Safety tips on using baby sling carriers
NSW Fair Trading Commissioner Rod Stowe today issued a warning on baby sling carriers, in support of a Queensland-led national campaign.
“Although there are risks with using baby sling carriers, if worn safely and correctly there are many benefits associated with their use, both for the parent and the infant,” Mr Stowe said.
“Sadly, there have been three deaths in Australia associated with baby sling carriers in the past five years and at least 14 deaths in the United States.
“Positioning the baby correctly in the sling is essential. If a baby is lying with a curved back with their chin resting on their chest, or if they are lying with their face pressed against the fabric of the sling or the wearer’s body, there is a risk of suffocation.
“Some products, such as bag or pouch slings, may use the description ‘womb-like’, ‘cocoon’, or claim the product places the baby in a ‘foetal position’. Do not buy these products.”
Mr Stowe said warning signs indicating a baby may be having difficulty breathing in a sling included the following:
- Face covered or chin tucked in
- Head turned to the side
- Body curled into a ‘C’ position
- Grunting, wheezing, whistling breaths
- Laboured or rapid breathing
- A dusky or ‘blue’ tinge on the baby’s skin
- Fussiness, restlessness or squirming.
“We are encouraging all parents who use or are considering using baby slings in the future to familiarise themselves with the correct use, to ensure their baby is safely positioned.”
Mr Stowe recommended parents observe the following safety tips, recommended by the Product Safety Unit at Queensland’s Office of Fair Trading:
- TIGHT – slings and carriers should be tight enough to hug your baby close to you as this will be most comfortable for you both. Any slack or loose fabric will cause your baby to slump down in the carrier and hinder their breathing.
- IN VIEW AT ALL TIMES – you should always be able to see your baby’s face by simply glancing down. The fabric of a sling or carrier should not close around them so you have to open it to check on them. In a cradle position your baby should face upwards, not turned in towards your body.
- CLOSE ENOUGH TO KISS – your baby’s head should be as close to your chin as is comfortable. By tipping your head forward you should be able to kiss your baby on the head or forehead.
- KEEP CHIN OFF THE CHEST – a baby should never be curled so their chin is forced onto their chest as this can restrict their breathing. Ensure there is always a space of at least a finger width under your baby’s chin.
- SUPPORTED BACK – in an upright carry a baby should be held comfortably close to the wearer so their back is supported in its natural position and their tummy and chest are against you. If a sling is too loose they can slump which can partially close their airway. (This can be tested by placing a hand on your baby’s back and pressing gently - they should not uncurl or move closer to you.) A baby in a cradle carry in a pouch or ring sling should be positioned carefully with their bottom in the deepest part so the sling does not fold them in half pressing their chin to their chest.
Mr Stowe said an online survey conducted by Queensland’s Centre for Accident Research and Road Safety between December 2013 and February 2014* found a high usage rate of baby sling carriers with ninety-two per cent of respondents indicating they had used a baby sling carrier.
“Parents indicated baby sling carriers had the advantage of freeing their hands and arms of the baby for multi-tasking. The carriers also enabled close contact between parent and baby, with parents believing this encouraged bonding and attachment,” he said.
“However, not all babies are suitable to be carried in a sling. If you baby is less than four months old, was premature, had a low birth rate or is having breathing difficulties due to a cold or other illness, check with you doctor that it is safe to use a sling.”
Mr Stowe said just under five per cent of parents indicated they had experienced an injury or near injury experience and many more reported difficulty in working out how to position their baby safely and comfortably.
“Injuries were most commonly attributed to the baby not being properly secured, slipped clasps caused by twisted straps, difficulties while attempting to put the sling carrier on or during the process of removing the baby from the sling carrier,” he said.
Injuries to a child’s limbs while the parent was performing household duties such as cooking, brittle buckles snapping causing falls, and hip problems in babies from being carried in slings were also reported.
“Many parents indicated a lack of confidence on how to position their baby so their airway is unrestricted, and their head and neck are ergonomically supported,” Mr Stowe said.
“I advise all parents to ensure any sling they buy has detailed instructions for use. It is also a good idea to take your baby with you when you buy a sling and ask the retailer for a demonstration on how to use it according to the instructions.”
Mr Stowe urged all parents to familiarise themselves with the correct use of these products by going to the NSW Fair Trading website at www.fairtrading.nsw.gov.au or to the Queensland Office of Fair Trading website at http://www.fairtrading.qld.gov.au
*Participants were either parents expecting their first child or a parent with at least one child aged 12 months or under Australia-wide. There were 788 participants, with all but four of the respondents being female, over 95% of respondents were from two-parent families, and 99% were primarily English speaking.
The following sites also offer useful information:
To watch a video on how to safely carry your baby in a sling, go to www.fairtrading.qld.gov.au/marketplace/product-safety/safety-initiatives/baby-slings