Trading Standards supports the safe use of infant slings. However incorrect use can be dangerous, and one type in particular is unsafe.
What are the dangers?
Babies have suffocated while being carried in slings. They are at risk if placed incorrectly, as they're not able to move out of dangerous positions that block their airways.
Babies who are low birth weight, born prematurely, or who have breathing issues such as a cold appear to be at most risk.
Parents and carers should take extreme care if using slings and pouches to carry babies that are:
- under 4 months old, or
- less than 4 kg.
Two positions present significant danger:
- a curved back with the chin resting on the chest
- having the face pressed against the fabric of the sling or the wearer’s body.
As well as the risk of suffocating, babies are also at risk of receiving low levels of oxygen because of the position they are in, or falling out and suffering injuries.
Don't let anything block the baby’s face — like the sling or the wearer’s body. Small babies can't turn their heads to get fresh air.
Don't let the baby lie in a curved position with their chin resting on their chest. Any pressure on the chin can push the tongue back and close the airway. Babies need to lie with a straight back so that the tummy muscles can pump old air out of the lungs and new air in, and they need their head up to ensure a clear airway.
Dangerous baby slings
Never use a bag sling — the baby can't be placed in a safe position and can suffocate. A bag sling is one shaped like a bag with a narrow strap:
One brand (Infantino) has been recalled following 3 deaths of babies in the US, but any sling of this design is unsafe.
Slings that curve baby's spine
Never use products that allow the baby to lie with a curved spine — these are described as ‘womb-like’, or a ‘cocoon’, or placing the baby in a ‘foetal position’.
These place the baby in a dangerous position with a curved back, which folds the windpipe and blocks the airway. A foetus doesn’t need a straight back to breathe, but a baby does.
Dos and don'ts of baby slings
- Put baby to sleep safely in a cot if you need to carry out any activity involving water, machinery, heat or excessive movement.
- Carry baby in an upright position if he or she is ill — even if it’s just a cold.
- do anything while wearing a sling that you wouldn’t do with baby in your arms
- use a sling when you are smoking
- use a sling if you are under the influence of medication or alcohol.
And remember that certain slings aren’t suitable for small or premature babies.
Buying a sling
Slings are made from fabric, and are designed to help with carrying babies by easing the pressure on your arms or back. There are many different designs and some are safer than others.
If you are buying a baby sling:
- Before you buy, do some research, and try to contact a babywearing group for advice.
- Take your baby with you when you buy a sling to ensure that the product you buy is a safe fit for you and the baby.
- Ask the shop assistant for a demonstration of how to use the sling correctly. If they aren’t sure, buy elsewhere.
- Ensure any sling you buy comes with detailed instructions for use. Make sure you follow them and get someone to help until you are familiar with how to use it.
- Choose products that stop a baby from moving into a position where they can suffocate.
- Choose products that are appropriate for your baby’s stage of development.
Wearing a sling
A baby held in the arms is naturally in a safe position — the head is supported, the back is straight and the airway is open. A sling should hold the baby in the same way.
In an instinctual in-arms cradle carry, the infant is carried in a slightly inclined position, with the bottom slightly lower than the back, which straightens the back yet still allows for a slight, gentle curve. The neck and the base of the infant’s head are supported by the parent’s forearm, yet the upper portion of their head is slightly dropped off the parent’s forearm. This carrying technique opens the infant’s airway and provides space for lung expansion.
To check whether your baby's position in the sling is correct:
- Place your arms around baby, as you would to hold them in-arms.
- If this lifts or repositions baby, it means the baby was in the wrong position and the sling needs to be adjusted.
Also, regularly check that:
- baby’s face is clear, and
- baby’s spine is straight.
Immediately re-position or remove the baby from the sling immediately if you observe any of these signs:
- face covered or chin tucked in
- head turned to the side
- curled into a ‘C’ position
- grunting, wheezing, whistling breaths
- laboured or rapid breathing
- a dusky or ‘blue’ tinge on the baby’s skin
- ‘fussiness’, restlessness or squirming.
Reporting a problem with a baby sling
If you have a safety problem or concern with a baby sling, let us know.