Types of Carriers

There are three categories of carriers: hard, soft, and hybrid. Here we have listed and described the attributes of the most popular infant carriers. This is not an exhaustive list of carriers, more of a review. Each category and type of carrier has been created and used for a specific purpose– there are no moral dimensions to which carrier is used. Infants and young child need to be carried, period. However, as a babywearing group located in the United States, we tend to prioritize ergonomics, safety, and comfort and so tend to advise against carriers which force poor positioning or reduce safety and comfort.

Hard Carriers:

Hard carriers are intended to prevent injury to the child in the event of impact– whether from falls or collision. So named for their rigidity, they reduce the movements of the infant, sometimes completely. All hard carriers separate the infant from the body of a caregiver, reducing communication through sight, sound, smell, and touch. In addition, hard carriers make the infant into an independent object, as opposed to soft carriers in which the infant becomes an extension of the caregiver’s body. Hard carriers continue to “carry” the infant whether or not a caregiver is present.

Car seats:

Designed for use in vehicles, these are plastic and metal shells designed to absorb impact in the event of a collision to reduce the risk of injury or death to the infant. They are generally are designed with a five-point harness with a chest belt and sophisticated engineering to protect infants while fitting into very different styles of vehicles. Car seats marketed for newborns and very young infants are often sold as part of a “Travel System” which includes a stroller that the car seat can attach to, this way the infant does not have to be taken out of the car seat throughout travel/ errands. Though many car seats are now designed with a wider based to allow infants a flexed hip, some still have narrow bases which can contribute to or exacerbate hip dysplasia. Additionally, the risk of chin-to-chest positioning, which can lead to positional asphyxia, is a risk for infants without head control as well as sleeping infants.

Tip: Here in Iowa, tornadoes are an annual threat– what few people know is that the safest place for an infant during a tornado is a car seat (obviously not in the car).

Cradle Boards:

Often made with wood, reeds, and leather, the infant is often swaddled then lashed to the cradleboard, its head protected by a hoop or plank of wood. Cradleboards are found in indigenous cultures throughout the world, from the Sami in Scandinavia to the Nenets of Siberia, the Kiowa, Navajo, or Nez Perce of North America, or the Mapuche of South America. They are also known historically in medieval Europe as binding boards. Cradleboards create a microclimate for the infant– allowing them, much like “travel systems”, to remain in the carrier whether it is in use or at rest until the caregiver is ready to take them out. Some cradleboards were never intended to be carried by people, but rather, dragged by sled dogs or lashed to horses. Due to the extended, legs-together positioning of swaddled infants in cradleboards, these carriers are also known to exacerbate or contribute to hip dysplasia.

Framed hiking backpacks:

Made with a metal frame wrapped in fabric, these carriers help hikers carry a child and their gear together. Very often, the part responsible for holding the infant or child is designed much like a narrow-base harness carrier (see below). The center of gravity is difficult with this style of carrier as the child is usually held above the shoulders of the wearer– but on the back. This allows for the weight of the child (and gear) to be centered on the wearer’s pelvis, but only if the backpack is well fitted and includes a waist strap. Keeping the child on the back allows the hiker to see where they are stepping, however, the metal framing is designed to protect the child even if there is a fall.


Soft Carriers:

There are five main categories of “soft” baby carriers: ABC’s, Pouches, SPOC’s, SSC’s and the dreaded Narrow Base Harness Carrier. I’ve used my mediocre drawing ability to give an idea what kinds of carriers each category includes.
b1553-abcTraditional Baby Carriers (aka: Asian Baby Carriers or ABC’s): 
So named because many of the carriers in this category are best known by their Asian names. However many non-Asian cultures have similar carriers, from Northern Europe to Africa, so the category name is a bit of misnomer. If you can think of a better name we’d love to hear it!
  • Mei-Tai is a rectangle “the body of the carrier” (sometime featuring an arched head support) with shoulder straps coming out at an angle from the body of the carrier, and the waist straps parallel the bottom of the body. Some include sleep hoods and are adjustable.
    • Front, hip and back carry
    • facing in, upright.
    • newborn-weight limit
    • various non-stretch fabrics
    • hands-free nursing
  • Podaegi meaning “blanket” in Korean is traditionally a torso carrier but can be used as a shoulder strap carrier, especially with the narrow blanket version. The narrow blanket version can allow the child to have their legs straight down when used traditionally.
    • traditionally back-carry, can be used on the front
    • facing in, up-right
    • newborn-weight limit
    • various non-stretch fabrics.
    • hands-free nursing
  • Onbuhimo is basically a mei-tai without a waist belt, rather the shoulder straps are extra long and form the waist straps after being threaded through the rings at the waist.
    • front and back carry.
    • facing-in, upright.
    • newborn-weight limit
    • various non-stretch fabrics, solid round rings.
    • hands-free nursing
  • Heko Obi so named after the Obi belt, it is a strap carrier. Used much like a wrap but with less coverage.
    • front, hip and back carry
    • facing in, upright
    • head control-weight limit
    • woven fabric.
    • hands-free nursing
Pouches:

Include Ring Slings and Fitted or Adjustable Pouches which are one shoulder carries which can cause problems for people with shoulder, neck, or upper back issues.

  • Ring slings have many shoulder styles to choose from: “gathered”, “folded”, “padded”, etc. Some of them feature pockets. They should have circular, solid (not-welded) aluminum sling rings that are the correct gauge for the fabric used. Some ring slings have a pocket or a decorative panel on the tail. Older versions of ring slings had closed tails and padded rails–these styles are not recommended as it prevents the complete tightening and full range of adjustments necessary for safe and comfortable babywearing.
    • Front, Hip and Back carries
    • Upright, cradle, side, kangaroo
    • Premie- Fabric weight limit.
    • stretchy, woven, mesh
    • hands-free nursing
  • Fitted Pouches are tubes of fabric with single a rounded seam. These must be sized for the individual wearer– sharing between people of very different sizes isn’t possible. Tiny adjustments are possible using shoulder flips or using a folded blanket to boost a tiny baby, but they are not very adjustable if the wearer changes size dramatically.
    • Front, Hip and Back Carries
    • Upright, cradle, side, kangaroo
    • Premie- 2yo
    • stretchy, fleece, woven, mesh
    • hands-free nursing
  • Adjustable Pouches feature internally adjustable mechanisms usually Velcro or d-rings which are hidden under the shoulder cap. Same as fitted pouches but can be shared with various sized people, or used by people with dramatic size changes.
    • Front and Hip Carries
    • Upright, Cradle, Side and Kangaroo
    • Premie-2yo
    • woven
    • hands-free nursing
Soft-Structured Carriers (SSC’s): 
Very similar to many of the ABC’s, however SSC’s feature clips or buckles and often more padding than ABC’s.
  • Nearly all SSC’s have the same basic shape but brands differ between materials used, sizes, cut, features and price.
    • front, hip and back
    • upright, facing in
    • newborn- weight limit
    • various fabrics, hardware and padding
    • hands-free nursing
  • There are two exceptions to the basic shape shown above:
    • Podaegi 2.0 a revamped velcro filled version of the ABC’s category’s podaegi.
      • front and back carry
      • upright, facing in
      • newborn-weight limit
      • various fabrics, padding and hardware
    • Torso carrier.
      • back carry
      • upright facing-in
      • newborn
      • various

Simple Pieces of Cloth (SPOC’s):
Just like what it sounds– if you have a piece of cloth it’s very like you can wear a baby with it.

  • Wraps are of varying lengths and widths. Some come with tapered narrow ends and some do not; some have fringe and the end and some do not.
    • front, hip, back carries
    • cradle, upright, side-sitting, kangaroo
    • premie-weight limit
    • stretchy, woven or mesh
    • hands-free nursing
  • Shawls and Kanghas are typically the size of a beach towel, whereas selendangs, rebozos and similar carriers are a little longer than an average door. Shawls and Kanghas are finished off with twisting and relying on tension to keep the carrier secure. Selendangs and rebozos typically relying on tying knots to remain secure.
    • shorter: back carries only; longer: front, hip and back carries
    • Shorter: upright, facing in; longer: cradle, upright, side-sitting, kangaroo
    • premie-weight limit
    • hands-free nursing
    • woven or mesh
  • Mantas, which appear square are actually imperfect squares. They are used folded in half to form a triangle with points askew (thus the imperfect square shape). The tip of the triangle is tucked between the child’s legs and secured between their torso and the wearer’s back while the other two points are pulled around the shoulders and tied in front of the collar bones. Traditional mantas are woven from wool, however, it is very common for caregivers to cut a bed sheet into an imperfect square and use that.
    • front, hip, back carries
    • cradle, upright, side-sitting, kangaroo
    • premie-weight limit
    •  woven or mesh
    • hands-free nursing

 Hybrid:

ea5c8-crotchdangler(The notorious) Narrow Base Harness Carrier:

Like a hard carrier:
  • completely separates the body of the infant from the body of the wearer
  • places the weight of the infant on the wearer’s shoulders, rather than their pelvis, throwing off the wearer’s center of balance
  • does not allow for hands-free nursing (or hands-on nursing)
  • Risk of chin-to-chest position in newborns or sleeping infants even after leg/lumbar support correction, even when facing the wearer.
  • features arm and leg holes
  • limits infant positioning, holds infant in one position only

Like a soft carrier:

  • does not protect infant from impact
  • cannot support infant if it is not being worn by care giver

Unique Traits:

* Ergo released a version of their carrier that allows for front-forward-facing (though it stops being ERGOnomic for the wearer when the child is forward facing. However, unlike a narrow-based harness carrier, with the 360 Ergo:

  • the weight of the child is distributed across their butt and legs- still dangling, but the weight of the child’s body is not supported by their “crotch”.
  • the child’s body is resting against the body of the wearer- not encased in a harness or separated from wearer by hardware or other material.
  • the carrier does not feature arm or leg holes

**The Front Foward Facing, legs-out position is not recommended because it throws off the wearer’s center of gravity causing problems with balance and muscle strain (the more the child can swing their legs the more it will throw off the wearer’s center of gravity). Forward facing front carries obscure the wearer’s field of vision and the combination of the impaired balance and limited field of vision can lead to falls. Should falls occur while a baby or child is forward facing, the reflexes of the infant would work against the reflexes of the adult (to curl forward) leading to serious injury. If your child wants to “look out” a high back carry is recommended, or a hip carry if you are not comfortable with a back carry.

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