How to use a baby sling safely

New US guidelines for baby slings make it easier for parents to understand how to position baby properly.

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When Amelia James was pregnant with her first child, she knew that she wanted to purchase a snuggly baby sling that she could use to wear her baby as she walked around her neighbourhood or cleaned her house.

Hand holding a dropper attached to a pacifier in front of a pink background 25 baby care hacks for first-time parentsAfter her son arrived though, and she slipped him into the soft baby sling a friend had recommended, she started to feel nervous about how he was positioned. “The first time we put him in the carrier he just looked so small and he kept slipping down in a way that made him seem a little cramped.”  After consulting a few YouTube videos and working with her husband to understand how to properly position her son, she began to feel confident about how her baby looked and felt in the sling, and spent several months with him wrapped against her for at least a few hours a day.

Like Amelia, many parents look forward to the comfort and convenience of baby wearing but, once their newborn arrives, they’re not quite sure how to do it safely.

Are baby slings safe?

Baby wearing has been practiced across cultures for centuries and has serious benefits for both the baby and the wearer. When practiced correctly, baby wearing can promote a healthy breastfeeding relationship, improve bonding and help parents stay hands-free so they can get tasks around the house done.

But baby sling carriers, when used incorrectly, can lead to serious injury or even death for the baby involved. (More on correct use later.) Between January 2003 and September 2016, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) received 159 reports of safety incidents involving sling carriers. These reports included 67 injuries and 17 deaths. In most cases of serious injury or death, the infant in the carrier somehow became unable to breath.

New baby sling safety guidelines

Now new US federal guidelines designed to make using a baby sling safer, and to help parents feel more comfortable doing it, have gone into effect. As of February 1, 2018, all manufactured or imported baby slings must meet the new safety standards as recommended by the CPSC.

The new guidelines require that all slings include permanently affixed warning labels and that they come with clear, detailed instructions for use. The warning labels must share the suffocation hazards posed by slings and the steps caregivers can take to prevent suffocation. Additionally, the instructions for use must include visual aids, such as diagrams, to help parents understand how to properly position their baby in the sling.

In addition to specifying what information should be carried on warning labels and within the instructions for use, the new federal guidelines also impact the durability and strength of the impacted slings. All slings manufactured or imported after February 1, 2018 must have the capacity to carry up to three times the manufacturer’s maximum weight recommendation and be durable enough to avoid tears, separation at the seams or breakage of the hardware with normal use.

Bonnie Stafford, a certified master baby wearing educator and president of the Charlotte, NC chapter of Babywearing International, spends her time helping parents safely and confidently wear their babies. Bonnie says that parents can ensure their baby is safely positioned by placing them in the carrier in a way that mimics how they carry them in their arms. “We instinctively know how to safely carry our babies in our arms,” says Stafford. “We carry baby high on our chest so that we can interact with them and monitor their breathing.  We support baby’s back with our arms to keep them from slumping down and restricting their airway.  We support their legs and hips so they are comfortable and not at risk of falling, and we support their heads until they gain good head control.  A baby carrier should be no different.”

When it comes to the new guidelines, “the regulations affect the way slings are manufactured, tested, and labeled and they were written by a committee made up of baby wearing educators and manufacturers,” says Stafford. They’re also a result of the Infantino SlingRider recall of more than a million slings in 2010, a model which featured thick padding and high-walled satchel. “There were many educators in the community who knew these carriers were unsafe and were advocating for them to be taken off the market,” says Stafford. “There were even some who were doing research to prove it, including monitoring oxygen levels to show babies were not getting enough oxygen while being worn in this style of carrier.  Unfortunately, no one paid them any attention until it was too late.”

How to use a baby sling safely

While most slings are designed for use with babies who are as small as 8lbs, the CPSC recommends extra caution and care when using a sling with a baby younger than 4 months old. Babies this young typically lack the strength and ability to hold up their heads and are more susceptible to accidental positional suffocation, both in and out of a sling, than older babies.

To properly carry your baby in a sling, always make sure your baby’s face is not covered and is visible to you at all times, says Karla Crosswhite, a spokesperson from the CPSC. “If you’re nursing the baby in a sling, change the baby’s position after feeding so the baby’s head is facing up and is clear of the sling and the mother’s body.”

It’s also important to frequently check the baby in a sling, says Crosswhite. Be vigilant to ensure nothing is blocking baby’s nose and mouth, and baby’s chin is away from its chest. If parents are at all concerned about how to position their newborn or older baby correctly in a sling, they should reach out to their local chapter of Babywearing International for guidance.

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