A baby sling — a one-shouldered baby carrier made of soft fabric — can be a safe way to carry a baby, if you follow important safety guidelines. When used incorrectly, however, a baby sling can pose a suffocation hazard to an infant younger than age 4 months.
Babies have weak neck muscles and can't control their heads during the first few months after birth. If the baby sling's fabric presses against a baby's nose and mouth, the baby might not be able to breathe. This can quickly lead to suffocation. A baby sling can also keep a baby in a curled position — bending the chin to the chest. This position can restrict the baby's airways and limit the baby's oxygen supply. In turn, this can prevent a baby from being able to cry for help and poses a risk of suffocation.
A baby is at higher risk of suffocating in a baby sling if he or she:
- Was born prematurely or with a low birth weight — less than 5 pounds, 8 ounces (2,500 grams)
- Has breathing problems, such as a cold
If your baby meets one of these conditions, don't use a baby sling until you talk to your baby's doctor.
If you decide to use a baby sling, take steps to reduce the risks. For example:
- Read the instructions. Double-check the baby sling's weight minimum before placing your newborn in it.
- Keep your baby's airways unobstructed. Make sure your baby's face isn't covered by the baby sling and is visible to you at all times.
- Be careful after breast-feeding. If you breast-feed your baby in a baby sling, make sure you change your baby's position afterward so that his or her head is facing up and is clear of the baby sling and your body.
- Take caution when bending. Bend at the knees, rather than at the waist, if you pick up something while holding your baby in a baby sling. This will help keep your baby settled securely in the sling.
- Check your baby frequently. Make sure he or she is in a safe position.
- Keep an eye out for wear and tear. Repair any rips or tears in the sling's seams and fasteners.
- Check for recalls. Check the Consumer Product Safety Commission's website to make sure your baby sling hasn't been recalled.
Dec. 15, 2012
- Infant deaths prompt CPSC warning about sling carriers for babies. Consumer Product Safety Commission. http://www.cpsc.gov/CPSCPUB/PREREL/prhtml10/10165.html. Accessed Aug. 17, 2012.
- Shelov SP, et al. Caring for Your Baby and Young Child: Birth to Age 5. 5th ed. New York, N.Y.: Bantam Books; 2009:492.
- Goldenberg RL, et al. Low birth weight in the United States. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2007;85:584S.
- Jana LA, et al. Heading Home With Your Newborn: From Birth to Reality. 2nd ed. Elk Grove Village, Ill.: American Academy of Pediatrics; 2011:198.