In early January, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) adopted a new federal safety standard for infant sling carriers. 82 Fed. Reg. 2326-1 (Jan. 9, 2017). CPSC’s new rule follows its 2010 warning that baby slings can pose a suffocation hazard to infants. Under the new standard, all baby slings must now bear a permanently attached warning label and clear instructions for use.

What Are Baby Slings?

Following a practice that dates back centuries, baby slings allow parents and caregivers to “wear” their babies. In this fashion, infants and toddlers can sit in an upright or reclined position close to the sling-wearer’s body. Baby slings come in a variety of designs, from unstructured hammock-shaped products to long lengths of material or fabric that wrap around the wearer’s body. Benefits of the baby sling include hands-free movement as well as parent-infant bonding.

Need for Standards

A number of incidents and consumer recalls have shown that baby slings can be dangerous to infants when used or produced incorrectly. According to CPSC, between January 2003 and September 2016, consumers reported 159 sling carrier incidents to CPSC. Of these 159 incidents, 67 involved injury to the infant and 17 were fatal.[1] Since January 1, 2003, five baby sling products have been voluntary recalled, resulting in the total recall of approximately 1.1 million baby slings.[2]

In March 2010, CPSC issued a warning regarding baby slings following a number of infant deaths.[3] The warning highlighted two possible suffocation risks from baby slings. The first risk involves actual suffocation from the sling itself, which can press against an infant’s nose and mouth. This risk is particularly acute during the first few months of life, when an infant’s neck muscles are too weak to control his or her head. The second risk stems from the way a sling can force a baby into a curled position, with the infant’s chin bent toward his or her chest. This position can slowly suffocate the baby as the position restricts the baby’s airways and limits his or her oxygen supply. This bent position also inhibits the baby’s ability to cry for help.

Following its March 2010 warning, CPSC began developing a mandatory standard for baby slings.

New Standard for Baby Slings

Section 104(b) of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 requires CPSC to issue consumer product safety standards for durable infant or toddler products. CPSC’s new baby sling rule largely incorporates the most recent voluntary standard developed by ASTM International, Standard Consumer Safety Specification for Sling Carriers (ASTM F2907-15).

Sling requirements. The new federal safety standard requires:

  • loading to ensure that the sling can carry up to three times the manufacturer’s maximum recommended weight;
  • structural integrity to ensure that after all testing there are no seam separations, fabric tears, breakage, etc.; and
  • normal use.

Warnings. The new standard also requires baby slings to come with warning labels and instructional literature that include:

  • pictures to show the proper position of a child in the sling;
  • a warning statement about the suffocation hazard posed by slings and prevention measures;
  • warning statements about children falling out of slings; and
  • a reminder for caregivers to check the buckles, snaps, rings, and other hardware to make sure no parts are broken.

While the number of baby sling fatalities has dwindled over the last few years, nonfatal incidents continue to occur at a sustained rate. Baby sling manufacturers should note that the new mandatory infant sling carrier standard is effective one year after the final rule is published in the Federal Register.