A baby sling is a length of fabric you wrap over one shoulder and around your waist. It holds a baby nestled in a curved or "C" position. But this position can pose a risk to very small babies.
In their first few months babies have weak neck muscles and poor head control. A sling poses two types of suffocation-risk:
- The curved position can cause a baby’s head to flop forward, restricting its ability to breathe. The baby can’t cry out and can slowly suffocate.
- The baby may be smothered either by the fabric of the sling or by its parent’s clothing pressing against its nose and mouth.
The United States Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and the US consumer organisation Consumers Union have raised concerns about the safety of baby slings, especially when they’re used for babies under the age of four months.
The CPSC is investigating at least 14 deaths associated with baby slings, including three in 2009. Twelve of the deaths involved babies less than four months old. 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.
As well, the Consumers Union says there have been at least 22 reports of serious injury occurring when a child fell out of a sling. The injuries include skull fractures, head injuries, cuts and bruises.
This month the CPSC issued a safety warning about sling carriers. It recommended that parents be cautious when using slings for babies younger than four months. They should make sure the child’s face isn’t covered and that it’s visible at all times to the sling’s wearer. If nursing a baby in a sling, change the baby’s position after feeding so its head is facing up and is clear of the sling and the mother’s body.
The Ministry of Consumer Affairs is working with other agencies here to develop a safety standard for baby slings and hammocks.
- Baby carriers are great for taking your baby where a stroller won’t go – on bush walks or to the beach. They leave your hands free when you’re out shopping or working around the house. A soft-padded front pack is a safer way to keep your baby close than a sling.
- Baby carriers - our guide to types and features.
- www.cpsc.gov - advice on correctly positioning your baby in a sling.
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