The recall of one million baby slings after the deaths of three babies is a strong reminder that just because a baby product appears in mainstream stories like Target, Wal-Mart, and Burlington Coat Factory—all of which sold the recalled slings made by Infantino—doesn't mean it's been safety tested.
Slings have become increasingly popular because they let moms and dads carry a baby close to them while keeping their hands free. "Babywearing" also has been promoted by the "attachment parenting" movement, which asserts that a child who spends hours physically close to a parent will be less fussy and learn more. Some claims, such as the notion that babies carried in slings are toilet trained earlier, seem dubious at best. But having your baby close to your heart can be cozy and convenient. As a result, dozens of new versions of baby slings have hit the market, including variations on the Snugli, in which babies sit upright; long pieces of cloth like the Moby Wrap, in which the baby is lashed to the parent's chest; and curved bags that resemble a giant hobo-style handbag. It's these last models that have been associated with injuries and deaths and are the subject of this week's recall; a small baby can suffocate when its chin is pushed down into its chest or its face is turned into the sling's material.
The federal Consumer Product Safety Commission has posted diagrams on their website showing how to safely carry a baby in a bag-style baby sling.
The online babywearing community has been abuzz with concern that this massive sling recall with turn parents off to slings and to babywearing. You can check out the online chatter at the Babywearer or Babywearing International. These sites also explain sling styles and give advice on how to use them. It's not as easy as it looks, since slings often need to be adjusted to fit the size of both parent and child.
I used a sling very much like the recalled ones when my daughter was a baby because the pediatrician said she that thought the upright baby carriers were bad for a newborn's hips. I don't know if there's any evidence for that, but as a new mother, I was not about to question the pediatrician.
It's clearly past time for safety standards for baby slings, just as there are for cribs. The CPSC is in the process of developing sling standards in an effort to reduce the risk of unnecessary deaths.
Culture has a huge impact on how we carry, and care for, our babies. I got a powerful reminder of that this week on a business trip to Norway, where I saw baby carriages parked outside stores and restaurants. Tiny babies snoozed under warm blankets that protected them from the freezing air while mom or dad shopped or socialized inside. If I had left my infant daughter in a stroller outside a store in my neighborhood near Washington, D.C., I'd probably be writing this from jail.
What do you think is the best way to carry a baby? The possibilities run the gamut from babywearing to strollers parked on the street.