Babywearing has been around for hundreds of years and it usually exists in some form in most cultures. However, just because something has been around for a long time doesn’t mean that it has always been done safely. In the past, girls would grow up watching their mothers and other women wearing their babies as a common practice. Many girls would even wear their siblings long before they had children of their own to carry. Thus, safe and effective usage was passed down through the generations. Sadly, however, that’s no longer the case.
Many young mothers today haven’t been able to carefully observe other mamas babywearing on a regular basis. They may like the concept when they see it via social media, or decide to try out babywearing and grab the first carrier they see at Target. But too many don’t have a mother or sister or friend living nearby to show them how to use their carrier safely.
Unfortunately, there are some baby carriers on the market that are not actually safe. And as with many other things, there are unsafe ideas and practices circulating amongst mamas who don’t really know better. These situations can lead to mothers endangering their babies without meaning to.
Babywearing isn’t necessarily hard to do. But you wouldn’t want to embark upon anything else in motherhood, no matter how natural, without educating yourself on how to do it well. Don’t make your babywearing choices based solely on social media. Don’t decide that a certain carry must be safe because you saw some other mama in the supermarket using it. Don’t sacrifice your baby’s safety by being uninformed.
There are a few things to keep in mind while babywearing to make sure that your baby is safe while you’re keeping them close. I’ll go through a simple safety checklist, which will go far in ensuring that you’re babywearing safely. I’ll also address some basic dos and don’ts of babywearing which will hopefully give you some insight into particular babywearing situations.
Here’s to babywearing safely!
Babywearing Safety Checklist
There are a few acronyms that you’ll find used in the babywearing world as a simple checklist to ensure that you’re wearing your baby in a safe manner. Here, I’ve combined the T.I.C.K.S. Rule for Safe Babywearing from the School of Babywearing and the ABCs of Safe Babywearing from Babywearing International into K.I.S.S.E.S.
Keep your baby close enough to kiss! While you don’t want to constantly be bumping your little one, their head should be close enough to your chin that you can easily bend your head to kiss your baby on their head.
Keep your baby in view at all times. When wearing your little one, you should always be able to glance down and easily see your baby’s face. The fabric of the carrier should not close over their face so you have to open it to check on them (this would be more of a problem with a sling or a wrap). If the baby is in a cradle position, they should be facing upwards and not toward your body.
Your baby should be held close to you so that their tummy and chest are against you, and their back is supported in a natural position. If you gently press your hand against your baby’s back, they should not uncurl or move closer to you.
You want to always be sure that the carrier you’re using is supporting your baby’s hips and thighs. Ideally, the baby’s legs should be in a “M” position with their knees higher than their bottom, and their weight borne by their bum and thighs. If the width of the seat portion of a carrier goes from knee to knee, then this will also ensure that gravity pulling on a baby’s weight isn’t putting too much strain on their hips.
Easy to Breathe
Keep your baby’s chin off their chest, so that their airway is open. You should always be sure that you can fit the width of two fingers between your baby’s chin and their chest while they’re in a carrier. Your little one should never be curled so that their chin is forced into their chest, as that will interfere with their breathing.
No matter whether you’re using a wrap, a sling, or a soft-structured carrier (and anything in between!), make sure that the carrier is holding the baby very snug against your body. While you obviously don’t want it so overly tight as to cut off circulation, keeping your little one tight against you will prevent the baby falling out of the carrier. Any slack or loose fabric can also cause an especially young baby to slump over, possibly restricting their breathing.
Basic Babywearing Dos and Don’ts
Along with an easy-to-remember safety checklist to help you babywear safely, there are also some dos and don’ts that are helpful to consider.
DO take a look at Babywearing International’s Optimal Positioning graphics.
While all baby carriers have the same basic purpose, each type is a little different and so each type has different safety concerns. Babywearing International’s Optimal Positioning Graphics are very helpful in highlighting the specific things to be aware of when using different carriers. Definitely check them out!
DO ask about the safety standards of the carrier you’re considering.
Big or small, any company that makes baby carriers should take safety very seriously. This consideration for safety should be communicated to you, the consumer, very clearly through listing what measures they take to ensure their carriers are safe. Some companies are members of the Baby Carrier Industry Alliance, an organization that works to promote safe babywearing on an industrial level.
DO your research when making a DIY carrier.
There are lots of great-looking ideas floating around Pinterest about how to make a DIY baby carrier, and honestly, with the price of a good baby carrier, making something out of a couple old T-shirts can be very tempting! But please…do your research and ensure that what you’re making will actually safely carry your baby. Which leads to…
DON’T assume that you can make a safe carrier just because you know how to sew.
Most commercially-made baby carriers follow stringent guidelines in making their carriers and use materials that are specifically made to be strong enough to support the weight of a growing little one. Having some basic sewing skills and knowing how to sew clothes does not equate the knowledge and skills to be able to sew a safe baby carrier. Don’t sacrifice your baby’s safety to save a couple dollars!
DON’T wear your baby in a bag sling.
In 2010, Infantino recalled over a million of their “SlingRider” and “Wendy Bellissimo” bag slings after they were linked to several infant deaths. These “bag slings” are different from other slings in that they really are very similar to a bag that you place your baby in as they hang across the front of the wearer. The design in no way supports the baby’s back and makes it easy for the baby to slump over, closing their airways. This style of sling is incredibly dangerous and should never be used for carrying babies.
DON’T do back carries until you are ready and your baby is old enough.
Babywearing on your back can be incredibly convenient and helpful, but it adds another layer of safety considerations due to the fact that you are not able to keep your arms around your baby if need be. When using a woven wrap, babies can be worn on your back from birth on, but this is a very advanced babywearing skill and needs to be done in a very specific manner. Babies should not be worn on your back in a SSC or mei tai until they have strong and consistent control of their head, neck and torso. As your baby is no longer “kissable” and “in view”, please don’t attempt to rush back carrying until you have the experience to do so safely.
DON’T do back carries in a stretchy wrap.
Stretchy wraps (like the Moby, Boba/Sleepy and Solly wraps) are not safe to use to carry babies on your back. The stretchy material isn’t strong enough to keep the baby from flipping themselves off your back. This YouTube video gives a very good visual example of how that can happen. Just don’t do it!
DON’T help someone with their carrier unless they ask for help.
This applies to anyone who is ever around someone babywearing. Trying to help someone with their baby carrier when they haven’t asked for help can actually really endanger the baby. Most babywearers, but especially those that often do back carries, have a specific, oft-practiced routine in getting their little one safely onto their backs. Any type of interruption of that, such as grabbing part of the carrier to “help”, can interrupt their routine and make it incredibly difficult to finish and get their baby on their back safely. Several times I’ve been getting one of my babies on my back when I’ve had someone try to “help” me, and it’s resulted in my baby almost falling off my back. Not because I didn’t know how to get my baby on my back safely, but because the “help” threw off the routine that I use safely and successfully many times a day. Just DON’T “help”!
All these dos and don’ts and checklists aren’t meant to intimidate or scare you. Babywearing is an age-old practice cherished and enjoyed by mothers throughout the generations. And when practiced with care, it is both a time-saver and a joy.
I hope that the babywearing stories you read here will serve to encourage you about the potential to be discovered in babywearing. And I hope that these Babywearing Basics posts help to fill in the gaps of what was once passed down from mother to daughter, aunt to niece, sister to friend. In reality, it’s all just basic common sense, aided by the wisdom of experience.