Best Baby Carrier for Preemie and Small Babies

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Intro

Perhaps you’ve just gone through an extended NICU stay, or you’ve been discharged from the hospital with a new tinier than expected bundle of joy. I know the feeling! Excited and overwhelmed. There is so much to learn and figure out and you probably thought you had a few more weeks to get prepared but here you are! There is going to be a bit of a learning curve when it comes to wearing your baby no matter what type of carrier you purchase. I’ve included some instructional videos about how to use some of these carriers at the end of this article to help you take a peek at how they work in better detail.

When it comes to baby wraps and carriers there are a few main things to consider such as:

  • The size and weight of your infant.
  • How your body is doing in its postpartum recovery.

You want to make sure your baby can be worn close to you in a way that protects their open airways, ensures their body is positioned ergonomically so they don’t end up pinched or squished and, of course, it needs to be comfortable for you too. Some other things to consider when trying to decide which carrier to purchase are:

  • What purpose are you trying to fulfill with this carrier?
    • Is it to get stuff done around the house?
    • For bonding?
    • For hiking?
  • What age is your baby you’re looking at wearing? In this case, I’m guessing you’re looking at baby wearing with your small newborn. 
  • Body shape
    • long torso or short torso
    • broad shoulders or narrow shoulders

Your trap muscle is already often going to be overtaxed as a parent holding and feeding babies, it’s something to be mindful of with the carrier you’re purchasing to make sure it has adequate support and distributes the weight of your baby properly. 

If you’re looking for something to hike in or do heavy activity in you’ll probably want a carrier you can use on your back. Wearing your baby on your front for a long strenuous hike is probably not going to feel well on your body. 

A wrap is a great option for running errands to keep your baby close to you. Stretchy wraps are not designed to feed babies in. You want feeding to happen in midline for your baby with their head, shoulders and hips in line with each other. A Ring sling is easier to feed a baby in because you can move them to your side and lower them down for a quicker feed on the run.

What Do I Buy? Quick Guide

If you’re bringing home a tiny baby from the hospital and you would like to use something for seated kangaroo care to help keep the baby secure and free up your hands, buy a Joeyband. A Joeyband is NOT a carrier (see more info here)

If your preemie baby is large enough and physically stable enough to be worn but is still very small, buy a wrap. The Solly Baby Wrap is highly rated in my NICU moms Facebook group and wraps in general are the clear winner for wearing tiny babies. Jump here to see my wrap comparison in this article. 

If you want a carrier you can use once your baby is 7+ lbs and continue using until toddlerhood the Ergobaby Omni 360 is a clear winner in my books. Jump here to see my structured baby carrier comparison in this article.

Kangaroo Care

What is Kangaroo Care? “Kangaroo care is a form of holding in which a baby is placed on the chest of a parent or other adult in direct skin-to-skin contact.” Skin to skin has some amazing health benefits for premature babies and for moms. It has been proven to:

  • Reduce infant stress 
  • Help babies feel less pain
  • Babies cry less during Kangaroo Care
  • Improves baby’s breathing pattern 
  • Stabilizes infant’s body temperature
  • Supports baby’s brain growth  
  • Supports successful breastfeeding 
  • Aids with postpartum depression (and baby blues)
  • Improves bonding between mom and baby 

If your baby is not able to lay on your chest yet, talk to your nurses and doctors about ‘hand hugging’ as another good option for holding your baby. As the baby lays in their incubator you can reach in two clean hands and place one on top of your baby’s head and another cupping their feet or bottom. 

Can I Baby-Wear in the NICU? 

Different hospitals have different rules about this so be sure to ask your nurses and doctor. In general, once your baby is more than five pounds and fairly stable, kangaroo care can be done in the NICU with the help of a wrap style baby carrier. In particular, right before your baby is discharged from the hospital they will likely spend 24 hours off their monitors with no wires or cords attached and this can be a great time to get a nurse’s help with baby wearing so you can become familiar with doing it safely on your own at home.

Alternatively, if the thought of wearing your tiny baby still scares you it’s ok to wait! There is no pressure to begin wearing your baby until you are confident and ready. This could be weeks or months after your discharge from the hospital. You can still continue doing kangaroo care sitting down with your baby without the assistance of a wrap or carrier.

Additionally, you may feel there is no need for a wrap or carrier while your baby is still in the hospital. Baby wearing is a great way to keep baby close while still having two hands free for your other children or things around home. While you’re still in the hospital it is more likely that your time spent with your preemie is more focused and being able to sit back and hold your baby without a wrap will work just fine!

There is also a product on the market specifically designed for kangaroo care called the ‘joey band’ or a ‘sleep band’ that helps babies feel contained, secure, warm, and safe. “The Joeyband™ reduces crying, raises breastfeeding rates, eliminates infant falls and promotes skin to skin.” It is safe for even micro preemies to use under the guidance of your healthcare professionals. There are even photos on their site of a mom with NICU twins using the product. I was not approached by this company to promote it, nor will I receive any kind of commission if you purchase from them, but I wanted to include their link here because it is such a unique and possibly helpful product for a parent with a preemie baby.

Joeyband and NICU twins

When Can I Baby-Wear With a Preemie? 

There are a few things to consider when it comes to when your preemie might be ready for baby wearing:

  • The baby’s medical needs
  • Do they have cords or tubes at risk of tangling
  • Do they have stable oxygen levels and breathing patterns 
  • How much do they weigh?

The weight of your preemie in particular will come into play when we start talking about what style of wrap or carrier they can be put in. Each type of wrap and carrier has its own weight limits and guidelines. Most carriers on this list become suitable for infants once they are about 8 lbs. But it’s possible your premature baby came home from the hospital weighing less than 8 lbs like mine did!

If you have concerns about the safety of wearing your preemie, especially if they are under 8 lbs please speak with your pediatrician for advice. If your baby is still under 8 lbs and you are interested in baby wearing there are a few wrap style carriers that advertise they can accommodate smaller babies, so let’s jump into the next section of this article and take a look at wraps vs carriers.

What is a Wrap Style Carrier Vs a Structured Carrier vs a Ring Sling?

What is a Wrap Carrier?

A wrap style carrier is a long piece of fabric that usually has no buckles or clasps and as the name implies, involves some ‘wrapping’ around the body to secure your baby. There are many different types of wrap style carriers on the market and they mostly differ in material type, cost, and they even differ slightly in size. 

What is a Ring Sling?

Ring slings are another type of carrier made from a single band of fabric that uses two aluminum rings to help fasten it together in position on your body. A ring sling is also sometimes called a baby sling. A lot of them are 100% cotton but there are a few on the market made from premium quality stretchy soft fabrics, and a couple others that are made from mesh and they advertise they are made for baby wearing in and around water or hot temperatures where mesh would be helpful to avoid overheating. 

What is a Structured Carrier?

Structured carriers come in a bigger variety of different styles and sizes. Soft structured carriers are also sometimes called  buckle carriers. Structured carriers usually have hardware like buckles or clasps and involve less wrapping, or no wrapping at all.

Body types, carrying positions, ease of use, and baby’s weight are all different factors that might play into your decision to use one style vs the other.

I highly recommend testing out one wrap or one carrier before making a purchase, or ensuring that your purchase has a good return policy if you buy before you try. Sometimes baby stores have a display model you can test to get an idea of how a carrier/wrap will work. Another great alternative is to see if there is a baby wearing consultant in your area to help you decide which type of carrier or wrap is the best option for you.

All of the wraps, carriers, and ring slings on this list are recognized as “hip-healthy” by the International Hip Dysplasia Institute. “Hip-healthy” means they are safe for the infant’s hip joints (keeping the baby in natural, ergonomic “frog position” with M-shape legs, hips bent, knees higher than a bum, and C-shaped spine).

While writing this article I met with a baby-wearing professional, Brittney Pederson, to get her opinion on a variety of wraps and carriers and also to try some on that I previously had no experience with wearing personally. I loved the experience of working with a professional and getting proper advice about how to safely wear my infant and would highly recommend it to anyone. 

Best Structured Carriers

Ergobaby Omni 360 

Ergobaby Omni 360
  • 7 – 45 lbs weight restrictions
  • Cool mesh or classic premium cotton fabric types
  • Machine washable ✓
  • Hip Healthy for Baby ✓
  • Price point: $150 – $180 USD (~$230 Canadian)

This is the carrier I personally purchased once my preemie baby was large enough to safely baby-wear. Padded shoulder straps, cool mesh fabric, lumbar support that distributes the baby’s weight more across my body, and ease of use were some of my top deciding factors.

If you already know you have a very clingy baby and you are going to get a lot of use out of a carrier like this then I do highly recommend it. It’s a comfortable carrier to wear for long periods of time because as the name suggests, it’s been built with your ergonomics in mind.

I loved the cool mesh fabric option. If you’re using this omni 360 in the summer you will want to keep baby as cool as possible so you don’t get overheating issues. If you’re using it in the winter you could easily add a blanket over top of your carrier or add an extra layer to your infant to keep cozy. 

The Ergobaby Omni 360 has 4 carry positions to choose from, you can: forward carry with baby facing in, forward carry with baby facing out, hip carry on your side, and back carry your baby. This carrier does not require an infant insert for a newborn baby, and it’s also a good choice for older babies and toddlers who are heavier.

Tula Free To Grow 

Tula Free To Grow
  • 7 – 45 lbs weight restrictions 
  • Linen derived from flax fabric type
  • Machine washable ✓
  • Hip Healthy for Baby ✓
  • Price point: $160 USD ($210 Canadian)

The Tula free to grow is more streamlined than the Ergobaby Omni 360 which means the Tula might be easier to pack around with you. It’s also 100% cotton if that appeals to you. 

The down side of Tula compared to Omni 360 is you cannot do a forward carry with baby facing out. If you want to wear-baby on your front looking out at the world, stick with Omni. Otherwise it’s another great option once your baby is 7 lbs +

Baby Bjorn One

Baby Bjorn One
  • 8-35 lbs
  • 3d mesh or cotton blend 
  • Machine washable ✓
  • Hip Healthy for Baby ✓
  • $190 USD ($260 Canadian)

The Baby Bjorn One is another super versatile soft structured carrier. You can wear your baby on your back, front facing out and front facing in. If wearing your baby on your side/hip is important to you later when they are older you may want to stick with the Omni 360. 

The biggest benefit of the Baby Bjorn One in my opinion is that it has an inner zipper to create two heights you can front carry a newborn in. So depending on how tall your baby is, you can adjust the carrier accordingly. 

The downside to the Baby Bjorn One is the weight restrictions on it compared to the Omni 360. The Baby Bjorn One advertises 8-35 lbs. The Omni 360 advertises 7-45 lbs. 

Best Wrap Style Carriers

Solly Baby Wrap

  • 8-25 lbs
  • Tencel fabric
  • Machine washable ✓
  • Hip Healthy for Baby ✓
  • $65 USD ($75 Canadian)

Made from sustainably sourced and biodegradable 100% certified TENCEL™ modal (sourced from the pulp of Austrian Beechwood trees). 

While wearers of babies under 8 pounds need to take extra care to keep baby’s air passageways clear, the Wrap is ideal for caregivers who have been instructed to implement Kangaroo Care. The Wrap is designed for the first year of baby’s life or up to 25 pounds. Most wrap wearers will get the most use in baby’s first 9-12 months. This wrap is great for summer babies who are going to be worn in warm weather as it’s not too thick.

Boba Wrap

  • 7 lbs to 35 lbs
  • Bamboo, cotton, spandex fabric blend
  • Machine washable ✓
  • Hip Healthy for Baby ✓
  • $45 USD ($55 Canadian)

The Boba Wrap is a thicker fabric than the Solly Baby Wrap, which means it is bulkier and will take up more space if you’re packing it to-go. Some people find it more sturdy because of its thickness, which makes them feel like it’s easier to wear. It really comes down to personal preference on this front!

Beluga Wrap

  • Newborn babies – 25 lbs
  • 66% Rayon From Bamboo, 28% Cotton, 6% Spandex fabric blend
  • Machine washable ✓
  • Hip Healthy for Baby ✓
  • $60 USD ($80 Canadian)

The Beluga Wrap is available in two sizes: 4.6 yards/4.2 meters or 5.2 yards/4.8 meters. The Solly Baby Wrap is only available in one size: 5.5 yards/5 meters. If you feel like there is too much extra fabric in a standard baby wrap, you may enjoy the fact that the Beluga Wrap is available in a shorter length or standard length. This could be particularly important for you if you’re a petite mom or you have a short torso. 

Best Ring Slings

Nalakai Ring Sling

  • 8-35 lbs
  • Bamboo and linen fabric
  • Machine washable ✓
  • Hip Healthy for Baby ✓
  • $60 USD ($80 Canadian)

Eco-friendly, super soft bamboo and linen fabric blend that’s kind to baby’s skin. ultra-strong, lush woven fabric that is lightweight and smooth. Like all ring slings, you could use the tail end as a nursing cover. You can also wear a ring sling like a scarf when it’s not in use. Ring slings are light and portable and take up less space in a diaper bag than a wrap. I find the con to a ring sling is that one-sided shoulder pressure may put too much weight on that part of your body to wear it for long comfortably. 

This Nalakai ring sling is a “gathered” ring sling, which means the band of fabric is not sewn into place with the ring anywhere. You may like the weight distribution of a gathered ring sling over your shoulder. Or you may find you dislike it because you find it more difficult to put together or wear.

Chimparoo Ring Sling

  • 8-35 lbs
  • 100% cotton
  • Machine washable ✓
  • Hip Healthy for Baby ✓
  • $60 USD ($80 Canadian)

The biggest difference between this Chimparoo Ring Sling and the Nalakai is the fabric type and the sewn in rings. This ring sling is made from 100 % cotton, which you may like because it’s quite sturdy. You may also dislike it because the fabric feels more rough when it’s not broken in.

The Chimparoo ring sling is a “pleated” ring sling, which means the fabric is gathered together in pleats on one end and sewn into the aluminum rings. You may find it easier to use this style of ring sling because the aluminum rings never come off one end.

Moby Ring Sling

  • 8-33 lbs
  • 100% cotton
  • Machine washable ✓
  • Hip Healthy for Baby ✓
  • $50 USD ($70 Canadian)

This Moby ring sling is quite similar to the Chimparoo;  they are both made from cotton but the Moby is ‘double gauze’ cotton, which means it is two fine layers invisibly stitched together. You may find this is a slightly softer choice than the Chimparoo. 

The Moby ring sling is also a “pleated” ring sling. The copper rings are sewn to one end of the fabric just like the Chimparoo, which might make it easier for you to put together.

Kyte Ring Sling

  • 8-35 lbs
  • Linen from Flax fabric
  • Machine washable ✓
  • Hip Healthy for Baby ✓
  • $60 USD ($80 Canadian)

Made from environmentally-friendly 100% pre-washed linen, these slings are strong and easy to use like the others on this list. Kyte ring slings feature beautiful rose gold colored rings that are made from aluminum. With two pockets, a large exterior pocket and a smaller interior one, there is space for all those extra items parents need such as cell phones and pacifiers.

The Kyte ring sling is also a “pleated” ring sling, which means the rose gold colored aluminum rings are sewn into one end of the fabric. 

Video Tutorials

How to Wear a Wrap Style Carrier – Demo Video

Ergobaby Omni 360 – Demo Video

Ring Sling – Demo Video

Final Considerations:

If you are choosing to wear a premature baby that is smaller than the recommended weight restrictions from the manufacturer I highly suggest bringing it up with your care team professionals like your pediatrician. It is possible for any baby to suffocate in a wrap or carrier if their nose or face is obstructed and preemie babies have less muscle tone to be able to free themselves if that happens. The person wearing a baby should always be alert and ensure their baby has a clear airway. Never fall asleep wearing a baby.  

Each person’s circumstances, body, and baby are unique. You may find that one type of wrap or carrier is perfect for you and your needs and it may not work for someone else. The important part is that you and your baby are safe and comfortable and that you personally love the carrier you choose. I hope this information has helped guide you towards making a choice about wearing your premature baby. 

Sources:

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  1. Pingback: Ergobaby Omni Breeze vs Ergobaby Omni 360 A Comparison and Review – Mama's Buzz

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