The bulk of this post was originally a response to a first-time mom's question about baby carriers. It occurs to me that I haven't actually talked too much about my babywearing obsession on this blog, so here you go.
Babywearing is a topic I get quite passionate about. Peter often refers to my "babywearing cult."
Why wear your baby? Dr. Sears sums it up beautifully (as he would).
As far as carriers go, I'll tell you what my preferences are, based on my experiences, and then also give you some further resources.
Last count on my baby carriers collection is nine: three stretchy wraps, one woven wrap, one homemade mei tei, two ring slings, a Baby Bjorn and an Ergo.
The Baby Bjorn was fine for itty babes, but we found that by 6 mos or so, Colin's weight was too much for any lengthy carries-- our shoulders and backs were just killing us.
I then tried carrying Colin around in a ring sling someone had given to us, but could never get it quite right. I later learned that that particular kind of sling-- thickly padded rails and a closed tail, the kind you're most likely to see at a retail store-- was not made to be very adjustable.
The real light dawned when I dragged P&C to a babywearing consultant in an effort to learn how to work the sling better. We fell in love instantly with the Ergo, which she was showing to another mom, and shelled out for one that day. It is highly adjustable, a snap to put on (with a little practice), and extremely kind to the back, since most of the baby's weight rests on the hips. I was able to put a 25 lb. toddler on my back and stroll around the grocery store comfortably when I was 38 weeks pregnant-- that's how comfy and adjustable it is. It can accommodate a front, hip or back carry, effectively covering an age range of 3 months to preschooler-- I think it's safety rated to hold something like 60 lbs.
Note: I think about 25 of the 50 lbs. I lost last year were from my FACE. Sheesh.
The down side of the Ergo is that for very young babies, you have to buy an extra infant insert, which I did not do with Marky-- I just used my homemade ring sling.
This sling is miles better than the first one I had-- very adjustable--need a sling for a larger person? just make the sling from a longer piece of cloth-- and comfy. I was able to nurse Marky hands-free in it, which I've never done with any other carrier. The other great thing about ring slings is how "poppable" they are-- as in, you can just slip the sling over your head, pop the baby in, and go. They are also great for cuddling tiny little newborns. On the down side, it is only worn over one shoulder, so you have to switch sides pretty consistently or you'll get sore.
Which is why I love my wraps so much. My stretchy wraps are a homemade version of the Moby Wrap-- I found a 60" wide bolt of bottom weight cotton jersey on the $1/yard rack at Wal-Mart, bought six yards of it, and cut it into three 20" wide strips. Voila! Three stretchy wraps-- one for the car, one for the house, one for the dirty laundry pile. My woven wrap is simply six yards of a 45" wide light cotton gauze, folded in half for a 22.5" wide wrap.
Wraps are fantastically versatile-- anybody of any size can use a wrap to carry a baby. Plus they look really cool, if you're into the earth mama crunchiness like I am. :) Stretchy wraps, IMO, are best for tiny infants, while woven wraps are the way to go for bigger kids, as they offer more support and don't have a tendency to stretch out over time. You can see some ways of using wraps on the Moby site; you can see lots and lots more on mamatoto.org. You can use a wrap to carry your baby in front, in back, on your shoulders, on your hips, facing out, facing in, two shoulders, one shoulder, no shoulder (African style)...there's really no end to it. The only downside about wraps is the scary learning process-- I still kneel on the couch when I put Marky on my shoulders in a Tibetan carry, or make Peter spot me if we are out.
Oh my GOSH, I was fat there.
Pretty thick there, too. My goodness.
Anyway...to sum up, if I had to make do with only one carrier, it would be the Ergo. If only two, the Ergo plus an unpadded, open-tailed ring sling. But I'm glad I don't have to make do with only two, because I love my wraps so much. I've found all of them to be useful in different situations.
My other recommendation to you is to go to the NINO website, contact the leaders of the local group, and go to some of their meetings. There are so many different carriers our there besides the ones I've tried-- pouches and mei teis and podeagis and rebozos-- and NINO meetings are a great way to see them in action and even try them out before you commit to spending the money on one. You might also drop in on your local La Leche League group, too-- you can usually see several of the moms in attendance using their various carriers (LLL is a good idea anyhow, IMO, since you can head off many breastfeeding issues in advance by going to the meetings and seeing other mommies in action--I wish I had done that before Colin, it would have saved me some pain and suffering, not to mention lactation consultant fees).
So there you go. What are your favorite carriers?