When done properly, carrying a baby in a soft baby carrier can be safer than carrying a baby in your arms. Your carrier doesn’t have muscles that become fatigued, and your carrier doesn’t have arms that reflexively reach out to balance you or catch you when you fall. But, as with anything concerning babies, good safety practices are of paramount importance.
Two risks are associated with baby carriers that are designed poorly or used improperly: asphyxiation or suffocation, and falls. These are avoidable hazards; therefore, whatever carrier you choose, learn to use it properly, and always keep safety in mind. Your baby’s safety is your responsibility.
As of March 12, 2010, the Consumer Product Safety Commission was investigating 14 potentially sling-related deaths over a two-decade period. Considering the number of deaths in other types of infant products, slings have an excellent track record for safety. (For example, in the three-year period from 2002 to 2004, 16 infants died in car seat carriers outside the context of motor vehicle accidents.)
However, three of the deaths occurred in 2009, all in the now-recalled Infantino Slingrider carriers. (You can read the press release we issued prior to the recall, which explains our position and gives background information about why we had discouraged use of the Slingrider and similar carriers since 2006, here.)
For more information about the Slingrider and similarly styled carriers, which resemble duffle bags and are sometimes referred to as “bag slings,” see this website. We do not consider “bag sling” type carriers to be safe or comfortable choices for babywearing. The good news is that there are many other carrier options; you can even carry a baby safely in a long strip of cloth or a shawl.
A Few ABSOLUTE RULES:
Make sure your baby can breathe. Baby carriers allow parents to have their hands free to do other things … but you must always remain active in caring for your child. No baby carrier can assure that your baby always has an open airway; that’s your job.
Never allow a baby to be carried, held, or placed in such a way that his chin is curled against his chest. This rule applies to babies being held in arms, in baby carriers, in infant car seats, or in any other kind of seat or situation. This position can restrict the baby’s ability to breathe. Newborns lack the muscle control to open their airways. Always check to be sure that your baby’s airway is not bent or restricted, and monitor their breathing.
The following video public service announcement from the Consumer Product Safety Position gives some important information about safe positioning for the “cradle carry,” in which a baby is carried in a semi-reclining position with his side against your body; however, in many baby carriers, including ring slings, you can carry your baby in an upright position securely against your body, avoiding the risks that are peculiar to the cradle carry.
Never allow a baby’s head and face to be covered with fabric. Covering a baby’s head and face can cause her to “rebreathe” the same air, which is a very dangerous situation. Also, covering her head and face keeps you from being able to check on her. Always make sure your baby has plenty of airflow. Check on her frequently.
Never jog, run, or jump. Do not do any activity that subjects your baby to shaking or bouncing motion, such as jogging, running, or jumping on a trampoline. “This motion can do damage to the baby’s neck, spine and/or brain,” explains the American Chiropractic Association.
Never use a baby carrier when the baby should be in a car seat. Soft baby carriers provide none of the protection that car seats provide.
Use only carriers that are appropriate for your baby’s age and weight. For example, frame backpacks can be useful for hiking with older babies and toddlers but are not appropriate for babies who cannot sit unassisted for extended periods of time. Front packs usually have a weight range of 8 to 20 pounds; smaller babies may slip out of the carrier, and larger babies will almost certainly cause back discomfort for the person using the carrier.
Guidelines for Everyday Safety
Inspect your carrier regularly to assure it is sound. Check the fabric, seams, and any buckles or other fasteners. Do this every time you use it to avoid complacency. How would you feel if the pilot on your next flight didn’t do his pre-flight check? Do not use a carrier unless it is structurally sound.
When using carriers out and about, check to assure that your baby is secure by using reflective surfaces such as car or store windows as mirrors, by double checking the baby’s position with your hands, or by enlisting the help of another set of eyes.
If you shouldn’t do it while pregnant because of an enhanced risk of falls, you shouldn’t do it while carrying a baby. For example, your risk of falling increases when you climb a ladder, ride a horse, ride a bicycle, or go skating. Your risk of falling also increases on slippery surfaces like the ones you encounter when you go bowling, sailing, or spelunking. When a baby is in his mother’s womb, he has built-in protection, but a baby in arms or in a carrier does not have that protection.
You’re walking for two! Avoid walking on icy surfaces. Whenever a handrail is available, use it. Be extra careful on steps and stairs. Avoid wearing things like high heels, long pants legs, thong sandals, or anything else that increases your risk of tripping.
If you should wear protective gear while doing an activity, you shouldn’t do that activity while carrying a baby. Baby carriers do not provide hearing protection, eye protection, protection from projectiles such as rocks flung from a lawn mower, protection from fumes or dust such as occur during lawn mowing and some household cleaning tasks, or protection from impacts such as falling from a bicycle or a horse.
Protect your baby from the elements. Little limbs and heads may need sun protection. Don’t dress your baby too warmly in the summer, and don’t use a baby carrier under circumstances that cause the baby to suffer heat stress. Don’t let your baby get too cold in the winter. (There are some excellent coats and ponchos designed especially for use with baby carriers, and you can also improvise or make your own.)
Be aware of your expanded girth. When carrying your baby, use extra caution negotiating revolving doors, turnstiles, sharp corners, and tight doorways (including those on public transportation). You need more personal space now to negotiate your safe passage when carrying your baby.
Be aware of what your baby can reach. In particular, be aware that a baby on your back can reach things you can’t see. Think twice before using a baby carrier in a hardware store, for example.
Don’t use your baby carrier as a purse. Some carriers have pockets to hold keys, wallets, and other items, but don’t put loose items in the carrier with your baby that can be choking hazards, that can poke your baby, or that can cover your baby’s face.
If it hurts, don’t do it. It is common to have tired muscles after carrying your baby for awhile; however, if carrying your baby with a certain carrier or in a certain position causes you pain, stop. Get professional help if you need it. Babywearing should be comfortable; pain is a certain sign that something is wrong. Either the carrier isn’t a good fit, the baby is too heavy, you’re not doing a technique correctly, or a combination of these factors.
Other Things to Consider:
Carrying a baby in arms or in a carrier is a task for a responsible adult who can assess risk in a mature way. Here are some things to consider about specific activities.
Cooking. Carrying a baby while cooking subjects the baby to an enhanced risk of burns. A baby in arms or in a carrier is at stovetop height, and burns can occur. Reaching into a hot oven while carrying a baby similarly puts the baby at risk for burns.
Boating. While it might seem more secure to use a baby carrier to board a small boat than to carry a baby in arms, the safer practice is to have the baby wear a personal flotation device. Personal flotation devices are generally not compatible with baby carriers. Moreover, if you fell into the water, having your baby securely held to your body by a baby carrier would be a grave danger.
Safety Guidelines for Learning New Carries
Most people easily learn front or hip carries, but when learning these carries you should still support your baby with your arm until you are confident that your baby is securely held in the carrier. Back carries are more challenging, but the reward is tremendous liberation and, for heavier babies and toddlers, greater comfort for the person carrying the child. These guidelines apply to all carries but are particularly important when learning back carries:
1. Practice with a doll or stuffed animal first. Understanding the instructions with your mind is just the first step; your body needs to understand them as well. Doing a few “dry runs” will help you build the muscle memory for doing a particular carry.
2. It is best to try a new carry with your baby when you are both well rested and generally content.
3. Use a spotter … but only another adult who accepts the responsibility of keeping your baby from falling. The spotter must be able to catch the baby at any instant if he or she should start to fall.
4. Use a mirror.
5. Start low. Most carries can be accomplished while sitting on the floor or bed. As you build muscle memory and confidence, you can move up, next lifting your baby onto your body from a bed or chair.
Copyright 2007-2010 Babywearing International of Birmingham (Magic City Slingers)