Of Baby Carriers

I was sort of shocked to read the post on Non-Toxic Kids about a recall on baby slings.  Apparently some very small babies have suffocated–as in, to death–while being carried in a particular brand of baby sling.

This is heartbreaking.  And as per usual, in articles and comments and lawsuits, it’s all coming back to the Blame Game. (As my family used to say, “It matters not if you win or lose, it’s where you place the blame.”) One batch of commenters are going after the moms, saying things like, “any idiot can see that thing isn’t safe” or “you don’t just plop the kid in there and forget about it and assume everything’s hunky-dory, stupid!” (these are not quotes, these are grouped-paraphrases, but the gestalt is there.) Another bunch are blaming the company, saying all they want is to make money, that these things are deathtraps and the company doesn’t care about children’s lives, and they should be sued into oblivion. (Which is actually very likely going to happen.)

And I’m so not going to go there.  This post is not about blame.

This post is about slings and safety and my own experience.

I didn’t know about slings when my son was a baby; we had a Bjorn and after that I just had to schlep him by hand, which led to a lot of arm pain and carpal tunnel syndrome (fairly life-altering when one is a pianist/organist by profession).  My daughter, however, lived in a sling for lots of waking hours for most of her first two years.  I had a very soft cotton sling in the hospital so I wouldn’t have to worry about dropping her off the sides of the narrow bed.  I took her out that first summer in a light and breathable “solarveil” sling I’d made, all winter in a fleece one, and I used a lot of linen and cotton for basically indoor use.  I always made sure I could see her, I always made sure whatever position she was in kept her airways nice and clear, and I often propped or tucked a receiving blanket under or around her in it when she was tiny to help her stay positioned well. I have made many slings as gifts for friends after their babies have been born.  I used a wrap at home a lot, a mei tai for hiking and longer walks once she was bigger, and even when she was three-ish I still kept a sling in the car in case she fell asleep and I needed to schlep her around the grocery store. I think cloth carriers are wonderful, and they helped make my daughter’s early months and years easier for both of us.  (And again, even typing all that makes me want to give the usual disclaimer: I’m not a professional anything, and don’t take my advice as though I’m an expert or anything–do your own homework, make your own decisions, and pay attention!)

Jan Andrea is one of my favorite people on the Internet; she not only makes slings and sells them, but she also has one of the best baby craft instruction pages I’ve ever ever seen anywhere. And she’s just plain cool, the kind of mom whose kids I’d try to convince my kids they want to have playdates with just so I could hang out with her.  She has a very helpful and sensible list of safety instructions for people using cloth slings–reading it, I realize I followed most of these instinctively, without having to read the list.  I’m going to reprint the list here, and link back to her (If she’d rather I didn’t do that, I’m sure she’ll recognize the links and drop me a note, but I think these are very sensible words):

She also, as the article continues, points out very intelligently that the kinds of issues causing the sling recalls are also documented in car seat carriers, and that in any situation, that item number 4 on the above list is not just for baby carriers–it’s all the time.  Small babies with heavy heads that can drop over their chests can lose oxygen really easily in carseats or slings if the parent is not careful and paying attention. (Hmm…”pay attention.” There they are again, my two favorite words.) She also points out the difficulties with the specific sling in question in the recall, and why hypoxia is a greater risk in these higher-tech elasticized harder-bottomed slings.  (Just click around her site–she also has really good photographed instructions for different baby holds in different kinds of slings.)

And to me, the instruction that’s most important and the one more sling-users seem to miss than any other, is that last one–the ideal way to wear a sling would be to hold the child the way you normally would, and then tighten the sling around her, so that in the end you’re basically just wearing an additional sort of arm-aid. I don’t think I ever, even after months of babywearing, didn’t have at least one hand or arm around the child in the sling.

So that’s me. I still think baby slings, simple cloth carriers women have used for millennia, are a wonderful thing. But this recall should be a big wake-up call to anyone with a Tiny Person in their lives: Just because it’s a best-seller in a really big store with a baby registry doesn’t mean it’s fabulous.  Just because it’s approved by the CSC doesn’t mean it’s foolproof and couldn’t be messed up or used improperly.  Just because it’s high-tech doesn’t mean it’s safe. We need to pay attention and be careful. All the time.

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Posted on June 29, 2010, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. I think one of the biggest dangers out there for any child is when parents trust items more than their own parenting for their children’s safety.

    And, being one of said recipients of your fabulous slings, we also found the sling a wonderful extension of our desire to carry small people with us all the time. We tried lots and had a couple of store-bought mass-made handed down to us and those, by far, worked the least for us.

  2. I had the same experience with the store-bought mass-market ones…couldn’t get them to work at all. Generally, the more simple the sling, the better it seemed to work for us.

    And your first paragraph is RIGHT on.

  3. This is really sad to hear and I hope it doesn’t turn people off of babywearing. I wouldn’t have made it through my kids’ infancies without my wrap, and anytime I hear a new parent complaining about how difficult their baby is, I ask if they’ve tried wearing him/her. It really made a big difference for me.

  4. revious research has shown an increase in brain activity motor, visual, auditory processing and centers of the brain during sleep in infants.
    Scientists say the study of the response depends on the cerebellum of the brain. Accordingly, the present study have implications for future treatment of autism and dyslexia, two conditions associated with abnormal function of the cerebellum.

  5. I used a sling for both my kids -practically saved my life with #1 who would not sleep unless she was held for weeks. I also was very conscious of her positioning at all times. If she turned too far into the cloth or my body, she was shifted.

  6. Robbie–yeah, I think a lot of that has to do with just awareness–I always thought of my slings as sort of an “arm aid” rather than a completely independent mode of transport. Even when I wore her on my back, it was more like “assisted-piggy-back” and we never did that until she was big enough to hold on pretty well.

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