There's been some media buzz recently about the safety of baby slings and reported suffocations in slings. Being a "slinger," I wanted to check out the details and see what the safety concerns were. I found out that the Consumer Product Safety Commission issued a statement Friday reminding parents to use caution when using slings with infants. Slings can pose a suffocation risk when the fabric blocks the child's airways, when the child is pressed against the adult, blocking the airway, or when the infant's chin is presses against her chest, limiting air intake. In the past 20 years, 14 infants have died while being worn in slings. Interestingly, of the 14 infant deaths, 12 were younger than 4 months and most were either a low-birthweight twin, born prematurely, or had breathing issues such as a cold. Parents are encouraged to use caution when carrying an infant in a sling, and safe carrying positions are listed in the statement. Here are the illustrations explaining safe and unsafe holds in a sling:
First, I want to say that every one of those deaths is absolutely tragic. The parents were, I'm sure, doing what they believed to be best for their baby. I can't imagine the guilt resulting from such an unfortunate loss, and my heart goes out to each of those families.
When I started wearing Tye in our ring sling, we tried the cradle hold (the hold illustrated correctly and incorrectly above), but Tye just didn't care for it. She much preferred to be held upright, curled in her little ball with her legs tucked up to her tummy. We were able to carry her high on our chests in this upright position because we used a ring sling, which is highly adjustable. Tye was able to be held in the sling in the same position she preferred being carried out of the sling. Her chin didn't touch her chest because her head was propped against our upper chest. I was always highly aware of Tye's face and airways, and she never looked to be in an uncomfortable position.
While there aren't details listed in the report about what type of slings were considered to be the most dangerous, I suspect that the non-adjustable slings have the most potential for allowing the child to slump into a dangerous position because they don't provide adjustable support for the child or the wearer. Some, especially "bag slings," have very little support for the infant and are even marketed with photos of women wearing the sling in positions that encourage the child to slump into that dangerous "C" position, curling the infant's head to her chest and limiting air flow.
When I was pregnant, I was given a Hotsling. It came with a DVD about wearing the sling, including video instructions for putting the child into the sling and wearing it safely (although Tye didn't care for it as an infant). I wonder how many people bother watching the DVD, and even scarier, how many slings are sold without directions. Our Sakura Bloom ring sling came with a photo booklet and links to online videos, which I watched. What really worked for us, though, was just using the ring sling to hold her in her favorite in-arms position. We knew Tye was happy in her favorite position, and we were able to go about our other business with her cuddled against our chests.
My ring sling is still one of the things I couldn't imagine parenting without. In light of the suffocation risks of slings, I'm very glad the Consumer Product Safety Commission is issuing warnings to parents, but I hope that it doesn't snowball into anti-sling hype. Wearing an infant is extremely beneficial for both the baby and the parent, promoting bonding, encouraging breastfeeding on demand, providing a feeling of security for the infant, and allowing the parent to accomplish tasks with two hands while keeping baby close. My sling has been a lifesaver, allowing me to travel, complete household tasks, and take out Mico easily, and both Tyler and I have loved every opportunity to wear Tye. I hope that with better and more readily available information on safely wearing slings, other families will feel confident sharing the joy of wearing their babies.
For more information: