Wearing your child, baby or toddler in a baby sling or carrier is a wonderful way to stay connected.
However, it's important to make sure you're doing so in the safest and most comfortable way.
When your baby is well-positioned, he will be able to breathe without restriction and both of you will have comfortable, well-supported backs. Like any type of baby equipment, if poorly-designed or used incorrectly, a baby carrier can pose a safety risk.
However, just like your pram, car seat, high chair and cot, good quality products used as intended can be reliable aids to caring for your child.
There are babywearing safety guidelines, developed to easily help parents remember.
Babywearing Safety Guidelines
Here are the most commonly used guidelines to follow when wearing your baby:
#1: Check The T.I.C.K.S.
The T.I.C.K.S. babywearing safety guidelines were developed as a simple checklist to work through every time you wear your baby.
T is for Tight
Your sling or carrier should hug your baby close against you for maximum comfort. Make sure there isn’t any loose fabric or slack which could allow your baby to slump down, pulling on your back and possibly restricting their breathing.
I is for In View At All Times
Your baby’s face should always be visible at a quick glance, without any fabric blocking your view. If your carrier has a hood, your baby is wearing a hat or similar, adjust as needed to allow you an unrestricted view.
C is for Close Enough To Kiss
When you position your baby in the carrier, his head should be just below your chin, close enough to kiss his head. The kisses are a bonus: the position means your baby is high enough on your chest!
K is for Keep Chin off Chest
Your baby should have his chin raised, not tucked down. His head will be slightly tilted back, so can breathe normally. Any head support should keep this position, not tip the chin downwards.
S is for Supported Back
Carry your baby in an upright tummy-to-tummy position, with the carrier tight enough to prevent him slipping down. His back will be supported in this natural position and he won’t slump down in the carrier.
#2: C.A.R.R.Y. Your Baby
C is for CAREFUL
While babywearing increases your freedom to do other things while carrying your baby, don’t take it to the extreme. It's not safe to ride a horse, climb a ladder, play sport or run while wearing your baby. Baby carriers are not suitable for use in a car, when flying, while cycling or other situations where there are regulations regarding restraining babies and toddlers.
When you are cooking or doing other tasks around the home, remember your child may be close to hot surfaces, sharp objects and other things you normally keep out of reach. It is a good idea to limit activities you do to those where your baby can’t reach out or bump into anything dangerous.
A is for Airflow
Babies under four months are particularly vulnerable to blocking their own airway, as their head is large and heavy compared to their neck. You should always be able to slip two fingers under his chin to ensure breathing is not hindered.
R is for Ride High
Your baby should be positioned up on your chest, not down on your belly. Think of the position you might hold a sleeping baby in your arms. Having the baby too low not only limits your line of sight but will tire your back and shoulders.
R is for Right Fit
Once you choose your baby carrier and get it home, take time to read the instructions. Visit the product website, to see any additional instructions or videos. If you can, ask your partner, friend or other support person to go through it with you and act as a second pair of hands and eyes while you do it the first few times. Even better, go along to a local babywearing meet and learn to correctly use your carrier right from the start.
Y is for Your Instinct
You know your baby best. By always being able to make eye contact with your baby, you will know if he is comfortable, safe and supported. You will find you regularly check with a glance or a touch and become confident you are connected with your baby and constantly getting feedback he is doing fine.
#3: Avoid the Cradle Carry
Babywearing International recommends that babies only be held in a horizontal or cradle position during breastfeeding and are returned to an upright position as soon as they have finished.
In a cradle carry, the baby’s head and body wrap around that of the wearer, which tilts his chin down to his chest, potentially blocking his airway. As some carriers also block the adult view of the baby in that position, it is a very real safety risk, particularly in infants aged 0-4 months.
The International Hip Dysplasia Institute states: “The most unhealthy position for the hips during infancy is when the legs are held in extension with the hips and knees straight and the legs brought together, which is the opposite of the fetal position.” This is the position the infant’s legs are forced into in the cradle carry.
#3: Beware the Bag Slings
One type of baby carrier is known as a safety hazard and has been withdrawn from sale around the world. However, it is possible you may come across them as hand-me-downs or at a local garage sale.
Bag slings are duffel-bag style carriers with a flat bottom and two sides that slant upwards towards an elasticised or padded top. The risks are:
1) The bag carrier forces baby into a prone, C-shape position, tucking baby's chin to chest and potentially impeding breathing.
2) Even if a mesh panel is present, the baby's head being enclosed in fabric may cause baby to rebreathe her exhalations that are high in carbon dioxide.
3) It is difficult if not impossible for parents to view their babies' faces at all times and monitor breathing.
4) Babies may roll towards the side of the carrier and end up with their faces pressed into fabric, obstructing breathing.
DO NOT USE any baby carrier you are not sure is safe. Your local babywearing group will be able to help you identify an unsafe style and advise you how best to dispose of it.
#4: Front-Pack Carriers – Safe But Uncomfortable
Probably the most-commonly seen baby carriers, some front-pack carriers are first strapped to your body before the baby is placed into place, meaning the baby is hanging off your body, rather than being held against it. If the carrier has a narrow-base, your baby can’t sit in the recommended M position, which supports their spine and pelvis in a natural way. Without a waist belt, the weight of the baby is borne on your shoulders, which can become uncomfortable with heavier babies (often around 4 months). This style carrier is not intended for use on the back.
Also see our article Choosing a Baby Sling or Carrier – 7 Styles to Choose From to find the style to best suit you.
Babywearing gives you your arms back, keeps your baby visible and kissable and lets you get on with the rest of life knowing your baby is snug and secure right there with you. As your baby grows, you will share sights and sounds together and you will learn all about the world again, through his eyes. A good baby carrier will see you through the first year and beyond.