The process of picking a sling or carrier for you and your baby can be a difficult one. Here are some tips and questions to ask yourself as you're picking a sling.
Features, Pros, and Cons of the Carriers
When trying to pick a sling, it's easier if you are familiar with the features, pros, and cons of each carrier type.
Ring Slings: Worn over one shoulder, adjusts with rings. Wallypop Ring Slings allow each edge of the sling to be adjusted separately.
Pros - compact, easy to adjust on-the-fly, can be worn by two caregivers of differing sizes, excellent for discrete nursing, can be used as blanket or sunshade, many carrying positions possible.
Cons - some people find these difficult to use, weight is distributed to only one shoulder (which can make the wearer feel a little lopsided), tend to become uncomfortable as baby gets heavier (15-20 lbs).
Pouches: Worn over one shoulder, nonadjustable, simple tube of fabric.
Pros - very compact, no adjusting necessary, easy and quick in and out, many carrying positions possible.
Cons - no adjusting possible, slightly harder to nurse in than ring sling, sized to wearer so people of different sizes cannot share a sling, weight is distributed to only one shoulder, tend to become uncomfortable as baby gets heavier (15-20 lbs).
Mei Tai: Square of fabric with four straps - two for waist, two for shoulders.
Pros - weight is distributed evenly over both shoulders, several carrying positions possible, can be worn by different caregivers, great for back carries.
Cons - not ideal for newborns, but can certainly be done.
Wrap: Long piece of fabric which is wrapped and tied around the wearer and the baby.
Pros - almost limitless variety of carrying positions possible, can be used as blanket or sunshade, great for nursing, can put carrier on once and take baby in and out all day, two-shouldered.
Cons - has a slightly longer learning curve, long piece of fabric can be bulky and intimidating.
Structured Carrier: Padded carrier with buckles and straps.
Pros - more familiar design to mainstream America so it doesn't attract as much attention, comfortable for heavier babies worn mainly on the back, great for hiking.
Cons - very bulky, some people dislike the straps and buckles aspect, not as many carrying positions possible.
There is an excellent article on this topic at the Pittsburgh Babywearers website.
Questions to Ask Yourself
How do I plan to use the carrier? If you're planning to use the carrier mostly on long family walks, that might guide you towards a different type of carrier than if you're planning to use the carrier mainly for quick errand-running or for around the house.
How old/heavy is my baby?
Do I want one carrier that will last from infancy through toddlerhood, or am I looking for something that will be perfect for my baby's current age with a willingness to invest in a second carrier if needed?
How do I plan to wear my baby? If you're mostly a hip carrier, for example, you'd probably want to avoid a wrap. If you're mostly a back-carrier, you'd probably want to stay away from a ring sling.
Do I want something compact to carry with me all the time?
Do I want to share a carrier with other caregivers?
Do I have any physical problems which may affect the carrier I choose? For example, I have scoliosis, and I never found pouches to be very comfortable because I could not adjust them enough. Ring slings were comfortable only to a certain weight, and then the pain was almost unbearable. Moving to a two-shouldered carrier completely solved the problem.
These are my personal recommendations and opinions. Ask someone else, you'll get different opinions.
Newborns: I love ring slings and wraps for newborns, but many customers and members of our local Babywearing group also love pouches. A well-fitted pouch is a very easy "starter" sling.
Back Carries: If you want to wear your baby mainly on your back, consider a Mei Tai, Onbuhimo, or wrap.
Hip Carries: If you carry your baby mainly on your hip, a pouch or ring sling is the way to go, in my opinion. You CAN wear a baby on your hip in a Mei Tai or wrap, but if you use mainly the hip position, a ring or pouch will be a faster, easier option for you.
Hiking: I have loved our wrap for hiking. Mei Tais and Onbus work well, too. If you're carrying a young baby on a hike, a wrap is the best choice in my opinion. A wrap will keep baby closer and provide better head support than any other carrier, which helps you keep surer footing. On a hike when Wally was about 3 months, he fell asleep (predictably), but I needed to do a lot of looking at the ground to double-check my footing. Without being able to tuck his head into the wrap, we would have been miserable with his floppy little head getting in the way.
Looking for one carrier to do it all? I don't think you can go wrong with a wrap. Once you get past the learning curve (which is not that long), a wrap is so versatile!
The Babywearer also has a page full of links to information intended to be helpful when deciding what type of sling to choose.