Whatever type of carrier you choose you need to feel confident that your baby is safe. But this isn’t as simple as you might think.
For goodness sake use your common sense! Don’t babywear when you’re drunk or too tired or ill or if you have an injury. If you aren’t confident that baby is secure don’t use that carry or carrier. (Take heart and keep practising though, I thought I’d never master back wrapping – and now, well I’m no expert, but little Miss will happily snooze up there!) In the early days of baby wearing a “spotter” to help and check you over is a blessing – but a mirror and lots of practise with a teddy will also do the trick!
Useful advice on safe and comfortable baby wearing comes from the UK Sling Manufacturers and Retailers Consortium – who advise following the “TICKS” rule for safe baby wearing:
T – Tight – the carrier should always be fastened and baby secured tightly. You don’t need to be cutting off their blood supply, but, like the straps on a car seat or buggy they need to be tight and secure to do their job.
I – In view at all times – if you can see your baby you can see they are OK, and they are not being suffocated or having their oxygen levels reduced by cloth around them.
C – Close enough to kiss – they are more secure, and safer when you can lean down to kiss them, it suggested they are hugged to you.
K – Keep chin off the chest – if a baby’s head tilts forward with the chin on the chest – something that can easily happen with a floppy headed newborn – there is an increast risk of low oxygen supply and asphyxiation. (It’s the same reason they don’t recommend you let your baby sleep in a car seat for long periods). If you can insert a finger easily under their chin you know they are fine.
S – Supported back. Babies have a naturally curved spine, so this isn’t about keeping their back straight or lying them flat, but about holding them in a way that gently support them. If you hold a baby (without a sling) upright against your chest, they will naturally fall in a curved back, froggy legged position, and a good carrier will support this natural position.
You can read more detail about each of these rules here: http://www.babyslingsafe.com
A safety issue not covered by TICKS is baby’s temperature. If you are wearing them close to you then your body heat will help them to regulate their temperature, they will not need to be dressed in three layers plus a snowsuit the way they might in a pram. Hands and feet are not good ways to measure their temperature, chest and back will give you a much better sense of how warm or cold they are. If you use a frame backpack style carrier you must remember that they can get cold though – you may be working up a sweat carrying them, but they are exposed and away from your body, so very vulnerable to the cold. Sun is also a risk – remember to sunscreen your baby’s feet in summer!
BAG SLINGS – Don’t use them!
This is pretty much the only type of sling I would just categorically say you shouldn’t use. There are others I would not consider “ideal” and there are pros and cons to every type. But bags have actually been linked to cases of baby death and are not safe.
A couple of years back there was a major Infantino recall: http://www.infantino.com/customer-care/recall/slingrider/uk/index.cfm for this style of sling. There are several concerns:
- That the baby is not visible, and therefore it is less obvious if something is wrong.
- That the fabric of the sling could cover the baby’s mouth and cause suffocation.
- That the enclosed nature of the “bag” could reduce the amount of oxygen reaching the baby.
- The curved posture (C position) of a young baby (with limited head and neck control) in such a sling could cause asphyxia. This is for the same reason that small babies should not be left to sleep for long periods in a car seat or swing – the curving of the neck and spine and weight of their head may reduce their ability to breathe.
This article explains these issues in greater detail: http://www.sleepingbaby.net/safety.php Please note however, that there is a difference between a “bag” sling and a “pouch” sling. More on different types of carriers can be found here.
The Integrity of your carrier.
The integrity of your carrier is important. You need to be able to trust it to hold your child and not to fail at a vital moment. But safety testing is not necessarily that helpful for several reasons.
- Testing is voluntary, and expensive. This means that many smaller sling manufacturers may not have had their products tested – and this does NOT mean they are making poor products.
- Those who do choose to pay for testing may make a superior product specifically for the tests. I would like to think no one would be that cynical, but it is worth being aware of the possibility.
- Testing will not replicate real life – this can be both good and bad. For example – many stretchy wraps are described as suitable to 35lb – which means the fabric is tested and will not fail when carrying that weight. BUT the stretchy qualities of the wrap mean it will be both less comfortable and potentially less safe with a larger baby, even when well within the upper limit.
But if I don’t trust the testing what can I trust?!
I’m not actually saying don’t trust testing, but be aware that there are shortcomings to it. Online feedback is a great place to start. If you are buying from a small company or WAHM then Facebook Sling Groups (such as Babywearing FSOT or Slings and Things FSOT) are a good place to start. The Natural Mamas Forum also has a reviews section for WAHM carrier makers and you can find some excellent advice there.
Meanwhile, we as parents have a responsibility. When you buy a new carrier (brand new, or new to you) give it a thorough check. If it has stitching, for example straps on a mei tai or buckled carrier check that there are several rows of stitching and that the straps are deeply embedded and reinforced in the carrier. Check buckles themselves for wear and tear and damage. If you have a wrap check it regularly for pulls or broken threads. These things can often be fixed, but if left you might end up with holes which cannot be mended. Make sure you check your carriers regularly, and make sure you are aware of how best to care for them (for example, woven wraps need special care when washing, as a bare minimum you should be avoiding fabric softeners and optical brighteners, but depending on the fabric you may need to take extra care.)