Hello everyone! My name is Natalie, and I blog at Naddy’s Blog and Babywearing it Up! I have loved learning about babywearing and wearing my two babies, and am looking forward to wearing a new baby this spring. I’m going to share some information with you on babywearing safely… babywearing is such a beautiful, wonderful way to bond and share life with your baby, but just like anything, it takes common sense and a bit of know how!
As this excellent page on safety from Babywearing International says, “When done properly, carrying a baby in a soft baby carrier can be safer than carrying a baby in your arms.” Held securely to a caregiver, babies can safely accompany them throughout their day and enjoy the security and comfort of being held while still letting the caregiver get things done!
First things first… if you’re wearing a newborn, you need to know that they’re vulnerable to something called positional asphyxia. In plain English, this means newborns lack the muscle control to open their airways if they’re curved into a position that constricts their breathing. This is obviously very serious, and is the reason that “bag” slings, such as the now-recalled SlingRider, are not recommended, since they put babies into a dangerous position that constricts their breathing. Babies need to have good back support while babywearing so they don’t slump into the chin-to-chest position, and they need to be monitored while babywearing to make sure that they are not having labored breathing or any other issues of concern. Wearing your baby upright and making sure that his or her chin is not on her chest is the simplest way that you can wear your small baby safely. Keep your baby “close enough to kiss”, and you’ll be able to check easily that her chin isn’t on her chest, constricting her airway, and that she is breathing easily. Also, never cover your baby’s face with fabric. This poses a risk of smothering or reducing air flow, and also makes it so you can’t monitor them as well. Remember that, as Jan Andrea says on her excellent safety page here, a carrier “should hold your baby the way you would hold him in your arms (back carries excepted, and even those can be done in arms if you’re flexible enough).”
Second, know how to use your carrier safely. For example, I love stretchy wraps like the Moby wrap for little babies, but it’s important to note that they are not safe for back carries. You need a woven wrap to do a wrap back carry. With structured carriers, too, like the Ergo, you need to be aware of how to properly use your carrier to make sure that you are comfortable and baby is safe. One thing to note as well is that you should test your carriers frequently. Here is a great page detailing how to do that. Also, some carrier manufacturers themselves advise carrying positions that are not ideal. This is a fantastic article on the benefits of babywearing to babies, and it also discusses appropriate positioning.
Third, know your limitations… advanced babywearing, like using a wrap for a back carry, or back carrying a younger baby, takes a lot of practice to get figured out.
Use a spotter when trying out back carries until you get the hang of it, practice with a doll or teddy bear, and find demo videos to help you figure out new skills. Babywearing is a skill, and as with any learned skill it’s best to start simple and work up to the more complicated challenges as needed or able.
Fourth, common sense. If it doesn’t seem safe and secure to you, it probably isn’t! Seek out assistance from a local babywearing group or from the maker of your carrier if you’re not sure that you understand or are able to wear safely. As with everything related to childcare, it is each parent’s responsibility to research, make educated choices, seek assistance if needed, and always use common sense! Don’t babywear in the car (use an appropriate carseat instead), on a bike, while frying something on the stovetop with splattering grease, while jogging or doing anything that will give your child whiplash, or while in a boat (your baby is safer in a life jacket, not strapped to an adult, in case of any mishap such as the adult falling overboard.)
Lastly, be aware of your child. It is easy to be in a hurry and not be mindful of a toddler on your back or a sleepy little one on your hip, but that toddler may be able to reach things you aren’t thinking of, and the sleepy one on your hip may lean back as you’re passing through the door frame, risking a head bump. It sounds really basic, but pay attention to your little one!
With a good carrier and a few simple guidelines, wearing your baby or toddler safely isn’t hard. And it is so rewarding! You can snuggle your little one while making your job easier, whether you’re dealing with dinner prep and a cranky toddler, or just walking down a bumpy, gravely, pothole riddled country road with a sleepy baby that would be uncomfortably jostled in the stroller. Your little one can enjoy an adult height view of the world as they accompany you through your day. You can enjoy a happy baby and having your hands free! It’s a great win-win. Happy (and safe) babywearing, mamas (and papas)!