Baby carriers and slings: Choosing a sling or baby carrier Baby sling safety
Regardless of the baby sling or carrier you choose, there are pros and cons to carrying your baby in different ways, as well as important safety considerations to be aware of.
Below we explain what you need to know about sling safety. If you don't yet own a baby carrier or sling, you can find out which are the best baby carriers and slings by checking out our test results. If you're not yet a member you can access all of our reviews, from child car seats to washing machines, with a £1 trial subscription to Which?.
Baby sling safety
In March 2010, baby company Infantino recalled two of its bag-style baby slings – the SlingRider and Wendy Bellissimo sling – following three infant deaths in the US.
The US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is currently investigating a further 11 deaths associated with sling-style infant carriers from the past 20 years and has issued a general safety warning about the use of infant slings for babies younger than four months of age.
The safety warning advises parents on the importance of knowing how to wear a baby sling properly. The CPSC recommends parents vigilantly check their baby's face isn't covered up and is always visible. It also advises to change the baby's position after feeding so their head faces up and is clear of the sling and the mother's body.
We've taken this diagram from the CPSC to demonstrate how to wear a baby sling properly :
According to Which? baby products expert Lizzy Ruffles: 'These tragic cases reported in the US show just how important it is for parents to practice caution when using baby slings, or indeed any other baby product. You should always follow manufacturers' instructions carefully to ensure you're using an item correctly and safely, and keep a close eye on your child at all times.'
Wearing a baby sling
The UK Sling Manufacturers and Retailers consortium recommends that baby sling wearers follow the 'TICKS' rule for safe use:
Baby slings should be tight enough to keep your baby close to your body.
In view at all times
Your baby's face should be visible simply by glancing down.
Close enough to kiss
Position your baby as close to your chin as possible – a good test is to see whether you can bend down to kiss your baby's head or forehead.
Keep chin off the chest
Ensure there's always a space of at least a finger width between your baby's chin and chest, allowing your baby to breathe easily.
A young baby should be held comfortably close to the baby sling wearer so their back is supported in its natural position, with their tummy and chest against you.
Most of the mums we talked to mentioned that as their baby got older she became more interested in the world around her and wanted to be able to see and interact with other people. We received lots of feedback that the babies in our trial liked a carrier that gives them the opportunity to face the direction that the parent is walking.
Some slings and carriers can be used like backpacks so that your baby faces forward, but there is some discussion on internet forums over whether front carriers with forward-facing positions offer correct leg and spine support for a growing baby.
We were unable to find any published medical studies that suggest that front-facing baby carrying causes hip and spinal problems. The only types of baby carrier that have been shown to cause hip and back damage are Native American papooses and Inuit cradle boards. Incorrect swaddling is also emerging as a cause of hip dysplasia. In all three cases the infant's legs are forced straight down and kept immobile for long periods of time.
We contacted the Royal College of Midwives to ask if this was an issue that they were investigating and were told that they were aware of no evidence to support the view that front-facing baby carriers cause hip and/or spine problems. They did, however, emphasise that proper support is most vital when the baby is unable to support the weight of his head - they recommended that you do not use the forward-facing position before your baby can hold his head and shoulders up on his own. Otherwise you should allow your baby to move his arms and legs freely and make sure the baby is not held in any stationary position for too long.
We also discussed this issue with children’s product experts from other consumer organisations. Our Scandinavian colleagues were surprised that this was an issue, as it is not something that has come up in their countries, despite the fact that forward-facing babywearing has been common for 30 years. Scandinavians are enthusiastic babywearers and carriers with the front-facing position are common. The only issue our colleagues were aware of as a topic for debate was 'how tight is tight enough?' to wear your baby.
Most of the comments against forward-facing baby wearing seem to stem from a German book by Dr E.Kirkilionis about baby-wearing, in which the author says that she saw a front-facing carrier with the baby's legs hanging down and didn't like the look of it, mostly because babies could become over stimulated, but also because of lack of support for the legs. That book is based on research carried out in the 1980s, which Dr Kirkilionis used in her thesis 'Unfounded fear of postural damage by carrying'.
Baby-carrier design has moved on since the 1980s - partly because of the concerns raised about correct support. Some manufacturers who offer forward-facing carriers are aware that this is an issue of concern for parents. They seek to calm their worries by working on product development with physicians who vouch that a forward-facing position is not detrimental to development once a baby is old enough to support the weight of her head and shoulders.
Baby sling and carrier comfort
Comfort for you
- You'll be more comfortable if your baby’s weight is held high and close against your body.
- Broad straps distribute your baby’s weight more evenly across your back, making it more comfortable than those with thinner straps.
- Baby carriers that hang from your shoulders can be very uncomfortable when worn for long periods, even with a newborn.
- If you plan to do a lot of walking, a sling or carrier with a waist or hip belt will help redistribute the weight of your baby.
Comfort for your baby
The sling or carrier should hold your baby close against your body with support right along the length of the spine (especially for a newborn). Alternatively, many slings and baby carriers can be used in a cradle position for newborns so they can recline in the sling.