Sling Shots: The Safety of Baby Wearing
There is a scene in the 2009 film Away We Go, an under-the-radar film about impending parenthood, involving the benevolent gift of a stroller presented to two sanctimonious parents, who would rather carry their baby until their spinal column crumpled before they would ever consider the use of a stroller in their parenting regimen. “I love my babies,” insists the character LN (played by Maggie Gyllenhaal) after receiving the objectionable gift, “Why would I want to push them away from me?!!” This tense, but comic, exchange was presented to illustrate the sometimes drastic differences between parenting ideologies. For many, dropping your infant into a stroller provides a much-needed brake from carrying around 20lbs of human all day. For others, wearing your child, close to your heart in a sling, is the definition of attachment parenting.
Now in the real world the debate of whether to “wear your baby” or push your baby is hardly this heated or contentious. The majority of cultures throughout the world practice (and have since the dawn of time) some form of baby wearing, whether it is carrying your baby in a sling contraption or possibly the more restrictive (and somewhat controversial) Native American approach of cradle boarding. But in the United States, strollers have been the popular option for years, with slings and baby carriers relegated to the minority. That has changed over the past few years with a greater number of parents opting for slings, Baby Bjorns, and all manner of innovative baby-wearing gear. But a recent warning from the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) regarding a particular style of sling (best known as “bag slings”) has put doubt and dread into the heart of many parents of newborns.
The CPSC claims that there is a significant risk of slings suffocating infants who are younger than four months old, and that caution should be used when carrying babies of this age group in slings. The CPSC is investigating at least 14 deaths associated with sling-style infant carriers, including three in 2009.
According to the CPSC press release, Slings can pose two different types of suffocation hazards to babies. In the first few months of life, babies cannot control their heads because of weak neck muscles. The sling’s fabric can press against an infant’s nose and mouth, blocking the baby’s breathing and rapidly suffocating a baby within a minute or two. Additionally, where a sling keeps the infant in a curled position bending the chin toward the chest, the airways can be restricted, limiting the oxygen supply. The baby will not be able to cry for help and can slowly suffocate.
Now before you hide your sling away with all of your sharp knives and prescription drugs, as scary as these findings are, a little common sense and a fair amount of vigilance will more than likely keep your baby safe and keep you from going insane with fear. The reputable Mothering magazine has responded to the CPSC’s warning with a sober and measured perspective. Essentially baby wearing is safe, but some slings and positions are decidedly not.
Mothering has posted the following guidelines and tips regarding safe baby wearing on their website:
1. Only choose a sling that allows you to see your baby’s face
2. Be sure baby is not curled up tightly, chin to chest. This position can restrict breathing, especially in newborns or in infants who cannot yet hold up their heads.
3. Make sure that the sling fabric is “breathable,” and keep baby’s face clear of fabric.
4. Do not press baby’s face tightly against the sling wearer’s body.
5. Position the baby’s face upward.
6. Reposition baby if there are any signs of respiratory difficulty: rapid or labored breathing, grunting or sighing with every breath, restlessness.
While I refuse to be smug about this warning, and feel all warnings regarding child safety should be taken seriously, I don’t feel like this news is a baby-wearing deal breaker. Instead it is just another invitation to be a little more aware and vigilant when it comes to wearing and caring for your child.
Any thoughts on the safety or necessity of baby wearing? Has anyone had any negative experiences with wearing or carrying their infants? Are strollers a safer and more sensible alternative?