Baby slings: Tips and warnings

Consumer Reports News: August 21, 2008 02:36 PM

Made of fabric (sometimes pleated or padded), slings typically form an over-the-shoulder hammock for holding a young baby across your front in a semi-reclined position, as you’d naturally carry your baby. And, like a strap-on carrier, it frees your arms. Many slings claim they can be adjusted to tote a toddler up to 35 pounds.

You can transport your child lying down or upright, facing in or out. Some slings can also be worn with your baby on your back or hip. Thinking about getting a sling for your baby? Here are the pluses and minuses of this type of baby carrier.

Pros: Like a strap-on carrier, a sling allows you to get around easily in spaces where a stroller can’t go, such as a grassy park or an escalator at a shopping mall. You’ll also fit better in cramped elevators. And wearing a sling (and your baby, essentially) can just feel good because you keep your baby close.

Cons: Baby slings can be risky. Over the past 10 years, there have been at least 22 reports of serious injury associated with using sling-type carriers, including skull fractures, head injuries, contusions, and abrasions, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Most injuries occurred when the child fell out of the sling. There’s also the potential for a baby to suffocate when being carried in a sling in the head-forward position. See our Safety blog for more about baby-sling safety.

Another minus: Some babies don’t like being carried in a reclining position, and lugging your baby’s weight diagonally in front may be uncomfortable for you too, especially if you’re petite and your baby is large. If you want to pick up the pace, a strap-on carrier or a stroller is your best bet. Finally, our testers determined that some slings have a steep learning curve for putting it on and using it properly. Don’t buy a sling if you suspect that you won’t have the patience to learn how to properly use it.

Verdict: We think there are better ways to transport infants, including strollers, hand-held infant carriers/car seats, and other types of backpack carriers and soft infant carriers. But if you insist on getting a sling, read the directions carefully for how to put it on, and make fit adjustments before putting your baby in it. Slings tend to be the most comfortable if your baby rides just above your waist. Consider practicing with a doll or a weighted object until everything feels right. Make adjustments and check hardware frequently when your baby isn’t in it. When using a sling, go slow. Slings generally aren’t secure enough for activity more rigorous than leisurely walking.

See our reports on soft carriers, backpack carriers, strollers, and car seats for more information.

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