(me wearing my newborn niece in my favorite Wrapsody wrap by Gypsymama)
There have been a slew of news reports lately about the safety of wearing your baby in slings. You know I find it kind of ironic that we have to even discuss the safety of the ancient art of babywearing in an age where we speed down the highway at 60mph on a daily basis! I mean babywearing is almost as old as giving birth! For as long as women have been having babies they have been tying them onto their bodies with whatever they had handy so that they can go about their work while meeting their baby's needs. You don't often hear mainstream moms and 'professionals' calling strollers, car seats or cribs dangerous (minus of course any recalled our outdated items). But babywearing (not the norm in our culture, thus people are suspicious of it) is often ignorantly questioned in regards to safety. How about runaway strollers, babies crawling out of car seats which were placed on high surfaces, falling off of changing tables etc.? These accidents are chalked up to 'user error' with no screaming to condemned these baby 'gadgets' as inherently dangerous (after all, without a crib where would baby sleep?). I am not even going to get into things like stairs, the cords from blinds, pots of boiling water on the stove, buckets of water in the garage, pets and many other things that tragically cause the death of babies and children every year.
My day old niece in a custom Kozy
All of the babywearers I know can relate to being stopped by 'well meaning' people who are freaked out that our babies are either terribly uncomfortable, going to be dropped, or can't breathe. And if it isn't one of those 3, then we are spoiling them (I need a little eye roll face to insert here). Somehow it is overlooked that perhaps the safest (not to mention the most natural) place for our babies to spend the majority of their time is right next to our body! Though I will say, it is almost hard to blame people for the ignorant thinking about babywearing. It is simply a cultural thing here in the US (other countries and cultures view it differently, just as they do things like co-sleeping, extended nursing, elimination communication etc.). It is also peoples inability to think naturally, or even outside of their mainstream, society constructed box. Perhaps some day babywearing will become the norm here and no longer viewed as a 'fad' or something that is inherently dangerous.
I remember the time I was in a restaurant with newborn Thrace. I had a man stop me asking if my baby (covered in a wrap) could breathe in there. I very kindly turned to the side and showed him the opening on the other side, through which he could see Thrace's precious little sleeping face. My last 2 newborns fussed unless they had their heads tucked in the wrap (and if I tried to unwrap their head, they usually woke up) so though their heads are covered, I would make sure they had a clear airway in front of their face. My first instinct is to tell these people . . . no, my goal is to smother this child that I prayed for, that I carried for 9mo and spent 24 hrs of natural labor and 2 hrs pushing out and whom I love much more than YOU could ever imagine. Of course I didn't say this and by the end of the conversation (talked to he and his wife for probably 15 min) I think I had a babywearing convert, LOL!!
I would think that it was nice for all these strangers to be so concerned with the well being of my babies, but in reality a lot of these people are just busy bodies who are nosy and relish in the negative. Don't believe me, just look at the obsession we have with reality TV!
Wearing Thrace 5 wks in the type of wrap mentioned above this one is a HugABub
Sure, certain aspects of babywearing may look questionable (like throwing a baby on your back in the parking lot, having them covered in fabric, or having a sleeping baby with a dangling head, which inevitably happens when I have a baby on my back in a wrap) but I am of the opinion that while I try my hardest to make babywearing look good for the skeptics (and I do, ask my friends, I am SUPER picky about how I look babywearing) there is only so much I can do.
(left) 4 wk old Thrace in one of my favorite wrap brands, Gypsymama
But enough of me ranting about our ignorant societies views on the ancient tradition of babywearing.
I am mostly writing in response to the statement released by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) warning about slings. It is absolutely horrifying to think of any baby dying or being harmed while being worn. But unfortunately it has happened, though as was stated, most of these babies were either premature or 'compromised' in some way or another (and I often wonder if any had been vaccinated recently, but that is for another blog). Regardless, any death or injury is tragic regardless of the circumstances. This is information that really needs to be shared. People need to know what slings are good and the proper way to use them. As a manufacturer my goal is to help parents and babies to bond, to make parenting easier and babies happier and this is the goal of all the other babywearing manufacturers I know (and I know a lot).
2 wk old Ever in the Bei Bei
Basic one shoulder slings are the target of this specific statement as are babies under 4mo (which is why I have pictures of me wearing newborns throughout this post). It is actually well written for the most part and has good information. The downside is that it gives more fuel to the fire for those who already, in their ignorance, viewed babywearing as unsafe. (hence my rant above) And the news stations have picked up on the story and there have been numerous reports and stories both on TV and online spreading misinformation. You know how things get started and kind of snowball out of control and leave me yelling at the TV or computer trying to 'right' the 'wrongs' which is such a pointless action since I know they can't hear me (but I just can't help myself). There are now moms who will abandon any though of babywearing and the many babies who will now end up in strollers or buckets away from the arms of the ones they need most. I have already read far too many comments from moms whose friends and family are using this recent statement by the CPSC as justification their negative comments and thoughts on babywearing. For those adamantly against babywearing, a statement like this is sure to be used to discourage it in favor of less intuitive, less attached and nurturing forms of transporting baby around. And I for one do not believe that strollers or buckets are safer . . . babies in our society need to be drawn closer to us, not pushed further away.
When it comes to slings and safety, the issue is almost always user error. If a sling appears unsafe, or if a baby gets in a compromising position it is not the sling at fault, because they can be used correctly. Most of the slings and carriers on the market are well designed. There is only 1 type of sling I know of that is a poor design and full of flaws and that is the 'bag style' sling like the one made by Infantino (among others) and can often be found at big box stores. This link explains the issues and the inherent design flaws http://babyslingsafety.blogspot.com/ These 'bag' slings though are vastly different from your basic ring sling or pouch which are not structured and which have fabric that can be moved around to get baby into a good position. And it is easy to do, especially if you have good instructions to follow. What is unfortunate is that the word "sling" is being used as a sweeping term to describe any 1 shoulder carrier, and they are NOT all created equal. Even consumer reports is not recommending slings because of the issues with the Infantino Sling Rider, which is as I said, a bag style sling which has design flaws and is vastly different from a ring sling or pouch. Until people become educated about babywearing and see it as a viable option (not a crazy, hippy trend) there will always be misinformation and misunderstandings.
Wearing 2 wk old Arah in a Kangaroo Korner lightly padded ring sling
Safety is an issue, and it is an extremely important one!! But the bottom line is that slings are safe . . . period!! Providing good detailed instructions and warnings to reduce the chance of user error is something that is in the forefront of every vendors mind, along with of course, providing a well made and structurally sound product that is absolutely safe.
So the questions are . . . how do you know you have a good sling and how to you use it properly?
Finding a good sling.
It isn't hard to find a good sling. Like I said above, most slings are safe to use, the only type of sling I know of that I cannot recommend is the "bag" style sling shown in the link above. But despite the fact that most slings can be used safely, some brands are just easier to use and adjust and made better than others. A well fitted pouch, ring sling, mei tai, wrap or structured carrier should be able to be used properly without any concern as to the safety of your child. There are plenty of smaller wahm companies that make excellent quality products. Occasionally there people selling online (usually places like ebay and the like) who may ignorantly be using inferior materials or stitching, it isn't super common but it does happen. If you are concerned about the quality of a product then look for names from reputable companies with positive reviews and feedback. Companies that are well talked about and trusted. Just because you can find a sling at your local WalMart or Target doesn't mean it is superior to one that is only sold online. There are plenty of wonderful products and businesses that can't meet the low prices or manufacture in the high numbers required to be carried by larger chain stores. Many of us wahm's who have started businesses did so out of necessity and the slings and carriers we make were designed by trial and error with our own children. Though many wahm companies have grown quite large (hotslings, Ergo, Maya wrap just to name a few) the basic foundations are the same . . . slings and carriers designed for moms by moms, not by a large corporation. Most of us started out with 1 goal in mind . . . to help moms wear their babies. Anything else that may have come from starting a business has just been icing on the cake!
If you are looking for a good sling you can find information and reviews for slings at The Babywearer
Ever reclining in a KK adjustable pouch. (above) Notice his back is straight, head up
Tummy to tummy in same brand, different color (below)
How to properly wear your baby
A note on Personal Responsibility
Personal responsibility has often been overlooked in many areas of our society today. But ultimately, that is, or should be in the center of everything we do and all the choices we make. Life is about taking responsibility for our actions, from the moment we wake till our head hits the pillow at night. We make a million choices in a day, some of them are without any thought (do I put my left or right leg in my pants first?) some require a split second decision that is made instinctively (do I pull out into the road now or wait for that car to pass?) others require forethought and some knowledge or education on our part (how do I position my baby in this sling properly?). This is not to be overlooked when wearing our babies. A manufacturer can only provide you with a good sound product, directions and warnings, you have to be able to follow the directions and seek help if you have any issues or questions. We can take responsibility by making sure we are using these products correctly.
I like to provide info on any and all possible ways to use the Kozy so that you, the customer has full information and options. Some manufacturers don't give info on things like, how to put a newborn on your back, but I like to trust that people will take the info I provide and use it responsibly.
This is precious cargo we are carrying. It doesn't mean we have to be fearful. It doesn't mean you can't try that back carry you have been wanting to try. It simply means that you think logically. If you are inexperienced, uncomfortable or unsure you make sure you have someone spotting you and you try new carries while sitting down. Babywearing correctly is easy and if it isn't intuitive at first it becomes so once you get used to it. There is nothing more natural and nothing safer than carrying your baby!
Days old Ever nice and high and snug in the Kozy
Any good sling company should have detailed instructions on how to use their product correctly as well as warnings of what not to do. Of course we should be cautious that we are carrying all ages of babies and kids correctly, but the dangers being addressed and cautions below apply more to specifically newborns and young babies. These are overall 'rules' that apply to all carriers as well. I'll list a few here, but much more detailed information can be found at the links below
- Make sure your baby is in a good position. A good position means that the baby is not all balled up with their back curved and their chin on their chest. It is hard for them to breathe in this position and a newborn may not be able to lift their head to get a better airway. Readjusting the baby's position or the sling (taking up slack) so that baby's chin is up and back is flat is important and it is fairly easy to do. They should be held firmly against your body. Personally, I prefer a tummy to tummy position as opposed to lying down, even with day old newborns. I find it more comfortable, easier to monitor them and easier to assure proper positioning. This can be done in most slings and carriers where you can adjust the fabric to pull them in close to your body.
- Make sure you can see baby. I like to wear my newborns up high on my chest where they are easy to monitor. Usually I will choose tummy 2 tummy but even in more of a reclining position, you should be able to have them up high enough (their bum above your belly button) where you can easily monitor their position and breathing. Lowering them to nurse is fine, just make sure you can monitor them while they are nursing and reposition them up higher after they are finished nursing. I have nursed newborns plenty of times in ring slings, wraps, and the Kozy with no issues. If you are doing a back carry with a newborn you should be able to get them high enough on your back where you can see them over your shoulder.
- Make sure the baby has an airway. Most people say to keep the fabric off of the face, and this is good general advice. But like I said above, my newborns would fuss those first few months if they couldn't tuck their head in my wrap. However, despite the fabric being over their head I was easily able to make sure they had a clear airway with no fabric lying over the front of their face or obstructing their access to fresh air, which is most important. You just want to use common sense and make sure they are not re-breathing air which can cause problems.
Days old Ever in the Kozy. He had just finished nursing and fell asleep. I didn't raise him all the way back up this time, but I did make sure he was positioned correctly with chin up.
Another good ring sling carry with 2 wk old Arah in a Zolowear
Here is an excellent article by M'liss (she wrote the babywearing 101 article for Mothering's babywearing issue) with lots of pictures on the correct, and incorrect way to position baby in various slings and carriers.
Jan from Sleeping Baby has recently put up a page about not only the difference between good slings and the potentially dangerous "bag" slings (complete with pictures of the different brands of bag slings) but she also has info on how to properly wear your ring sling. You can find it HERE. Make sure you pan down to the bottom of her page. She has a PDF she made up of business sized cards you can print and cut out to hand to those ignorant, but well meaning strangers or family members who have seen these news reports and question the safety of your sling.
Excellent job Jan!!
Babywearing International's Safety Page
I wanted to send out my thanks to the many babywearing vendors (and friends) who have been working extremely hard, spending their time and money for the past year (or more) traveling to ASTM meetings working to develop sling safety standards that will apply to all slings and carriers. They are there representing all of us smaller wahm's and manufacturers (as opposed to the big mega corporations who produce babywearing items) so that our voices, thoughts, opinions and carriers are not misunderstood and we are not overlooked. Their work on this is priceless!!
2 wk old Thrace in the Didymos