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Using Baby Carriers and Slings Safely

By: Rachel Newcombe - Updated: 2 Nov 2012 | comments*Discuss
 
Baby Babies Infant Newborn Carrier Sling

Many mums and dads love the opportunity of having their baby in a special carrier or sling, not least because it makes them feel close by at all times. As an added bonus, it also means your hands are free to do other tasks. Most babies like carriers and slings too, as they have constant close contact with their parents. But in order for carriers and slings to be successful, you do need to take note of safety issues and ensure you use them properly.

Benefits of Carriers

Baby carriers can be used for around nine months or until your baby has learnt to sit up or is too heavy for you to carry in this way. For newborn babies, front carriers are very popular, while for older babies, there are models that face outwards.

The carriers consist of two shoulder straps, which support a deep fabric seat and there's a padded headrest. It's nice and cosy for your baby and ensures he's always close to you. Carriers also have safety restraints, so there's a bit more reassurance over the safety of your baby.

Carrier safety points:

  • It can take a while to master the art of getting your baby in and out of the carrier.
  • You may find carriers more suited to younger babies, as some older infants may resist going in one.

Benefits of Slings

Slings are constructed from a wide piece of fabric that is worn across the torso and supported by a single shoulder strap. Women who are breastfeeding often use slings, as it's nice and loose and allows easy and discrete feeding. However, slings can be bulky and a bit cumbersome, and having support on only one shoulder may make carrying heavier babies difficult.

Sling safety points:

  • It's sometimes difficult to tie soft slings properly.
  • You need to be aware that there's usually no harness inside the sling. This means it's essential that you support your baby with your hands when you're bending down.

What to Look for When Buying a Baby Carrier or Sling

Baby carriers come in a variety of styles and designs, with some models better than others, and slings are made of various different materials. When you're choosing a carrier or sling, it's important to consider safety aspects.
  • Choose a carrier that will hold and support your baby securely and is the right size for him. You don't want something that's too big, where he could run the risk of falling out.
  • Look for a carrier that has wide padded shoulder straps and ensure all straps are adjustable.
  • Some carriers have an extra padded waist or hip belt. These can help distribute your baby's weight better and reduce the strain on your shoulders.
  • Ensure that the harness, straps, buckles, snaps and belts all seem durable and hardwearing.
  • Look for a sling that's made of soft, warm and breathable cotton.
  • Slings need a generous amount of fabric, but ensure it's not too big – otherwise your infant could get lost in all the extra fabric.
  • Check that the leg holes on carriers have elastic or padded fabric to support your baby's legs.
  • Ensure a carrier has a padded headrest, to support your baby's head and neck.
  • Try on slings and carriers before you buy. They need to be easy to get on and off. With a carrier, having one that requires two adults to get it on and off might not be practical for your needs.
  • Decide whether a front facing or back facing carrier is best for your needs.
  • Look for models that are easy to clean.

Using Carriers and Slings Safely

You've bought your carrier or sling and are keen to start using it, but before you let your baby loose in it, practice first. If you've never used a carrier before, it can take quite a bit of getting used to. You may feel silly, but put the carrier on and try putting in a doll, teddy or even a cushion.

A sling can take a bit of getting used to as well. Most importantly, you need to learn to tie it up and get it fully secured. It needs to be positioned so that it supports your baby's head, neck and back and it shouldn't be held to closely to your chest.

Once you've mastered the basics of putting on a carrier or sling, you can progress to trying it out with your baby. To use it safely:

  • Always follow the manufacturer's instructions.
  • Each time you put the carrier or – and before your baby goes in – make sure all the fastenings and straps are secure. Give them a quick tug and if anything feels loose, don't proceed with using the carrier.
  • Make any adjustments to the straps before you put your baby in.
  • Ensure you tie the sling properly, so that it's fully secure.
  • Wear shoes that are comfy and flat, and that you're unlikely to slip or fall in.
  • Be careful when leaning forward or bending.
  • Be aware that your babies movements may affect your balance.

When Not to Wear a Carrier or Sling

Of course, there are some situations when it's unsafe to use a baby carrier or sling. These include:
  • When you're cooking.
  • When you're drinking or carrying hot beverages.
  • When you're driving.
  • When you're standing on stools or climbing ladders.
  • When you're using sharp knives.
  • When you're jogging, skating or riding a bike.
  • When you're reaching for overhead items that could fall and hit your baby.

Backpack Carriers

Another type of carrier is the backpack which, quite literally, is carried on your back. These are only suitable for use with babies over the age of six months old, or until an infant is able to sit up on their own and support their neck properly. Back carriers usually have a frame and are a more sturdy way of carrying a baby for a longer time. They're particularly good, for example, if you're going out for a long walk and want to carry your baby with you.

Here are some tips on using backpack carriers:

  • For safety reasons, it's recommended that you have help putting on and taking off a back carrier.
  • Ensure a back carrier fits correctly and is adjusted to fit both you and your baby. You may have to readjust fittings depending on what clothes your baby is wearing, or as she grows bigger.
  • Some back carriers come with a hood or canopy, and these are useful if it rains or gets too hot, as your infants head will be sheltered.
  • For older or heavier children, or if you're using it while walking, look out for a model that has a waist strap. This will help balance out their weight.
  • A back carrier with an adjustable inside seat and harness is good for your baby.
  • Do not use the carrier as a child seat.
  • Remember that your baby's head may be higher than yours – take care when walking through doors or going under overhanging trees.

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