This month for our Ask the Experts series, we’re gathering info on babywearing. Today’s topic is babywearing safety, shared by Dr. Nina Shapiro, Director of Pediatric Ear, Nose, and Throat at the Mattel Children’s Hospital UCLA and author of Take a Deep Breath: Clear the Air for the Health of Your Child.
Infant carriers: How to keep your baby safe and cozy
Infant carriers, be they sacks, slings or structured packs, are wonderful ways to keep a baby close to your body, whether you are a mom, dad or a loving caregiver. The physical closeness that these carriers provide allows a baby to feel similar to how he felt in the womb—even if it’s not mom who’s carrying him. Babies feel the warmth of the body, are curled up in a position similar to the one they were in before they were born, and they also feel the rhythmic up-and-down or side-to-side movement that lulled them to slumber for nine glorious months. For these reasons, many infants have fantastic naps in these carriers. The added bonus is that the person doing the carrying can have two hands (and legs) free to do just about anything—feed another child, feed themselves, go for a stroll, do household errands, or even sit down and read this article.
But while it is overall safe (and wonderful I might add, having worn my two kids for hours on end) for your infant to be carried in these carriers, there are several issues you should keep in mind to keep your baby safe, especially if he is under age four months.
In 2010, the Consumer Product Safety Commission issued a warning regarding safety of infant carriers, after several infant deaths were reported to have occurred in baby carriers. These horrors were likely linked to unsafe sleep positioning, not the carriers themselves. Safe positioning for your newborn is crucial when snuggling him up in his sack. Just as we have all learned that placing a newborn on his back in his crib before sleep is the safest position to reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), we must also understand safe sleep positioning in infant carriers.
The most likely cause of SIDS, as well as the most likely cause of infant death in a carrier, has to do with head positioning during sleep. If an infant’s head is positioned face down in a crib, or against the material of a carrier, he can rebreathe his own carbon dioxide (the substance we breathe out). If a baby breathes in his own carbon dioxide, he can become unconscious, and can even stop breathing altogether. When this happens, babies do not struggle or startle, so when you think your baby is sleeping, he may actually be unconscious or not be breathing.
When you snuggle your young infant into any type of carrier, there are a few simple points you need to remember in order to keep your baby safe. The first is to take note of his neck position. Babies have very flexible necks, which allow them to safely curl up without damaging their muscles, nerves, or bones. However, they also have very little muscle support in their necks. If their head is positioned so that their neck is fully flexed down, and is then compressed in a carrier, this may compress their throat and breathing passages, and block off their airway. It is safe to have your baby’s neck slightly flexed down, but not to the point where his chin is touching his chest.
A second important point to keep in mind is that all young infants rely on their noses, not their mouths, to breathe. Make sure that your baby’s nose is exposed to air, not to the material of the carrier or to your clothes or body. They can still remain warm and bundled, but their nose needs to be out in the air.
The take-home message is that infant carriers are indeed safe and wonderful, as long as they are used correctly. If you have a young infant, make sure that your baby’s neck is not fully flexed down, and that his face is exposed to air, not the material of the sack. The rest of his body can be snuggled tightly and he will have a cozy, safe sleep.
Check out the rest of our expert advice on babywearing:
The different styles and types of carriers
Babywearing and bonding with baby
Babywearing and infant health