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I have more ways to carry my children than I have children. I'm not sure exactly how it happened — I didn't buy most of them. But looking around my house, I counted six different devices for strapping my baby to my body. So I think I'm well-positioned to advise parents on which baby carrier might be right to help them wear their baby.

There is absolutely no best baby carrier for every parent and every baby. Which one you choose depends on so many factors: the parent's build and body issues (i.e. someone who tends to have back pain or shoulder pain will need to choose the most ergonomic option possible), and how the baby likes to be positioned. Complicating the choice further, baby's preference might well change as he ages. Before buying a carrier, I'd advise borrowing and trying out as many different options as possible, or at the very least going to a store with great customer service that will let you try out different kinds.

Here are the baby carriers I use.

1. The Harness

The Baby Bjorn is the first carrier I ever used. Used properly, a harness is very safe and keeps the infant in a still, secure position. A lot of moms express nervousness about the use of slings — that the baby looks or feels like he will fall out. This is not an issue with a harness-type carrier.

baby in Baby Bjorn

I currently have the Baby Bjorn Active model, and I highly recommend spending the extra $40 on this version, because its extra back piece eliminates most of the back pain I experienced when using the original Bjorn model.

Advantages of Baby Bjorn: Spreads weight over at least both shoulders, holds baby still and snug against your chest, baby can face in or out. Good for doing active housework where you may have to bend and don't want a swing dangling all over the place.

Disadvantages of Baby Bjorn: Baby can't recline and if the baby isn't old enough to face out, the only option is facing you which my baby doesn't like much. Dangling legs can get in your way once baby gets longer. The Bjorn is not as versatile as slings: It can't be used as a side or back carrier. Also, at $55-$100, it's expensive. It takes a minute or so to get a baby buckled in and out of, which can be a pain if the baby is sleeping and you want to quickly transfer him to a crib, or if you're in and out of the car. If the baby's crying or noisy, his face is right in your face which can be unpleasant. It's also difficult — although not impossible for me — to breastfeed while wearing a Baby Bjorn.

Another harness I use is the Ergo. It's really nice for carrying a toddler or heavier baby on my back. I don't use it much with my infant so far because he is not old enough to ride on my back and doesn't like having his face smushed into my chest.

Advantages of the Ergo: Like the name implies, it's ergonomic, with a nice wide hip band, and it's versatile, with the option of wearing it on your front or back. There are more designs in different colors than the Baby Bjorn and it looks a little more like clothing than the equipment look of the Bjorn.

Disadvantages of the Ergo: It's hard to use without help getting into it — whether worn front or back, you kind of need someone to help you fasten it. When the baby rides on the back, it's hard to tell if he's riding comfortably — I would often check our reflection in car windows as I walked. Like the Bjorn, cost is a disadvantage — the Ergo starts at around $100 and goes up from there for various models.

2. The Sling

The carrier I use most now is a basic, nonadjustable sling.

(photo by April Bowers)

Advantages of the sling: Most slings are made of attractive fabric and look more like clothing than equipment. I love that I can slip the baby in and out of the sling in a second, which is great when he's fussy and spitting up and I'm trying various positions to calm him, and also great if I am getting him out of the car for just a second to run into a store. A sling is very versatile: I can change the baby's position while he's in it to hold him more upright or more reclined, and as he grows I can hold him more on my hip instead of in front. It's not hard to breastfeed while wearing one, and the fabric can be used to shield the sight of my breast from squemish bystanders. A sling can be used as a makeshift blanket — in fact it's covering my baby right now as I type this. Because my sling is a loop of fabric, though, I would not use this to cover him if I was not right here with him because it could be a strangulation hazard.

My baby loves being in a sling because he can snuggle up against me while still curled in his preferred sleeping posture. I think a basic sling is great for newborns and small babies for this reason — my little guy is just 12 weeks old. I also prefer to use the sling in a social situation because unlike the Bjorn, I can easily show off the baby's face. (On the other hand, if you want to discourage people from touching the baby's face or waking him up in public, the Bjorn is handy for that.)

Price is another advantage — a nice sling can be had for as little as $30.

Disadvantages of the sling: My sling holds my baby a little lower than is probably good for my shoulders, and unlike a harness carrier it does not hold him still against my body. So when I am moving around doing housework or helping my toddler, he can swing away from me a little. All this weight dangling mainly from one shoulder does cause me some soreness if I wear the sling for several hours. There are more adjustable slings with rings, which might alleviate this by holding him tighter and higher, but I don't have that kind and I must admit I'm kind of intimidated by the rings.

A major disadvantage of a sling is that many parents will feel insecure about the baby's safety in it, at least at first. People ask me all the time if I'm afraid he'll fall out. I'm usually not afraid of that — I make sure the sling is securely supporting him when I put it on and check periodically while I'm wearing it. I generally keep a hand on him when I can, something I don't need to do with a Baby Bjorn.

3. The Snugli Sway

This is a new carrier that the Evenflo sent me for review. It's kind of a combination between a sling and a harness carrier. It looks like a sling from the outside and rides across one shoulder like a sling, but inside it has a little "seatbelt" which I imagine would be very reassuring for parents who are worried that their baby will fall out of a sling. It looks a lot like the infantino Sling Rider, but the design avoids the problem a lot of parents have with that one (the sides of the sling closing over the baby's face).

Advantages of the Snugli Sway: Made of heavy, weatherproof fabric that snaps up, this sling seems like it's made for chilly weather. This was drawback this summer when I first tried it but it's great now, especially since I have a hard time gettng a blanket to stay over my baby in the Bjorn. The shoulder strap is padded, unlike my basic sling, and it's adjustable, so people of different sizes can use the same one. Other advantages of the adjustable strap are that you can tighten it up so the baby doesn't hang too low like he does in my basic sling. The adjustable strap is supposed to also hold the baby in breastfeeding position, but personally I ended up holding him up with my arms or taking him out of the sling for that.

Price is an advantage — the Sway's suggested retail price is only $34.99, far less than a Baby Bjorn.

Disadvantages of the Snugli Sway: With the seatbelt and a flat, padded back, this sling is less flexible than my basic one. To be honest, my baby cried often when I put him in it awake, I think because he did not want to recline so flat; but when he was asleep he would stay quite cozy in there for a long time. You are supposed to lay the Sway down and strap the baby into it before putting it on, which I found cumbersome compared with just slipping the baby in and out of the sling I was already wearing. For instance if you are getting him out of a car, you might not have a surface handy on which to lay the Sway and strap him in. All the padding makes it a little bulky to wear — but provides more protection if you think you're liable to bump the baby into something by accident. Another disadvantage is that unlike most other carriers, the Sway is only for use until the baby hits 20 pounds or until he can sit up.

4. The Wrap

A friend recently lent me a Moby Wrap, which is really just a long, long piece of stretch cotton. At first I had no idea how to use it. But once a friend showed me how to put it on, it was pretty simple. You cris-cross the fabric across your body and can slip the baby between the fabric and yourself in a variety of positions. I love the idea of the Moby — it's even more versatile than a sling — you can wear the baby in a cradle hold, or on your front as if he's in a Baby Bjorn, etc.

Unfortunately, so far my baby doesn't love this carrier, so I haven't had the chance to try it as much as I would like to.

Advantages of a wrap: Versatility, coziness, comfort. Because there is so much fabric, you can spread the weight of the baby over nearly your entire torso by spreading out the fabric once he's in it. My Moby wrap olds the baby very close without the swinging around involved in a sling, but the fabric looks nicer than a harness. There is also enough fabric to keep the baby warm and cozy in cooler weather.

Disadvantages of a wrap: The learning curve — I don't know if I would have felt secure that I was using the Moby right if I hadn't had someone show me personally. The Web site has instructions for MANY different holds but I am not very good at following diagrams.

Heat — the same cozy fabric that will make the Moby nice this fall were uncomfortably hot when I first tried it this summer.

Time — it takes a minute or two to get the Moby wrapped and tied on my body, during which time my baby might by squiriming or crying uncomfortably. Also, if the baby decides right away that he doesn't want to be in the Moby, I'm stuck with this thing tied to me and have to decide whether to wear it around for a second try or to unwrap it all and have to do it again later. It also sometimes causes my shirt to ride up in back which is annoying.

So that's a rundown of the main choices you have in a baby carrier. There are a few I haven't tried, like Snuggli's cheaper version of a harness and a hiking backpack with a frame.

My overall feeling about carriers is that it's not a bad idea to invest in more than one, if you are committed to wearing your baby frequently and for an hour or more at a time. Since they all strain slightly different parts of your body, you can avoid fatigue and soreness if you switch from one carrier to another throughout the day. Now, some moms will tell you they never have any pain or soreness from using a carrier — in fact when a Motrin ad implied that babywearing is painful, there was quite an uproar. Personally, I do get sore wearing my baby. Not so sore that I don't want to do it, and carrying him in my arms for an equivalent time would doubtless make me even more sore. But choosing the best carrier for both of us — and using it properly — is the best way to make sure we're both feeling as comfortable as possible throughout the day.

We have two Snugli Sways to give away to our readers! To enter the drawing to win one of two Snugli Sways, add a comment about baby carriers you've tried or seen others with. Drawing ends on November 9. Only open to U.S. residents aged 18 and over, void where prohibited. Only one entry per person will be counted.

 

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