Babywearing Safety Means Staying Connected

>> Wednesday, March 10, 2010

I'm sure you have all heard by now of the plethora of news articles this week about the safety concerns regarding slings. I had about a half-dozen friends send me links to different articles where "experts" on both sides of the story share their views about how safe or unsafe babywearing can be. And before I throw my opinion into the mix, let me just say that this is certainly one of those topics that we as mothers have to take in all the information available and put it to the "commen sense test" as we digest all that is being thrown at us.

I would consider myself somewhat of a babywearing aficionado, maybe even a sling snob. I have tried almost everything out there and certainly have my favorites and carriers that I am not a huge fan of. For me, babywearing is all about keeping your baby close and being in tune with your baby's needs. It is about having rhythm between you and your baby, knowing their needs and having them know that you are there to meet them. It is certainly about the convenience of having your hands free to do other things while still keeping your baby close and content. But ultimately, wearing your baby in a sling is about you and your precious little one continuing that priceless connectedness that started the moment he or she was conceived. When your baby is in a sling (or anything else for that matter- crib, stroller, bouncy seat, etc...) you have to stay connected. You have to check on them, make sure they are positioned well and safe. That is, above all else, the most important thing. If you do that, you will be able to assess the safety of any product or gear you use with your baby.

The bottom line, people: Bag slings (the ones that wrap around the parent's neck and cradle the child in a curved or "C-like" position below mom's chest) are NOT safe. They put your baby in an unsafe position with his or her chin too close to their chest which can restrict their airway. Any babywearing fan or connoisseur would be able to tell you that. But that does not mean, DOES NOT MEAN, that babywearing is in any way unsafe. I am extremely sorry that babies have died as a result of being worn in slings. It is truly tragic. And these news articles don't specify the slings involved in those cases, but we can infer that they were probably bag slings. But the hard truth is that babies have also died in unsafe car seats or recalled strollers or cribs. When we hear stories like this, we don't say "I am never going to put my baby in a car seat or a crib or a stroller because they must all be unsafe if that one was unsafe." We have to look at the specific products that are cause for concern, pull them off the market and make sure that the products we do have to use are safe and effective. This story is no different. The lesson from this is that you should know what you are using and HOW TO USE IT before you do anything.
Learn about babywearing and how to do it safely and comfortably for both you and baby. Any product can be dangerous if you don't use it properly and slings are no different. Just like you have to buckle the carseat properly into the car for it to be safe and effective, you have to be aware of the basics of babywearing to get the most out of it and be safe.

Here are some basic babywearing guidelines (as listed in another great post about the topic):
Baby should be close enough to kiss.
Baby should never have his chin resting on his chest. You should be able to put two fingers between baby's chin and their chest.
Baby's head should be above the rest of her body.
Baby's knees should be higher than his bottom.
Baby's face should never be covered by fabric.
Baby's head should always be supported.

Ultimately, I am not upset that this story is getting so much press. I am sure it will strike concern in the hearts of many people and get people asking questions. But that is a good thing. I don't want the governmental regulatory people telling me (or anyone) that all babywearing is bad because of some extremely horrible stories. What I do want, is for these tragic events to cause people to pay attention and listen to those who really do know what they are talking about and can instruct people on how to wear your baby safely and comfortably. I also think the rise of celebrity babywearing and the introduction of slings into mainstream stores has introduced babywearing to people that may have otherwise been unaware and may also be contributing to people buying and using slings without the proper instruction on how to use them safely. So the more opportunities we have to talk about true and safe babywearing and how amazing and awesome it is the better!
Babywearing has changed my life and who I am as a mother. It is an invaluable tool that I seriously can't imagine mothering without. I still daily wear my 18month old in the sling.
Let's not let this press give all babywearing a bad rap. Let's use this as a spring board to talk about babywearing carriers and practices that are safe (and most of them are!) so that moms (and dads) can feel confident using their sling to nurture their little one and reap all the benefits that babywearing has to offer.

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Atwood-Family of 4 March 11, 2010 at 12:58 PM  

What a great post-so very well put, so intelligent, and thought provoking. Bravo. Thanks Farrah.

Anonymous March 11, 2010 at 1:37 PM  

Thanks for sharing your professional opinion with us Farrah! I love slings when they are little (and not super heavy to carry around). Ring slings are perfect for keeping the baby in the correct position because they are so easy to adjust. Thanks again!

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