Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Yes, slings are safe!

Once in a while, when we're showing prospective parents the various slings we sell, someone will ask "Do babies ever fall out of the slings?", to which I generally reply "Yes, all the time, but don't tell anyone, it's bad for business!" Of course, I'm kidding, and parents always know that (hey, it's a good icebreaker!), however, I may want to reconsider that reply given the impending warning from the US Consumer Product Safety Commission regarding the safety of baby slings.

It's a sad fact of life that accidents happen. Over the past 11 years, seven babies have died, and 37 babies have been injured as a result of being worn in a sling. Yes, these are terrible circumstances for any parent to face, however, it is important to put it into context -- millions of babies have otherwise been worn safely. At this point, little is known about the particular carriers used in these incidents, or the specific circumstances, however, a general warning about the safety of baby slings will undoubtedly have a negative impact on the entire industry. If the CPSC is going to issue a general warning about baby slings as a result of seven deaths over an 11 year period, perhaps they should ban bicycles outright, given that in 2008 alone, 18 children between the ages of 0 and 9 were killed in biking accidents, and 2,000 were injured. Come to think of it, they might want to ban cars too -- in 2008, an average of four children under the age of 15 were killed every day in motor vehicle crashes. Yes, it's a ludicrous suggestion, but to label an entire group of products as unsafe because of a few isolated incidents is just as ludicrous.

Rather than scaring parents away from a product that, when used properly, can enrich the parent-child bond, focusing on safety would be a more beneficical approach, encouraging parents to develop responsible babywearing habits. What can you do to ensure you are wearing your baby safely?

  • purchase a baby sling made by a company who specializes in baby slings, not a company who specializes in shopping cart covers, playmats, potties, etc.
  • buy a reputable sling. That $20 Mei Tai you've been eyeing on Etsy? It's true, you get what you pay for.
  • purchase your baby sling from a store that has staff trained to use slings properly -- DVDs are nice, but nothing beats in-person instruction.
  • read or watch any instructional materials that come with your sling -- they're there for a reason!
  • when you're wearing your baby, you should always be able to see his mouth and nose - they should not be pressed against your body, or obscured by fabric.
  • if you bend over while you are wearing your baby, keep one hand on your baby.
  • if you are wearing your baby under your jacket, do not zip your jacket up all the way to your neck -- leave your jacket partially open to ensure adequate air flow.
  • the baby's chin should not be touching his chest -- you should be able to fit two fingers between his chin and his chest.
  • when you are learning to put your baby on your back, do it over a soft surface, like a bed, and have someone spot you.
  • use common sense. Don't wear your baby when you're tending to a hot stove. Don't chop vegetables while you're wearing your baby on your front in a sling. Don't ride a bike while you're babywearing. Don't put your baby in harm's way!

With respect to newborns, proper positioning is key, this article does a great job of illustrating what is safe, and what is unsafe -- even if you're expecting baby #2, #3, or #4 (or #5, Donna!), it's always a good idea to refresh your memory.

We have four kids who have all been worn from infancy through toddlerhood. Babywearing has made my life easier, when I say it's the one baby product I could never live without, I'm not kidding. The fact that babies have died or been injured in slings is heartbreaking, but it is a very (very!) rare occurrence. When practiced properly, babywearing is a safe, rewarding experience for both parent and child.


  1. When looking at the design of the particular sling that spurred the overly-expansive CPSC warning, I can't help but wonder about the build of the mothers in the asphyxiation incidents.

    It seems particularly ill-designed for women with larger breasts - I would imagine that the opening in the pouch would be covered/overhung significantly by anyone with anything larger than a D cup. That said, the design of that particular "sling" seems to be rather nutty in general (IMO). It looks uncomfortably low, unsupportive for both parent and child, and pretty limited in its usefulness.

    Baby carriers make so much sense and if a sling is what works for you and your baby, then that's what you should be using. There are so many tried and proven carriers on the market -- why go for the gimmicky "sold at XX chainstore" wonder of the moment carrier? It really won't save any money in the long run (I know -- btdt), and you'll be much happier purchasing one from someone who uses them and knows how to help you select what is best for you.

  2. I loved wearing and holding my babies in those early months (and to those of you who think this is coddling, do you really think that you can spoil a newborn?) but as my husband and I had more kids, sometimes you needed your hands and had a baby that needed soothing.