The benefits of “baby wearing” are well established. According to La Leche League, babies who are worn typically cry less, are more alert, and even experience some developmental benefits.
However, the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission (USCPSC) has some words of warning for baby-wearing parents—although it happens rarely, baby slings have been associated with infant deaths if used incorrectly.
The USCPSC warning is directed at parents of infants less than 4 months of age. Over the past twenty years, infant “sling carriers” have been associated with at least 14 infant deaths in infants, including twelve deaths in infants younger than 4 months of age. Three of these deaths occurred in 2009 alone.
According to the USCPSC, babies are at higher risk if they were born a low-birth-weight twin (less than 5 lbs., 8 oz.), born prematurely, or experienced respiratory issues at birth, including infection with a cold. Parents who have children that fit any of these categories are advised to avoid the popular sling-type carriers or consult with their pediatricians before using them.
The main danger is suffocation. Sling-type carriers can sometimes cover a baby’s face, including their nose and mouth, resulting in rapid suffocation. It can happen so quickly that a parent might not even realize their baby is in danger, sometimes within a minute for medically fragile babies. Even among babies whose faces are visible, sling carriers can sometimes cause the babies to fold into a curled position, with the chin pushed down on the chest. This position can potentially restrict the airways, making it impossible for the baby to cry for help and slowly suffocate.
While the USCPSC warning only applies to a subset of parents, all parents who use baby safety slings are advised to follow these safety tips from the Mayo Clinic:
• Make sure your baby’s face is visible at all times.
• Check your baby frequently (the interaction is good for your baby anyway!).
• Change your baby’s position after nursing so the baby’s face is visible.
• Be careful when leaning over and bend at the knees instead of the waist. This will prevent your baby from swinging out.
• Make sure your baby sling is in good shape, with no tears or loose stitching.
• Check for product recalls with the USCPSC to make sure the product hasn’t been recalled.
1. Le Leche League. Benefits of Baby Wearing.
2. Mayo Clinic. Is it safe to hold a baby in a baby sling?
3. United States Consumer Products Safety Commission. Infant Deaths Prompt CPSC Warning About Sling Carriers for Babies.