How to keep your baby safe in a carrier or sling

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Baby carriers and slings are more than an efficient way to carry around your baby. They can free up your hands, promote a stronger bond with your baby, and alleviate the pain or discomfort associated with holding your baby for long periods of time. 

There are different varieties of baby carriers and slings, and each type might have greater benefits or drawbacks for you and your baby depending on their stage of life and what your budget is. 

Baby carrier vs sling

Baby carrier

While there are many varieties of baby carriers, two of the most common are the buckle or soft structured carrier, and the Mei Dai or half buckle carrier. 

The soft structured or full buckle carrier is padded, worn at the front of your chest and allows for adjustable positions to suit your baby at various stages of their life. The soft structured carrier is popular because it's easy to get the hang of – all you need to do is fit your baby in and tighten the buckles on the waist belt and shoulder straps. 

The Mei Dai is an East-Asian style soft structured carrier. It has a front panel that's attached to a tie waistband and shoulder straps, with the straps crossing your back and tying behind your back or beneath your baby’s bottom. Some varieties of the Mei Dai also have a buckle closure on the waistband, hence the name, half buckle carrier. 

Most baby carriers have padded or adjustable straps, which make it a comfortable choice as your baby gets older (and heavier). 

Due to their versatility, this type of carrier can be expensive, and hard to fit in a nappy bag due to the structure. If you’re using the baby carrier for a newborn, we’d also recommend getting an infant insert (unless it's specified as a ‘newborn carrier’). Newborns cannot hold up their own heads like older babies can, and many carriers do not have the support to hold up your baby’s head.

Baby sling

Baby slings and wraps, while different, are both long pieces of fabric tied around the body to support your baby. There are many varieties of wraps and slings, but the most popular are woven wraps and ring slings. 

Woven wraps can be intimidating, as you need to learn new positions to better support your baby as they grow. However, as long as you know what positions work best at each stage of your baby’s life, the woven wrap can still be a solid long-term option. You might also find wearing a stretchy wrap, which is unsurprisingly stretchier than a woven wrap, a cost-effective alternative to the woven wrap for the first few months of your baby’s life. 

Stretchy wraps are better for beginners, as they’re easy to learn how to use. While they’re better for newborns, they can’t effectively support the weight of older children. They can also cause discomfort, as the increased weight can cause the fabric to dig into your shoulders.

The fabric in a ring sling is threaded through a set of two rings and can be adjusted to create the perfect fit. The sling is tied around you and your baby, tying a knot behind your back or at your lower abdomen. Ring slings have no weight limit for your baby, so they can be used at various stages of their life – they’re also less complex than a wrap and lighter than a carrier, making it an option worth considering.

Choosing a carrier or sling

Whether you choose a sling or carrier, there are a variety of factors to take into consideration.

  • Make sure it comes with detailed instructions.
  • Select the right size (you might want to take your baby with you when shopping to make sure you both get a perfect fit).
  • Ask for a demonstration on how to use the sling or carrier in-store.
  • Be wary of slings that look like bags or pouches – these can obstruct your baby and cause suffocation. Your baby could be resting with its chin on its chest and you wouldn't know.
  • For carriers, look for one with wide, padded shoulder straps and waist straps to evenly distribute the baby’s weight and pressure, and prevent the carrier from moving around too much. 
  • Get one that’s appropriate for all seasons to prevent overheating.
  • Stop using it once your baby feels too heavy – consult the manual for how much weight the carrier can handle.
  • If you choose to go with a carrier over a sling, ensure it allows your baby’s legs to be positioned in an M shape, with their knees above their hips, so their hip sockets have ample support.

Baby carrier rules and regulations

Unlike car seats, there are currently no Australian standards or laws for baby carriers and slings. However, that doesn't mean you can't learn how to keep your baby safe. We’d recommend looking for a baby carrier with the European standard EN 13209-2:2005, or the US standard ASTM F2236-08.

Additionally, make sure the carrier or sling comes with ample instruction on how to use it, and ensure it's made from durable material. 

Common safety hazards when using baby slings

It's important to know how to use your baby sling or carrier, and what risks they can present so they can be avoided.

There are four main hazards associated with baby slings:

  1. Trips while wearing the sling.
  2. The sling is not assembled properly, and your baby falls through a gap in the sling. 
  3. The sling breaks and your baby falls. 
  4. The baby suffocates from lying with a curved back and their chin on their chest, or their face is pressed up against the fabric of the sling or carrier. This is why we’d advise against products that are described as ‘womb-like’ as they can force your baby into a position that can obstruct breathing and increase the risk of suffocation.

The TICKS Checklist

If your baby is placed in the sling incorrectly, they can shift into a dangerous position that blocks their airways, resulting in suffocation. We recommend following the T.I.C.K.S checklist for ultimate baby safety.

  • TIGHT: The sling should be tight enough that the baby is positioned upright with their head supported. 
  • IN VIEW: Always ensure your baby’s nose, mouth, and face are in view and are not covered by the sling. 
  • CLOSE ENOUGH TO KISS: Your baby should be close enough to your chin that you can tip your head forward and kiss them. 
  • KEEP YOUR BABY’S CHIN OFF THEIR CHEST: Ensure their face is not pressed against the fabric of the sling, and they are not lying with a curved back with their chin on their chest as this can restrict breathing. 
  • SUPPORTED BACK: Ensure you support your baby’s back with a hand when bending over. In the sling, their chest and stomach should be resting against yours.

General baby carrier safety tips

  • Ensure your baby’s legs are not bunched up against their stomach inside the sling as this can restrict breathing. 
  • Regularly check on your baby, as they can be distressed without making noise. 
  • Keep a sharp eye on premature babies or babies with breathing difficulties, and consult your doctor before using a sling or carrier. 
  • Keep an eye out for spills or uneven surfaces so as to not trip while you’re wearing your baby.
  • Avoid using carriers in hot weather – your body heat plus the fabric of the carrier can raise your baby’s temperature.
  • Don't use the carrier or sling when cooking or drinking hot beverages like tea or coffee. 
  • Ask for help when taking it off or putting it on.
  • Be aware of any activity that might loosen the sling.

Final word

Baby carriers and slings not only free up your hands, but they can help strengthen the unique bond between parent and child. It's important to understand what the safest option is for your child, based on your budget and their stage of life. While baby carriers and slings can both pose safety hazards, there are steps you can take to ensure your baby is as safe as they can be.

Hannah Geremia
Written by
Hannah Geremia
Hannah has had over six years of experience in researching, writing, and editing quality content. She loves gaming, dancing, and animals, and can usually be found under a weighted blanket with a cup of coffee and a book.

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