Best Baby Carriers 2017

Babies love being held close to mom or dad, feeling the warm comfort of their chest and the gentle rhythm of their breathing and heartbeat. But unless you're Ronda Rousey or Mark Wahlberg, your arms and shoulders are going to get very tired from lugging around a growing baby all day. That's where the soft-structured baby carrier comes in! Each year, there are several new entrants into the baby carrier market, making it harder to make an informed decision about which ones are best for you and your baby.
We took 17 popular baby carriers, some having been around for over a decade (like the BabyBjorn and ERGO) and some being relative newcomers to the market (like the Mother Nest and Tula), and put them to the test. They ranged in price from about $35 to $150, and in general price tended to correlate with quality. All of the carriers were purchased by us, we did not accept any freebies to ensure our reviews were honest and unbiased. We evaluated each carrier for ease of use, safety, comfort, versatility, breathability, durability, and long-term reliability. Five moms and dads of different shapes and sizes tried out the carriers with 4 different babies ranging in age from 2 months to 2.5 years.

 Soft structured carriers are the most popular and versatile baby carrier option, and come in many different shapes, sizes, prices, and quality levels. Most can be strapped on your front or back to carry the baby forward- or backward-looking, and are well tested for safety and durability. Rather than a wrap (like the Boba or Moby), soft structured carriers have an intrinsic padded structure that gives the baby reliable support, minimizing the risk of your baby wiggling into odd positions like you sometimes see with a wrap or sling. Not quite as customizable as the wrap carriers, and not quite as convenient to pack away for travel, but definitely a more user-friendly option without the major learning curve of a wrap carrier that involves wrapping and tying. However, there are some very important things to look for in a baby carrier. Here are some of our notes:

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Ergonomics. To ensure proper hip and back development, the ergonomics of a baby carrier are very important. There are a few things to look for here. First, you want your newborn infant (first couple months) to adopt the C spinal alignment, which means there is a nice curvature to you baby's back, with legs tucked up. This is called the "fetal tuck" position, and it reduces pressure on the spine and hips, promoting calmness and easier digestion. Second, you want your infant (3+ months) baby's buttocks and hamstrings to be supported, putting the baby into a "frog leg" position. In other words, you never want the legs to be dangling down below the carrier (just from the calves down), and this is true for at least the first couple years of life. When testing out the carriers, we looked for the fetal tuck for newborns, and a maintained frog leg position for infants, toddlers, and bigger kids.
Versatility. Gone are the days when a baby carrier can only support a single carrying position. You no longer need separate infant, toddler, big kid, and hiking (back) carriers. Most carriers are now very versatile, allowing for multiple carrying positions. At the low end, some carriers have 2 positions, usually forward-facing and backward-facing. At the high end, carriers have six positions, including backward-facing newborn (fetal tuck), backward-facing infant (legs out), forward-facing toddler, backward-facing toddler (without as much head support as the infant position), hip sling, and back carrier (like a hiking carrier). The best ones tend to be more versatile and last from newborn (about 7+ pounds) until about 4 years old (about 40 pounds), but they also tend to be the most expensive ones.

Safety & Reliability. There is no more important factor to consider than safety. There are a lot of factors to consider here. How is the stitching along the important seams, and where the buckles and zippers attach? What is the quality of the zippers? What is the quality of the clips, fasteners, adjustment slides and loops, and Velcro? How do these components stand the test of time, with repeated wearing and adjustment? Many carriers use lower quality connectors, fabrics, and stitching, and don't do well with repeated wearing. The last thing you want is a malfunction of a weight-bearing component. Safety also considers baby position, the breathability of the fabric, and the appropriate head and neck support. Our testing considered short-term hands-on use, and reviews from long-term use, pulling together a wide range of data regarding these safety considerations. 
Ease of Use. Some carriers look great, feel great, are super comfortable and reliable, but are a total pain in the butt to put on, take off, or adjust. Carriers have come a long way in terms of convenience and ease of use, but some are still quite poor in this regard. Our best carriers list carefully considers ease of donning, doffing, and adjusting the carrier.


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