Safe Slings?

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More parents are turning to baby slings to carry their bundles of joy, but is this practice safe? Learn when to use a baby sling and how to find a sling that is right for you.

With multiple styles and a plethora of fabrics, baby slings have become a stylish way to make carrying infants (or babywearing) more comfortable for new moms and dads. Baby slings are cloth baby carriers that wrap around the body. More than just a convenience for parents, babywearing can have positive impacts on the health of infants.

A study published in the journal Pediatrics found that carrying babies three hours a day cuts crying and fussing time in half. For underweight babies, the physical touch allowed by a baby sling may increase weight gain, and mothers at risk for developing postpartum depression may also benefit from the close touch provided by baby slings.

The benefits of babywearing do not make it the right choice for everyone at all times—and not all baby slings are created equal.

Room to Breathe

The biggest concern while using a baby sling is making sure the infant is able to breathe. Slings that hold infants in a “C”-shaped position put babies at risk for suffocation, as this forces the infant into a chin-to-chest position that can restrict breathing. Babies should also always have their head and face visible, without having to move fabric around to do so. Some slings position babies against the hip, when they should be held at chest level.

Look for slings that position your infant vertically against your chest (as if you were holding her there with your arms) or at an angle across your chest (as if you were breastfeeding him). While some baby carriers are marketed as “one size fits all,” make sure the sling fits your child without leaving too much fabric around the face and head.

When to Scrap the Sling

Certain activities make wearing a baby sling dangerous for you or your infant. Never wear a baby sling while:

Jumping, running or jogging. Any activity that causes babies to bounce can damage the infant’s neck, spine or brain, according to the American Chiropractic Association.

Riding in a car. Soft slings don’t compare to car seats when it comes to safety in a moving vehicle.

Boating. Always have infants in their own personal flotation devices while boating to avoid accidental drowning.

Wearing a baby sling is also dangerous during any activity that increases the risk of falling, such as horseback riding, ice-skating or bowling. If you have questions about the safety of using a sling, err on the side of caution and use a different method of baby carrying.

Rock-a-bye, Baby

The way humans have transported their babies has varied wildly over time. While more modern parents are using baby slings, the baby sling itself was invented close to 50,000 years ago in Africa. At the same time baby slings were first put into use, the Greek physician Soranus advised against carrying babies until 4 months of age.

Anthropologists have found that infants in cold climates are more likely to be swaddled and put down in a cradle, while those in warmer climates are more likely to be held and carried close to their parents. Even during the 20th century, there was little consensus on how to hold babies—the first half of the century saw medical experts advising parents not to kiss their children, much less hold them, while the 1970s saw a resurgence in the popularity of baby slings.

Did You Know?

> In Papua New Guinea, the bilum is a baby carrier held at the forehead with the baby hanging at the back.

> Queen Victoria, the United Kingdom’s longest reigning monarch, was raised under a rigorous parenting philosophy called the Kensington System. She was never out of sight of an adult (even while sleeping), rarely allowed to meet other children and followed a strict daily routine.

> A parenting advice book from the 1920s advised that pregnant women should avoid “thinking of ugly people” in order to have healthy and happy babies.

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