Brain benefits of a baby carrier (vs. a stroller)

A photographer mounted a GoPro camera in the stroller behind his son’s head so he could capture “A toddler’s view of New York City.” Cool idea! But the poor kid is often looking through the plastic cover of the stroller. He gets this blurry, diffuse view of the world.

The photographs got me thinking about a child’s experience from a stroller compared with a carrier, where baby is riding up high on your chest or your back. Baby carriers abound in Seattle, where I live, so it seemed natural enough for me to get one. And because we live in a small condo, I wanted to put off buying a stroller to see if we really needed one. I’m incredibly grateful it happened that way.

My baby and I had so many little adventures because of the carriers. After six months, we bought a stroller as well. And what I found is that when my daughter was in the carrier, it was much easier for me to do the things that brain-development experts know are important. First, for fun, a few photos.

A few things I’ve loved about the carrier for both me and baby:

Getting around

Our family easily got to go places that a stroller could not: up stairs, along trails, through crowds. Our hands were free. Our outings felt just a little closer to outings we would have had prior to baby. I’m not sure we would have discovered this if we’d bought a stroller right away. Of course it’s easier to carry a bunch of stuff in a stroller, so we might have defaulted to that. Because we owned only a carrier, no stroller, for baby’s first six months, we really integrated it into our daily lives.

Meeting new people

Out for a walk, people would stop to coo over our baby because she was up at eye level. This made it easier for me to meet new people, too. That didn’t happen when baby was in the stroller: people might smile, but they wouldn’t stop to talk with her.


Because baby was right next to me, I was able to easily point out things I saw and talk with her about them. If she was interested in, say, a passing garbage truck, I could tell instantly. We could check it out together. This made our time together more interesting, more connected. When we went for a walk with the stroller, I was more likely to daydream or check my phone. I couldn’t always hear her when she said something. She had fewer opportunities to engage with the environment. If I caught an interesting sight, for example, I wasn’t likely to stop and unbuckle her and lift her out of the stroller to take a look. At least not multiple times on a walk. With the carrier, she was already right there.

Spontaneous, contextual conversations like these, it turns out, help baby to learn language. Numbers 2 and 3 in “The 3 Best Ways to Boost Baby’s Language Development“? Check and check!


If we were out with the stroller and baby was hungry, it meant an anxious search to find a comfortable, semi-private place for nursing. With the carrier, I could just scoot baby down a bit, lift the shirt layered over my nursing tank, make sure I was covered from the side, and carry on. Kind of amazing.

Monitoring needs

Is baby doing OK? I could tell instantly when she was in the carrier. Is baby too warm or too cold? I just felt her tiny palm or the back of her neck. Is baby alert, sleepy, overstimulated? I just looked down. Do those sweet little cheeks need kissing? Kiss!

In the stroller, facing away from me, my baby had to cry out for attention if I didn’t check at the right time.

Being aware that baby has a need, and having a timely response to that need, is a major element of creating a secure relationship with baby. But, of course, our attention is often divided between baby and getting stuff done. The carrier seemed to ease open the line of communication between me and baby during those times. (For more on the importance to baby’s brain development of this communication, sometimes called “serve and response,” see the page “Get in sync” in my book, Zero to Five: 70 Essential Parenting Tips Based on Science.)

Having options

Now, our jogging stroller has a special place in my heart. It means my husband can take our daughter running every morning when they both wake up way too early, while I get one more hour of sleep. That stroller can haul so many groceries, taking out all of the items is like watching clowns tumble from a Volkswagen Beetle. Not owning a car, we use the jogging stroller nearly every day for one of those two situations. It’s been an excellent purchase.

But for being with baby, the carrier wins hands down.

Copyright Betty Udesen / Pear Press
Written by

Tracy Cutchlow

Tracy is the author of the international bestseller Zero to Five: 70 Essential Parenting Tips Based on Science, a public speaker, and a creator of places to speak and be heard. Sign up for her newsletter here.

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