Babywearing is a growing trend—and with good reason. Experts say wearing your baby can help reduce crying, make breastfeeding easier, promote bonding, and free up your hands to do other things. If you choose to babywear in a carrier, here's how to keep your baby safe.
1. Do your research.
Before you purchase a carrier, first try a variety of models to determine which is best for you and your child. An easy way to do that is to attend a local babywearing meeting so you get to see and try many carriers in person, says Kathy Low, a babywearing educator and vice president of the board of directors for Babywearing International. Once you've narrowed down your choices, confirm that your baby's age, height, and weight meets the product guidelines, look for online safety reviews, and make sure the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) hasn't recalled the carrier. Read the instruction manual, which you can find in the packaging material or on the manufacturer's website, and watch any instructional videos. You want to make sure you know as much as possible before you begin wearing your baby.
2. Practice using the carrier without Baby at first.
Try using the carrier, but don't put your baby in it yet. Instead, you can use a doll, a stuffed animal, or even a bag of flour so you can have some weight in the carrier, Low says. Practice putting on the carrier and taking it off. Have someone help, but do some solo run-throughs too. You need to be able to put the carrier on and take it off, buckle it and unbuckle it (with one hand since you'll need to support your baby at the same time), and put your baby in and get her out without help. Once you have that down, wear the carrier (still sans baby) around the house so you get used to it and can determine if it's comfortable throughout the day. When you start to practice with your baby in the carrier, do it on the floor, on a soft surface, and have a spotter until you have lots of experience, says Danelle Fisher, M.D., FAAP, chair of pediatrics at Providence Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, California.
3. Make sure Baby is positioned correctly.
Your baby's airway should remain clear while he's in the carrier. His chin shouldn't be tucked into his chest, and his face should not be pressed up against your body—both positions can obstruct your baby's breathing and lead to suffocation, Dr. Fisher says. Your babe should be upright, with his face visible at all times, and you should check on him often. Be especially careful with newborns. "Carriers require babies to have some degree of neck strength and the ability to hold up their head," Dr. Fisher says. She recommends using a wrap during the first few months (babies usually have good neck strength at about 4 months old) because there are inserts that support the head and neck. But before you use one, make sure your baby meets the age and weight requirements, and check with the manufacturer to confirm the insert is appropriate to use with your carrier.
Your baby's leg position is also important. The legs shouldn't hang straight down because it can interfere with hip development and possibly lead to hip dysplasia (a deformation of the hip joint). Your baby's legs should be spread apart and the legs should be straddling your body, which allows for healthy hip positioning, Dr. Fisher says. In addition, don't wear your baby in the carrier for excessive lengths of time. "This is not meant to be a position that the baby should be in for several hours," says Dr. Fisher. She recommends limiting time in the carrier to an hour at a time. Then give your baby a break so his hips can move around and avoid getting overextended.
4. Dress for the weather.
During the winter, you can wear your baby inside or outside of your coat. If you prefer inside, dress her in her indoor clothes and a hat, put on the carrier and baby, and then wear a babywearing pouch, maternity coat, or coat that's a size or two larger than you normally wear, Low says. Zip the coat up only halfway so you can still see your cutie's face. To wear her outside of your coat, dress her in her winter gear and put on your coat and the carrier. Adjust the straps to make them comfortable, and then place your baby in the carrier. Never cover her head with a blanket. No matter how thin, it can affect her breathing.
In hot weather, Low says to use a carrier that has breathable fabric; dress your baby and yourself in light, airy clothing; stay in the shade as much as possible; and keep yourself (and your little one) well hydrated.
5. Be careful.
Your balance can be affected when you're wearing your baby, so watch your step. Also, be mindful when going through doorways and turning corners. When bending, bend at your knees and support your baby with one or both hands. It's also a good idea to inspect the carrier before each use to make sure there are no frayed seams and that buckles are working appropriately, Low says. In addition, follow some basic safety tips: No cooking or drinking hot beverages when your baby is in tow, don't travel in a vehicle while wearing your baby, and avoid activities that increase your baby's risk of falling (like running or bicycling). These simple steps can make babywearing more enjoyable (and safe) for your little one.