips in an ergonomically correct position, while the height of the seat helps better support baby's head.
The Onya Baby Outback has also been selected for an Editors' Choice award due to its versatility. Besides, carrying baby, it configures into a soft chair restraint for baby when out and about. Instant high chair genius! With keyrings, toy loops, pockets, and other extra features, the Onya is the veritable Swiss Army Knife of carriers. It's rugged appearance makes it a favorite among dads, but the fit is anything but rugged. It has deluxe padding in the straps, waistband, leg holes, and seat that make for a comfortable ride for both baby and parent alike.
The Infantino Sash Mei Tai (lower left) is a wrap-style carrier that is sort of a hybrid between a classic "wrap" carrier or sling like the Moby Wrap Original and a heftier soft-structured carrier like the Beco Baby Gemini. It is lightweight and compact enough to throw in your diaper bag, but also versatile and supportive enough to keep both parent and baby happy. The instructions were simple and we love that they also added discreet labels on the inside of the carrier to remind us which strap goes where for use on the go. It's stellar performance, combined with a price tag of just $35 make a great value in our opinion.
If there's one place a newborn loves to be, it's swaddled tightly and close to mom or dad. The Baby K'tan (upper right) does this perfectly, and without a lot of hassle. It's made of an ultra-soft, 100% cotton mix that keeps tiny babies in a comfy, womb-like hold, but can also be used in different positions as baby grows. It comes in its own stuff-sack which makes it convenient to take on the go.
Although baby wearing has been around for centuries, today's technology and understanding have presented more choices than ever before. Today's carriers are evolved designs, modern-takes on the historic wraps, papooses, backpacks, and slings used in the past. Companies like Babybjorn applied modern technology and approaches to baby wearing over 40 years ago, and have continually evolved their designs since. In 2002, Ergobaby ushered in further innovations with their classic Ergobaby soft carrier, and inspired today's many variations on that original design.
Why Use A Baby Carrier?
The first few days after having a baby can be some of the most blissful you'll ever experience as a parent. Staring for hours at this new little person you've just welcomed into the world; congratulations and helpful hands all around making life easy; dreams and anticipation of what lies ahead; it can all be very euphoric. As the days pass and you slowly begin to transition back into "normal" life, the day-to-day tasks and not-so-beautiful responsibilities begin to creep back in. You crave the feeling of keeping your baby close to you but you know life isn't going to allow you to just sit and rock your newborn all day every day until, well, forever if possible.
Did You Know? Wearing your baby not only adds ease and convenience to your daily routine but the practice also contributes positively to baby's social, emotional and physical development.
So what's a new parent to do? You can try the tricky and often not-so-safe one-handed juggle: baby in one arm, dishes/typing/cleaning/etc. with the other, or, you'll have to set baby down (if they'll allow it) and go about your business feeling disconnected. Neither are optimal choices. This is where "wearing" your baby in some sort of carrier can be an excellent solution, and as you'll see, it can be an asset to all involved.
For the baby, being carried in this manner comes with a myriad of benefits. Baby wearing advocates claim that when babies are kept close to a parent in this manner they tend to be calmer and cry less and pediatric experts agree. In fact, it can help in all areas of development, including social and emotional. Whether you plan to wear baby throughout the day or just when you need to get some laundry done or run into the grocery store, you can be confident there are mutual benefits.
Doing yard work while wearing baby in the Tula Ergonomic Baby carrier was a treat for both dad and son.
For the parent, wearing baby close can help increase your bond with your baby, and this is a really good point for dads to remember as more and more dads are jumping on the baby wearing bandwagon and looking for ways to connect with their little one. Manufacturers are noticing this trend and are creating carrier designs that include neutral colors and sporty designs that will suit either mom or dad.
Helpful Tip: Avoid the hassle of navigating a bulky stroller around when heading into crowded places like airports or sporting events and use a baby carrier instead!
Aside from the benefits both baby and parent will experience, a baby carrier can also just be flat-out convenient and helpful, especially when you need to be hands free. Here are a few examples where we found this to be true:
Soothing a fussy baby, day or night
Getting chores/work done around the house
Navigating crowded places where strollers can be a hassle (airport, farmers market, sporting events, etc.)
Selecting the Right Product
Choosing which carrier to purchase can be an overwhelming task because there are so many excellent options in a wide range of styles, colors, and prices. For this review, we considered 72 of the most highly regarded and popular carriers and narrowed it down to 12 modern finalists and 3 "legacy" carriers for a total of 15 carriers that we put through our detailed hands-on testing.
In our tests of 15 top competitors, we were amazed at the wide-ranging and quality implementations for baby carrying available today. Best of all, we discovered that wearing your baby is not only extremely easy and beneficial, but can now be considered fashionable as well. For more information on selecting the right carrier for you, take a look at our Buying Advice article.
Probably since the beginning of time, mothers have been keeping their little ones close to them while they go about their daily chores and activities. Historically this was done by using a "wrap" or a long piece of fabric to secure child to parent.
Known in more modern day lingo as "baby wearing", and using new designs that seek to improve on traditional wraps, this method of parenting has become as natural and accepted as using a stroller.
There are five basic types of baby carriers:
This review focuses primarily on wraps and soft-structured carriers (as well as one mei-tai style carrier), because we believe that they are the best options for your comfort and your child's development and safety. Below is a description of the five styles of carriers.
Wraps are pieces of long cloth that wrap around your body and your baby. Wrap carriers have no clasps or rings and offer many different positions for holding your baby at various ages. Wraps offer optimal head, neck, and back support, and are also comfortable for the wearer as they distribute your baby's weight well and there are no pressure points. However, there is a learning curve for properly tying a wrap and it may take more time to secure baby compared to other types of carriers. The fabric tends to be very long and it's often difficult to keep it from dragging on the ground when wrapping.
The Moby Modern Wrap is a classic wrap-style carrier consisting of just one long piece of fabric.
Baby slings are single pieces of fabric that go over one of your shoulders and form a pouch to hold your baby in front of you. Sling-type carriers have many fans and have been used for centuries, but we can't ignore safety concerns such as those cited in the CPSC's warnings about suffocation risks with slings.
Inspired by the death of 14 infants in slings, twelve of whom were under 4 months of age, the CPSC produced this 3 min video, urging parents to use extra caution with infant carrier slings:
Mei-tai carriers have four straps attached to the body of the carrier. Theses straps can be tied in a variety of configurations to wear your baby on your front, back or hip. Mei-tai style carriers are simple and easy to use, and can accommodate infants to toddlers. However, many have little to no padding which may cause digging or pinching (especially in the shoulder area).
The Infantino Sash is a mei-tai style carrier that consists of four long straps attatched to one central square of fabric.
Soft-structured carriers are similarly structured to a backpack. The various designs are generally worn on your front, back or hip and are ideal for older babies and toddlers, although many have an infant insert that makes them compatible with newborns. They are generally easy to use, adjustable, and ergonomic.
The Beco Baby Gemeni is an example of the ever-popular soft structured carrier. Unlike the mei tai, it utilizes buckles and snaps, has more padding, especially in the shoulder area, and often comes with added accessories.
External frame backpacks offer a built-in frame that enables you to wear your baby on your back. To use a frame child carrier, your little one must be capable of sitting upright without assistance (typically at least 6 or 8 months old). These types of carriers are best for travel, hiking and use around town. For more information on baby backpacks, see our Best Baby Backpack Review.
Backpack style carriers have a structured frame and are designed for babies who can independently support themselves upright.
Criteria for Evaluation
If a carrier isn't safe for your baby, there's really no point in using it. None of the carriers we tested were really "unsafe" but there were definite features we looked for to help make them more safe.
The Bjorn Original particularly shines in how it holds younger babies in an upright and close position up against parent with great head and neck support.
First off, we made sure that baby was well supported. This means adequate head, neck, and back support, especially for tiny babies. Carriers with high backs that formed a deep seat scored the best. We also found that the wider seats were more supportive for our testers as well as promoted healthy hip positioning. Many of the soft-structured carriers like the Tula Ergonomic and the Ergobaby Four Position 360 were best at this. These features combined usually gave us the best sense of security. We urge parents to always check to make sure baby's airway is not obstructed. This can be particularly tricky with wrap-style carriers like the Moby Modern Wrap or the Boba Wrap because of the way baby is held so close to you in a tight swaddle. Please refer to the User's Manual of the carrier you buy to learn how to best keep baby positioned well and safe.
Wearing your baby isn't going to be a pleasant experience if your baby is not comfortable. We really paid attention to which positions baby favored, and if baby fell asleep, were they able to stay asleep comfortably? Material also has a great impact on comfort, so we looked at which materials were hot or caused chafing, or which just didn't offer enough support. As it was in safety, support is also a big deal when it comes to comfort. We looked for the same features here: good head and neck support, a nice deep and wide seat and an overall sense of security.
The nice, wide seat and extra padding around the leg openings makes the Tula Ergonomic baby one of the most comfortable carriers for baby.
As with baby, if the parent wearing the carrier isn't comfortable, it just isn't going to work out. When it comes to comfort, one of the biggest complaints is shoulder and back strain. We looked at how long we could go before our shoulders just couldn't take it anymore. Some, like the Infantino Swift Classic, we wanted to rip off within a few minutes, while others went the long haul, giving us well over an hour of comfortable carrying. Things that made a difference for us were padding (especially in the shoulders), strap width, lumbar (back) support, and the addition of a waist strap. Being able to wear baby in a number of different positions was also a key to comfort, where we could quickly and easily switch them from front to back, etc. if needed.
Ease of Use
How easy a carrier is to use on a day-to-day basis can also make or break it. We began with each carrier out-of-the-box-new so we'd get the full experience. We liked instruction manuals that offered clear pictures and words. We also took a look at how simple a carrier would be to grab and go. Could it fit in a diaper bag or stroller basket? How easy was it to quickly put on in public? Once on, we noticed carriers that were easy to adjust, both to fit and readjust if baby needed to change carry positions. We also considered if a carrier would allow for breastfeeding while wearing baby. Finally, carriers with additional features like sleeping hoods and storage pockets scored higher due to their added convenience when out and about.
Features like a storage pocket as seen here on the Boba 4G are convenient for keeping items like keys and a cell phone when out and about with baby.
Ease of Cleaning
Cleaning is another key consideration, and you can anticipate a lot of wear and tear with a well-loved carrier. They're often grabbed, stuffed, dragged, chewed on, drooled on and more. In other words, carriers need to be cleaned and we wanted to know how easy this would be to accomplish. The carriers that scored highest in this area could be machine washed and dried. Some recommend machine wash, but hang-to-dry. Others say spot clean, which is great, but not as thorough or convenient. Sometimes only a washing machine will do.
For more on how we performed our tests, and how our ratings were scored, please check out our complimentary "How We Test" article.
The four Award Winners covered most of the different types of carriers available today, minus a sling and a frame backpack. From Left to Right: Onya Baby Outback (soft structured), Tula Ergonomic Baby (soft structured), Infantino Sash Mei Tai (mei tai), and Baby K'tan (wrap).
Selecting the right baby carrier for you and your baby can be a complex decision. Our goal has been to provide you an independent and thorough analysis of competing products, based on our extensive testing process, that helps you narrow down to a few top products that fit your situation.