The following is the text of our press release that we distributed today:
Babywearing experts say CPSC baby sling warning is good information, but inaccurate reporting and failure to recall unsafe slings are putting babies at risk
BIRMINGHAM, ALA., March 16, 2010 – Local baby sling experts say the warning issued Friday by the Consumer Product Safety Commission concerning baby slings contains the same admonitions they routinely give parents and caregivers: “be cautious when using infant slings for babies younger than four months of age,” and “make sure the infant’s face is not covered and is visible at all times to the sling’s wearer.”
This information is true and helpful as far as it goes, say the volunteer leaders of Babywearing International of Birmingham, a nonprofit support and advocacy group that helps parents and caregivers use baby slings and other baby carriers. But they say the CPSC did not go far enough and recall certain unsafe sling-like carriers that, because of their design, make it impossible to follow the CPSC’s advice.
Plus, the warning has been inaccurately reported, causing undue alarm about baby slings. “For example, on Saturday, Lisa Stark reported on ABC’s Good Morning America program that the government’s warning was ‘don’t use slings with infants younger than four months of age,’ which is completely false,” said Susie Spence, one of the local chapter’s leaders and the immediate past president of Babywearing International, Inc., the chapter’s parent organization.
“We want mothers to know that they can carry their infants safely in a variety of slings,” said Kristen Stewart, another volunteer babywearing educator with Babywearing International of Birmingham, who co-founded the group with Spence in 2006 as Magic City Slingers. “These carriers are tools for parents,” Stewart said. “Though the cautions are necessary, baby slings can be used without harm.”
“Any time you put a baby in a car seat, stroller, or other device, there is a level of danger,” Stewart said. “There have actually been more infant deaths in those sorts of things than slings in the last decade,” she added. For example, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, in the three-year period from 2002 to 2004, 16 infants died in car seat carriers outside the context of motor vehicle accidents. Also for that period, nine infants died in strollers and carriages, and 11,100 children were injured in strollers and carriages in one year alone.* In comparison, the CPSC is investigating 14 possibly sling-related deaths that occurred over a period of twenty years.
“The good news is, the same information about making sure that your infant has a clear airway and is not chin-to-chest will help keep your baby safer in all sorts of situations,” Stewart said.
“The baby’s face should not be covered, and the baby should not be curled into a C shape with his chin against his chest, which can make it difficult or impossible to breathe,” Spence explained.
“One easy way to avoid curling the baby into a C shape is to carry the baby securely against the caregiver’s body in a vertical position in the sling; we call this the ‘tummy to tummy’ or ‘heart to heart’ position,” Spence said. Although many baby slings come with instructions for this position, “it’s a common misconception that babies must lie down in slings,” she added. A semi-reclined, or “cradle,” position can be done safely in many slings if caregivers guard their infants’ airways as cautioned by the CPSC.
“In the tummy to tummy position, there is no fabric pressing the baby’s head down and forward into a C shape,” Spence explained. A newborn carried in the tummy to tummy position will rest his cheek against the caregiver’s chest, and his airway will be open and unobstructed, she added. “The baby will listen to the caregiver’s heartbeat, feel the rhythm of her breathing and be very calm and happy,” Spence said.
There are some sling-like baby carriers in which babies cannot be carried upright because of the carriers’ design, Spence said. These include carriers like the Infantino Slingrider, which Consumers Union, the publishers of Consumer Reports, has been asking the CPSC to recall since November 2009. Infants have died in the Slingrider. “The Slingrider is not a ‘sling’ in the traditional sense,” Spence said. “It’s more like a duffle bag with a harness in it than a sling.”
It’s not just that the Slingrider and similarly styled carriers do not allow for the upright “tummy to tummy” carry, Spence explained, it’s that their design doesn’t allow a caregiver to see the baby and assure a clear airway. Furthermore, the sling’s design makes it likely that the baby will curve into a C shape or roll against the side of the sling so that his face will be compressed by the sling fabric and the body of the person carrying him.
“A registered nurse and babywearing expert, M’Liss Stelzer of New Mexico, recognized the design problems with the Slingrider, conducted informal oxygen saturation studies on infants in the carrier, and contacted Infantino in 2006, and again in 2007 and 2008, to explain the problems and her findings, but the company did not withdraw the Slingrider from the market or redesign it to solve the problems,” Spence said. “She also sent documentation concerning the flawed design to the CPSC in 2007,” she said. The problems with these slings are explained in detail on Stelzer’s website, www.babyslingsafety.blogspot.com.
“Locally, we have been cautioning parents against this type of carrier for more than three years,” she said. “So I want to be very clear about the fact that it has been the babywearing community – not Consumer Reports and not the Consumer Product Safety Commission – that has long been warning parents about this duffle-bag style of carrier and trying to get it off the market, and we’ve been doing this since before any published deaths in the Slingrider.”
“There are many safe alternatives, but Infantino is a big company and its products are cheap and easy to find in big box stores–and that’s a combination that’s hard for us to fight as volunteers with the mission of babywearing education,” she explained. “It’s frustrating that the CPSC has still failed to issue a mandatory recall,” she added.
“It’s also frustrating that so many media outlets have referred to baby slings as ‘trendy’ or ‘fashionable’ without discussing why so many parents use them,” Spence said. “The benefits of babywearing are real and substantial, and many people find slings–as opposed to frontpacks or other options–to be ideal carriers from birth through the toddler years,” she added.
A study published in the journal Pediatrics in 1986 found that 6-week-old babies carried at least three hours a day in a soft carrier cried and fussed 43 percent less than others overall, and 51 percent less in the evening hours. Another study, published in the journal Child Development in 1990, found that mothers who were given cloth carriers at birth were more responsive to their babies and had babies who were more securely attached than mothers who received plastic infant seats.
Another local Babywearing International volunteer babywearing educator, Mandy Welch, is a registered nurse and works in a local neonatal intensive care unit. She is experienced with “kangaroo mother care,” or skin-to-skin babywearing, and its benefits for premature infants.
“Soft carriers can help facilitate kangaroo mother care in hospital settings as well as with a new baby at home,” Welch said. A 2008 article published in the journal Advances in Neonatal Care details how kangaroo mother care has positive effects on a premature baby’s heartrate, breathing, temperature, weight gain, sleep habits, general neurobehavioral development and parental confidence.
In kangaroo mother care, “it is essential to keep your baby’s head in a slightly sniffing position with the neck midline so that the airway can remain open,” Welch explained. “This is good advice whether your baby is in an infant swing, carseat carrier, in your arms, or in a sling,” she added.
*You can read the CPSC’s summary of nursery-product-related injuries and deaths for the years 2002-2004 here:
The CPSC’s recent sling warning is located at: http://www.cpsc.gov/CPSCPUB/PREREL/prhtml10/10165.html