Find the Right Sling or Carrier to Put Baby on Board — And on Budget

A man with a baby carrier hikes up a hilly trail.
A dad carries his one-year-old son in a soft-structured Lillebaby carrier on a hike in Boulder, Colorado. Sharon Steinmann/The Penny Hoarder
Some of the links in this post are from our sponsors. We provide you with accurate, reliable information. Learn more about how we make money and select our advertising partners.

Whether you’re expecting your first child or your fifth, you’ll welcome all the help you can get once baby is born. In the beginning, you might find yourself surrounded by family and friends wanting to get a piece of the newborn action, but once they leave, it can be difficult to get anything done.

When I had my first baby, Rose, in 2015, I found that I never seemed to achieve anything — I was regularly stuck on the couch when she fell asleep. I had registered for a couple of baby carriers before she was born, but it wasn’t until I was alone with her that I realized how useful a carrier would be in my everyday life.

Using a baby carrier, I was able to get things done more easily. Grocery shopping can be cumbersome when you’re lugging an infant seat, but tuck your baby into a ring sling and you can easily maneuver the aisles. Going for a family walk is much easier with your baby in a soft structured carrier (SSC) than when pushing a heavy stroller around.

I quickly found that I couldn’t live without a baby carrier… but I could live without the high price tag that often accompanied them.

Finding an Affordable Baby Carrier

Once you’re aware of the world of baby carriers, you’ll quickly learn that some of them are on par with collectors’ items. Tula, for instance, makes SSCs in a variety of patterns and materials, and produces small numbers of each pattern. That means that a carrier that originally cost $139 can sell for over $200 — much more for an in-demand pattern. Mothers all over the country go nuts for these things — I saw some for sale in Facebook groups for $500, or even over $1,000.

Luckily, there are ways to find a quality baby carrier that falls within your budget, even if your initial research shows otherwise.

First of all, you need to know what to look for. To ensure that the carrier you choose is safe, check to make sure it’s been tested by the Baby Carrier Industry Alliance. This organization is also a good resource if you want to learn more about babywearing and how to safely wear your baby.

Try to stick to recognizable names. Brands like Tula, Ergobaby and Lillebaby have great ratings from their customers. These carriers tend to run a little on the expensive side when you buy them new (typically around $139 to $180), but you can often find them on sale from manufacturers or buy second-hand from local babywearing Facebook groups. Unlike car seats, it’s perfectly fine to buy a used baby carrier, as long as you inspect it well and make sure there are no loose seams or rips.

If you want to buy new but can’t afford to spend $100 or more, cheaper brands like Eddie Bauer and Infantino offer affordable carriers in the $20 to $50 range.

Types of Carriers

Another way to save money on a baby carrier is to consider your needs and buy accordingly. Different types of baby carriers are useful for each phase in your child’s life.

Mei Tais

An SSC is a great, long-lasting option, but you can find better deals on a slightly different type of carrier, called a mei tai.

These are similar in style to SSCs, but they have ties to wrap around your body rather than a buckle to secure the carrier to you. These wraps are a great option that might suit your tastes and budget, but they come with a learning curve that can be tricky to master.

Mei tais and SSCs are typically good for babies. You might find that your carrier of choice has a minimum weight, but you can typically buy infant inserts for these carriers that allow you to carry your baby from a younger age. SSCs also come in toddler sizes, so you can continue to wear your child for longer if she’ll allow it (Rose would not).

Ring Slings, Woven Wraps and Stretchy Wraps

Ring slings and woven wraps are both good to use through toddlerhood. Stretchy wraps and ring slings are good for the newborn stage, as you can keep baby close by and can even use them to facilitate skin-to-skin bonding.

But stretchy wraps like the Moby and Boba should only be used in the first four to six months of life as they are less supportive as your baby gets heavier, according to U.K.-based babywearing consultant Mirjam Brockmann.

Try Before You Buy

Not all carriers are the same, even if they are the same style. You might fall in love with a particular carrier, only to find it uncomfortable when it comes time to wear your baby.

Rather than buying based on looks, try as many carriers on as possible before making your decision — preferably with your baby in tow. Just as you might prefer one carrier over another, your baby might hate the one you like and love the one you hate.

The best way to try on as many carriers as possible is to hook up with your local babywearing group. You can do this on Babywearing International’s website, but if you don’t see a location near you, that doesn’t mean there are no groups nearby — it might just mean your closest group isn’t affiliated with the organization. For example, Babywearing International shows the closest chapter to me is in Cincinnati, Ohio, but I found a more convenient babywearing group in Dayton, Ohio, through Facebook.

Temper Your Expectations

As a new mother, I quickly found myself obsessing over all the baby carriers I wanted, but in reality all I needed was a ring sling for the newborn stage and an SSC for when Rose was older. We carried her in the latter until she was 2, and still use it on occasion if we’re out for a walk and she gets tired. Our carrier of choice was a Lillebaby, as we found it the most comfortable

There are plenty of options for finding a baby carrier that will fit your budget. To find the best resources in your area, join a mom group or ask a friend who might be in-the-know. Once you’ve found the right people to help you, the rest of your journey to babywearing will be much easier.

Catherine Hiles lusted for months over a hard-to-find Tula carrier with unicorns and rainbows on it, only to find it didn’t fit her well once she got her hands on one. Since then, she stuck with her basic carriers, which got her through baby- and young-toddlerhood very well.