Baby slings may be cute and cozy carriers for Baby, but the US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is now advising parents and caregivers to be cautious when using baby slings for babies younger than 4 months of age. The March 12, 2010, consumer alert was issued by the agency after an investigation showed at least 14 deaths associated with sling-style infant carriers over the past 20 years, including three in 2009. Twelve of the deaths involved babies younger than 4 months of age.
Why say no to slinging your newborn? "In the first few months of life, babies cannot control their heads because of weak neck muscles. The sling's fabric can press against an infant's nose and mouth, blocking the baby's breathing and rapidly suffocating a baby within a minute or two," the CPSC warning reads. "Additionally, where a sling keeps the infant in a curled position bending the chin toward the chest, the airways can be restricted, limiting the oxygen supply. The baby will not be able to cry for help and can slowly suffocate."
Because many of the babies who died in slings were either a low birth weight twin, were born prematurely, or had breathing issues such as a cold, the CPSC warning also urges parents of preemies, twins, babies in fragile health, and those with low weight to use extra care and consult their pediatricians about using slings.
The CPSC did not issue any recalls in its current warning, but did indicate the agency is continuing to investigate "to determine what additional action may be appropriate."
Despite the new warning, lots of moms and dads swear by baby slings as an easy way to carry—and bond—with Baby. For those who still plan to "wear" Baby, the CPSC urges parents to "make sure the infant's face is not covered and is visible at all times to the sling's wearer ... Parents and caregivers should be vigilant about frequently checking their baby in a sling." For nursing moms, guidelines advise changing Baby's position after feeding so his head is face up (not still turned or pressed against the breast or your body) and clear of the sling fabric.
When Buying a Sling
Given the latest safety warnings, it's probably best to avoid buying a used sling, even if it seems only "gently" worn. When buying a new sling, check it over for frayed seams, loose threads, and missing or broken sling rings. And then practice, practice, practice with the sling (with a doll or infant-sized teddy bear) before using it with Baby in tow. Most manufacturers are great about providing detailed, step-by-step directions for safe
Keep in mind that not all slings are the same! Always read manufacturer's directions carefully and practice each step until you are completely comfortable with how the sling works. Some companies make it super-easy to practice putting Baby in the correct position by including even include an instructional DVD with the sling or offer by offering baby-wearing technique videos on their websites.