Monday, April 26, 2010

Our response to Sunday Times Article on baby slings "Hazardous or Handy" 4 April 2010

(This article was first shared on our FaceBook notes April 10, 2010.)

There were 2 articles that were published on baby sling safety in Sunday Times on 4 April 2010 which didn't quite seem to put things right because it was portrayed that convenience was the reason why parents will put their babies in a baby sling. We thought that while it was good the writer in the main article tried to point out the danger of slings, it didn't try to differentiate between the baby bag slings that were recalled vs other styles of slings like the sarong/ ring sling. Because it was very vague and seem to point to slings in general despite the response from the babywearing community in the US having voiced out like 3 weeks ago, we thought we wanted to at least try to send in our take on it.

We had hoped that they will publish more in detail so that parents don't get misled into thinking that "all slings are unsafe and should not be used for below 4 months of age". We had some lively discussion with a journalist who wrote the other article (he is a babywearer) and even though the entire letter we wrote wasn't published, a part of it was published today in Straits Times Life Section. Well, although it doesn't lay out the facts like we wanted it to, we were at least glad that parts of it was picked up so that readers are made aware and investigate more.

Below was the original letter we sent in, enjoy and feel free to share with fellow new parents.
Dear Editor,

We refer to your article last Sunday on baby slings titled “Hazardous or Handy?”

The article seems to imply the usage of baby carriers as a convenience versus risk issue. It is certainly far from truth that any parents who choose to use a baby carrier to carry their child are putting their babies at risks for the sake of their convenience. As avid and professional babywearers, we would like to point out that although convenience is one of the advantages of babywearing, it is certainly not the only advantage. Just to name a few other more common benefits of babywearing, carried babies:-

- Cry less (43% less overall and 54% less during the evening hours - Increased Carrying Reduces Infant Crying - Urs A. Hunziker MD, Ronald G. Barr MDCM, FRCP(C): A Randomized Controlled Trial). Babies who cry less learn more.

- Are healthier (gain weight faster, have better motor skills, coordination, increased muscle tone, and sense of balance - Anderson GC. Current knowledge about skin-to-skin (kangaroo) care for preterm infants)

- Get a better view of the world. Babies pushed in strollers or lugged around in car seats only get to see the adult world at knee-level.

- Become independent faster, making them more confident and less clingy because their psychological needs are quickly met.

- Sleep better. They tend to fall asleep quicker and sleep for longer periods of time.

A good baby carrier that is used properly can be a very effective tool to help parents bond with their baby and allow them to enjoy a much better parenting experience.

The warning issued by the US Consumer Product Safety Commission last month speaks of the risk of baby slings in general and has led to recalls of some of what is known as bag-style slings in question. Bag-style slings are not representative of all baby slings. It would be good for your readers to be aware that the warning and call for action against the bag-style slings had in fact been sounded by babywearing advocate groups as long as 2 year ago (See The CPSC warning not only came late in light of the risks, it unfortunately also failed to address the type of baby carriers in question (bag-style slings) leading to numerous outcries from babywearing and physician organizations worldwide (eg. Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine “CPSC warning on slings misses the mark” March 19,2010). The crux of the matter should therefore not be debating about how baby slings are good or not, it will be more constructive if it had been about identifying inferior baby carrying products that are defective by design.

In your article, Dr Adeline Wong correctly pointed out that pre-mature babies and babies with low birth weight might be too small to fit safely into a carrier or sling. This is true for many types of carriers but there are some carriers that are built specially to cater to preemies and have already been adopted in some hospitals in the US to facilitate “Kangaroo Care”, a specialized preemie care method whereby babies are held close to a mother skin-to-skin. Research has shown that such Kangaroo Care reduces newborn deaths by more than 50% and it has been proven to be more effective than incubators for stable preterm babies (SaveTheChildren.Org, March 26, 2010)

To expand on Dr Adeline Wong’s precautionary notes, below are some crucial points to take note of:

1) Apart from making sure that baby face is not pressed against the carrier’s fabric, it is equally important that baby’s face is not placed against the wearer’s body when they are in the carrier. More importantly, baby’s head should never be tucked into a “chin to chest” position especially if they are in a cradle position. This is one key reason why the design of “bag slings” increases the risk of suffocation and therefore should never be used.

2) Before a baby has neck control, typically from birth to about 4 or 5 months, the recommended position is a tummy to tummy foetal position with the baby’s face lying sideways, cheek on the babywearer’s chest. This position makes it easier for the babywearer to check on the baby.

3) A good carrier or sling must be able to hold the baby snugly with the baby’s neck well-supported by a soft snug hold, especially for babies without neck support in an upright position. For babies with neck support, their necks should also be supported when they fall asleep in the carrier to avoid any likelihood of whiplash. Likewise for older babies, chin to chest positions can still be harmful as it obstructs the airway.

Proper use of baby carriers is beneficial to both babies and their parents. A little effort in research and educating oneself can go a long way in ensuring safety when bonding.

 6 weeks old newborn safely positioned in a Jumpsac baby sling

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