Baby slings have become trendy over the past few years. Wearing your baby is not only convenient, it makes a statement to the world about being close to your child. But are baby slings safe? As it turns out, the answer to that question is not a simple one.
Dangers of Improper Usage
Slings seem harmless, but that isn’t always true. Bad products and improperly used products have resulted in some negative consequences. In fact, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) reported that between 1990 and 2010, 14 infants suffocated to death.
Yet the CPSC notes in their 2010 report about infant death: ”This warning is not intended to characterize all slings as being dangerous to babies.” Instead, the CPSC wishes to promote safe babywearing practices.
So why do people wear these things?
Believe it or not, baby wearing has a lot of benefits. Using a good baby sling can comfort your baby, and there’s research to indicate wearing a baby actually causes the baby to cry less. Holding your baby close “embodies the symbiotic relationship between mother and infant,” and infant carrying creates more secure attachment between mother and child. Baby wearing can even ease postpartum anxiety.
That’s a lot of good coming from a simple sling.
Plus, the slings are convenient. They free up your hands while keeping your baby close. They are also a lot easier to pack than a stroller.
In other words, wearing a sling is great, but you need to be cautious. You need to take steps to wear your sling correctly and to only use a safe, high-quality baby sling.
How to Wear a Sling Safely
When using a baby sling, be sure to do the following:
- Read the sling’s instructions. Don’t just assume that your baby fits the weight requirements of the sling; double-check.
- Keep your infant’s airway clear. You must ensure that the baby’s face is not covered by the sling's fabric or your body. You must also ensure that your baby’s head is not hunched over her chest, as this can result in an inability to breathe.
- The infant must be visible at all times. And you should be frequently checking on your infant to ensure her airway is not restricted.
- If you breastfeed your baby in the sling, change the baby’s head position when you are done so that the baby’s head is facing up (clear of both the sling and your body). This ensures that the baby can breathe freely.
- When you bend with the sling on, bend with the knees instead of the waist.
- Watch out for wear on your sling. Never use a broken sling.
- Use common sense. It doesn’t always make sense to carry your infant in a sling; think before you act.
- Don’t use second-hand slings.
Preemies, twins, infants in fragile health, and babies who have low weight are at higher risk in a sling than other babies. So be extra cautious if your baby fits one of those descriptions and consult your pediatrician.
Not all baby slings are created equal.
The reality is that some baby slings are safer than others. When picking a baby sling, you should always be looking for the following:
- Good visibility
- Upright resting position
- Ease of use
- Proper positioning on body
Having good visibility means that you should always be able to see your baby's face. You should be able to check your child frequently, without hassle, and without opening up the fabric.
A sling allows for an upright resting position if it keeps the baby’s head and chest upright and keeps the baby’s airway open. If the baby's airway is restricted (perhaps by the baby's chin being forced down upon her chest), then the baby may not be able to breathe.
Ease of use is not just a matter of convenience; it matters for safety. You need a sling that makes it easy to do the right thing with your baby. You don’t want to be messing with complex buckle systems or difficult slings when you should be focusing on ensuring your baby is upright and facing forward.
Your baby sling is in the proper position if your baby is held against your chest. If the sling results with the baby low on your hips, then there’s a problem.
We recommend the Peanut Shell Adjustable Sling for safety-conscious parents. This is the sling we use with our daughter; it meets every one of the safety metrics mentioned above.
Whatever your choice of sling, remember that caution and common sense are your friends. And if you aren’t sure how to safely proceed, consult your baby’s pediatrician.
Photos courtesy of Consumer Product Safety Commission.