Saturday, October 31, 2009

babywearing and sling safety

Wearing my children in slings and wraps has been one of my favorite and most memorable parts of being a mother. I love being close to my baby, being able to breastfeed privately and comfortably when on the go, letting my baby sleep when she was tired, having my hands free, being able to more easily focus on two children at once. I love the soft, pretty fabrics, the different designs and styles, the attention that I draw when I wear a pretty sling, wrap or mei tai. I love love love babywearing!

I was somewhat unnerved, however, to see this week's Consumer Reports blog post, Baby deaths raise concerns about Infantino slings, posted on October 26, 2009 by Don Mays. I know that "bag style" baby slings are dangerous as they potentially put the baby in a position that may lead to suffocation, and bag style slings have already been under scrutiny and criticism by babywearing advocates for their poor design. M'Liss Steltzer, RN, who contacted manufacturers of various bag style sings in 2006 regarding their hazards, has a blog where she describes the specific downfalls and dangers of bag style slings, Baby Sling Safety.

What struck me most about Mays' Consumer Report post is that I do not agree with his statement that all slings are potentially dangerous. He argues that as no official safety standards for slings are set in place yet, slings should not be used for babywearing; he even lists them as one of the Five Products NOT to Buy for Your Baby (I will save my arguments for bedsharing for later).

In a previous post, Mays maintains that, despite the seven deaths that occurred in the span of a single year in cribs that were then recalled, the safest place for a baby to sleep is still in a crib. And now he argues that slings are dangerous due to five deaths in four years and thus should not be used. The primary problem with May's reasoning is that he confuses lack of research with danger. If I understand Consumer Reports and their goals correctly, they pride themselves in thorough research of products and objective reviews, and not perfunctory opinions.

Any infant death is tragic. However, four deaths in five years seems relatively low to me, especially when all of the deaths were due to the hazardous design flaw of one particular sling style. How many infants are injured or die from being carried in car seats that are dropped or when strollers tip over? I have never seen an Consumer Reports article that evaluates portable car seats for uses that are not in cars, but they are not advising against this practice. The instances of infant deaths in bag style slings should not imply that all slings are potentially dangerous.

And just because there are no official safety standards set in place or definitive product testing in regards to baby slings, it does not mean that there is not information on the hazards of various sling styles and other baby carriers, as well as information on safer, more comfortable carriers and styles and guidelines for safe babywearing. These resources certainly are available, especially on the internet: The Babywearer is a comprehensive online resource for babywearing, as is Babywearing International. Books that cover babywearing as a safe and established tradition are The Attachment Parenting Book by William Sears and Martha Sears and Babywearing by Maria Blois.

As an experienced babywearing mama, I can tell you that most slings available at popular baby specialty stores and department stores, such as Baby Bejorn, Infantino and Snuggli, are inferior designs, uncomfortable when compared to other ethnically traditional styles, as well as less ergonomic overall in design. Worthwhile brands of slings and wraps, including Maya Wrap, Mamma's Milk, and BabyHawk, tend to be more simple in design, more practical in use, and are available mostly online or in local natural parenting stores; they also come with detailed instructions and warnings about ensuring proper positioning, and are far more comfortable and versatile for you and your baby.

The most important thing to remember is that you are the parent. As a parent, you make the decisions as to what is best for your child. Do your research. Do not depend on manufacturer studies and reviews, but take objective product reviews and personal experiences into account when making your parenting decisions. The tremendous emotional, physiological, and logistical benefits of wearing my children were well worth the effort to learn the proper techniques, and I firmly believe that there is no safer place for my baby to be than on me. Babywearing is a wonderful, rewarding practice for both you and your children.

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