When my twin daughters were born, one of the most pressing concerns was the issue of transportation: how on earth was I supposed to carry two demanding newborns at once? The solution came in the form of a thoughtful gift from an experienced mom — a soft cloth sling that allowed me to carry one infant in my arms and keep the other snuggled in the carrier.
I soon discovered that the baby who was in the sling was almost always happy, and readily fell asleep in short order. Maybe it was the familiar sound of my heartbeat or the swaying movements of my body, but I soon became a fan of that sling. In fact, when my third daughter was born, the sling allowed me to keep her close while freeing up my hands for my other children.
Now, more than a decade later, more parents than ever have embraced the idea of “babywearing” (having an infant or toddler in a carrier). But with so many companies making their own versions of these carriers, there has been some recent concern about the safety of slings, particularly for infants under the age of 4 months.
In March, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission issued a warning stating that, in the past 20 years, it had identified 14 deaths associated with sling-style infant carriers. The commission noted that fabric from certain slings could cover a baby’s face, leading to suffocation. As well, “bag” style carriers could keep infants in a curled position, with the chin towards the chest, which could restrict the airways.
Most of the babies who died in the slings were either premature, low birth weight or had breathing issues, such as a cold. However, the Commission did prepare diagrams and a video to show parents safe babywearing positions. This information is available at www.cpsc.gov (type “sling” into the search function).
Betsy Thomas, owner of the Bummis stores in Pointe Claire Village and the Plateau, has been selling slings for years. She says parents interested in babywearing should take their time, try out different models and ask lots of questions.
Most slings come with a detailed instruction booklet or DVD. Make sure to ask the sales person to show you how to put it on, get your baby in and out and adjust positions.
“My advice is to try it out at home. Make sure your baby is well fed and not fussy, put on some soft baby music and just play around with different positions until you’ve got it,” Thomas says.
And don’t be shy to go back to the store for more information. Thomas says the staff at Bummis is always willing to help parents, regardless of where a sling was purchased. “Parents can always come by our stores. I don’t care what type of sling they have. We’ll help them if we know how.”
Moms experienced with the use of slings are also good resources for new parents. And there are plenty of online resources with descriptions, instructions and support. After the first couple of times, putting baby in the sling should feel easy and natural.
“New parents can be a little scared of it, but you have to be aware that new babies are so soft and pliable, and this is like being held close in the womb,” Thomas says.
Here are some websites where you can learn more about using baby carriers.
This site offers lots of instructions, photos and ideas for babywearing.
The Mamatoto Project offers detailed instructions on babywearing, printable instructions, books on related topics and the option of shopping online.
This French-language website explains the different types of slings available, with pictures and helps walk you through the decision-making process.
This Canadian manufacturer of cotton slings offers pictures, explanations and various options for carriers, slings and wraps.
5 tips for safe babywearing
Baby carriers allow you to keep your infant close — and free up your hands to do other things. But make sure you keep baby safe by following these tips from Babywearing International, a non-profit organization that promotes the benefits of carrying your little one.
- Never carry a baby in a position where his chin is curled against his chest. This position can restrict a baby’s ability to breathe and newborns lack the muscle control to lift their heads, thus opening their airways.
- Don’t allow baby’s head or face to be covered with fabric, as this can seriously restrict airflow.
- Only use carriers that are appropriate for your baby’s age and weight. For example, backpacks are usually recommended for older babies and toddlers, but not for babies who cannot sit unassisted.
- Never use a baby carrier in place of a car seat when driving.
- Always inspect a carrier for signs of wear before using it. Make sure all buckles and fasteners work properly.