Back in 2012, when my youngest child, Ruby was just 11 months, I bloggedabout the risks associated with baby carriers/slings.

I had used one myself for all three of my children (thankfully without incident) who are now 9, 6 and 4 (how time flies!), but was horrified to discover an article on a US website warning that baby carriers/slings could pose a suffocation hazard:

  • With some designs, the fabric can press against a baby’s nose and mouth, blocking breathing and causing suffocation in minutes
  • The particular position of a baby in the baby carrier/sling can cause suffocation
  • There is a risk with slings in which a baby is cradled in a “C-like” position that a baby who does not have strong neck control could flop its head forward, chin-to-chest restricting its ability to breathe, resulting in suffocation.

More Awareness Needed!

I remain shocked, surprised and incredibly sad that there is not more awareness of this risk. Child Safety Week seems like the ideal time to write about this again.

Tragically, in late 2013, a five week old baby boy died after being taken out by his parents for a short walk in a sling to soothe him. At the inquest, the assistant coroner concluded that the cause of death was hypoxic brain injury caused by a cardiac arrest due to an upper airway obstruction as a result of the baby’s position in the sling. He said that on balance, the cardiac arrest resulted from asphyxia whilst being carried in the sling and that there was nothing to suggest that the use of the sling was inappropriate or incorrect. The paediatric pathologist who had carried out the post-mortem said she felt compelled to raise awareness of the potential dangers that slings can pose to babies, adding that a death in a sling occurs usually due to the position of the infant inside it which leads to asphyxiation.

Scarily, these are serious dangers of which there is very little awareness. I was certainly unaware of them during the time I used baby carriers/slings. Indeed, baby carriers/slings are often recommended in babycare books and at antenatal classes. They allow you to carry your baby close to you, which babies find soothing. They enable you to keep your hands free, which is helpful if there are rather energetic older siblings you might need to hold onto. They also mean you can negotiate public transport i.e. buses, trains, the tube and escalators with ease (buggies can be nightmarish in these situations!).

But whilst there is a lot written about the benefits of these devices, why is there silence on the risks? The risk of suffocation inherent in using a sling is not dissimilar to the risk of cot death, about which there is a much greater level of awareness. Expectant parents are educated at antenatal classes on the importance of not falling asleep with baby on the sofa, of ensuring that baby is in the “feet to foot” position in the cot so s/he is at less risk of suffocating under covers, of not using pillows and cot bumpers in the early days etc. The parents in the above case remarked that they had even been given a pamphlet on how to prevent cot death. The same approach must now surely be taken with regard to baby carrier/slings to prevent more avoidable tragedies from occurring.