Here we look at the different types of baby slings and carriers that are available in the UK. Find the best option for you and your child from wraps, pouches, SSCs and Mei Tais.
The range of baby carriers available in the UK fall into four categories: wraps, Mei Tais, soft structured carriers, and ring slings or pouches.
Different slings will appeal to different parents but, most importantly, be aware of the safety guidelines when it comes to using slings and characteristics that a good sling should have in supporting your baby’s developing spine, hips and neck. Similarly, good slings should spread the weight of your baby across your shoulders, back and hips, without digging in. This makes them suitable for parents with bad backs too.
Wraps, which come in both stretchy and woven varieties, are very long pieces of fabric that wrap around you and your baby. They can be comfortable slings to wear as the fabric can be spread across your whole back, using your back and shoulder muscles equally, without digging in.
Stretchy wraps are made of a soft, stretchy t-shirt-like material. One of their advantages is that they can be left tied on. Due to the nature of the fabric, most parents find that stretchy wraps are not supportive enough for babies aged six months or more. A stretchy wrap needs to be used with several layers around the baby to ensure adequate support, which can make wearing it uncomfortable in hot weather.
Woven wraps are diagonally woven cloths, which give the fabric the ideal amount of stretch and support. They are the most versatile form of carrier available, as they automatically adjust to the size of the carried child. They can be used from birth to toddlerhood and beyond, and can be worn on the front, hip and back and tied in many different ways. It can, however, be more complicated to master tying a woven wrap than a more structured carrier.
Mei tais are Asian-style carriers consisting of a shaped piece of fabric (usually a square or a rectangle) with four straps. One set of straps is tied around the parent’s waist and the other around their shoulders, the fabric forming a pocket for the baby. They can be worn on the front, hip and back.
As the weight is spread on both shoulders and hips through the straps, they can be comfortable to use with older babies and toddlers. The size of the rectangle of fabric determines the age range each mei tai is suitable for: smaller babies, toddlers or pre-schoolers.
Soft structured carriers (SSCs)
Soft structured carriers are a mix between a mei tai and a rucksack: the body is similar to a mei tai but this type of carrier has a structured waist and padded shoulder straps which can fasten with buckles or straps. They can be easy and comfortable to use. The advantage of the buckles is that the shorter straps do not trail on the floor, which can be useful in wet weather.
Some are unsuitable for a newborn but can be modified with inserts and straps to accommodate a little baby. On the other hand, the upper weight limit allows you to carry a pre-schooler, so you can put an SSC in your bag and use it to carry your tired child at the end of a long walk, for example.
Ring slings and pouches
Ring slings are pieces of cloth with two rings sewn at one end. The free end is looped through the rings, forming a pouch for the baby, with the tail of the fabric hanging down. They are worn over one shoulder. A newborn or toddler can ride on your hip in it, and they can also be used for front and back carries. Unpadded ring slings can be easier to adjust.
Pouches are also worn over one shoulder. They are made of one folded length of material that forms a pocket for the baby and is worn over the body like a sash. Unless they are adjustable, they need to be exactly the right size for you so the same pouch cannot be used with two parents of very different sizes.
Test different ones
Slings are very much like jeans or shoes – one style doesn’t fit all. Different body shapes and sizes mean that one person’s dream sling could be the next parent’s nightmare. Try different ones to see what suits you and your child best.
Slingmeets are free informal drop-in sessions run by volunteers where you can find out more about slings.
Sling libraries are drop-in sling lending sessions run by volunteers. A fee and deposit are required to hire a sling but they can be useful when trying different slings out before you buy.
Many NCT branches hold slingmeets and libraries, find your closest one here.
You can also buy slings at NCT Nearly New Sales.
A list of UK babywearing consultants is available on The Sling Pages.
1. Glover R. Research overview: is there evidence to support the use of soft slings? Perspective 2012; (16):18-20.
3. International Hip Dysplasia Institute. Baby carriers, seats & other equipment. IHDI Educational Statement: hip health in baby carriers, car seats, swings, walkers, and other equipment.
4. The Sling School. Three ways to learn the art of babywearing.