At my local moms’ group, I am now known as the “Sling Momma,” after my long and seemingly tireless search for the perfect baby carrier.
I wanted more in-arms time with my newborn daughter, Jessica, but I also wanted a way to have my hands free and to nurse discreetly. Determined to find the ultimate baby carrier one that was comfortable and safe for my baby, easy to use, and easy on my back -- I scoured parenting publications, the Web and local stores.
This article outlines the results of my search, with reviews of each carrier I tried. My hope is that the reviews below will assist you as you choose carriers for your own baby.
Using a sling can be a little daunting at first, especially if you are used to toting a baby around in a car seat or stroller. How could a simple length of fabric (padded or unpadded, with or without rings or buckles for adjustment) be as easy to use and secure as a “bucket” carrier like a car seat?
And worse yet…once you have a sling, how in the world do you use it? Give it a chance, though. Once you are used to using a sling, you will find it a secure and convenient, as well as fun, way to carry your child.
Most slings come with written instructions and/or instructional videos to guide you in their use. You also might be able to get help from your local La Leche League, another parent, the Web, or a sling class in your area (see links at the end of this article).
In an effort to ensure that I was using my sling safely and correctly, I visited my local La Leche League leader for instruction. I also took the sling class at The Nurture Center. Although the Center is a 45-minute drive from my home in San Jose, the class was worth every minute of the drive…I came away much more savvy about the safe and comfortable use of the sling.
I tried seven baby carriers in all: the Baby Bjorn, the Sling-Ezee by Parenting Concepts, the Maya Wrap, the Maya Pouch, the New Native Baby Carrier, the Over the Shoulder Baby Holder, and the Rosado Sling.
Of the seven, my top three favorites were the Rosado Sling, the Over the Shoulder Baby Holder, and the New Native. My husband prefers the Baby Bjorn over a sling. This is probably because the Baby Bjorn has a short learning curve, and because it has a more conservative appearance than the slings I purchased (I like floral fabrics, which are too “girly" for him). Anyway, my husband doesn’t need to worry about nursing while he’s wearing the baby, whereas the ability to nurse hands-free was an absolute requirement in my book, hence my preference for slingtype carriers.
The Baby Bjorn (about $100) was the first carrier I tried. I received it from my mother as a baby shower gift. As a new Mom, I loved how quick and easy it was to use, and I also liked the security. But it had a few drawbacks.
The Bjorn has only two basic positions (upright facing in or upright facing out); it is not possible to recline the baby in the Bjorn. Nursing in the Bjorn was difficult at best. It took several adjustments to nurse in the Bjorn, the nursing position did not feel very secure, and it was not hands-free or as discreet as I would have liked.
I also found that unless the shoulder straps were centered and adjusted perfectly, it hurt my back to wear the Bjorn. Of additional concern were recent articles I’d seen claiming that the front-pack type carriers that place babies in a sitting position with arms and legs dangling may not be good for the baby’s developing spine and pelvis.
While I can’t confirm or deny any medical claims in this article, suffice it to say that my husband still uses the Bjorn for short errands, such as Costco runs, when he wants his hands free while ensuring that Jessica is secure and happy.
The second carrier I tried was the Sling-Ezee by Parenting Concepts (about $40). This is a padded sling with a “pillow” that rests on the wearer’s shoulder, with plastic rings for adjustment. There is a good selection of fabrics available, and the sling comes with a short instructional video. I was between sizes in this sling at the end of my pregnancy, and although the manufacturer had great customer service, attempted to provide instruction by telephone, and even sent me an alternate size, this sling was not a match for me.
In addition to issues with fit, this carrier seemed narrower than others I had seen, and it didn’t feel deep enough to make me feel secure carrying my daughter, who is big for her age. I returned the sling when, despite my best efforts to use it, I found that Jessica did not settle well in it.
The Maya Wrap (about $65) and the Maya Pouch (about $45.95) come in a variety of lovely Guatemalan fabrics, and come with an excellent instructional video. The video was one of the most informative and thorough I’ve seen. I believe that portions of this video can be seen on the Maya Wrap website, in case you already have a sling and need some pointers.
I liked the Maya Wrap, an unpadded sling, but found that its large metal rings (there was a recall on the oldstyle, smaller metal rings about a year ago) were a bit big for my small frame, and that there was some minor slippage as I wore the sling.
Jessica seemed to like being carried in the Maya Wrap, and loved being carried around in the “kangaroo” (tummy to tummy) carry, but I ultimately found the padded slings easier on my back and shoulders.
Additionally, as a small baby, Jessie was somewhat “lost” in the fabric, though as she got older this was no longer an issue. The Maya Wrap is a great choice if you want privacy for nursing, easy portability (folds nice and flat to fit in your diaper bag), and generous sizing to allow you and your spouse or partner to share the same sling.
I also tried a Maya Pouch. Same great fabric choices as the Maya Wrap, but no rings or fabric tail to adjust. Pouch-type carriers are very easy to learn to use and wear. They are basically shallow, tube-like slings that you can sit or recline a baby in, or hip- or back- carry an older baby or a toddler. Same concept as a regular sling, but the fact that it is not adjustable means that you are slightly more limited on positions (you cannot carry a small baby tummy-to-tummy, for example, which is a very comforting position for a sick or colicky baby).
The Maya Pouch had a short learning curve, and folded up really small , but I found it to be just a tad shallow for my baby.
Of the pouches, the New Native Baby Carrier (approximately $30 to $40, depending whether you select conventional or organic cotton twill) was my favorite. It is nice and deep, with a built-in” curve for added depth and security. It is light and comfortable in warm weather, packable, and very easy to use.
The New Native company is based in Soquel, California. They were very helpful in assisting with carrier sizing and other questions. My New Native Carrier is very convenient for travel, for quick trips to the store, or even for household chores (Jessie loves to sit cross-legged in the carrier and watch as I vacuum the house). We’ve also used it at parties…Jessica has done great when I have worn her in her New Native Carrier during social events this summer.
The Over the Shoulder Baby Holder and the Rosado Sling were two of the most comfortable and easy-to-use padded slings I tried. They are based on a similar idea (the pad is “built-in” to the shoulder), but there are some key differences between the two.
The Over the Shoulder Baby Holder is rather substantially padded and has nylon rings, whereas the Rosado Sling is lightly padded and has metal rings. Both are excellent slings, and I think that preference of one or the other is up to the individual parent-child combination. I use both slings, depending on my mood or what is handy at the time.
The OTSBH comes in three sizes and a wide variety of colors, from chambrays, calicos and various prints to more fanciful tie-dyed, batik or organic cotton “Extravagant Love Slings” (retail from $39 to $45 for the regular sling and $49 to $55 for the Extravagant Love Slings). It has a wide shoulder pad that is made to sit on the shoulder without sliding around. While the padding made the sling very comfortable, some Moms told me that it could be a little stiff and therefore tough to adjust the sling until you got it “broken in.”
The instructor of the sling class that I attended suggested washing the OTSBH a couple times before use to help soften the fabric and padding. The nylon rings are very strong, though I initially found them to be a little harder to work with than metal. As the sling softened with use, it became easier to adjust and work with.
The OTSBH is deeper than most slings, though not quite as wide as the Rosado sling, so it took a little practice for me to learn how to position Jessica most comfortably. Watching the instructional video was very helpful in this regard. The video, titled “How To Tie One On,” was very clear, concise, and easy to follow. I would recommend this video to anyone who wants to learn how to use a padded sling. I like the security of this sling, and how the pad-ding feels against my back. Jessica seems to like the feeling of the padding, too she is quite content in the tummy-to-tummy position, in which the edges of the sling come in contact with the back of the baby’s legs.
The OTSBH also has a nice safety feature an additional ring is sewn into the end of the trail to prevent the tail from slipping through the rings. This sort of slippage is an unlikely event, but it is comforting to have the extra insurance” for your precious cargo. The ring in the tail is also great for holding a little teething toy or your car keys. It has only one disadvantage you cannot take the sling entirely apart for use as a light blanket or for laundering, however this safety feature is worth the minor inconvenience.
The Rosado Sling (retails for $48 to $59) is the sling that I use most often. It combines the best features of the padded and unpadded slings, is easy to use, comfortable, and very attractive. It is available in a very large array of fabrics, including some lovely Balinese batiks, and comes in 6 sizes to fit all kinds of builds. I have a deep purple sling with blue batik hibiscus blossoms, and people stop me daily to admire it. The Rosado sling is unique in several ways: the batting that comprises the padding is flat, about 4 inches wide, and the shoulder pad is built into the shoulder, but is flatter and more lightweight than that of the OTSBH. The Rosado Sling has metal rings, which make it easy to adjust the depth of the pouch and snugness of the fabric around your baby. The fabric also seems wider than most, offering a secure carry pouch without “losing” even a small baby in the fabric.
This sling does not come with a safety” ring in the tail, but I remedied that by putting a small carabineer through the loop at the end of the sling -- this not only serves as a safety, it also makes a handy little holder for a toy or key chain. I found the Rosado Sling to be very secure and easy to use I pulled it out of the mailing box it came in, admired the pretty fabric, and tried it on to check the size. Just for giggles, I put Jessica in the sling to see what would happen, and she immediately started trying to nurse, confirming my feeling that this sling was a keeper for us. We both enjoy the comfort, fit and convenience of this sling.
Although Jessica is getting bigger, and has begun to enjoy riding in the stroller, she still likes the closeness of the sling and her bird’s-eye view of the world. She’s just about ready to be hip-carried in the sling, and I can’t wait to see how she likes this exciting new position. The convenience and comfort of a sling is unparalleled, and once you know how to use one, it will outlast any other baby carrier, baby clothing or toy in its usefulness, as most slings are can be used to carry your little one until they are three, if not older (depending on weight). Hopefully the fruits of my search will help you as you begin yours.
Useful Links for Buying and Wearing Slings
Jacqueline Davidson is a freelance writer and mother of one. She resides in San Jose with her husband, Mike, and 5-month-old daughter, Jessica.