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.