There was recently a warning issued by the Consumer Product Safety Commision (CPSC) about the use of slings, especially by children under 4 months old. While I applaud the effort to educate the public on babywearing safety, I would have liked to have seen more of a clarification on differences between safe and unsafe carriers.
The unsafe style of baby sling is the "bag style" sling. These highly uncomfortable slings have a deep pouch, gathered rails, and a strap like a guitar strap. The deep pouch is designed (and often "over-designed") to create a highly angled curve. This design causes an extreme chin on chest curl which makes breathing difficult (at best!). The extra fabric and shape of the pouch also make breathing difficult and suffocation all too easy.
In all the photographs I've seen of bag style carriers in use, the entire pouch itself was way too low on the caregiver. This makes it, not only very uncomfortable, but also difficult to get a sense of how your baby is doing. Babywearing International says that babies should be "close enough to kiss". What a simple and beautiful way to think of it!.
The gathered edges, or "rails" of the bag style slings, also contribute to re-breathing and suffocation when the baby is worn reclining in the bag sling. It also makes it difficult to impossible to see your baby.
There are plenty of 2 ring baby slings which are safe and beneficial when worn correctly, even in reclining positions. Bag style slings aren't one of them. But, even so, in my experience even newborns prefer to be held upright, tummy-to-tummy. There are a lot of slings and other carriers that accomplish this much more easily, comfortably, and safely than bag style carriers.
Still, no matter how safe the carrier, there are still some steps that can be taken to babywear safely and with confidence. Here are some basic tips:
- Choose the right carrier for you, your baby, and your circumstances. Something you are comfortable with and confident using is going to be safer. Local Babywearing International groups often have lending libraries where you can try out different carriers without the expense of buying.
- Read the instructions carefully. Watch an accompanying video, if available.
- Get some in-person support. Midwives, doulas, La Leche League meetings, and local Babywearing International groups are all great resources for babywearing.
- Slings and other carriers are meant to hold babies in positions you would hold them in without a carrier. The carrier is supposed to make it easier and keep hands free. Put your baby into a carrier in a position you would otherwise carry him in, and periodically check to make sure he is still in this position.
- Be aware of your surroundings while carrying your baby. Be especially aware of anything that sticks out such as counter tops, shelves, railings, and doors. For older babies, be aware of what is at reaching distance.
- Unless nursing, your baby should not be facing inward. Position your baby facing up and not in either sideways directions where fabric could making breathing difficult or suffocation could happen.
- Do not put sling fabric over your baby's face. Also, keep in mind that many infants do not like fabric touching the back of their head while nursing.
- Make sure your baby is not in an extreme curl, or chin to chest position.
Babywearing International's Safety Guidelines
Babywearing Safety on Facebook
Manufacturers Respond to Baby Sling Safety Warning