Baby Slings – give them a shot ! (CHOICE latest review)

Matt, Violet and Indigo at Long Reef Headland

Matt, Violet and Indigo at Long Reef Headland

 

Updated: 4 Jun 2012

Author: Chris Barnes (CHOICE Magazine)

Introduction

We review 10 baby slings and carriers, priced from $79 to $200.

A baby carrier or sling is a great way to keep your hands free while enjoying close contact with your child.

It’s important to note that different styles of baby carrier suit different body shapes and sizes, for both parent and baby. Try on a few different ones – ask to try your friends’ carriers, or try different models in stores. When choosing one, you really should try a few different models before you buy. Correct fit is vital, not just for baby but for parents too, so both of you are comfortable, safe and secure.

And that means both parents need to try it on – in a recent CHOICE survey 23% of dads reported noticeable discomfort, the baby almost falling out or even injury to the baby, when wearing a carrier or sling. So, if dad is going to wear the carrier or sling too, it needs to be adjustable in order to fit both parents.

We haven’t scored the carriers and slings or recommended any particular models, since our trial was fairly small and selecting one is a personal decision. To help you decide which ones to try, we show how many mums in our trial would consider buying each product, and which products were most preferred by mums (and babies) of different physiques and experiences. We’ve also included a physiotherapist’s assessment of each product.

Types

Pouch: A padded carrier (pouch) of firm or soft material worn on the body. These allow your baby to snuggle up in the face-in position. Many carriers also allow you to position your baby face out, which allows more freedom of movement and greater visibility for an older baby.

Sling: Offers not just the face-in and face-out positions, but usually also the “peapod” position, where a young baby is carried wrapped around or across your body.

Wrap or Mei Tai: A long cloth strip wrapped and tied off around the body across both shoulders, or a cloth panel with four fabric tying straps.

Safe and supported

A carrier or sling should support a baby sufficiently without overly restricting head, leg and arm movement. The ideal “flexed” posture for a baby is in a “cuddling” position with legs splayed (but not too widely) and supported around the thighs and bottom. Head support is particularly important for younger babies, who have little or no head and neck control.

If you’re considering a sling, remember that babies have suffocated in these. At most risk are premature babies or those under the age of four months, or with low birth weight or breathing difficulties. In these cases a pouch or wrap may be a better option. Avoid positioning your baby with their face pressed against the fabric or your body, or lying with a curved back with chin tucked against their chest.

Brands tested

Baby First Elite Cruiser

Babybjorn Miracle 096065

Breeze Baby Ring Sling

Britax Safe N Sound K011000-AU

Ergobaby Performance BCP02500

Hugabub Pocketless Wrap    Slings 4 Blokes – Hugabub

Manduca Classic    Slings 4 Blokes – Manduca

Minimonkey 4-In-1

Natures Sway Organics

Phil & Ted Pepe

How we test

We put out a call via Facebook for interested parents with babies aged 0-12 months, and had more than 100 responses (all from mothers – no dads, unfortunately). We selected 10 mums, covering a range of heights, builds, baby ages and personal carrier/sling preferences. They assessed 10 carriers and slings in the CHOICE office to find out which are most comfortable, secure and easy to use.

Physiotherapist Karen Herbert also joined us to observe the mums and babies using the carriers and slings and gave her expert opinion. Karen is a UK-trained chartered physiotherapist with over 20 years’ experience. She’s currently employed at the Sydney Children’s Hospital as a Senior Physiotherapist specialising in child development and neurology.

The parents all had experience using baby carriers, and their babies ranged from less than three months old to over 10 months old. They assessed each product for ease of use, comfort and security while carrying their babies on their front, with the baby facing inwards and (where possible) outward as well. The trial included walking around the neighbourhood, going up and down stairs and bending over.

The trialists gave each carrier an overall rating after assessing the carriers for ease of use, comfort and security.

Results

We haven’t scored the carriers and slings, since our trial was fairly small and selecting one is a personal decision, but we’ve indicated how many mums in our trial would consider buying each product.

The carriers and slings are grouped according to the findings of our trial; use this as a guide to which models to consider first, but don’t rule out trying others. Some models could fit in several categories; for instance, the Hugabub was most popular with mums with young babies, but many mums with older babies liked it too. Similarly, the BabyBjorn was most popular with tall mums and those of average height, but shorter mums also found it reasonably comfortable.

 

FOR YOUNGER BABIES (UP TO SIX MONTHS)

BABYBJORN Miracle 096065

babybjorn.com.au

Price: $200

Recommended age/size: Newborn (3.5kg and 53cm) to 12kg (approx. 15 months)

Type: Structured pouch

Triallist rating: 6/10 are very likely to consider buying it.

Rated better for:

Users with babies up to six months of age.

Users of average height or taller, and average or larger builds.

Users used to a pouch carrier.

Rated worse for:

Nothing in particular.

User trial comments:

“Very good back support (for the wearer).”

“The shoulders could be a bit better padded, but that did not detract from an otherwise extremely comfortable, supportive carrier.”

“I would not buy this or any other carrier that did not support baby’s hips. I also feel that this would give me a sore lower back.”

Physiotherapist notes:

Well-fitting, with multiple adjustment points and good lumbar support. Baby is well supported and the wearer can maintain a good extended posture. A smaller wearer could find the baby sitting low which pulls the wearer forward. Baby head support is effective but can reduce the baby’s view. Overall, safe and suitable with correct adjustment.

 

HUGABUB Pocketless Wrap

hugabub.com

Price: $79

Recommended age/size: premmie to two years.

Type: Cloth wrap

Triallist rating: 7/10 are very likely to consider buying it.

Rated better for:

Babies up to three months of age.

Tall users and users of slight build.

Users of wrap-style carriers.

Rated worse for:

Nothing in particular.

User trial comments:

“Take a little getting used to but still very easy to use, especially with instructional DVD.”

“Best sling out of all trialled, very happy with design and function.”

“Would consider it for a younger baby, but would choose something else for an older baby.”

Physiotherapist notes:

Most mothers struggled to don this wrap. The width of the fabric allows the weight to be distributed over a larger area and the straps can be made very wide which makes it more comfortable to carry the baby. The baby can be very well supported in a flexed posture and when facing away, the baby has good trunk and leg support allowing excellent upper and lower limb movement. It is more difficult to position an older more active child. Safe and suitable if applied with care.

 

BRITAX SAFE N SOUND K011000-AU

britax.com.au

Price: $149

Recommended age/size: 3.5 to 15kg

Type: Structured pouch

Triallist rating: 6/10 are likely to consider buying it.

Rated better for:

Babies aged three to six months.

Users of average height and those with average or larger builds.

Users of pouch-type carriers.

Rated worse for:

Users of slight build.

Users of wrap-style carriers.

User trial comments:

“Love this carrier. Mum and bub both happy.”

“The wide straps help to distribute the weight well over your back, fairly comfortable.”

“I felt like this carrier pulled more on my shoulders than others that had waist straps.”

Physiotherapist notes:

Very good wearer comfort. The strap on the shoulders and upper back is one arch shaped piece so that the strap stays in place and takes weight over a wider area. Hip strap takes the baby’s weight so that the mother retains good posture. Head support works very well, it gives support but also space between wearer and child. Suitable for all the observed babies and mothers.

 

FOR OLDER OR LARGER BABIES (SIX MONTHS+)

ERGOBABY Performance BCP02500

ergobaby.com / babesinarms.com.au

Price: $199 (optional Heart2Heart infant insert $35)

Recommended age/size: between 5.5 and 20kg (or from newborn/3.5 kg with insert)

Type: Soft structured pouch

Triallist rating: 7/10 are very likely to consider buying it.

Rated better for:

Babies seven to 12 months of age.

Short and tall users, and users of slight build.

Rated worse for:

Nothing in particular.

User trial comments:

“Worth mentioning the very handy pockets on the front. Could probably fit a jumpsuit, nappy and wipes in them.”

“Probably not enough back support for me but comfortable to wear and very comfortable for baby.”

“Was good except for the babies foot positioning as I didn’t feel I could bend comfortably and her feet didn’t seem to sit right.”

Physiotherapist notes:

Two mothers of larger build and longer torso had issues with the straps sitting very high and cutting into the armpits, and poorly fitting on the shoulders. In this case the baby can sit too high up for comfort. The baby itself is well supported by the straps so the wearer can maintain a good posture. Infant insert supports the baby in a good hip bend posture but can be difficult to position inside the sling: babies tend to slide out of the insert. With practise and suitable adjustment this carrier should provide good support especially for larger children.

 

MANDUCA Classic

manduca.com.au

Price: $159

Recommended age/size: 3.5 to 20kg

Type: Soft structured pouch

Triallist rating: 7/10 are likely to consider buying it.

Rated better for:

Babies seven to 12 months of age.

Short users, and users of slight build.

Users of wrap-style carriers.

Rated worse for:

Nothing in particular.

User trial comments:

“Clever design. I like how the body can unzip to lengthen it, and how it can carry newborns in the insert and toddlers too.”

“Would be able to complete housework using this. Able to bend and keep hands free.”

“Difficult instructions and cramped baby.”

Physiotherapist notes:

Straps fit well on wearer’s shoulders and allow good posture. There is an integral extra piece of fabric to support the smaller baby. The baby is securely supported in a good flexed posture. Safe and suitable for the age range trialled.

 

FOR OCCASIONAL OR BEACH WEAR

BREEZE BABY Ring Sling

breezebaby.com.au

Price: $79

Recommended age/size: Birth to 12+ months

Type: Cloth sling

Trialist rating: 2/10 are likely to consider buying it.

Rated better for:

No one in particular.

Rated worse for:

Users with babies up to six months of age.

Users of all heights, and average or larger builds.

Users of all carrier and sling types.

User trial comments:

“Would need both hands the majority of the time to safely support my baby’s weight.”

“This carrier may be more comfortable with a smaller baby, but with 9kg on one shoulder it is too uncomfortable.”

“This would be a great carrier for hot days, or to keep in a handbag for short wears. It’s so light and breathable. I wouldn’t want to wear it for long periods though as it would be

quite bad for my back.”

Physiotherapist notes:

The fabric gathers at the ring connection point such that even when the strap is spread over a large area the weight is presses on a smaller area and is uncomfortable. The manmade

fabric is rough and uncomfortable on skin. The fabric does not provide adequate support especially for active babies. Additional hand or arm support is needed from the wearer.

 

BABY FIRST Elite Cruiser

babyco.com.au

Price: $80

Recommended age/size: Newborn (3.5 kg and 53 cm) to maximum 15 kg (12 months)

Type: Structured pouch

Trialist rating: 2/10 are reasonably likely to consider buying it.

Rated better for:

No one in particular.

Rated worse for:

Users of average height or taller.

User of a wrap-style carrier.

User trial comments:

“Straps were too wide and rubbed on my neck and baby’s face. Very easy to put on though.”

“The waist strap would not adjust to be small enough to fit me (size 8).”

“Think this would be suitable for my much taller partner, and it was sturdy, two features which appeal to us.”

Physiotherapist notes:

Nylon cross-over straps run along the wearer’s neck line and carry the weight; can be uncomfortable and can pull the wearer’s posture forward. Straps also dig into the side of the baby’s head. Postural support is poor for a larger child and for the wearer.

 

SLINGS AND THINGS

NATURES SWAY Organics

ecochild.com.au

Price: $100

Recommended age/size: Birth to 3+ years, maximum 20 kgs

Type: Cloth sling

Trialist rating: 1/10 is very likely to consider buying it.

Rated better for:

No one in particular.

Rated worse for:

Babies aged three to 12 months.

Tall or short users, and users of larger or slight build.

Users of all carrier types.

User trial comments:

“Held baby in a good position and is reasonable on the hip. I would worry about a newborn baby in the lying-down position being in a position where they could not breathe properly or where they had the fabric over their face.”

“I do not find this carrier suitable for an active eight-month-old. It is also uncomfortable on my shoulder.”

“Doesn’t work for me, but the baby liked it.”

Physiotherapist notes:

Tricky to get the strap position correct over the shoulder; wearers did not generally feel confident that baby was in a good position. However two mothers with different builds had great posture using this sling; with practice they felt confident that their babies were well positioned. Babies tend to rotate as the shape of the sling does not conform to its shape.

Needs careful positioning so that the baby’s arm is not trapped between the sling and mum; the raised edge of the sling does help identify this. A five-month-old positioned well but older babies are too long and big for this sling [note: older toddlers may be better suited to sitting upright in this sling on the wearer’s hip; no baby in the trial was old enough to try this].

 

MINIMONKEY 4-in-1

minimonkey.net.au

Price: $80

Recommended age/size: 0 to 24 months, maximum 15 kgs

Type: Cloth sling

Trialist rating: 1/10 is reasonably likely to consider buying it.

Rated better for:

No one in particular.

Rated worse for:

Babies of all ages.

Users of all heights and builds.

Users of all carrier types.

User trial comments:

“This carrier does not seem well suited for an older baby. I would also not buy it for a newborn due to the risk of asphyxiation and the non-physiological position of the legs.”

“Wouldn’t wear this carrier without holding onto baby with one arm as well.”

“Really liked this one, very comfortable! But not suitable for me due to my short stature, my baby sat on my thighs, and the carrier is not height adjustable.”

Physiotherapist notes:

Difficult to orientate the sling and to get the baby in as the fabric does not stay open. Several mothers found it hard to get the shoulder strap into a comfortable position for load bearing. Hard to position a younger baby, but an older baby with good head control and some sitting ability could be positioned well. This sling was only seen to give good support to one baby, a five month old.

 

PHIL & TED Pepe

(While not a sling or wrap, this model was liked by one of the regular wrap-wearers in our trial, so it may appeal as an alternative.)

philandteds.com

Price: $80

Recommended age/size: 3.5 kg (newborn) to 12 kg (approx. two years)

Type: Structured pouch (with additional infant insert).

Trialist rating: 2/10 are likely to consider buying it.

Rated better for:

No one in particular (except the one wrap wearer mentioned above).

Rated worse for:

Babies seven to 12 months of age.

Users of average height or taller, and of average or slight build.

Users of pouch-style carriers.

User trial comments:

“The belt restrictions are an issue for me. Longer straps would help for plus sized people.”

“I’m not sure if it was because I’m tall but I felt that my baby sat very low on my body in this carrier, which contributed to the discomfort.”

“Easy to adjust for different heights and hip width. Was easily able to manoeuvre and bend down. Well designed, quality material, breathable. One of the best available.”

Physiotherapist notes:

The over-shoulder posterior cross strap design fits too close and rubs against the wearer’s neck and most babies’ faces. The baby tends to hang away, pulling the wearer forward.

 

What to look for

There are a few styles of baby carrier/sling to choose from:

Pouch:

A padded carrier (pouch) of firm or soft material with straps that go over both shoulders. These allow your baby to snuggle up in the face-in position. Many carriers also allow you to position your baby face out, which allows more freedom of movement and greater visibility for an older baby.

Sling:

Worn over one shoulder. Offers not just the face-in and face-out positions, but usually also the “peapod” position, where a young baby is carried wrapped around or across your body.

Wrap or Mei Tai:

A long cloth strip wrapped and tied off around the body across both shoulders, or a cloth panel with four fabric tying straps.

Backpack carriers:

(not included in this test) usually have rigid frames and are suitable for older babies and toddlers.

Try before you buy

A baby carrier isn’t a good idea for a pre-birth gift. Ideally, you want your baby with you when you buy a carrier, so you can check several for comfort and firmness of fit, and whether the baby’s weight is evenly distributed. Also check the straps are long enough to fit other potential wearers.

Make sure you can put the carrier on and take it off easily without assistance. Clips and buckles are usually easier to do up and release than straps that tie up.

Consider the season you’ll be using it. Lightweight carriers with a more open design or breathable fabric will be more comfortable for the baby in warmer months.

The extra material in a sling type carrier allows you to breastfeed a baby, which is a bit awkward in a pouch. However, a sling can also be too bulky for smaller babies, can take longer to learn to wear correctly, and some people find them uncomfortable.

Each carrier in the test indicates a suitable weight or age range. Some are suitable up to around 12kg, while others are suitable up to 20kg or around three years of age. While these ranges can be useful to see whether it’s suitable for a small newborn baby, in most cases you or your baby will decide when it’s time to stop using a carrier — the baby will get too heavy or wriggly for you to carry them safely, too big to fit in comfortably, or will find it too confining.

If you plan to use it for more than just a few months, make sure it can accommodate your baby’s growth. A facing-out option is particularly important for carrying older babies.

What to look for

When choosing a baby carrier/sling, these are the features worth looking for:

Recommended age and weight: check the carrier/sling is suitable for your child, but remember that the ages and weights are only a guide.

Broad, well-padded shoulder straps that cross at the back and don’t pull too much on your neck or shoulders. A broad hip or waist strap takes some weight off your shoulders and limit sideways movement of the carrier. Straps should be easily adjustable with one hand and shouldn’t obscure a baby’s vision or cut into their face.

The carrier should support a baby sufficiently without overly restricting head, leg and arm movement. The ideal flexed posture for a baby is in a “cuddling” position with legs splayed (but not too widely) and supported around the thighs and bottom. Head support is particularly important for younger babies, who have little or no head and neck control yet.

Materials and seams should not rub or chafe. Breathable fabrics and gaps help keep baby cool in summer, but conversely you will need to dress your baby warmly in cool weather.

Instructions should be clear and concise. Look for pictures, DVDs (in this test the Hug-a-Bub comes with a DVD), or instructions printed on the carrier itself.

Useful features include a ‘dribble-guard’ to protect your clothes, a pouch for wallet or keys, and a rain guard or sun cover.

There is no Australian standard for baby carriers and slings; look for certification to the European standard EN 13209-2:2005 or the US standard ASTM F2236-08.

Hip dysplasia

This is a congenital or acquired deformation or misalignment of the hip joint, where the thigh bone (femur) misaligns with the hip bone. Serious cases are rare, but mild cases are not uncommon and these usually resolve naturally. However the condition can be exacerbated by poor positioning in a carrier or sling if the hips are incorrectly supported, or kept too close together or spread too widely, especially in the first few weeks.

Physiotherapist Karen Herbert advises that a mild abducted position, i.e. knees apart but not too widely, is best . This is basically a flexed, “cuddling” position; she notes the Hugabub and Natures Sway are good for this, and infant inserts for carriers such as the ErgoBaby should be used for correct baby posture. She adds that in the first six weeks the child may appear to have tightness in their joints and should not be stretched other than for functions such as nappy changes, and should not be put in carriers that require wide hip spread.

Consult your doctor for further advice.

 

Well there you go folks – I hope that this CHOICE review has offered you some insight into the crazy marketplace of the baby sling world. My advice is to go try them on (both mum and dad or grandma and grandpa) as to avoid strain to both the baby and the wearer. Remember, that you accumulate many hours a week wearing a sling. I wear the Manduca when my 12 month old is ready for a long sleep (facing inwards), Otherwise my other preferred option is to wear the Hugabub if I go for a walk w the dog or perform housework (facing out). I also take the Hugabub if I know my baby is a bit restless with sleep (start facing inward), but if she wakes up mid-walk due to teething pain etc I will swap her to face outward and keep walking w a happier baby. Best to think laterally with slings…Not one sling can do-it-all! Get 1-3 slings to suit both parents and determine the best one to use at any given situation.

Enjoy your sling time with bub J

Matthew Craig

Principal Physiotherapist @ bounceREHAB

Happy Father of 2 girls (5 years and 1 year of age)

www.bouncerehab.com.au