Guide To Choosing A Baby Carrier | Full Buckle, Mei Tai, Wrap & Sling

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[QUIZ] Which Baby Carrier Is Best For You?

Choosing the perfect baby carrier can be overwhelming. Answer 10 simple questions and see my personal recommendation for the best type of baby carrier for your lifestyle, personal needs, and budget.

A baby carrier is one of the essentials that every parent will buy sooner or later. In this article, I’ll be discussing things to consider when looking for a baby carrier, and also go into details on the pros and cons of each type of baby carrier and the differences between each one.

Diagram - cost of different types of baby carriers in relation to bulkiness and ease of use

How To Choose A Baby Carrier

When buying a baby carrier, there are a few important things you should keep in mind.

Features

What you look for in a baby carrier is highly dependent on your lifestyle and long term plans for it.

  • Are you planning to use it from birth? If so, make sure it is specified as suitable for newborns and certified hip-healthy to prevent hip dysplasia.
  • Are you frequently out-and-about? A lightweight, travel-friendly baby carrier could be important to you.
  • Do you have pre-existing shoulder or back problems? You’ll want to avoid single-shoulder baby slings.
  • Will your partner be using it too? Baby carriers that require tying are often challenging for men, and they generally prefer quick, fuss-free options.

Based on your answers and personal needs, these are some features of a baby carrier that you might want to consider:

  • Sunhood/sleep cover
  • Suitable for newborn (or does it require a newborn insert?)
  • “H” or “X” shoulder strap positions
  • Breastfeeding in carrier
  • Ease of use and adjustments

Cost/Budget

The price of a baby carrier range from $70 to $300 and is directly proportional to its convenience and also bulkiness. For instance, the most expensive type of carrier is the Full Buckle. It’s the easiest to use, quickest to learn, but also the biggest type of baby carrier.

If you have a fixed budget in mind for how much you’d want to spend on a carrier, I’ll recommend starting with a mid-range option like the Half Buckle, or Meh Tai, and seeing if their features satisfy your needs.

If they’re still too pricey for your budget, consider buying a good condition secondhand carrier on eBay by selecting the “New: Never Used” or “Used” filter in the results.

Baby carriers are generally made from good quality materials that last a very long time, so buying near-new carriers is not a problem and will actually save you quite a bit of money.

Materials

Most baby carriers these days are made with natural fibres like cotton, or more rarely hemp, like the Manduca Organic Carrier. Natural materials are better particularly for newborns as they are gentle on the skin and less likely to trigger eczema flare-ups in babies.

However, there are also baby carriers that use synthetic fabric. Polyester is frequently used for baby carriers with air mesh, better suited for humid climate where it can get very hot for the baby in a carrier.

Spandex is a synthetic fabric that is commonly found in baby wrap carriers to add elasticity and maintain the carrier’s form because otherwise, it will easily stretch out of shape.

Not all brands will specify the materials used in their carriers, so if this is something you’re concerned about, make sure you ask for the material composition before making any purchase.

Different Styles Of Baby Carriers

Full Buckle Carrier

Baby Tula 'Free To Explore' collection of full buckle baby carriers

(Above) The Baby Tula ‘Free To Explore’ collection

A Full Buckle Carrier, also known as a Soft Structured Carrier (SSC), consists of only one buckle for the waist and one for the shoulder straps. It is the most popular and easiest baby carrier to use.

Advantages of the Full Buckle Carrier

It is the quickest and easiest to use

With everything connected by sturdy buckles, it only takes a few seconds to put on and take off. Beginner-friendly, it is perfect for first-time parents or those often on-the-go.

Easy to breastfeed in full buckle carrier

To breastfeed in a baby carrier (regardless of the type), you simply loosen the waist and shoulder straps so that baby sinks lower until her mouth is at the breasts (see video demonstration with the Baby Tula below).

This is easily accomplished with a full buckle carrier, where you can release and loosen the shoulder straps in half a second. Comparatively speaking, all the other carriers on this list require a bit time and adjustments to get baby in a suitable position for breastfeeding.

Ergonomically design for both wearer and baby

With a wide waist belt and thick padded shoulder straps, the full buckle carrier evenly distributes baby’s weight across your hips, back and shoulders to minimise strain on any particular area.

The wide seat base and body panel also ensures the baby is always in the recommended position for good hips and spinal development.

Only baby carrier that allows outward front-facing carry

If you want a baby carrier that allows for baby to face outwards, there are only a few full buckle baby carriers that specifically allow for this position:

It is suitable for both dads and mums

The ease of use and high adjustability means it is highly adaptable to the comfort of its wearer, making it suitable for multi-users and is gender-neutral.

It is the best for long term use

Although most types of baby carriers are suitable from birth to three years, once your baby hits 10kg the weight will quickly put a strain on you with other carriers. Full buckles, however, are designed to hold up to 20kg without too much burden on your body.

Additionally, full buckle carriers usually have an expandable body panel, like the Manduca that unzips so that the body panel extends longer. This allows you to carry a taller toddler or preschooler without the risk of them falling out.

This also makes the full buckle carrier one of the most economical and value for money options as a baby carrier.


Disadvantages of the Full Buckle Carrier

The most expensive baby carrier

Needless to say, with all the convenience and details in its design, the full buckle carrier is the priciest type of carrier on the market. For a reputable brand, the price ranges between $200 to $300.

Bulkier than other types

Due to its wide and padded straps, the full buckle baby carrier does not fold and stow away as easily as other carrier types. If you’re looking for a lightweight, travel-friendly option, you could still use the full buckle carrier – just leave it clipped around your waist instead of putting it away in a bag.

Wearer’s movement are restricted

With the thick and stiff waist strap, it is often near impossible to sit down or bend comfortably while using the full buckle carrier. This isn’t usually a problem until you find yourself wanting to sit down for a cup of coffee or catch up on some house chores while the baby naps on you.

Adjustments can be overwhelming

Despite only having two buckles, the full buckle usually comes with at least six points of adjustment for the various straps. The adjustable straps are meant to make it more customisable for individual wearers for a better fit, but this can get confusing if you’re not sure how and where to tighten.

Not always suitable for newborns

Some older full buckle designs require a newborn insert or some kind of modification to allow for newborn use. While the wide base for baby to sit in is optimum for forming the hip-healthy “M” shape, it is often too wide for newborn legs to spread.

The recommended M-shape sitting position in a baby carrier

The recommended M-shape sitting position | Source: International Hip Dysplaxia Institute

Newer designs, though, have taken this flaw into account and generally have two solutions:

  1. A built-in insert that is attached to the carrier, like the Manduca
  2. An adjustable seat width so that it can be narrower to allow for a newborn’s shorter legs, like the Baby Tula Explore

Half Buckle Carrier

Yellow Half Buckle Carrier by Baby Tula

(Above) Half Buckle Carrier by Baby Tula

A Half Buckle Carrier consists of only one buckle for the waist and two long sashes for the shoulder straps, which require manual tying.

Advantages of the Half Buckle Carrier

More affordable than a full buckle carrier

When compared to their full buckle carrier, Baby Tula’s half buckle carrier costs 20% less, saving you about $30.

Easy to adjust to the wearer

Unlike the full buckle which comes with quite a few different strap adjustments, the half buckle can be adjusted easily to fit the wearer by using the two sashes.

The sashes directly correspond to the fitting of the body panel and shoulder straps, so you simply tie them as tightly or loosely as you feel comfortable.

More comfortable with shoulder cross-straps

Most full buckles’ shoulder straps are a “H” position, whereas half buckles have shoulder straps in an “X” on the back. This position feels more comfortable for some people as it distributes the baby’s weight effectively across the entire back, not just across the shoulders.

It is also great for people with narrow shoulders as the straps often slip off while in the “H” position.

Note that there are also full buckle carriers that can also be used in the “X” position, such as the Ergobaby Omni 360 and Manduca.


Disadvantages of the Half Buckle Carrier

Long straps can be cumbersome

Even after tying, the two shoulder sashes can will have enough fabric left over to hang behind you like a sweeping tail. This can easily get caught on something while you’re moving around.

The way around it is to tie it a few more times around your waist, which can get hot and sweaty in summer. Or, alternatively, you can tuck the ends in along the waist belt.

Requires good hand coordination to tie

This goes for all baby carriers that require tying – If you’re not very flexible (i.e. reaching behind your back) or generally clumsy with your fingers and coordination, tying could be a learning curve as you need to get used to it.

The half buckle is the easiest baby carrier to tie, but the level of tying difficulty increases as we go down this list and the carriers require more complex tying.

This video shows the back-carry position with the Baby Tula Half Buckle, and just from this, you can already see how much coordination is required.

Mei Tai (Meh Dai)

Flat lay of a typical Mei Tai baby carrier

(Above) Flat lay of a typical Mei Tai, photo from Carry Me Away

The Mei Tai is similar to the Half Buckle carrier, except it has no buckle for the waist strap. It consists of a body panel and four long sashes for tying.

Advantages of the Mei Tai Carrier

The jack-of-all-trades baby carrier

Lightweight, travel-friendly, low maintenance, and highly versatile from birth to toddlerhood, the Mei Tai offers a little bit of everything.

Cheaper than the full or half buckle carrier

In terms of pricing, the Mei Tai is a mid-range baby carrier – slightly less expensive than the full or half buckle carriers, but still a little pricey compared to the baby wrap or sling.


Disadvantages of the Mei Tai Carrier

Very limited brands and retailers

The Mei Tai appears to be the least popular carrier option in Australia. During my search, I couldn’t find any established local retailer that offers a decent range of Mei Tai to choose from.

The best one I found was Baby Carriers Australia, but even they only offered one brand of Mei Tai, which is the ByKay Deluxe Mei Tai. There is also Carry Them Close, which stocks the Fidella Fly Tai.

The only established big brand that offers a Mei Tai is the Infantino Sash. It is the most affordable option but only available from the USA via Amazon AU. But even with international shipping, it is still significantly cheaper than the other Mei Tai brands.

Infantino Sash Wrap & Tie Mei Tai Baby Carrier

(Above) Infantino Sash Wrap & Tie Baby Carrier

Baby Wraps

(Above) Ergobaby Aura Wraps

The baby wrap is the simplest form of a carrier – essentially a very long piece of fabric that requires 100% tying – no buckles, pockets or accessories.

Advantages of the Baby Wrap

Very lightweight, most travel-friendly

As you can imagine, without all the bells and whsitles, the baby wrap is super easy to fold and take along anywhere. Most brands come with a little travel pouch for you to store it in.

Best carrier for twin newborns

Although there are specifically designed twin baby carriers, those generally cost a bomb (even more than a full buckle baby carrier). The baby wrap, however, can easily be adapted to carry twins (but only up to 4kg per baby).

Below is a video demonstration to twin carry with the Chekoh Baby Wrap, but the same technique can be applied to other baby wraps.

The most natural baby carrier

Made exclusively of natural materials like cotton, bamboo, linen etc., the baby wrap also hugs the baby close from top to bottom, which makes it one of the best options for settling newborns.

For this reason alone, the baby wrap has almost a cult following of dedicated babywearing fans who hail it as the ultimate newborn essential for skin-to-skin bonding.

Most affordable baby carrier

At a price range of $70 to $100, the baby wrap is the least expensive carrier option, which isn’t surprising considering it is literally just a flat piece of fabric.


Disadvantages of the Baby Wrap

Steep learning curve

Because there are so many different ways to tie and use the baby wrap, it can get overwhelming for the average person to learn to it. This is particularly challenging for men with less patience and may discourage them from babywearing.

Not the most ergonomic option

When used correctly and tied properly, the baby wrap is wonderfully ergonomic for both the baby and mum. But it takes experience and lots of practice to get to that point.

More often than not, if you don’t tie it 100% right, you will feel the strain on your shoulders and back after just a short period of babywearing.

Also, some of the more “creative” ways of using the baby wrap is actually NOT hip-friendly for the baby. For instance, using it in an outward front-facing position.

Very short-lived in its use

Technically, the fabric used for most baby wraps can carry up to 20kg of weight, but it is really best for newborns or younger babies. Toddlers are more active and heavier, making it extremely challenging to carry them while attempting to tie a wrap around them.


Baby Sling

Photo credit: Kristi Hayes-Devlin

The ring sling is essentially a one-sided baby wrap with rings attached to one end. The modern variation often has a buckle on the shoulder strap instead of rings, in which case it is simply called a baby sling.

Advantages of the Baby Sling

Very easy for breastfeeding

The best feature of the sling is how easily it allows the baby to lie horizontally. This makes it a breeze to breastfeed in and takes only a split second to flip the baby from upright to a side-lying position.

Best carrier for newborns

The ring sling is the perfect alternative to baby wraps for newborns if you find all the manual tying too overwhelming.

The sling’s horizontal carry position cradles the baby in an enclosed space that perfectly mimics the womb environment, which is very soothing for newborns.

Some popular ring slings include:

baby ring sling side lying horizontal position

(Above) The horizontal carry of a baby sling | Photo source


Disadvantages of the Baby Sling

Adjustments can be difficult

If you’re using a ring sling, the threading of the fabric through the rings can take some practise. The adjustments itself is also quite fiddley especially because you need to readjustment every single time you take the baby out or put her back in.

That said, it is still easier and quicker to use than the baby wrap, so it could be toss-up for you between these two options.

Very restrictive on your arm movement

The strap needs to sit capped over one shoulder, as you can see in the video above. This means that particular arm cannot be raised past a 90-degree angle.

Ring slings are made of woven materials, which mean they are not stretchy and will somewhat bind your arm in that position. You can still do simple things around the house but it’ll limit any bigger movements like reaching up for things.

Hard on the shoulder and back

Being a single-sided carrier, the strain it puts on your shoulder and upper back is immense. It was the first carrier I bought and used when I was a first time mum, but I couldn’t use it beyond 8kg of baby’s weight because it gave me very bad backache.

This alone makes it one of the least recommended baby carriers, and I personally wouldn’t advise anyone to buy one unless you have tried it and definitely prefer it over the others.

Did you find this article helpful?

This was written at night while my kids are in bed. Help me stay awake so I can keep producing free & useful content for Aussie mums!

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