What you need in order to navigate an airport successfully: hands. What you don’t need while navigating the airport: having your hands completely occupied by your baby.
Enter the baby carrier, a centuries-old tradition that has been co-opted by capitalism and morphed into something with so many bells and whistles that just the thought of registering for one at Target can give a new mom hives. But how do you choose the perfect baby carrier for your next trip? Now that is the question, my friends.
I’ve had three babies over the last eight years, and since my mother and several of my friends live a short 90-minute airplane ride from my house, and babies can fly free, I did a lot of flying with those little guys by myself. I learned the hard way (by which I mean it was probably my third trip before a TSA agent finally told me) that you CAN leave your baby in his/her carrier while walking through the metal detector at security. If you do this, they will frisk you after. But it’s worth it not to wake the baby.
This was a big deal for me — prior to this I was pulling a screaming baby out of the sling on my chest while simultaneously trying to fold up my stroller and put everything on the conveyor belt. And before THAT, I was crazy enough to try and travel with just the baby and the stroller, which meant when the baby got sick of the stroller, he was fully occupying my hands. (It’s fair to say that we all know how hard it is to push a stroller one handed, right?)
I got quite a bit better with practice, and eventually had this down to a science. With infants, I always traveled with both a carrier and a stroller, so that when he (I have only boys!) started to hate one or the other I had options. And also so I could stash all my stuff in the stroller when carrying the baby on my front.
Long story short, I tried a LOT of baby carriers. So I have a LOT of opinions. The first is that, like strollers, different carriers are better for different stages and different purposes, so there isn’t *one* best. That would be too easy. In brief, I love the Moby Wrap for tiny babies, a sling carrier for ease of use and travel, and the Lillebaby overall…but I’ve also tried the Catbird Pikkolo, the Baby Bjorn, backpack carriers for hiking, and various slings. My general criteria were: Is the baby happy in it? Is it easy to get the baby in and out? And how hard is it to stuff this sucker in the diaper bag when the baby’s sick of it? (Clearly I did a very scientific analysis.) Read on for a summary of my favorite baby carriers for travel.
The Moby Wrap
This one gets its own category, as I don’t think there are good substitutes for the Moby Wrap. This baby wearing tool’s success depends considerably on the thickness, stretchiness, quality and amount of the fabric, which cannot be copied. It also depends heavily on user talent. The Moby is a reeeeaaaalllllyyyyyyy long piece of thick knit fabric that you wrap around yourself in such a way that it produces a pouch in the front, and ties in a knot at your waist. THIS IS NOT EASY. However, once successfully done, it has advantages. I rarely used the Moby at home, but I used it a lot when traveling with babies around 2-6 months old.
Pros: It doesn’t have any metal, which means it won’t set off the metal detector. You can put the baby in forward facing or front facing. At four months, my eldest would sit in a little ball facing forward and be as happy as a clam. You can take the baby out and leave the carrier on and – while it is bulky – it’s not totally impossible to wear around.
Cons: The Moby is not easy to get on and off; if you put it on before your trip, you will want to keep it on, unless you enjoy unwrapping yards of fabric around your body in public like some sort of twisted Fruit By The Foot. Since it’s so much fabric, it can be a little warm (by which I mean sweaty) in hot climates. Furthermore, despite the company’s beautiful photos of older babies in Moby wraps, I had big babies, and I found it difficult to use for any of them over about 6-8 months due their weight. I never mastered having older kids face forward, with their legs hanging down either.
All that said — this was my favorite baby carrier for a four-month-old baby. It’s a great choice if you are okay with collecting a different baby carrier for every age (not that I did that…of course not…that would be crazy…).
The Ring Sling: The Maya Wrap
A friend lent me her Maya Wrap after her first baby, and I don’t think I ever gave it back. I wore it into the ground. Here is my one strong belief: there is no substitute for the Maya Wrap. I mean, don’t bother with any other ring slings. Don’t ask your mom to sew you a pretty white ring sling thinking that then you could give back the Maya Wrap that you borrowed before it was completely destroyed by infant puke and toddler scissors. Just don’t waste your time. Or your mom’s time.
What I found after attempting multiple (cheaper) substitutions is that there is something magical about whatever fabric they make the Maya Wrap from. I think it’s unicorn hair braided with phoenix feathers and soaked in leprechaun tears or something. It’s thick and just slightly stretchy and just the right amount of material, not too much and not too little, adjustable, and even has a cute zippered pocket for your phone/wallet/extra pacifiers, and a little bit of shoulder padding.
It’s difficult to use for a tiny infant (although not impossible; you can try and secure a snuggled baby to your chest). Also, because it is less supportive than other carriers, I think it’s hard to be completely hands-free with it (you end up supporting your kiddo slightly with an arm). For these reasons when I was traveling alone with a baby and a toddler and bags, it wasn’t always my first choice for the airport (the Moby Wrap is better for being totally hands free for babies around 4-6 months). However, as your child gets older, it works great, and can even support a hip-riding toddler. None of these carriers stuff easily into a diaper bag, but of all of them this is probably the easiest. The metal ring will set off the metal detector, but that’s a small price to pay.
To give you an idea of age ranges, the hubs and I took our eldest to Disneyland when he was nine months old and this was my choice for that trip. No regrets.
Soft Structured Carriers: The Lillebaby Carrier
Confession: when pregnant with my third boy, I didn’t need anything at all, really, so I spent an inordinate amount of time watching YouTube videos trying to find the PERFECT baby carrier to buy. Then I spent like two hours alone in the local baby boutique trying on carriers over my pregnant belly.
And now you know all my secrets.
Anyway, there are about a million reviews of the various soft-structured carriers online, and I’m not going to repeat them all here. I tried the following: the Ergo, the Baby Bjorn, and the Catbird Baby Pikkolo. A quick note on the ever-popular Ergo: I am not going to knock it. It’s a great soft structured carrier. It just didn’t allow forward facing the baby when I had mine; they have an Ergo 360 now that I have not tried. The Baby Bjorn fell out of favor due to some potential hip dysplasia concerns, but my issue was just that I want my carrier to be as flexible as possible. I want to be able to carry my kid snuggled against my chest or forward facing, in the same carrier, because my kids are fickle. I bought a used Catbird Pikkolo with my second kid, and I liked it because it allowed me to face my baby inward or outward, and it folds up quite small when you need to stuff it in the top of a bag. On the downside, it folds up so small because there isn’t a lot of waist strap padding, so as the baby gets bigger it was a little uncomfortable.
Are you ready for some more unicorn/leprechaun/phoenix type magic?
Enter Lillebaby. Now, maybe I’m just passionate about this carrier because I spent way too much money on a non-sale item in a baby boutique. But with this carrier, you can carry the newborn/baby/toddler snuggled against your chest, outward facing, or ON YOUR BACK!!!
No way, you say.
Yes way, I say.
In my head this would make the carrier useful until age three, and indeed in Lille’s beautiful Instagram feed gorgeous parents are carrying their preschoolers on their back. My three year old is roughly the size of a Mack truck (I am not kidding, he’s bigger than a lot of kindergartners) so that didn’t really work out for me. But it totally could for you.
What did work out for me really, really well was carrying this same kid around the house, the store, everywhere, when he was a colicky baby. The Lille converts beautifully to outward facing by snapping/cinching in the sides of the carrier; this takes a little bit to learn but once you learn it it’s not that bad. Furthermore, it has a nice, long, comfortable waist belt. My husband and I are not small people and the size of the waist belt is sort of critical in my opinion, especially if you are talking about moms who have just given birth and don’t need any reminder that they aren’t going to fit into their favorite jeans anytime soon. It also has this amazing little backrest piece, which really does make a difference in comfort if you are carrying around a baby that is, say, the size of Mack truck.
A soft-structured carrier like the Lille does not fold up nicely. It can be stuffed in the bottom of a stroller, though. Which mine has been. A lot. And you can’t beat it for hands-free convenience.
Choices, Choices, Choices
At this point you are probably annoyed with me — is there really not one simple choice? If I had to choose, I would go with the Lillebaby carrier; however, I still maintain that for a new mom traveling alone the Moby Wrap wins for tiny ones, and a ring sling is just a necessity.
However, if you only have to buy three baby carriers and not pay for, like, six, you are still ahead of me.
Good luck and Happy Travels!
The opinions expressed in this article are all mine and I wasn’t paid for any of them. I received no remuneration of any kind from these or any other brands. Which is too bad because this seems like a great advertisement, and now my kids are older and I couldn’t even use a free baby carrier if anybody offered me one. I just want to tell people what I wish someone had told me!