One of the most debated baby carrier types is slings. And the most important question that people ask is: Are baby slings safe?
And this is, of course, an important question, if you’re thinking of carrying a baby in a sling.
Definition of Sling
There are different ideas of what a sling is – some refer to any baby wrap, that’s not a structured carrier, to be a sling. The definition that this website uses for slings refers to ring slings and pouch slings and does not include wraps or Mei Tai Carriers.
Check out the link below for our definitions of the different types of baby carriers.
OK, but what do mean in terms of safety?
Are Baby Slings Safe?
Before we can answer this question, we must first define what is meant by safe.
When it comes to baby carriers, there are, broadly, three important safety considerations:
- Risk of suffocation
- Ergonomic/position considerations
- How secure is baby
Let’s take a look at each of these, separately and in relation to baby slings.
This is intended to be a discussion to help you to decide if you personally are comfortable using a baby sling. This is in no way advise or expert opinion on the subject. It’s more about bringing awareness and bringing attention to factors that you want to consider for your personal decision.
Risk of Suffocation
This is perhaps the most important safety feature for any type of carrier. And there are some important rules to abide by here, namely:
- Make sure you can always see your baby’s face: This is to ensure that your babies mouth and nose are not being obstructed in any way.
- There should always be a reasonable gap between baby’s chin and chest: When a baby’s chin is touching its chest, there is a risk of suffocation. For newborns (up until they can control their own head) this requires particular attention, since they don’t yet have neck/head control. But it can be an issue for older babies too, if their heads are being held in that position
Slings, when used incorrectly, are perhaps the most vulnerable to violate these rules.
The video below shows why, some things to be aware of:
But this is not intended to put anyone off slings or to say that slings are dangerous, but to make parents aware of the situations in which slings can be dangerous in terms of suffocation.
Of course, this applies to all baby carriers as well, but its just that slings might pose a higher risk.
Perhaps a less pertinent safety consideration, in the short-term, is that of the ergonomics of a baby carrier.
But over the long term, this is still an important consideration.
One of the most common concerns, in terms of this, is Hip Dysplasia. Hip Dysplasia is essentially a hip socket that is too narrow for the hip ball and can cause problems later in life. Hip Dysplasia can be caused by being in a non-hip-healthy position for too long.
Hips of babies are softer and more pliable than those in adults. This means they are more susceptible to change. Hips in a non-ergonomic position for long in babies, could possibly lead to hip Dysplasia later in life.
So, a carrier that doesn’t promote a hip-healthy position is a safety concern, especially if you carry or intend on carrying your baby a lot.
There are other ergonomic considerations, such as spine alignment, that should also be considered. So, it’s important to ensure that you get a quality carrier that will assist you in carrying your baby in an ergonomic and safe way.
What is Considered a Hip Healthy Position?
It’s widely considered that the “M” position (aka frog position) is the best position for a baby in a carrier. This position basically means that baby’s knees should be higher than their bottom.
There is a term that is commonly used to describe carriers that don’t promote this hip-healthy position and that is “Crotch Danglers”. This term basically describes a carrier where babies legs are hanging (aka dangling) virtually straight down, or at least not an angle that is considered sufficient.
Used properly slings can be set up so that baby is in a hip-healthy position.
However, there is also a risk, if not used correctly that they can be set up in an unhealthy position.
It is recommended that babies, particularly newborns and smaller babies, be carried in an upright position, rather than in a cradle position in a sling (it seems to me that this also looks like a safer position in terms of suffocation risks also).
Better for Hips
Not so Good for Hips
But even in the upright position take care to ensure that baby is in a seated “M” position.
How Secure is Baby?
It’s important when carrying a baby that they are securely tied in and that there isn’t a risk of falling out.
There are some things that you can do to minimize that risk:
- Make sure all buckles, straps etc are tight enough so that baby can’t fall out
- Ensure that all buckles are securely fastened
- Ensure that anything that needs to be tied is securely tied and won’t come undone
- If you need to pick anything up from the ground make sure that you bend at the knees and keep baby upright at all times (rather than bending over, which increases the risk of baby falling out)
If used incorrectly slings could pose a greater risk of a baby falling out, compared to something like a structured carrier.
This can happen either when you are placing baby into the sling or whilst doing something like reaching out for something or bending over to pick something up.
So, ensure, and this goes for all carriers, that you follow the manufacturers instructions to a tee and ensure that everything is fastened correctly and done in the correct way.
Take it slowly and always practice using a sling before putting baby in. Especially if it’s something you haven’t done before. It might also to pay, at least to begin with, whilst you are still learning, to place baby in the sling whilst you are over a softer surface, or closer to the ground.
And when you are carrying baby and need to bend for something, crouch down to pick it up, rather than bending at the waist – and if you need to reach out to grab something hold onto baby with one hand to ensure they are secure.
But, again, if used correctly and following basic guidelines, a sling can be a perfectly safe method of carrying your baby.
Now, I’m certainly not anti-sling at all.
And I acknowledge that there are safety aspects for any type of carrier that caregivers need to keep in mind.
But evidence shows that slings just tend to be more of a concern compared to other types of carriers. But I’m not denouncing slings or in any way saying that you shouldn’t use a sling. You might find that they are right for you – and as long as you follow the safety recommendations and the manufacturer’s guidelines, then you are likely largely mitigating the risks of using a sling. It’s just not something that I personally like to use, especially when there are so many other options available.
Top Image By Dynam0tv [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons