Are baby carriers and baby slings safe?
Whether you're using a sling or carrier, or are new to both, you will need to make sure you're informed about how to carry your baby safely and comfortably. Below we run through the main safety check points for both slings and carriers, and what you need to know to keep your baby safe.
Baby sling safety
Baby carrier safety
The ABC principles from Babywearing International for carrying your baby safely in a front or back carrier are also very useful to keep in mind.
Airways: Make sure your baby always has a clear and open airway by keeping their chin off their chest, and allowing space for air to circulate around their face. Keep your baby high enough on your chest so that you can kiss the top of their head, and so that you can monitor their breathing and keep them in an upright position.
Body positioning: It's important that the baby's spine is supported adequately and that their legs aren't dangling: the baby's knees should be propped up higher than their bum and slightly bent (known as the 'M', 'squat' or 'frog' position).
Comfort: It's important to look out for your baby's comfort as well as your own at all times. Practise all carrying positions – especially back carries – with someone else to help you until you're confident.
Dr Rosie Knowles of the Sheffield Sling Surgery and author of 'Why Babywearing Matters', explains that babies are born in tucked positions and maintain a gentle curve to their spines for several months after birth. That's why the M shape or 'squat position' (which also looks like a 'J' position in profile) is a more stable position for a young baby, and also helps them to keep their chest and chin in the right position for their airway. This is especially important for babies under three or four months old.
Whether or not to use a carrier that allows babies to face outwards is an issue that causes a lot of controversy. Here we look briefly at the issues surrounding forward-facing, but the most important thing to remember is that if you do decide to have your baby forward-facing, you must not do so until they have adequate head and neck control. This may be around four months old, but could be much later, especially if your baby was premature or has low muscle tone. And you should follow the instructions given by the baby carrier manufacturer; some may only recommend this position from five months or older, or they may suggest that you only put them in this position for limited periods of time.
Generally there are two main reasons given why forward-facing is not appropriate for babies.
1) Hip and spine positioning
A majority of high street carriers that allow facing outwards don't allow babies to be held in the 'M' position in this mode, and there has been concern that this could be harmful to hip and spine development. There is little evidence that this position will cause damage to a baby with healthy development and hip sockets, but it could potentially be detrimental to those with undiagnosed hip dysplasia.
However, it would seem to be common sense that any baby will be more comfortable in a front-facing carrier that does offer a wider seating position, rather than all the baby's weight being concentrated on their groin, and in recognition of this, there are now several carriers on the market that offer a wider base for the baby to sit on even when facing out.
2) Over-stimulation/sensory overload
This is obviously a difficult thing to quantify, but many sling and baby carrier experts believe that being turned away from a parent to face the world for prolonged periods of time can be overwhelming for a young baby.
On the flip side, some babies will enjoy the experience of interacting with the world in a different way. Probably the most sensible advice to follow if you want to carry your baby like this is to be alert to your baby's cues and not keep them forward facing for too long (especially at first). Always turn them around to sleep as they will not be supported enough to sleep comfortably, or safely, in this position.
Cradle carrying is not recommended, as the baby's head may become bent forward and compress their airway. Most reputable manufacturers will not recommend you carry your baby in this way.
Bag-style baby slings, where the baby is positioned lying down against the carrier's body, have been implicated in the deaths of several babies in the USA.
Are baby slings and carriers bad for your back?
As with anything, you just need to know how to use them correctly and make sure you follow the instructions and these tips:
- 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.
- If you plan to do a lot of walking, a sling or carrier with a waist or hip belt may help redistribute the weight of your baby.
- You might find carrying your baby on your back more comfortable for long periods of carrying, especially when they are older and heavier. But make sure you follow the manufacturer's instructions as to the age-appropriateness for this position.