Research has often shown that physical intimacy between parent and child has beneficial effects for both. Baby (or infant) carriers are a great way to achieve this physical intimacy. Babies are also very comfortable in these carriers because it keeps them warm and close to an adult's body. Their bodies and brains are used to this comfort after spending nine months inside their mothers.
Front carriers as the name suggests are used to carry a baby in front, with close contact to the adult's chest(See picture below). These are the most popular kind in the market today. In infancy, the baby rides facing the adult and as he gets older he can ride facing forward. Typically, these carriers are built to carry babies up to 12 kilograms (approximately 26 lbs) but be sure your body is built to carry that weight. As the baby is in front, the freedom of movement for the adult's hands are limited and therefore cannot be used when you need your hands free all the time. The baby is in a sitting position but you may not want to leave him in that position for too long. I have used this type of carrier often when taking a walk, or walking around in malls etc.,
Front baby carrier - Image courtesy of Baby Bjorn
Back carriers are used to carry the baby on the adult's back. These allow the parent to carry on more active pursuits. They are also bigger and allow the baby to sit properly with leg support. Some of them even have top covers to shield your baby from the sun. Due to the improved seating support and the freedom of movement for the parent, these are more suited to pursuits like hiking, traveling etc., and the baby maybe more comfortable for longer periods. They are also typically built for higher loads upto 23 kilograms (approximately 50 lbs) I have used a back carrier to carry my son when we were traveling during our vacation. It allowed me to keep my hands free to hold a camera or take a baby bottle out of my wife's backpack. And it was very comfortable for my back.
Back Baby Carrier - Image courtesy of Kelty Kids
Slings have arrived on the market in the last few years but they are based on age old methods of carrying babies in India, parts of Asia and Africa. The baby is swaddled in fabric and held close to the adult. They also come in some stylish options. The baby is typically carried in the front but some are multi-position. They also may take a little longer to fasten on but they offer a very natural feel for both the baby and the adult. Typically these are built for babies up to 20 kilograms (approximately 45 lbs).
Baby sling - Image courtesy of Moby Wrap
Selecting the right carrier
1. Activity - Think about what you would like to use the carrier for. If you will use it primarily for short durations like visits to friends houses, trips to the mall, walks etc., a front carrier or sling maybe the best choice. If you are traveling or being outdoor a lot, then a back carrier is a better choice.
2. Comfort - Comfort should be the key consideration when selecting a baby carrier. First, it should be comfortable to your baby. Babies often go to sleep in the carrier or sling. Ensure that it is padded and comfortable for the baby in a sleeping position. Different types of carriers put different kinds on pressure on your back and body. Find carriers or slings that are soft, and padded. Make sure everyone in the family who will use it accept the choice. Don't get too carried away by comparing the weight that each carrier can support. Think about what you can really carry. Even 10 kilograms maybe too heavy for you!
3. Ease of use - You will putting on a carrier or sling, while holding your baby. So find something that is easy to put on and take off. You don't want to be fumbling with multiple clips or buttons while balancing your baby in one hand.
4. Material - Find carriers that have fabric coverings (not plastic or other synthetic material) where they come in contact with your baby.