If you're an expectant or new mom, you've probably heard about babywearing a time or two (or dozens of times). There are many benefits to wearing your little one. Babywearing is comforting to babies, it can help reduce crying, and you get to keep your baby close while still being able to move around. If you choose to babywear in a sling, here's how to keep your baby safe.
1. Make sure it's appropriate for your baby.
Some factors can increase the risk of suffocation when using a sling. If your baby is younger than 4 months, premature, low birth weight, or if he has a cold or respiratory problem, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) recommends talking to your baby's pediatrician before you use a sling.
2. Try Several Before You Buy.
Before you purchase a sling, test-drive several to see which is best for you and your baby. One way to find out what might suit your needs is to contact a local babywearing group so you can get more information and try on a variety of slings (and other carriers), says Kathy Low, a babywearing educator and vice president of the board of directors for Babywearing International. You could also visit stores that carry brands you're considering. Once you've narrowed down your choices, confirm that your baby's age, height, and weight meet the product guidelines, look for online safety reviews, and make sure the CPSC hasn't recalled the sling. Read the instruction manual, which you can find in the packaging material or on the manufacturer's website, and watch any videos that provide wearing tips.
3. Take a seat (on the floor).
A sling, especially if it has a lot of fabric, can have a learning curve, so get in a lot of practice before you begin to wear your baby. "When you're first attempting to wear a sling, it's really important to do it in a safe space," says Danelle Fisher, M.D., FAAP, chair of pediatrics at Providence Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, California. Sitting on a carpeted floor is preferable, she says. First, practice wrapping the sling around your body and adjusting the fabric. Then add a stand-in for your baby. It can be helpful to use a teddy bear, doll, or a bag of flour to add some weight to the sling, says Low. Make sure you have someone there to help in case you need an extra pair of hands. But work to get it down on your own, too, since there will be times when you will need to get your baby in and out of the sling by yourself. Once you have the hang of it, grab your spotter again and practice putting on the sling, placing your baby in it, and then taking him out.
4. Put your baby in the proper position.
Slings can be worn in multiple carrying positions, including tummy to tummy with baby seated upright, a cradle carry (this is more like a reclined seating position rather than baby lying horizontally), and a hip carry (for older babies who have control of their heads and necks). Low says Babywearing International recommends parents remember the ABCs. A stands for airway because you want to make sure your baby is getting enough air circulation to prevent suffocation. Your child's chin shouldn't be touching her chest, her face shouldn't be pressed into your body or the sling fabric, and you shouldn't cover her head or face in the sling," says Low. Make sure you can see your baby's face at all times. The B, which stands for body positioning, means your baby's back should be well supported, and her legs should be in what's known as an M-shape, with her knees higher than her bottom. The C is for comfort. If the sling doesn't feel good to either you or your baby (she'll let you know by crying), then something is wrong, Low says. Try changing your baby's position, adjusting the sling, or find an online tutorial or local babywearing educator for help. With slings, Dr. Fisher recommends you only use them for a couple of hours or so and then take your child out for a while so she gets a break.
5. Take care after breastfeeding
A sling can make breastfeeding easier, but if you nurse your baby in the sling, don't forget to change his position afterward. Once he's done with his meal, move him back to the position in which his head is facing up and clear of your body or the sling.
6. Be weather wise
During the winter, you can place your baby in the sling and use a roomy coat over both of you. Try using your partner's coat, a maternity or babywearing coat, or a baby carrier cover. If you use a coat, zip it only part way up so you can still see your child's face. Never cover his head with a blanket. No matter how thin, it can cause breathing difficulties.
In hot weather, Low says to use a sling 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 babe) well hydrated.
7. Take extra caution.
"When you're wearing your baby, it changes your center of gravity, so be extremely careful, especially when on stairs or slippery surfaces," says Dr. Fisher. When bending, bend at your knees and support your baby with one or both hands. Be cautious when going through doorways and turning corners. It's also a good idea to frequently check the stitching and make sure the sling isn't damaged, 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). Taking these steps will make babywearing more enjoyable (and safe) for your little one.