Q. I’m desperate to have my hands free while I take care of my three-month-old son, but I’ve heard slings can be dangerous. Is there a type of sling or wrap I can use so I can get a few things done during the day?
A. What a smart momma you are to seek a solution to your challenge of getting daily tasks done while still being able to tend to your baby.
Baby-wearing, as it’s called in the attachment-parenting world, can be an excellent solution. Infant slings, wraps and carriers have been used for thousands of years in cultures around the world. In addition to freeing up both hands, baby-wearing provides many benefits to the baby, including promoting a positive bond between child and parent. And, according to anthropologists who travel the world studying infant-care practices in other cultures, infants in baby-wearing cultures cry much less.
Having used a sling with both of my children, it’s one of the essential items I keep in my “postpartum doula kit” to use while working with clients. I like to be able to model to new parents how to get chores done – like laundry, for instance – while still meeting the needs of the baby via safe sling use. And, during the busy holiday season when families are traveling or entertaining visitors, wearing your baby can make the difference between a content baby or one who's melting down!
Which brings me to your question about using a sling safely. The primary concern for babies in slings is suffocation. Therefore, proper positioning is critical. When using any type of infant carrier, choosing one that allows you to position the child according to age and level of head control and body strength is preferable, according to Raleigh chiropractor Donna Hedgepeth, DC, DACCP. She finds the carriers that meet these requirements, as well as those that work best for every body type and are most user-friendly, are the wraps and soft-structure carriers.
According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), some slings tend to keep an infant in a curled, chin-to-chest position, which can interfere with breathing. When an infant is in the chin-to-chest position or is contained entirely within the pouch of a sling with their face, including nose and mouth, pressed against the adult’s body, suffocation can occur.
The CPSC has information on their website about safe baby-wearing practices as well as recalled products. Their child safety experts have determined that parents with infants younger than four months of age, premature, low-birth weight babies, and babies with colds and respiratory problems should take extra care in using a sling, including consulting their pediatrician.
Read the above statement carefully. The CPSC is not saying NOT to use a sling with a 3 month old, but to take extra care in proper use of the sling or carrier. “Slings should be used with caution in the first few months of your baby’s life,” said Heather Burns, former owner of SmartMomma in Raleigh. “The general rule to using a sling with a newborn is that the baby should be somewhat upright, visible and kissable,” she explains. This means you should be able to bow your head and kiss the top of your baby’s head without bending your back. “You do not want to put a baby in a sling that is low hanging or has a lot of extra fabric, as this is not safe and can impede your baby’s breathing,” Burns cautioned.
I’ve found from both personal experience and with my clients that there may be a bit of a learning curve. Though some of the carriers on the market come with DVDs or other instructions, it may be well worth your time and money to seek guidance from an expert, like a postpartum doula, chiropractor or retailer who sells them. We even have babywearing classes available in the Triangle.
While getting used to wearing your baby, support him with your hands. Soon enough you’ll be a baby-wearing veteran and can safely carry your baby (and then toddler) in the sling with one or both hands free. In the meantime, do not wear baby while cooking or working with sharp or hot objects. Do not drink hot beverages when wearing baby, and be mindful of baby’s head and arms when going through doorways and around corners. Never ride a bicycle or other moving vehicle while wearing your baby. Baby carriers are not substitutes for approved car seats.
CPSC recommends that parents and caregivers:
o Make sure you can see your baby’s face or eyes in the sling and that your baby can see you. Also, you should place the baby’s face at or above the rim of a sling or wrap so that their face is visible.
o After nursing your baby, change the baby’s position in the sling, so that the baby’s face is at or above the rim of a sling or wrap and that their face is visible and clear of fabric and the mother’s body. You should be vigilant about frequently checking the baby in a sling.
This warning is not intended to characterize all slings as being dangerous to babies. CPSC has identified (1) specific situations that can pose a risk of serious harm to babies, and (2) simple safety tips that we hope the baby-wearing community can share with new parents.