Babywearing is Safe

by Chrystal Johnson on March 19, 2010

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Babywearing is safe if done properly. That’s why the wording in the statement that came from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission irritates me so much. It’s very brief and doesn’t completely explain the full issue. Here’s the statement if you haven’t seen it:

“The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission is warning parents and caregivers to use extra caution when carrying infants younger than 4 months old in slings and make sure that an infant’s face is visible to baby wearers at all times.

When researching incident reports of sling use for the past 20 years, CPSC identified at least 14 babies who died since 1998 inside sling-style infant carriers. Three of those deaths were in 2009.

In the first few months of life, babies cannot control their heads because of weak neck muscles. When they are placed with their faces below the rim of a sling, they are not able to lift their heads to breathe. This can lead to two hazardous situations.

First, one particular risk occurs when the baby’s head is turned toward the adult. An infant’s nose and mouth can be pressed against the carrier and become blocked, preventing the baby from breathing. Suffocation can happen quickly, within a minute or two.

Second, when a baby lies in a sling, the fabric can push the baby’s head forward to its chest. Infants can’t lift their heads and free themselves to breathe. This curled, chin-to-chest position can partially restrict a baby’s airways, causing a baby to lose consciousness. The baby cannot cry out for help.”

In our culture of, “if it bleeds, it leads,” everyone jumped on the bandwagon… and suddenly it was all over the media that slings aren’t safe. And that translated into Babywearing isn’t safe. Which just isn’t true.

First, you should be aware that this warning really applies to “bag slings” like the Infantino Slingrider. A bag sling is a type of baby carrier where the baby lays in a C-like position and rides low on the parent, like how a purse or bag is worn (see picture at right).

Because the baby is worn low, it’s difficult for you to monitor your baby or be conscious of them. Bag slings are also dangerous because the baby is carried in a C-like position and the baby’s chin is pressed against his or her chest, which constricts breathing and can cause suffocation.

Second, 14 babies in 20 years? Really? While I would be absolutely devastated if I was one of those 14 families, many more babies die from other devices being used improperly. How many babies have died or been seriously injured because their car seat wasn’t installed properly? The point is, you need to be aware of and follow safety guidelines for any device you’re using with your baby.

Women have been using baby carriers safely for centuries. But that doesn’t mean that you can just plop your baby in a carrier and then ignore them. You should always be conscious of and connected to your baby. Babywearing is all about being closer to your baby.

While I’ve never been a sling wearer (I prefer wraps), I know many women who are. And they are all conscious of their babies and use the slings as they were intended. You can use a sling safely, but I would absolutely avoid the “bag slings” anyhow because their design is inherently unsafe (see tips below for selecting a safe baby carrier) and they don’t give you the full benefits of babywearing.

I’m not the only one upset by the wording in this statement. Several baby carrier manufacturers (including Hotslings, Maya Wrap, Moby Wrap, Wrapsody, Gypsymama, Together Be, Kangaroo Korner, Taylormade Slings, Scootababy, Bellala Baby, Catbird Baby, SlingEZee, ZoloWear, HAVA, SlingRings and Sakura Bloom) came together to put out this release. It gives a much better overview of the issue.

So if you’re new to babywearing, don’t shy away simply because of this one statement by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Get the facts and select a baby carrier that is safe and you feel comfortable with.

A few tips to help you select a safe baby carrier:

  1. Baby should be close enough to kiss.
  2. Baby should never have his chin resting on his chest.
  3. Baby’s head should be above the rest of her body.
  4. Baby’s knees should be higher than his butt.
  5. Baby’s face shouldn’t be covered by fabric.
  6. Baby’s head should be supported.

While these tips are valuable, a great resource for learning more about safe babywearing is thebabywearer.com.

How did the statement from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission make you feel?

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