Baby slings are a godsend for parents who want to hold their baby close and have their hands free. But slings also pose a health risk, according to the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission. A baby can suffocate if the sling fabric presses against the baby's nose and mouth or if the sling curves the child's body into a C-like position.
The CPSC has investigated at least 13 sling-related deaths in the past 20 years, including three in 2009. Given that slings are increasingly popular (I used a baby sling when my daughter was an infant, and last weekend I saw a mom out cross-country skiing with her baby wrapped tightly to her chest!), the new caution makes sense.
Week-old Derrik Cochran of Keizer, Ore., died last year after he stopped breathing while being carried in a bag-style sling by his mother, Lisa. The family is suing the company that made the sling.
How can parents safely use slings to carry babies? There are no federal safety standards for baby slings, but the new advisory points out that many of the babies who died were premature, had low birth weight, or had a cold or other breathing problems. So parents with babies who fit those parameters should be extra cautious about using slings.
The CPSC website features new drawings showing how to minimize any risk. Advice includes:
*Make sure the baby's chin is up, with the face visible and nose and mouth free.
*Don't let the baby roll so his or her face is pointed toward the parent's body.
*Don't let the baby slide down into the sling so he or she is hunched, with chin touching the chest.
That last warning really got me. The first baby sling I tried with my daughter was much too large, leaving her lost somewhere in the bottom. A smaller-size sling kept her face out where she could breathe easily, see the world, and still be close to my heart. My pediatrician had warned us against the slings that hold babies upright against the parent's chest, saying that they weren't good for newborns' hips. There's no solid research on that, alas. So parents eager to try "babywearing" need to be aware that the technology isn't perfect.
As with so many things in life, it needs a parent's wise eye to make sure it's safe.