Throughout history, humans have used some form of baby carriers. These carriers allow parents to use their hands to get things done while still keeping their baby close to them. If used properly, most of these baby carriers are perfectly safe. Unfortunately, some carriers, like baby slings, can be deadly if you use them wrong.
What Is a Baby Sling?
A baby sling is a lightweight and portable type of baby carrier. Baby slings specifically are usually worn over one shoulder, like a sash, as the baby rests in the front. Carrying your baby in a sling may help create a closer bond with your baby.
Baby slings allow you to carry your baby around while still keeping your hands free. This allows you to get other things, like work, chores, or helping other kids, done while still keeping your baby close.
Wheelchair users may find baby slings especially useful. Baby slings allow them to carry their baby while they use their hands to navigate their chair.
Types of Baby Slings
There are two main types of baby slings, and the best baby sling for you might not be the best one for someone else. The two sling types are ring slings and pouches.
Ring slings. Ring slings are made from large pieces of cloth. One end of the cloth has two rings sewn to it. The opposite end is threaded through these rings to form a pouch for the baby to rest in.
Pouches. Pouches are made from large pieces of cloth that are folded to create a pocket for you baby to rest in. With a pouch-style sling, it’s harder to get your baby’s weight to be spread evenly.
While many people use slings to carry their babies, there are other options for baby carriers as well.
Bei dai, mei tais, or meh dais. These types of baby carriers originated in China. They're typically made from a square or rectangle of fabric with straps on each corner. The bottom set of straps ties around your waist, and the top set of straps ties over your shoulders. You can wear these carriers on the front, like slings, or on your hip or back, depending on your baby’s age and size.
Soft structured carriers. These carriers are similar to meh dais, but they’re a little more structured. The straps usually have buckles, and the shoulder straps are padded. Because these have more support, you can use them for toddlers as well as infants. They can often be worn on the front for younger babies and on the back for older babies and toddlers.
Wraps. Wraps are long pieces of stretchy or woven fabric that wrap around both you and the baby to hold the baby in place. These can be comfortable because they distribute weight evenly, but they can be more challenging to put on and secure than other types of baby carriers.
How to Use a Baby Sling
Baby slings are one of the easiest types of baby carriers to use. Both pouches and ring slings go over one shoulder and around your body like a sash. You can put on a ring sling first and then adjust it to fit you and your baby, while pouches are generally not adjustable.
Slings and carriers are most comfortable and safest when worn tight to you. The best position for babies in these carriers is the “spread squat” position, also called the “jockey position” or “M position.” In this position, the baby is facing you, with their thighs spread around your waist or torso. Their hips should be bent slightly and be lower than their knees.
Another way of carrying babies in a sling is the cradle carry. In this position, your baby is lying back in the sling. They should be facing upward, not turned in toward your body, and their bottom should be in the deepest part of the sling.
Are Baby Slings Safe?
Baby slings and babywearing can be perfectly safe, provided that you wear the carrier properly and pay close attention to how your baby is positioned.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) reported that, between January 2003 and September 16, it received reports of 159 incidents involving sling carriers. Of these incidents:
- 17 were fatal
- 67 involved injury to the baby
- 10 of the injuries required hospitalization
Because of this, in 2017 CPSC issued new guidelines to sling manufacturers to improve safety. CPSC doesn't recommend using a sling for infants under four months of age and strongly advises that parents monitor their baby’s position in the sling to prevent suffocation.
Tips for Using a Baby Sling Safely
While the numbers from the Consumer Product Safety Commission sound scary, there are many ways you can make sure that you’re wearing your baby sling in a way that’s safe for you and your child.
Before use. For safety, do these things before using your sling:
- Read the instructions carefully
- Follow all instructions and guidelines
- Make sure your baby is within the size and weight range for your sling
- Check for wear and tear every time you put the sling on
- Practice with a doll or similar object a few times before putting your baby in the sling
Positioning your baby. An improper position within the sling can lead to suffocation or injury for your baby. Follow these tips for safe positioning:
- You should be able to clearly see your baby’s mouth and nose the entire time
- Your baby’s chin should not be curled into their chest, as this can cut off their airflow
- Your baby’s face should not be pressed against your body
- Position your baby’s head as close to your chin as possible
- Frequently check to be sure your baby’s position hasn’t shifted
Carrying your baby. When carrying your baby in a sling, keep in mind:
- Be careful when bending over, and try to bend at the knees instead of at the waist
- Don’t participate in any dangerous activities while carrying your baby in a sling, like jumping on a trampoline, riding a bike, or cooking over a hot stove
- Never wear your baby while traveling in a car
When using a baby sling, you want to keep your baby comfortable. But you should never put a blanket or cover over their head, as you may not be able to check that their airway is clear. Instead, dress them for the environment, in the right clothes for the weather and sunscreen if needed.