Interested in the idea of attachment parenting and ready to incorporate a few of the major concepts into your repertoire? One of the central ideas of attachment parenting is "being both physically and emotionally available to the needs of your child," says Lysa Parker, one of the founders of Attachment Parenting International.  While the tenets of attachment parenting are interpreted in different ways, many parents who follow the attachment parenting path choose to “wear” their kids in a soft carrier so they'll always be within arms' reach.

"Being physically close to the caregiver gives a child an immense sense of well being," Parker says. And it enables the parent to respond quickly when an infant's needs arise. Plus, holding kids close just feels good, Parker says. It feels natural, in a way that letting them "cry it out" doesn't. "We tell parents to listen to their instincts," she says. "If it doesn't feel good, if it doesn't feel right, then parents should listen to those instincts. Rocking, holding.. all those things that parents naturally have an inclination to do" feel natural for a reason, she says. "When a child is allowed to do what he’s born to do … clinging, sucking, crying, and other attachment forming behaviors, then his brain develops in a natural way. That’s what over sixty years of research keeps proving over and over again.”

In a nutshell, baby-wearing means strapping on a soft carrier so you can be "hands-free" while you do the dishes, pay the bills, or attend to the other kids in your life. Some soft carriers can handle as much as 40 pounds, allowing parents to cart around a preschooler, not just an infant. Research shows that babies worn for at least 3 hours a day cry almost half as much, and less crying means more energy for mental and physical development. But wearing your child for a good chunk of the day can be tiring. Which carrier you choose makes all the difference.

Here are our picks for the best kid carriers out there:

Baby Bjorn: An extremely popular carrier...and with good reason. The bjorn makes sliding baby in and out a cinch. Operation is extremely intuitive and even the youngest infants can ride in comfort with good head support, and without the need for extra parts or inserts. For "beginner" baby-wearers, things couldn't be easier. Critics say a good deal of baby's weight rests in the crotch, which isn't good for spine development, but we haven't found any official statements from The American Academy of Pediatrics (which routinely comes out against products they feel may cause developmental problems) or any other major studies. Our biggest complaint? Major back pain if you try to use this carrier for any length of time with a baby older than about four months. (Baby Bjorn Active, $90) Where to buy

Catbird Baby Pikkolo: For parents looking for a soft carrier with a little more back support, the Pikkolo might be just the ticket. Made for kids as light as 8 pounds and as hefty as 40, it allows for kids to face in or out in a front carry position, ride on a hip, or ride backpack style. The Pikkolo waist belt isn't as padded as the Beco, or the very popular Ergo carrier, which is both good and bad. The good news is that it makes it easier to tweak with a small baby-- you can cinch to get a really close fit. That makes the Pikkolo a godsend for parents with kids in the 8-20 pound range. The infants we tested seemed instantly comfortable and often fell asleep almost immediately; for these littlest guys, this really is the catbird seat! Once your child hits the 20 pound mark, you'll want to spring for a support belt which is sold separately. This adds more cost to an already costly carrier. That said, the Pikkolo offers nice support, beautiful fabrics, and a very quick learning curve. It's a great pick for babies too big for the bjorn, especially those who like to face out and see the world. (Pikkolo carrier, $129) Where to buy

Beco Butterfly 2 Baby Carrier: This baby carrier offers the best of all worlds. It's stylish, comfortable, and workable for kids from infancy all the way up through toddlerhood. Don't let the instruction booklet deter you. Figuring out how to use the carrier with the written instructions may seem harder than figuring out how to launch your own rocket, but thankfully, all carriers come with a DVD that explains everything in full-color video detail. The learning curve for using the Beco is a little steeper than the other carriers, but it's well worth it. This is the only carrier we felt could handle a kid of more than 20 pounds with ease. A multitude of straps make a custom fit a piece of cake, and padding and support make this carrier a joy to use. The only caveat is that the Beco is perfect for infants and great for kids with head control, but there's a small window of time-- from about three months to five months, where we'd more highly recommend the Pikkolo. Still, with top marks for almost the entire span of infancy through 40+ pounds, this carrier gets top marks. (Beco Butterfly, $139) Where to buy