A lot of the parents that visit my sling library sessions (and probably many more that don’t!) have voiced concerns about the safety of their choice of sling. They will undoubtedly read or been told about a horror story from the tabloids that almost certainly would have involved carriers currently banned for sale in the UK. We have leaflets detailing the TICKS guidelines (below) that we hand out routinely, but sometimes just explaining the physiology of baby and how the carrier supports them, makes more sense than a set of rules.
The spine should be straight, curving into a gentle J at the pelvis. This facilitates an unobstructed airway by preventing the chin from curling down onto the chest. When the chin drops onto the chest causing a C shape to the spine, this partially obstructs the airway and may put baby at risk of positional asphyxia. This is an extreme example of poor positioning, and this is a bag type sling which is banned from sale in the UK (except via EBay) but it gives you an idea.
Tight, tight, TIGHTER!
I often get new parents bringing along their carefully chosen sling along with baffling instructions and a list of awful You-Tube videos as long as my arm, panicking that their baby feels like it’s going to fall out. It won’t. I promise! Your baby should be BANDAGE tight. An easy way to test this is to support baby’s head and then bend yourself forward 90 degrees so baby’s spine is parallel to the ground. They should. Not. Budge. If they do, you’re too loose.
With stretchy type wraps, it’s good practice to try and stretch out all of the slack before putting baby in. Even one that appears tight enough will have a load of stretch hiding at the back, just waiting for baby to get in and slowly pull it to the front. A tight sling will also help maintain your excellent spine positioning and also prevent baby’s weight from shifting around which will cause you all manner of shoulder/lower back crises.
It feels like stating the obvious, but you should be able to see baby’s face. Firstly and most importantly, they need fresh air. If their face is covered, they end up just breathing in the CO2 they’ve just breathed out. They are not trees, this will not do. Secondly, a sling is a parenting tool, not a parent. You need to be able to see what’s going on and monitor your baby – just as you would in a car seat or pram or crib. Plus, they’re pretty cute when they’re asleep.
Also, the top of their head should be close enough to kiss (because of the way men are built, they will often have baby far too low, the key is: lower than a woman, not as low as you think it should be!).
Anyone who has looked into buying a sling will have seen that hips are important. And
they are. Baby hip joints are not as robust as adult ones and they need support. The best position for them is the “froggy” or “M” position. This allows teeny babies to replicate that gorgeous squished up position that they maintain in the womb, but also allows full knee to knee support.
Now. A lot of more mainstream carriers don’t offer this level of support. You’ll hear all sorts of outcry about “crotch danglers” and hip damage, but here’s the scoop. If your baby has no existing hip conditions, they’re fine. I won’t lie, there’s comfier ones out there, but if you’ve bought one or been given one and you want to be able to use it, crack on. If there are hip issues, avoid like the plague as they may well exacerbate pre-existing issues.
The fact that most modern baby carriers support a healthy hip position means that a lot of carriers can be used in conjunction with a Pavlik harness, which many parents are surprised by. But we’ve successfully fitted many babies alongside their harnesses and most hip specialists are delighted by the carer’s chosen carrier and its sympathetic positioning.
Another can of worms. Let me get this out of the way quickly. Using a carrier that allows baby to face away from the carer is not dangerous if done correctly. You must NEVER let baby sleep whilst facing out as they are not sufficiently supported to keep their chins off their chests and this could compromise the airway. You also shouldn’t do this until baby is 6 months old and sitting independently. They need good core strength to safely be carried this way.
There’s a lot of new carriers on the market that have this positioning option and actually many of them offer surprisingly good hip support. Also they allow baby to be properly tightened on to the wearer so that their weight isn’t constantly pulling away from them and hurting the shoulders. We don’t recommend it for long periods though. It’s easy for baby to get over stimulated and when facing out they can’t “get away” from it all. Also, babies learn from watching their caregivers. Particularly facial reactions. So in short, go for it, keep it brief and don’t let them nod off (or just turn them back to you before they do!).
TICKS used with permission of the UK Sling Consortium
West Surrey Slings is a sling library with expert slings consultant in, Surrey. Visit their profile to learn more.