A review of 5 baby carriers (and which one is my favourite!)

choosing a baby carrier mei tai

This review of 5 baby carriers is for everyone out there wondering which baby carrier would be a good fit for them (literally and figuratively)! Read on for some insight into choosing a baby carrier…

When I was expecting my first child, I knew I wanted to baby-wear. The idea of having baby close to me instead of away from me in a pram or cot made sense to me. I had also seen other people carry their babies in slings, and they seemed so useful. Being able to have your hands free to do things while holding/breastfeeding/rocking to sleep was something I could definitely see the need for!

I decided to try making a baby carrier. I found an easy DIY stretchy-wrap tutorial online, and made a pattern from a friend’s wrap. I found some stretch double-knit fabric marked down at a local fabric shop, and sewed everything up. The result was an inexpensive but durable and comfortable wrap that I used from newborn up to about 18 months with my firstborn.

I really loved that stretchy-wrap, and got so much use out of it. I wore my daughter everywhere we went! Especially when she was very small, I loved the fact that people could see her but didn’t try to pick her up or touch her too much, because she was attached to me!

Tying the stretchy-wrap was a bit of a learning curve, but there are plenty of helpful pictorials and YouTube videos for the Moby Wrap that make it pretty straightforward. It takes a bit of practice, but once you have the hang of it, it is plain sailing. In the tutorials they suggest that for the first 3 months you use the Kangaroo hold, keeping baby’s legs in and supported. My first was a big baby, and she did not like having her legs in! The way you wrap baby in the Kangaroo hold also means you can’t put baby in and out without re-wrapping the whole thing, which can sometimes be a bit inconvenient.

Although people say you can breastfeed in a stretchy-wrap, I must say I never managed to get the hang of it. My daughter loved to nap in it, though. I could put her to sleep in the wrap and then unwrap her and put her down to finish her nap while giving my back a rest!

Because the stretchy-wrap can only be used to carry a baby in the front, there were times when it made things a bit awkward. Washing dishes with a baby strapped to your chest is not that practical, for example! My daughter also grew too big for it quite quickly. She was big baby, and the wrap was on the small side. I made a bigger one (no-sew this time), but the fabric I got wasn’t as good quality as the first one, so it didn’t work as well.

From about 18 months, I used a ring sling that I received as a gift. It was really, really useful, especially around supper time. For some reason my daughter always wanted to be held when I needed to cook. Having the sling allowed me to have her on my hip and still have my hands free. I also loved it when we had to go out to the shops or the post office. It was really easy to sling it over, pop her in and adjust for comfort.

review of baby carriers - ring sling

I had tried to use it when she was smaller, but found that it didn’t adjust tight enough to hold her safely. Even when she was bigger, I was still having to constantly readjust the sling. I think that it may have been the brand of sling, and the fact that you couldn’t adjust different areas of the sling separately that made it not so easy to use. I also found that I couldn’t make it tight enough to hold her if she fell asleep, so it wasn’t a good naptime solution!

From the time our first daughter was about 5 months old, my husband had been carrying her in a hard-frame backpack. Wow. This backpack has been much used and much loved. Not just by us – it was hand-me-down and several cousins had already been through it! My daughter certainly enjoyed being carried in it, and would ask to go in it if she wanted to sleep. My husband spent many evenings walking outside with her in it, looking at the stars together.

Review of baby carriers - hard frame backpack

I used it myself to carry her, especially on long walks, and when I needed space to put things without carrying an extra bag (it has space to pack essentials). I stopped using it just before her second birthday, as I felt that the extra weight of the frame wasn’t worth it. By that age it was easier to just carry her on my back, even if it wasn’t hands free! My husband has still carried her in it when it has been needed, but now at four and a half, she is a bit big!

When my daughter was two and a half, we were blessed to be able to take a trip to Europe for 3 weeks. My husband jokes that she was the youngest person ever to have ‘backpacked’ around Europe! He carried her everywhere in the backpack. She had a great view and a comfortable napping spot. It was really very practical, except when we went through the airport security gates. Because it has a metal frame, we had to take it off and send it through the baggage scanner. This meant waking up a sleeping baby, who then didn’t want to go back to sleep again. For that reason I would take a soft carrier for plane boarding!

I am not sure if it is because she was used to the relative freedom of the hard-frame backpack, but when I tried out a soft back carrier, my daughter didn’t like it. I decided to introduce my next baby to a soft back carrier earlier on!

Having learnt a little about different carriers, I was keen to try a mei tai. This is a soft carrier used by the Japanese. It was the one thing that I really wanted for my second baby. Being hand-made, they are quite expensive. I wasn’t planning to make that much of a financial outlay, especially seeing as I still had perfectly good carriers. I found what looked like a good tutorial online, and planned to make one. A friend was having a baby shower, and my daughter said that we should make her a carrier. So I sewed one the next day – it was actually quite easy to do! I tried it out on my daughter (then two and a half) and I could carry her in it, too!

I had so many things to sew before the new baby came, that the mei tai only got finished after she was born! But it did get finished. I used it so much that I needed to sew a second one so that I could wash the first one! (I never did manage that – all the others I made were given as gifts!) My second daughter is now 18 months old, and I haven’t used another carrier (except when I accidentally forgot my mei tai somewhere). Well, that’s not quite true, but more on that later.

choosing a baby carrier mei taiThe reason I wanted a mei tai was that it really ticked all the boxes for me. When it comes to what I look for in a carrier, this one had it all!

• Easy to sew
• Easy to tie on (so much quicker than the stretchy wrap)
• No buckles or hard frame
• You can make it reversible if you like the option of different colours
• You can carry baby on the front or on the back
• You can breastfeed with ease and discretion no matter the age of the baby
• You can carry a baby from newborn to toddler in the same wrap
• It is less daunting for dads to use (even my father-in-law tried it!)

I really did not reach for another carrier when I needed to strap my daughter on. In fact, I passed all my other carriers on!

Then we moved to Malawi.

We were working with a relief organization to distribute food parcels to families affected by the recent floods caused by Cyclone Idai in Southern Malawi. I had my youngest in her mei tai, sleeping on my back. The Malawian mothers weren’t sure about this type of carrier at all. They didn’t like the way her head fell to one side, or that her arms weren’t tucked in. They kept calling me aside to try and rearrange her! I decided that maybe it wasn’t so culturally appropriate to be using a Japanese baby carrier in a rural Malawian setting.

Enter the chitenje. This tablecloth-sized piece of lightweight cotton cloth is so versatile that it needs a post all of its own! But one of its many uses is as a baby carrier. I guess it would be classified as a woven wrap.

To my surprise, it ticks all the same boxes as the mei tai, except that it doesn’t require sewing (you can hem it if you like, or cut the edges with pinking shears). It did take a bit of practice to get the tying right. You have to make sure you have pulled it tight at the top and the bottom, and that the knot sits comfortable (it is tied at the front of one shoulder). But once you have that, you have a wrap that weighs almost nothing and takes up almost no space, in addition to its other benefits.

Of course you are also granted honorary Malawian status if you carry your baby in a chitenje (extra cred for being able to do so while carrying a bucket of water on your head – I am not there yet!).

For ease of review, here is a table comparing the baby carriers I have tried against some requirements:

choosing a baby carrier table

Excuse the pun, but that’s a wrap!

What is your favourite baby carrier and why?

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