Over the last 20 years, there have been at least 14 deaths associated with sling-type carriers, and dozens of injuries, including skull fractures, head injuries, and contusions and abrasions. Most occurred when a child fell out of a sling. Recalls of sling carriers in recent years have prompted ASTM International, an organization that sets voluntary standards, to develop one for sling carriers. The standard went into effect in February 2012 but has few test requirements and, in our opinion, fails to address the hazards of improper use.
Concerns raised by manufacturers, who requested a review that resulted in the ASTM standard, included not only fractures and bruises but also the risk of smothering. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has documented a risk of death from "positional asphyxia" or suffocation, particularly in infants younger than 4 months. Two positions can cause airway blockage and suffocation: When an infant bends his head forward and his chin touches his upper chest, forming a C-shape with his body; and when an infant is completely contained in a carrier with his head turned so that his face is pressed against the caregiver's body. Consumer Reports does not recommend the use of slings due to the large number of recalls of these products, some associated with death or serious injuries and the lack of adequate safety standards. Soft front carriers and backpack carriers are covered by safety standards that we think are adequate, making them safer to consider.
In March 2010, one million Infantino SlingRider and Wendy Bellissimo slings were recalled due to a risk of suffocation (at least three deaths were reported). About 1,200 Ellaroo Ring Sling baby carriers, sold from June 2007 through February 2008, were recalled in 2008 because the aluminum rings on them could bend or break, allowing the fabric to slip through the rings and cause a baby to fall. In 2007, about 100,000 Infantino SlingRider baby carriers, sold from July 2006 through February 2007, were recalled because of a similar malfunction in a plastic slider. Don't buy or accept as a gift any secondhand carrier or sling because defective ones could still be in circulation.
Some slings can be simple to put on and wear. Others resemble a fabric version of origami, which leads us to believe that some of the incidents with sling carriers are due to improper wearing or assembly, or a failure of the rings or other hardware. It's uncertain how an ASTM International standard can help to make these products safer or error-proof. For now, we think there are better ways to transport infants including strollers, handheld baby carrier and car seats, and strap-on carriers.
Consumer Reports has not tested or rated current models of any type of carrier. Brands and models are mentioned here as examples only.