I recently wrote about the three basic types of baby carrier. Now it's time to go into detail about why you might (or might not) need each of these.
Let's start with the structured carriers. These can be seen as light babywearing as, thanks to the mainstream popularity of babybjörn, a structured carrier doesn't scream "tofu-loving, hippy parent" as much as a ring sling or wrap might. Using them is also pretty no-fuss: just like a backpack you throw it over your shoulders, insert the baby or toddler, and, voilà, you're good to go.
You need one if:
* you think slings and wraps look too complicated and prefer a no-fuss option
* you're going to take the baby for very long walks or hiking
* you feel uncomfortable in a rather hippy-ish sling or wrap
* you have an older baby that is already on the heavy side for a wrap or ring sling
What to remember when picking a model:
* Check that your baby is big enough - many models are not actually suitable for newborn babies. Sometimes you can buy an additional newborn kit, sometimes you have to wait for baby to grow.
* Check the carrying options - in my opinion the more, the better to give you and your baby variety (good for baby and good for your back!). Most carriers can do at least front and back, some even work over the hip or allow you to flip the baby facing forward and towards you.
Note on forward-facing carriers: there is a bit of a debate on whether forward-facing carriers are bad for babies. To me it partly feels like the babywearing community angrily staking their claim over something that is becoming mainstream (i.e. "you might be wearing your baby too, but I'm wearing him better!"). The main concern seems to be over the effect these carriers have on baby's hips and the International Hip Dysplasia Institute has some interesting pointers that you should check out. However, the actual evidence for a link between the type of carrier and hip displasia is scanty.
Another issue is overstimulation, especially in very young babies. It makes sense to me (facing outward the baby can't shut out the confusing world), but I can't find anything more substantial to back up these fears. In fact the one expert quoted in many blogs as saying "forward-facing is cruel" was apparently misquoted. In any case, I reckon that any baby that is unhappy with its situation will quickly make this known to her parents!
Why I bought a structured carrier
My main problem with structured carriers is that they all look a bit too bulky to wear around the house (and I'm not a hiker!) - I probalby wouldn't have bought one if it weren't for my husband. As much as he's into the idea of wearing our baby, he isn't the type to sport a floral sling or three metres of material wrapped around his waist. He also suffers from terrible, chronic back pain and a structured carrier will hopefully give him the most support. It also seemed like a good companion piece to the soft wrap I bought at the same time - once the baby outgrew the wrap, I could switch to the carrier.
But then I went and bought a ring sling anyway...