The Best Soft-Structured Baby Carrier

After four months of researching babywearing options and demoing more than a dozen different soft-structured options, we found the best of the bunch to be the BabyBjörn Baby Carrier One ($150) because it’s comfortable (for baby and you) and supportive for infants as well as toddlers. Plus, it’s pretty simple to use and adjust for different-sized babies and adults. Ultimately, that’s what pushed it to the very top of our list, over top contenders like the Beco Gemini and Cybex 2.Go.

This guide was originally published by The NightLight. Please keep in mind that it was not produced by The Sweethome and may deviate on research and testing standards compared to our own. Our editorial team has vetted the content for quality, however, and believe that publishing it here offers value to our readership.

Who should buy a soft-structured carrier?

The benefits of “wearing” your baby are many: the close contact, the comfort for babies (newborns love to nap when being worn), the flexibility it provides parents to have their hands free, even the opportunities to nurse on the go for breastfeeding moms. Babywearing used to a fringe movement within parenting, sort of like how standing desks and green juicing are now considered healthy but not for everyone. However, what started as a fringe movement has definitely tipped into the mainstream. Almost every parent we know has at one time used some type of baby carrier with their kids. Baby carriers are a staple of baby shower registries, and it’s important to get the right one so that you and your baby can be comfortable and mobile.

…you want you and your baby to be comfortable, and you want your carrier choice to give you flexibility in how you carry your baby.
There are a hundred ways to wear your baby. Well, maybe not literally one hundred, but there are a lot, with three main variants: soft-structured carriers, wraps (read our guide here), and slings (a fabric carrier worn just over one shoulder), with each of these offering an assortment of positions. What we’ve found most important is that you want you and your baby to be comfortable, and you want your carrier choice to give you flexibility in how you carry your baby.

In general, soft-structured carriers let you easily strap your baby onto your front and/or back using straps and buckles that are designed to evenly distribute baby’s weight through your hips and shoulders. These carriers can be adjusted for different-sized parents as well as for different-sized babies. The buckles on soft-structured carriers keep baby safely in place (they don’t loosen like the ties of a wrap), making them perfect for activities like walking and hiking.

They also can be used right when the baby is a newborn (though some require a special insert) and most can reasonably last until a baby is 30 to 40 pounds, which for most kids is the first few years of life. They tend to be the most comfortable, especially for older kids, which means that if you get the right carrier, it’ll be the only babywearer that you need.

What makes a good carrier?

Before we get into the specifics of the review, a quick note: Brand recognition has clearly shaped babywearing. The original and by far most famous of all baby carriers is the BabyBjörn, which has almost done to babywearing what Google did to internet searches. In fact, many people use “Björn” as a verb itself, synonymous with babywearing. To give you a sense of how much the market is shaped by branding, we bet you’d heard of BabyBjörn even before you became a parent. This has certainly been good for BabyBjörn business, but we don’t think most of their carriers are that great. In general, BabyBjörns aren’t widely known as the most comfortable for the wearer. Most models, including the original, don’t distribute baby’s weight well or offer many wearing options. Parents complain that after about 15 pounds, BabyBjörns just aren’t a feasible option anymore. Others unaffectionately call BabyBjörn’s “crotch-danglers” for the way front-facing babies hang—which has been criticized as being harmful to infants’ hip development. The exception, of course, is our pick, the Baby One Carrier, a new, redesigned BabyBjörn carrier that addresses all of these issues and more. But more on that later.

Since the launch of the BabyBjörn carrier in 1973, the babywearing market has exploded, and our research of the plethora of offerings has taught us this lesson: Just because you haven’t heard of a brand doesn’t mean the one you’ve heard of is better. Popularity is not the only criterion, which is why we looked at soft-structured carriers from dozens of manufacturers before settling on the one we think will suit most parents’ needs.

Shoulder and hip straps with padding boost the comfort level.
So, what makes a good soft-structured carrier? At a minimum, it should be comfortable for both of you, with no buckles or belts that dig into you or baby. Shoulder and hip straps with padding boost the comfort level. The carrier should also be easy to use, offer multiple wearing options (front, back, hip), and adjust for different-sized adults. The carrier should also be designed so that baby sits, not hangs. (Consumer Reports offers a pretty in-depth look at what to look for in a baby carrier that we suggest you read before buying. They don’t, however, offer specific product recommendations.)

What features make a carrier great? Well, head support for newborns, for one. Some models have it, others don’t, and some require you to purchase a special insert. It’s also nice to have a high weight limit, giving you the option of using your carrier for as long as your kid is willing to ride. Breastfeeding mamas might want one that lets them do so easily and discreetly, and if you live in a warm climate, you’ll want one that’s not too hot for you and baby. Other extras that are nice: a chest clip to help distribute weight and keep straps on your shoulders, straps that criss-cross on your back, sunshades for baby’s noggin, pockets for parent essentials (like keys), rings for toys, foot rests for toddlers.

More than anything else, the baby carrier you choose should be safe for baby. One step in the right direction is certification by the Juvenile Product Manufacturers Association, which means the carrier meets strict international safety standards.

Obviously, we looked to score as many of these features in a single carrier at the lowest price possible.

“Crotch-danglers” and the facing-out controversy

In recent years, front-facing baby carriers, especially those made by BabyBjörn, have come under fire by health experts who say that the position may be harmful to babies’ hip development.  “When babies are carried, the hips should be allowed to spread apart with the thighs supported and the hips bent,” according to the International Hip Dysplasia Institute.

After birth, babies’ hips begin the process of “unfolding” from all that time spent in the fetal position. Just think about how wide babies’ legs spread to wrap around your body when you carry them. Forcing their legs to stretch out straighter early in life could cause hip dysplasia, or dislocation, a condition that could cause painful arthritis during adulthood, according the Hip Dysplasia Institute. (Read more here about infants’ hip development and risk factors for dislocation.)

BabyBjörn countered claims that its products were unsafe with a PR campaign that refuted the criticisms. Not everyone buys into the hip health worries: Blogger and skeptic Josh DeWald wrote an exhaustive article at Skeptoid that concluded that Björns are not in fact bad for your baby.

While our pick for best carrier includes a front-facing-out carry, we at The NightLight like to be on the safe side. So we don’t recommend letting baby ride facing out for extended periods of time or at all for infants under 6 months. We do think, however, parents should have the option.

Our pick

The BabyBjörn provides an even distribution of weight, adequate shoulder padding, and wider crotch positioning for baby’s hip health. It’s versatile too as baby can face in or out while riding up front.
*At the time of publishing, the price was $154.
Baby Swede, the maker of BabyBjörn products, has in our opinion built the better baby carrier—BabyBjörn Baby Carrier One. The developers took everything people loved (ease of use, sturdiness, and styling) about the original Björns and, in October 2013, answered critics’ concerns about comfort (more distribution of weight, more shoulder padding), hip health (wider crotch positioning), and versatility (baby can face in or out while riding up front or, at around 12 months old, ride on your back).

BabyBjörn Baby Carrier One can be used from birth (7.5 pounds) without an infant insert. In fact, it has a seat position that lets you carry your newborn high on your chest facing in—the best position for newbies. Around 5 months old, your baby can start facing out and seeing all the sights. Unlike earlier BabyBjörn models, Baby Carrier One can carry kids up to 33 pounds, or roughly 3 years old.

Another notable change from earlier, oft-maligned Bjorns is the width of the crotch. Older models earned the nickname “crotch-dangler” because of the way babies seemed to “hang” in the carrier. Baby Swede followed recommendations from the International Hip Dysplasia Institute that lead them to deepen the spot where baby’s bottom rests and position baby’s legs in a wide straddle. The crotch is adjustable based on how you (and your baby) want to ride.

You just slip it over your head, tug to tighten the waist and shoulder straps, and you’re ready to go.
Our tester, a babywearing veteran who’s tried almost every carrier known to man, pulled the BabyBjörn One from the box and got his baby strapped onto his chest without even reading the instructions. It’s that intuitive. You just slip it over your head, tug to tighten the waist and shoulder straps, and you’re ready to go. We consulted the manual only when dad wanted to move baby to his back. It was then that we realized just how easy it is to do a back carry with the One—just position baby on your chest facing in, slide your arms out of the straps, and then twist baby into place on your back. No assistance needed! (Our Florida dad also noted that the carrier didn’t feel bulky or overly warm.) We also tested the carrier on a 6’5” man and a short, curvy mom, and the fit was impeccable on both.

Reviewers at Amazon.com (4.5 stars with 23 reviews) are picking up on the same features that we did: the zippers to adjust the size for different-sized babies, the buckles that click so you know they’re fastened, the durable fabric that’s not bulky, the breathable mesh lining between wearer and baby, the compact fold. The few downsides we’ve noticed: breastfeeding in this carrier would be a real challenge, and some small, petite women have said the carrier is just too big on them.

For the record, BabyBjörn’s Baby Carrier One is JPMA certified.

Who else likes it?

Being new to the market means there’s not a lot of press for the BabyBjörn Baby Carrier One. But reviews by bloggers and small parenting websites are mostly glowing. For example:

  • “ It’s the most versatile of all carriers on the market and was obviously made with the utmost consideration for the parent’s and the baby’s utmost level of comfort and safety.” — Playground Dad

  • “The Baby Carrier One’s adjustability, ease of use and ability to grow with you and your babe through all ages and stages is nearly unmatched. …This is a great carrier to add to your baby registry because it is so versatile and can function well in nearly any lifestyle.” — The Wise Baby

  • “I really enjoy using the BabyBjörn Baby Carrier One and find that it has quickly become my go to baby carrier because of how easy it is to use unassisted.” — Mom Mart

  • “A favorite feature of mine is how easy it is to get baby into the carrier, while the carrier is on. We have another carrier that I like, but I always need to have room to lay it down and get her situated into it first before on me, which isn’t always possible when I’m getting her out of her car seat and into a carrier in the car to run into a store. The Baby Bjorn One simply slips over your head like a shirt.” — Real Mom Reviews

Also great

Also Great
If you want to save a little money, The Gemini is a good alternative to our main pick but it’s more complicated to use.
The Gemini by Beco Baby Carrier ($130) is made of soft, gentle cotton, and the carrier molds well around you and your baby. It has two soft shoulder straps and a sturdy waist strap that distributes the weight between your shoulders and your waist so that you’re not feeling too much shoulder strain. Like the Baby Carrier One, the Gemini offers four carrying positions, but instead of offering a special one just for newborns, it offers a hip carry. That said, the Gemini also works from day one with no need for a special newborn insert. Plus, breastfeeding with the Gemini is a breeze. As far as how easy it is to get on, we’d call the Gemini moderately challenging. The straps and hip belt are extra long, making this a good fit for almost any size adult.

Baby Gear Lab, which conducts rigorous tests on baby products, picked the Gemini as their top baby carrier. However, the reviews were done before BabyBjörn’s Baby Carrier One hit the market. (We’ll be anxiously awaiting their input on this!) The Gemini is also one of The Bump’s and Babble’s favorite carriers. Beco’s products are not certified by the JPMA. Amazon reviewers (almost 200 of them) give the Gemini 4.5 out of five stars. The Gemini is also $30 cheaper than the BabyBjörn Baby Carrier One. So ask yourself: Am I willing to learn how to use this thing? Am I going to want to nurse while babywearing? Do I want the option of a hip carry? If so, you may want to pocket the savings and buy the Gemini instead of the BabyBjörn Baby Carrier One.

Also great, if you don’t want to front-face

Also Great
The Ergobaby isn’t front-facing (if you’re not a fan) and lets your baby sit in a more natural, cradled position. But it’s very difficult to put on alone.
Ergobaby, a Hawaiian company that really mastered the ergonomic carrier, has become almost as popular as the BabyBjörn. The Ergobaby was the first carrier to emphasize ergonomics and pioneered the design that others have modified: two comfy shoulder straps and a massive waist strap. This combo is what makes the Ergobaby, and other soft-structured carriers, substantially more comfortable than BabyBjörn’s original carrier, since you’re splitting the weight between your shoulders and your hips. Just like with our other picks, baby sits in a way that is more like a natural, cradled sitting position, which doesn’t focus all of her own weight in the crotch. The Ergobaby allows for three carrying positions—front facing in, side, and back and holds children up to 45 pounds. (Note: Ergobaby is introducing a new carrier, the Ergobaby 360, in April 2014 that lets baby face out in a front carry. We’ll review that as soon as it’s available.)

It feels like it needs two people to put it on, which is inconvenient if you do most of your parenting solo.
The Ergobaby is great but has its limitations. For starters, it’s very difficult to get used to putting on, especially if you’re trying to wear it as a backpack. The strap that connects the two shoulder straps is really hard to attach yourself, almost like you’re wearing a really tight wetsuit and can’t move the way you need to. It feels like it needs two people to put it on, which is inconvenient if you do most of your parenting solo. Ergobaby even acknowledges that it’s tough to manipulate. In the paperwork that comes with the product, they strongly recommend you do several test trials of putting the baby on while standing over a soft surface like a bed. This is a pretty big giveaway that it’s awkward.

Also, the Ergobaby is actually too big for newborns and needs an insert to make it newborn-friendly. The Ergobaby starts around $115 and the infant insert is another $25, so if you want to get the full life out of the carrier, you’re looking at $140.

The Pognae Baby Carrier is remarkably similar to the original Ergo and American parents love it, just not as many as love the Ergo. Pognae is a Korean company, and the carriers are very popular in Asia and in Europe. The Pognae and the original Ergo are almost the exact same carrier. Their structure is the same, their padding for straps is the same, they both have sleep hoods and zippered pockets for storage. They both even need an infant insert to fit newborns, with matching flaws. The big difference between the original Ergo and the Pognae is that the Pognae has a ventilated back for the baby, so that your baby won’t get too warm in the carrier. This is a pretty brilliant insight, and one that we think makes the Pognae superior to the Ergo. Also, it’s only $105 compared to the Ergo’s $115.

The not-so greats

One problem you’ll find with other baby carriers is that they don’t work from the first day. One such carrier, which is otherwise an excellent carrier, is The Cruiser by Onya. We really wanted to love this thing because it’s so feature-packed it’s almost like a soft mini-backpack. Two zipper pockets, toy loops, even a key ring. This is all great. They also have a more outdoorsy model which is rainproof. Sounds ideal—except that you can’t use it for the first three months of a baby’s life. It’s not made for kids less than 15 pounds. There is no baby insert to make it work with newborns. And it’s $150. That’s a lot of money to spend on a carrier when you will need something else for the first three months. Other decent carriers not suitable for newborns: Boba Air, BabyHawk Oh Snap!, Moby Go, BabyBjörn Comfort.

Other carriers failed to stand out because of their limited range of positions for carrying.
Other carriers failed to stand out because of their limited range of positions for carrying. There are many nice, comfortable, well-made carriers that only allow you to carry your baby in one or two ways. Another obvious weakness in carriers, especially cheap ones, is the discomfort of actually wearing them. Here are ones we ruled out for those reasons:

  • The Britax Baby Carrier ($82) is a popular carrier, but it can only be worn on the front.

  • The Belle Baby Carrier ($130) is fancy with organic cotton and is very breathable, but again, it only allows wearing on the front.

  • In an extreme example of limited position, the Scootababy Baby Carrier is only for the hip, yet costs $119. It’s basically a sling with a waist strap.

  • The Infantino Swift Classic is only $15, which is ridiculously cheap, but an Amazon reviewer put it best: “it doesn’t really matter to the baby if something is a great price.” It’s cheap in cost and cheap in function, since it gets uncomfortable quickly for both baby and parent. Infantino has several different models, and they all follow the same approach: very cheap and quick to become uncomfortable. Other cheap and uncomfortable carriers are the Evenflo Infant Carrier ($23) and the Chicco UltraSoft Infant Carrier ($50), to name a few.

One last carrier: the Stokke My Carrier. This carrier is an outlier that you can’t help but mention because it’s much more expensive than the rest of the competition at $220. This is $100 more than most carriers, or almost double the price. To give you a reference point, Stokke also makes the most expensive baby stroller on the market. The thing is, Stokke is not universally loved. You’d think they would kind of have to be in order to thrive, but Stokke products get a lot of criticism for being over-designed. The carrier is a great example. In theory, it can do front carrying facing in or facing out and back carrying. Nice! Just like the BabyBjörn Baby Carrier One. But when you talk to people who use the carrier, they find the design very unfriendly. Too bulky, too hard to get used to, not comfortable for the parent—all complaints that you would expect they would figure out before they slapped a $220 price tag on the finished product. I say skip the Stokke.

What about a Mei Tai?

A mei tai wrap is a square piece of fabric with long strips of fabric at each corner. Rather than a single blanket that you wrap around you, the square fabric is used for the seat for the baby and the strips are used to tie the baby to your body. Mei tai wraps are pretty cool because they are a bit more intuitive to figure out than standard wraps and have a bit of a carrier feel to them. They are also good for wearing on your chest, hip, and back, although are not used for forward-facing wearing.

Just like with wraps, there are multiple companies that make mei tais. Since the shape of the carrier is pretty standard, the real deciding factors are the fabric and how the thing looks.Guys may not be into flowery patterns, but a huge part of the appeal of extremely popular Babyhawk Mei Tai Carrier is that there is a huge amount of patterns to choose from. The materials are very well-made and the fabric options are many and very stylish. However, the Babyhawk is $90, which feels like a lot for a glorified wrap, no matter how nice the materials are. The much more affordable mei tai is the Infantino Sash Mei Tai. (Infantino makes horrible carriers, but their Sash is actually pretty good.) There’s only one pattern to choose from, so your choice is made for you, but it’s only $30, compared to Babyhawk’s $90.

Mei tai babywearing is more niche than standard carriers, and not all parents enjoy it. I’m not talking about the product, but the actual style of carrying. It’s not for everyone, just like wraps and slings. But since there’s such a huge price difference, I think the best bet is to go with the Infantino Sash for $30. You’d hate to spend $90 on a style of babywearing that you don’t even end up liking.

Wrapping it up

The thought of buying a soft-structured baby carrier can be overwhelming, with options that seem endless. We’re sure you can’t go wrong with the BabyBjörn Baby Carrier One with its comfort, ease of use, wide range of weight support (including newborns), and multiple positioning options.

To send this guide via email, fill out the fields below:
Message Sent!
Oops! Please try again
Send

Sources

  1. The Benefits of Baby Wearing, La Leche League International, October 2007
  2. Baby carrier buying guide, Consumer Reports, November 2013
  3. Baby Carriers, Seats, & Other Equipment, International Hip Dysplasia Institute
  4. Baby Bjorn FAQs, Baby Bjorn/Baby Swede.
  5. Baby Bjorn One Carrier Review, Playground Dad, November 2013.
  6. Baby Bjorn Baby One Carrier One, The Wise Baby, September 2013
  7. Baby Bjorn Baby Carrier One, Real Mom Reviews, September 2013