Is it safe to hold a baby in a baby sling?

Answers from Jay L. Hoecker, M.D.

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 See more Expert Answers