Before my son was born, when I started to think about baby carriers I pictured a buckle carrier. They were the sort I’d seen most on the street, the type I’d seen in John Lewis and Mothercare etc. Fortunately for me, I went to a sling library and learn more about different baby carrier types and didn’t rush into an expensive purchase!
You see, while many of these buckle style carriers do advertise they can be used from newborn all the way to toddlerhood, there is a huge variation in how well they actually do the newborn phase. In general, the vast majority work best from 5-6 months onwards all the way into toddlerhood (as can be seen here)… once baby fits well into the base of the carrier. Before this, in order to get the carrier to fit a newborn the manufacture has had to ‘hack’ the carrier in some way. This might be with a bulky infant insert designed to fill the extra space, with an integrated pouch or cushion or via a mechanism to narrow the seat and/or shorten the length of the carrier. Different methods will work better or worse for different people, will fit different parents and babies better or worse, work better in certain seasons etc etc. Quite often parents find some methods fiddly or bulky and just don’t feel entirely confident doing this with their tiny newborn. It can be really frustrating when you’ve bought something before baby arrives and then find you can’t use it. Even if it will be great in a few months time, parents can often feel demoralised and given up with the thing before then!
For this reason, I really recommend any expectant parent or parent of a newborn to look into something like a stretchy wrap, a Caboo, a ring sling or a woven wrap for now.. and leave considering a buckle carrier until baby is a bit older and will fit them well. The advantage of this is by waiting until baby is big enough you can try carriers on properly and check it fits you and baby really well before shelling out. But I know that for some parents, they really would rather just use a buckle from the beginning if possible.
I currently have 10 buckle carriers in the library that advertise that they can be used newborn. So what do each of them look like with a newborn? And how easy are they to use? To answer this I have enlisted the help of Rachel to look at each one in turn. At the time of taking these pictures Rachel was between 4 and 8 weeks old. For reference she is on the larger side for a newborn, she weighed 4.26Kg (9lb 6oz) at birth (which is 91st percentile) and measured a fantastic 58cm long (off the centile chart). Although by her 6 week check she was closer to the 50th percentile on weight (still really tall though!).
Ergo Original and 360
Both the Original and 360 rely on a bulky infant insert, which the manual recommends should be used from birth until 4 months. It comes in two parts, a pillow to raise baby up within the carrier and a bit that encases the baby – a lot like turtle shell! – which provides head support. This means they can each be used separately if needed (i.e. for tall baby who still needs head support you can simply remove the pillow, vs small baby with great neck control you can simply use the pillow on its own). The first thing to be said about the insert is that its BOILING! It feels like a duvet. For a December born baby like Rachel its fine (fine for outdoors at least, still felt too warm in the house), but not great at all for a summer baby. I’ve seen so many couples shell out £150 odd on a 360 ‘Cool Air’ carrier for their summer baby only to discover with dismay that they still need this duvet of an insert. In addition to the warmth factor, the insert did feel very all encompassing when placed in the carrier and both times Rachel screamed and seemed to struggle to try and see round the insert. Additionally, her legs felt pretty squished against me and trapped by the carrier. With the Original, the insert lifted her very high relative to the back of the carrier. The 360 worked better because of the adjustable head support which I could button up higher. But in both cases she was very high up, right under my chin, which was less comfortable. She was very close to having grown out of the insert, and yet too small to go into either carrier with out it – her legs simply aren’t wide enough. If this was our main/only carrier, I think there would be a ‘gap’ period of 2 months or so where we simply couldn’t use it and would be waiting for her to grow. All in all, I wouldn’t choose either carrier for Rachel until she reached the point she could go directly into the base without the need for this insert (4-6 months onward). Both the Original and the 360 have a recommended weight minimum of 3.2kg (7lb) and cost £99.90 and £129.90 respectively. The infant insert is sold separately and costs and additional £20.
Mountain Buggy Juno
Like the Ergo the Juno carrier relies on a bulky insert to accommodate a newborn, and again this is pretty warm. Alarmingly, Juno have tried to compensate for this by selling the most terrifying accessory I have ever seen… a gel pack that you put in your freezer, then can go into a pocket on the Juno and claims to be able to cool your child down by 8’C!! Sounds like a surefire recipe for hypothermia to me… surely the answer is to not use a hot insert rather than adding a freezer pack to the mix?? Coming back to the insert… Rachel felt completely engulfed in it was very difficult to see her face (and thus monitor her). Despite using the insert in the shorter of the two positions and despite her being off the charts in terms of length, I still felt the insert was too tall for her. Her legs didn’t quite make it out of the carrier when using the insert and it felt like her ankles were squashed up against the waist band (as well as her knees a bit squashed against me). Interestingly, the Juno worked much better for Rachel if I completely ignored the instruction manual and placed her directly into the base of the carrier in the narrow seat position. According to the manual the insert should be used for 0-6 months and the narrow setting should only be used for facing baby out… but facing in using this narrow setting fitted Rachel perfectly in terms of supporting her knee to knee and in a good spread squat position, and had the advantage of having her feet out so no risk of pressure on her ankles. I simply wore the carrier higher on my waist to compensate for not having the insert to raise her within the carrier. Height of the panel was a little too high for her in this position but I felt her head support and visibility wasn’t any worse than it was with the infant insert to be honest. Although neither was she as visible or as well supported as I’d have liked. The Juno has a weight minimum of 3.5kg (7.7lb) and costs £139. The infant insert comes included in this price in the box.
The Gemini adjusts for a newborn via simple poppers that allow the seat to be narrowed. Baby then goes directly into the base of the carrier, which does mean its best to wear the waist band higher than normal to ensure baby is close enough to kiss (and thus monitor easily). There are just two seat widths, so it is likely there will be a period where baby is supported less well by the narrow seat but isn’t quite big enough for the wider yet, although as long as baby is still comfortable this shouldn’t be too much of a cause for concern (just likely to be slightly less comfortable for them compared to being well supported knee to knee). At 4 weeks Rachel fitted the narrow seat position perfectly knee to knee. The panel has two length settings – head support folded down and head support raised. Rachel was kind of in between the the two. With the head support folded down the panel came up to her neck giving her which gave her some support but not as much as I’d like (as she really throws her head about sometimes!). However, with the head support up yes she was better supported but her head was almost completely covered and this did cause her to scream like a banshee! Although this would be less of a problem as she grows. The narrow seat also doubles as the forward facing position when baby is bigger. The Gemini has a weight minimum of 3.2kg (7lb) and costs £99.50.
Lillebaby Complete All Seasons
Like the Gemini, the Lillebaby has two seat width settings. The narrower of the two can be used facing inward for newborns and later to allow forward facing. When in the narrower setting the rest of the panel is tapered, which allows you to fit baby knee-to-knee as they grow by simply controlling where you sit them with respect to this panel. Rachel is currently right in the base, but as she grows I could simply sit her deeper and this in a wider position until she grew big enough for the wider setting. Interestingly, the Lillebaby instructions gives two options for wearing a newborn – legs out in the narrow seat as shown here and also legs in the carrier. For legs in you use the wider of the two settings and you sit baby on a rolled up blanket. The instructions call this the fetal position and suggest this for 0-3 months when baby is still very curled up and give the legs out position as the next step or alternative for once they are starting to stretch out. I didn’t use the legs in with Rachel just as she was already too big for this by 5 weeks and already starting to stretch out. In general I much prefer her with her legs out as I don’t need to worry about pressure on her ankles, so I am glad the Lillebaby offers the choice. There is no need for any infant insert with either method and as the All seasons has a zip down panel revealing mesh, this carrier works equally well in the summer as the winter. In terms of panel height and head support; – the Lillebaby has a relatively long panel and a very tall fold down head support. With the head support folded down the panel came right up to the top of her neck and supported her head and neck pretty well. With the panel up, it came up to the top of her head. However, as its made from mesh and on elasticated straps it supported without feeling too engulfing, although as her head was reasonably well supported without it up, it would be my preference to leave it down for the time being and use only when she is bigger. The elastics are quite clever as it meant she could move her head as much as she liked – allowing her to exercise her neck muscles while still offering support. My downsides to this carrier are that I found it hard to keep her pelvis tilted,… she seemed to be able to untuck and straighten out too easily. Although this maybe because I should have sat her slightly deeper in the seat. Additionally, it is very bulky, some people love the padding and back support and while others find it quite a lot. I do like a bit of padding but feel this is quite a lot for a new baby! Better for when they are older and you start to actually need all that padding. The weight minimum of the Lillebaby is 3.2kg (7lb). The All seasons costs £115, while the original all cotton (no mesh) version costs £95.
The Connecta was one of two that fitted Rachel the best and my second favourite for a newborn. The material is very soft and thin and so can very easily be sized down to fit. The seat can be cinched with the accessory strap to give an exact knee-to-knee fit and simply let out bit by bit as the child grows until its no longer needed. The body panel of the carrier can be shortened either by simply rolling the waist band or by sitting the baby deeper in the carrier to use up more of the material (and of course for either method; sitting the band higher on the parent to ensure baby is close enough to kiss). Additionally the hood can be rolled up and secured in place to provide head support. The flexibility of the Connecta means a huge range of sizes can be accommodated easily – from newborn all the way to toddlerhood – without compromising in fit and with no ‘gap’ where the carrier fits less well. My only very slight ‘con’ with this carrier is that while it is very easy to size down, very occasionally it confuses parents new to carrying – its maybe not completely clear to them that they are ‘allowed’ to roll or cinch a carrier in this way to get the perfect fit. The weight minimum of the Connecta is 3.5kg (7.7lb) and the standard cotton version costs £68.
The Izmi is the other one that fitted Rachel the best, and was my favourite of the 10 carriers we tried. While I loved both the Izmi and the Connecta, I slightly favoured the Izmi just because I found how to size it correctly just a little more obvious and something I think the average sleep deprived parent will find more intuitive. It uses simple velcro tabs that stick into the waist band to size the seat, the velcro means the width can be set to give an exact knee to knee fit that can be easily altered as the child grows. This can go down very narrow, and Rachel was by no means on the narrowest setting so I have absolute confidence that this really would fit the vast majority of newborns. The panel height came to the top of her neck and the ingenious head support can either be raised (and different poppers allow you to set it to the height you need or secure just on one side to get the support baby needs without covering their face) or used to hold a rolled muslin which gave great neck support for Rachel without covering her head or face – allowing her to exercise her neck muscles and look around while still being well supported. The Izmi’s weight minimum is 3.2kg (7lb) and it costs £75.
The Boba 4G comes with a little pillow shaped insert that snaps into the base of the carrier. This pillow has two width settings to accommodate different sizes – Rachel is shown on the wider of the two which she was just big enough for. The pillow raised her up in the carrier – because she is so tall this was maybe almost too high and her head was right at the top of the neck support (rolled up hood inside the carrier). I felt this support was fairly light and her head wasn’t as well supported as I might have liked. Like the Ergo and Juno that also rely on infant inserts – Rachel’s legs were trapped in the carrier and it felt like they were fairly squashed against me and the waist band. I worry this would put unnecessary pressure on her joints. It seemed like at 5 weeks she was nearly too big to go into the carrier in this way but a long way off being able to fit into the bottom of the carrier. Perhaps because she is so tall, I feel like this carrier would have a big ‘babywearing gap’ period for her. It probably will/would have worked for her newborn until around 6 weeks and then it will probably be another 2 or 3 months until she is big enough knee-to-knee to fit into the base of the carrier without being over extended. The weight minimum of the 4G is 3.2kg (7lb) and it costs £99.
The Manduca also gives two options for a newborn. The first is to use the integrated infant insert, which is a flap inside that you can popper your baby into. Its a bit of a faff because you need to sit down and rest your baby on your knees to do it. Rachel was already too big for this by the time we were trying it at almost 8 weeks. I think the insert would have worked from birth until about 6 weeks for her. The second option is to use the ‘size-it’ to cinch the bottom of the carrier. This also has padding which slightly raises the child in the carrier and also adds padding for the legs. Using the size it had the advantage of bringing Rachel’s legs outside of the carrier and also giving a perfect knee-to-knee fit that could then grow with her until she’s big enough to fit without it. The head support is provided by the rolled up hood within the carrier. The back panel has two length settings, in the black Manduca she is in the lower of the two and as she is so tall the head support was a little too low for her. In the longer of the two settings, this head support would have been too high up. However, Manduca also make an elliptical shaped zip in accessory called the ellipse which really helps size the back panel to both bring the sides of the carrier in for a better more rounded fit and bring this head support into the right place – as shown with the red Manduca. Additionally the hood can be used to further support the head/as a cover while sleeping. The Manduca has a weight minimum of 3.5kg (7.7lb) and costs around £80, although the Size It and the Ellipse are both sold separately for ~£10 each.
Like the Manduca the Moby Aria has an integrated insert comprising of a flap that poppers the baby in. Again Rachel was too big for this when we tried this carrier (7 weeks). However, the Aria’s seat can be adjusted using poppers to give three width settings, allowing the carrier to grow with the child. Rachel fitted the narrowest perfectly. The back panel came up high enough that her head was reasonably well supported by the the panel without her head being buried or overly restricted. All in all the Aria did pretty well, although its worth noting I have other concerns about this carrier (see my Aria review for more). The weight limit of the Aria is 3.5kg (7.7lb) and it costs £84.50.
In general I found the carriers with bulky inserts – Ergos and Mountain Buggy – worked the least well with a newborn. They were just too bulky and unweildy and Rachel felt a bit drowned in it all. Plus they were a faff to put her in. In fact any of the inserts, even the integrated inserts of the Boba, Manduca and Moby Aria were faffy and trapped her legs (although fortunately both the Manduca and Aria offered alternatives that worked better, albeit from 6-8 weeks or so and wouldn’t have worked right from birth). The carriers that fared the best by far were the ones where the seat with and ideally the height of the carrier too could be easily adjusted to fit. In particular the Connecta and Izmi carriers were my favourite simply because they were soft, light and thin and thus didn’t feel like ‘too much’ for a newborn. Both can size down really well for a newborn but will also grow with baby and continue fitting into toddlerhood.