Babywearing has been in the news a lot this past year, after the Infantino Bag Slings were recalled. Much like with certain other things (co-sleeping, for example), the whole practice of babywearing in general was demonized.
Moms reported wearing their Moby wrap or Ergo carrier out in public and having strangers tell them things like, "Didn't you hear? Babywearing can kill your baby. They say it's not safe."
Obviously the message didn't get out correctly to everyone, so in honor of International Babywearing Week, I'm going to try to set the record straight:
Babywearing is not dangerous. There are rules to safe babywearing and products that are made poorly. Babywearing has health benefits when practiced safely -- here's how.
1. Baby should be positioned in a similar location to where you would hold them.
When you hold your baby in your arms, their head is generally near your breast or collarbone. When in a carrier, their head should be in approximately the same location. Every carrier, sling, or wrap holds the baby in a special way, but baby's head should never be down by your waist. Not only is it more comfortable for both of you to have baby in a natural position, but having the baby anywhere else offsets your balance and makes them hang looser, putting them at risk of injury.
2. Observe the different holds for different ages.
Babies develop neck control over the first 6 months or so, and most carriers specifically forbid leaving a baby's head unsupported until they are 3, 4, or 6 months old. Your individual baby's neck development is important as well: If your baby isn't ready to go without head support when the minimum age for your carrier comes up, keep their head supported, but never undercut their minimum.
3. Prevent the chin tuck.
In a car seat, the recline of the seat is incredibly important, as small babies who are more upright than 45 degrees are at risk of having their oxygen supply reduced or cut off. The same is true of a baby in a sling -- if they aren't held properly and their chin is down against their chest, they run the risk of not being able to get enough oxygen. This goes back to the point above -- make sure you follow the specific directions for different ages. It's really important.
4. Don't be a crotch-dangler.
When a baby is worn, it is very important that they are held in a sitting position. Smaller babies often are either lying down or have their legs folded like a frog or crossed. Bigger babies or those not in pouch-type carriers need their thighs to be supported so it's like they're sitting. When facing you, this is easily accomplished, like in my friend Samantha's picture here. They straddle you, much like they would if, say, you were carrying them, bringing up point #1 again.
Any carrier that holds the baby by their crotch only is indicated as bad for the baby's spine and hips, and generally less comfortable for the mom as well.
5. If it feels unsafe, it probably is.
When a baby is properly secured, you should not be worried about them falling out. It should feel snug and secure. If you place your arms around your baby as if you're holding them, and you feel like you have to lift them up or pull them tighter, then you need to adjust your carrier until they are held in that position. Like I said, the goal is to mimic how you hold the baby. If the carrier feels loose, baby is sitting awkwardly low or high, swings when you move, then it's wrong. Double-check your specific product's directions and have someone help you figure it out until you can do it right on your own. If you can never get it comfortable and secure, it may just be the wrong carrier for you.
6. Observe basic safety.
Don't cook with your baby strapped to your front, unless you're turning your body WAY away from your stove, and sticking your arm awkwardly out to the side (or you know, you could try a back carry). Bend at the knees so you stay upright and baby doesn't fall out on her soft noggin. Don't go four-wheeling, bicycling, skiing, or other activities where you majorly increase your and your baby's risk of falling. Yes, you can fall while walking, but use common sense and skip things where you're much more likely to fall, especially at increased speeds or with extra force. Don't put your baby near danger.
And please, if your baby's face is smashed against fabric, THAT'S BAD. Use common sense. Your baby's face should obviously be clear of any obstructions, and you should be able to see your baby's face the whole time.
If you are walking around and your carrier feels loose or different, stop immediately and find out why and fix it.
7. Watch for wear and tear.
Check your babywearing device frequently for any signs of loose stitches, broken or cracked buckles, tears, anything. It's wise to give it a good once-over every single time you're going to put it on, but make sure to really sit down with it and examine it on a regular basis as well. One comment a lot of people go by, though not all, is "The less there is to malfunction, the safer the carrier." This is honestly one of my reasons for loving my Moby wrap. It is one giant, long piece of fabric. There are no seams to tear, no buckles to break. I control the knots and can tie them as tight and as many times as I need to feel safe.
8. Read the manual.
Yet again, the final tip for practically everything. The one thing that would prevent so many injuries and deaths. The thing that if people did for everything, would prevent 90 percent of calls to customer service ....
READ THE DIRECTIONS AND FOLLOW THEM. I really can't stress that enough.
If you can read this post, you're on the Internet. If you're on the Internet, you can go to the manufacturer's website to look up their specific directions, ask for help from other moms on different babywearing forums, and find step-by-step walkthroughs of lots of different carriers. Wear Your Baby has an extremely comprehensive guide to almost any type of babywearing, including instructions on how to make your own. They are sorted by type, by position, baby's age, front carries, back carries, hip carries ... you can even get a DVD on babywearing. More info on safe babywearing is here.
Do you wear your baby?