Wearing baby out
Carrying your newborn in a sling or fabric carrier can be a positive experience for you both, as long as you follow important safety guidelines
Top tips for carrying your bub safely
Being carried close to you helps babies regulate their temperature, heart rate and breathing, as well as build close bonds
When bub moves from the womb to the outside world, she’s faced with many changes. It’s noisy, bright, the sounds are different and the temperature fluctuates. She’s probably also missing that comforting, reassuring and regular rhythm of your heartbeat.
Many mums believe one of the kindest ways to ease babies into their new environment is ‘babywearing’, a term to describe the practice of spending time with your bub strapped close to your body in a fabric sling or carrier. Studies have shown being carried close to you helps babies regulate their temperature, heart rate and breathing, as well as build close bonds.
Babywearing is growing in popularity and has many supporters including the Australian Breastfeeding Association, but safety warnings have been issued by different authorities over the use of slings, which are the soft, unstructured fabric carriers tied or attached to the carer’s body.
Between 2010 and March 2013, three Australian babies died from suffocation in fabric slings. Following the last of these – the death of a three-week-old baby girl in Brisbane – the Queensland coroner requested the state’s Office of Fair Trading devise a safety awareness campaign.
Queensland Office of Fair Trading manager of product safety, Dave Strachan, says the key points are that your baby is as upright as possible, her face (particularly the nose and mouth) is uncovered at all times and that she’s close enough to you to kiss. He says babywearing is popular, as well as practical and safe, as long as parents and carers follow safety messages. “People feel strongly about babywearing, and believe it’s a good thing to do,” Dave says. “We don’t have a problem with this provided the product is safe and people use it properly.”
The biggest risk with using slings is suffocation, as babies do not have the coordination or strength to move out of dangerous positions. There are two ways suffocation can occur. If a baby is carried in a position so her chin is against her chest, her airways become blocked. If her mouth and nose are pushed against the fabric of the sling, breathing will be difficult.
“This is particularly true if the child is low birth weight or has a cold or respiratory illness – and parents need to be a bit mindful of this,” says Dave. “We found lots of people wanted to be confident about using slings, but were a bit hesitant about the information given in a shop.”
There are many makes and varieties of slings which, unlike other baby carriers, do not have a solid back or frame or leg openings. Dave says carers need to be extra cautious using pouch-type fabric slings, as infants may slip down into the pouch and be completely covered by the sling.
“The key message is to keep your baby in view and close enough to kiss at all times, but being in a pouch may not meet these criteria,” says Dave.
There are also a few other risks when using baby slings, which include falls and injury to the baby while the carer is carrying out other tasks. In Australia there is no mandatory safety standard governing slings.
Provided they are used safely, slings are strongly supported by many in the community, including the Australian Breastfeeding Association, which has endorsed the Hug-a-Bub wrap-style slings.
President Rachel Fuller says the ABA has supported babywearing for more than 50 years as a helpful tool in breastfeeding. “Having mother and baby close together helps with breastfeeding as a mother can more easily learn her baby’s cues and respond to their needs,” says Rachel. She says Hug-a-Bub products have an optimal deep seat position for good hip, back and spine development, with the baby’s legs and bottom forming a froggy or ‘M’ shape.
Babes in Arms director and mum of four, Anita Lincolne-Lomax, says studies have identified many benefits for mums, dads and babies with babywearing. Parents bond better with their babies and have more confidence in reading their cues. Babies feel safe and comforted by their parents’ body rhythms – their heartbeat, body temperature and smell – which decreases stress hormones. And babies in slings have also been shown to cry less, fall asleep quicker and possibly have fewer colic and reflux symptoms, Anita says.
So if you’re toying with the idea of babywearing, it’s worth a shot – as long as you follow the TICKS safety checklist.