Glossary of basic types of baby carriers
The are truly limitless types of baby carriers on today’s market — and before “today’s market,” there were already limitless types of baby carriers used by people around the world to carry babies. While you don’t need special equipment to carry your baby, most families find it practical to purchase a baby carrier when they have a child to carry rather than use a found item like a bedsheet they already own.
But where you do start? Trying to learn about and sort the types of baby carriers can be overwhelming! However, this brief primer should give you a good understanding of the market.
Baby Wraps, Wraparound Carriers, Wraps
The basic premise of a wrap-style carrier is that a long piece of fabric is tied around the body in order to comfortably carry your baby. If this sounds confusing, consider that a shoelace is a long piece of fabric looped and tied through your sneaker in order to comfortably secure your foot inside the shoe. The technique is different, but the premise is the same.
Wrap carriers are often broken down into increasingly complex subcategories, but here are some of the most basic.
Stretchy wraps are made of knitted fabrics such as jersey or interlock. The stretch wraps on the market range from a little stretchy to very stretchy and are made in a variety of fibers. Moby Wrap and Boba are two examples of stretchy wraps, and Wrapsody’s WrapDuO is another example of a stretchy wrap. [Coming soon: To learn more about the vast variety of stretchy wraps on the market, check out the Ultimate Guide to Stretchy Wraps.]
Woven Gauze Wraps
Most woven gauze wraps on today’s market are made in small batches by craft sellers, though there are a few, like Wrapsody Breeze, distributed for resale at local boutique stores. Gauze wraps are usually made from cotton or cotton/polyester blends, and they are woven of fine, light yarns in a variety of densities. Wrapsody Breeze wraps are the premium Woven Gauze wraps on today’s market, made from strong, bottomweight cotton gauze that is light, huggable, and time-tested to be durable and comfortable.
German-Style Wovens, Handwovens, Machine Wovens, Woven Wraps
The woven wrap as we know it today originated in Germany. There is some evidence that a few early cultures used longer cloths to carry their babies, but most used shorter cloths or more structured carriers. Didymos paved the way for the modern wrap market, which is why this category is often referred to as “German-Style Woven Wraps,” although it includes wraps woven in many types of weaves and in countries all over the world. These wraps range from lightweight fabrics like those used in clothing to heavy, thick fabrics like those used in jackets and upholstery. There is an enormous variety of yarn weights and fiber contents used to make these wraps. Some people believe these fabrics are woven specifically for babywearing — but in truth, these are weaves used in many applications and selected for a number of different properties. Some are made short, like traditional short cloths used in many cultures worldwide.
Hybrid-Stretch Wraps, Stretch-Hybrid Wraps, or Hybrid Wraps
In 2005, Wrapsody pioneered the “Hybrid” wrap market with our Hybrid wraps. We originally called them “stretch” wraps, but overwhelmingly, educators and retailers urged us to change the name of the wraps due to their unique properties. Since then, a few other stretch wraps that have been dubbed “hybrids” have come onto the market, and recently, Ergo has begun marketing a “Hybrid” wrap, though their Hybrid does not fit most babywearing educators’ definition of a Hybrid-Stretch wrap. In this case, “Hybrid” means that the wrap is technically knit, but knit and sewn in such a way that it is suitable for back carrying and carrying heavier toddlers/preschoolers comfortably.
In the US market, these were originally called “ABCs,” or “Asian-Style Baby Carriers.” Chinese-American babywearers suggested that as these carriers were inspired by traditional Chinese carriers, “Mei Tai” was a more appropriate moniker, and they are so-called in the English speaking word now. A Mei Tai is generally rectangular in shape with four straps affixed at the corners — two that become a waist belt, and two that become shoulder straps. As with all categories of carrier, there is a huge variety of sizes, shapes, fabrics, padding-styles, etc. available on today’s market.
SSCs, Soft Structured Carriers, or Structured Carriers
These carriers, often referred to in writing as “SSCs,” are primarily defined by their buckle systems and padded straps. Though some people will suggest that carriers like the Bjorn and Snuggli don’t fall into this category, others would argue differently, and the term “SSC” usually omits this category of highly structured carrier with a narrow crotch support. SSCs have four straps, generally — two at a generally structured waist belt that buckles closed, and two at the shoulder that generally buckle into the side of a carrier. These are more difficult to adjust than a Mei Tai, though similar in style, but their similarity to hiking backpacks offers a sense of familiarity to many users.
Ring slings, sometimes referred to simply as “slings,” are generally only structured at the shoulder, where rings are sewn in and used to fasten and adjust the carrier. In the 90s, a style of sling with a great deal of structure, heavy padding, and sewn and structured and were popular, but the style has fallen out of fashion as more comfortable, versatile unstructured ring slings have taken over the market. These are worn over one shoulder. Occasionally, someone will wear two ring slings on opposite shoulders, crossing the body in a similar style to a wrap.
Pouch slings are what ring slings would be if you sewed them into one position. Pouch slings have largely fallen out of favor in the US market, though there are still some basic pouch slings and adjustable pouch slings on the market. These are sewn or adjusted to a size, and sizing is critical in pouch sling use, as it dictates your baby’s position. There is usually a single seam, but if there is more than one, the curved seam is the place where baby’s bottom goes. Unless you are the same size as your partner, these generally cannot be shared between partners.
There are a few dual-pouch systems on today’s market, but the most well known in the US are Baby K’Tan and My Baby Nest. Two stretchy (knit) pouches are held together by a fastener, and they are put on in order to cross the body. There is often an optional third piece that can tie on to create the effect of a wrap carrier. Like with pouches, sizing is absolutely critical as these are not only non-adjustable but also stretch with your baby’s weight. Unless you are the same size as your partner, these generally cannot be shared between partners. (I have not found an article about Dual-Pouch systems that is not specific to a single brand — know of one? Share the link!)
Other carriers not in these categories
There are an endless variety of traditional, modern-traditional (traditional designs modified with modern influence), and hybrid-style carriers both on today’s market and in use worldwide. Most are based on fabric, but not all are. A great place to start learning about traditional carriers is with the book, “Babies Celebrated,” by Beatrice Fontanel.
Non-wrap Hybrid carriers are too complex, varied, and evolving to cover in this article. These types of carriers, though, usually have their roots in two or more of the above styles, functioning with a combination of cloth, rings, buckles, knots, and straps, and the manufacturer or your retailer can help you understand if a hybrid-style of carrier is right for you and how it works.
Choosing the right carrier for your family
We’ve put together a great informational post and chart to help you take the next step, which is choosing from the wonderful variety of carriers available! Click the image below to check out the article.
- Bedsheet rebozo by Magic City Slingers
- WrapDuO by Wrapsody
- Breeze: Gauze Woven wraps by Wrapsody
- Choosing the Right Wrap by Wrap Your Baby
- Hybrid stretch wraps by Wrapsody
- Mei Tai baby carriers by FrogMama
- Compare Soft Pack Baby Carriers by ByNature
- What a Ring Sling Is and Why you Want One by CarryMeAway
- What a Pouch Sling Is and Why You Want One by CarryMeAway
- Choose the Best Baby Carrier for Your Family by Wrapsody