This post introduces you to the different types of baby slings, offers tips for choosing a sling and signposts support options. For a quick comparison of bumptobeyond’s in-stock slings and carriers, use our handy comparison chart.
“What’s the best baby sling for … ?” Well, as much as you probably want a quick answer to that question, I’m afraid there isn’t one.
Here’s an attempt at a shortish answer to “Which is the best baby sling or baby carrier on the market?” The best sling is one that
- is comfortable for you to wear and use,
- is made of soft, natural fabric,
- is free of harmful chemicals,
- holds your little one in a developmentally appropriate upright position, supporting spine, hips and neck/head,
- allows you to see and sense your child at all times.
This short list and info sheet probably don’t fully answer your question yet. So let’s look at this in a bit more detail.
Slings are like Shoes
I like to compare slings to shoes. You can help someone narrow down their choices based on their needs (there’s runners, high heels, slippers, flip flops …). You wouldn’t do it without asking a few questions first, though.
You may suggest your favourite in brand or model, but your personal best ain’t necessarily your buddy’s best, or your neighbour’s, or sister’s… Needs, likes, physique and budgets differ – that goes for shoes as well as for baby slings.
So to help you separate the runners from the high heels, here’s a little overview of the five basic types of baby slings.
The Five Basic Types of Slings
1. Stretchy Wrap
A long piece of knitted fabric that you wrap around your body. The fabric stretches (now there’s a suprise!), so you can pop baby in and out without taking the wrap on and off every time. The stretch in the fabric also means that you always need three layers of fabric over baby.
- Suitable from birth to 5-8 months
- one size fits all
- two shoulder carries
- suitable for front carries and some for hip
(Stretch-)Hybrids are more supportive and more versatile than normal stretchies and can be used well into toddlerhood. For small babies, one or two layers are sufficient with hybrids.
2. Woven Wrap
A piece of woven fabric in varying lengths that you wrap around your body. The special weave of the fabric makes wovens very supportive and versatile while at the same time moulding perfectly around you and baby.
- Suitable from birth to beyond 20 kg
- can easily be shared between different wearers
- allow front, hip and back carries
- two and one shoulder carries
For learning, a thinner wrap with different colour edges or stripes is very useful. Most average size people start off with a size 6 (4.60ish metres) woven wrap.
3. Ring Sling
A piece of fabric thread threw two metal rings (these should be seemless, not welded).
- Suitable from birth to at least 15 kg
- one shoulder carries
- most suitable for front and hip carries
- minor adjustments needed when used by more than one person
Ring Slings come with different shoulders. The majority of people prefer a gathered shoulder (fans out like in the photo above).
4. Mei Tai
A shaped panel of fabric which is tied onto the wearer with shoulder and waist straps.
- some suitable from birth, others from a few months old, some are toddler sized
- suitable for front, hip and back carries
- two shoulder carries
- no adjusting needed when shared between wearers
Mei Tais come in different sizes, shapes and materials. Something as minor as the angle of the shoulder straps coming out of the panel can make a huge difference to your comfort. There’s some beautiful, affordable designs out there, like the handcrafted Pathi Mei Tai.
5. Buckle Carrier /Soft Structured Carrier
A shaped, often padded, panel of fabric secured onto the wearer with the help of buckled straps.
- Some are adjustable to use from newborn (e.g. Ruckeli, JoNo, Isara), others need extra inserts to be used from birth*
- suitable up to toddlerhood, some beyond**
- two shoulder carries
- front and back carries, some offer hip carry option
- need re-adjusted when shared between wearers
Buckle carriers are popular for their ease of use but are more restrictive in adjustability due to padding and buckle positioning. When choosing a buckle carrier, look out for sturdy, heavy duty buckles that can withstand dropping, rough use and, most importantly, your baby’s weight. In a buckle carrier the buckles hold your baby to you.
* A note on minimum weight provided by manufacturers and extra inserts: A lot of non-adjustable carriers are “workable” from birth but not necessarily suitable to support a small baby in a physiological position.
**A note on maximum weight provided by manufacturers: This figure simply means that the sling or carrier is safety tested to withstand that weight. It does not mean that it will be suitable, practical or comfortable with a child of that weight.
And then there’s in-between slings and carriers (half buckles, for instance) … but that would just be too confusing at this stage!
With any baby sling you are choosing or using, it’s a good idea to regularly check that it’s fit for use, there are no holes in the fabric, no broken hardware, no loose seams etc.
Ease of use
Why am I not including which baby slings or carriers are easy to use, which take longer to get the hang of? Because it varies. People learn at different paces and have different comfort levels.
Take the Ring Sling, for example: On the one hand, I’ve worked with people who couldn’t bare watch me demo a secure seat with a doll. On the other hand, I’ve had people who walked out of a consult after 45 minutes fully confident using a Ring Sling without any previous experience. And in the middle, most people take a few practice runs, maybe a follow-up tweak until they are confident, efficient ring slingers.
Where to find out more?
I offer a range of services to help you choose *your* best sling, including one-on-one sessions, workshops and Intro talks and demos. If you’d like to learn more about the biological background and practicalities of babywearing, you’ll find plenty of articles in my resources section.
A great place to meet other parents who use slings (babywearers) and see a range of slings in a relaxed atmosphere is a Sling Meet. I’ve been a volunteer with not for profit organisation Babywearing Ireland since it was set up in 2008. BWI run over 20 Sling Meets and Libraries around the country. The biggest virtual place to hang with Irish babywearers is the Sling Addicts facebook group.
And finally, the following info graphics are great tools to assess slings and baby’s positioning in them.
Happy choosing and enjoy the snuggles x