Babywearing is nothing new. For centuries, mothers have been utilizing baskets and wraps to carry their babies on their front or back, creating an unbreakable bond between mother and child while giving mom two free hands to do what she needs to.
As technology develops, the designs of the modern baby carriers are constantly improving the built-in safety features to make them safer for babies and parents alike.
It is still worthwhile being aware of the risks surrounding improper baby carrier use, and the consequences of prolonged misuse. Accidents and injuries are rare, and a little education can go a long way to minimizing the risks.
We are here to help address these concerns and help you get the most out of your baby carrier while ensuring that you and your baby are comfortable and safe.
General Safety Tips for Baby Carriers
There are a few universal precautions you can take to ensure your baby’s safety, regardless of what type of baby carrier you have.
Here are some tips to keep in mind when using a baby carrier:
This is an easy to remember acronym will guide you with the basics of safe babywearing (1):
Loose carriers, wraps, and slings can make baby wearing uncomfortable for both you and your baby. It can cause her to slump, making it harder to breathe and pushing on her joints, and it can pull on your neck, back, and shoulders.
In View at all Times
When wearing your baby on your front, you should be able to easily glance down and see your baby’s face. There should be nothing, especially excess fabric from a carrier or your clothing, that obstructs your view of her face.
Close Enough to Kiss
Your baby should be at the proper height, just at or below your chin, so that you can easily dip your head for a quick kiss to her head.
Keep Chin off the Chest
When your baby’s chin is pressed into your chest, it can restrict her airway and affect her neck. There should always be at least a finger’s width of space between your chest and your baby’s chin.
If your carrier is tight, your baby’s back should be supported. There should be no arching or slouching, which can be hard on joints, physical development, and her airway. To ensure your baby’s back is supported, simply place your hand on her back and push slightly. There should not be much give, and she should not be able to move closer to you.
Use the Appropriate Carrier Type for Baby’s Age
For carriers that can be used in multiple positions, you want to make sure you are using it appropriately for your baby’s current age and development stage.
Infants should never be carried in an outward facing position until they are able to support their own heads, which is usually around 4 months of age.
Until then, carriers should only be used in an inward facing position with either your hand behind her head for support or the head support flap on the carrier (if applicable) in an upright position.
You should also not carry your baby on your back until she is able to support her own back (i.e. sit up on her own with ease), which is usually around 6 months of age.
Take Precautions to Prevent Falls
If you are wearing your baby around the house, you are most likely going to be reaching for things at different levels. Whether you are reaching up into a cabinet for a snack, or reaching down to the floor to pick up some toys, you should always make sure you take care to prevent your baby from falling.
If you need to pick something up or reach for something low to the ground, always be sure to bend at the knees, squatting to get what you need. A bend from the hips or back puts your baby at risk for falling out of her carrier or having her head hit on something.
Also, make sure your carrier is securely fastened, either by the ties or buckles, and that your baby is properly supported so that she does not fall out.
It is best practice to always keep one hand on your baby as you are changing positions. This will make you more conscious of being careful with her in the carrier, and will offer support and quick recovery if anything were to happen.
Maintain Baby’s Airway at all Times
As we mentioned before, carriers should always be fastened and tied appropriately, keeping your baby tight and close to you. This will help her to maintain an upright position which will protect her airway by keeping it open.
There should also never be anything obstructing your baby’s face, especially her nose and mouth. This includes fabric from your clothing or the carrier. Do not wear scarves in the winter when wearing your baby, and do not use bibs and blankets that can get in her face and block air flow.
You should always be conscious of your baby’s head position. I had to constantly watch my daughter and move her head to the side since she seemed to like to try and sleep on me with her face down for some reason. Only your baby’s cheek and ear should be touching your chest when she lays her head down.
A Word on Hip Dysplasia and Babywearing
This condition occurs when a baby is born with an unstable hip as a result of how the joints developed while in the whomb, or from the birthing process. It is usually diagnosed at birth, but may not be identified until months later in some cases.
Due to the complexity of hip disorders, there have only been loose assumptions made regarding the link between babywearing and hip dysplasia. To date there have been no studies on the specific issue of baby carriers and their effect on hip health in infants.
The International Hip Dysplasia Institute has released advice on the proper positioning of a baby in a carrier so that the hips are adequately supported. The information presented indicates that "improper positioning" could lead to hip problems.
A claim of which there is no evidence to support.
Most baby carriers will naturally position your baby in a similar way to what is recommended and in my experience this is what is most comfortable for them anyway.
Types of Carriers
In addition to the general safety tips we just went through, there are specifics that you need to keep in mind when it comes to the type of carrier you are looking at.
For some more general information on each carrier type, you can check out our complete guide below.
The simplest design when it comes to baby carriers are slings. They are just a large piece of fabric, fastened across your body with either a ring or tie around your shoulder, creating a space for you to place your baby. Their simple design makes them super easy to use and adjust.
There is not much versatility when it comes to slings. There are really only two positions you can carry your baby in; lying down in a sort of fetal position, or sitting, as in a hip carry position.
Because of its limitations, you may find that this carrier can get in your way if you are trying to do anything other than just hold your baby. Since you will usually have the baby on one side you may need to constantly maneuver one arm around them.
With its design, it is more suited for infants. The sling does not provide much support and delivers uneven pressure to one of your shoulders, making it harder to carry a heavier baby. If you are interested in babywearing long term and you purchase a sling, you will likely need to purchase a second carrier for toddlerhood as well.
There are also safety concerns when it comes to the use of slings, particularly with babies who are less than 4 months of age. Improper positioning can cause the baby’s face to be turned in toward your body, blocking her nose and mouth so that she cannot breathe.
Also, with this carrier not having a solid structure, your baby can slide down in the sling which can push her head to her chest, making it difficult to breathe.
Since babies under 4 months of age cannot move their heads or necks very well, they cannot reposition themselves if they get into a position that causes them to not be able to breathe easily. Because of these concerns, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission strongly advises that parents who use slings do so with extreme caution.
For more information, you can watch this short PSA video from the CSPC.
Arguably, the most versatile of baby carriers is the wrap. It is just a long piece of fabric that can be wrapped and tied around your body to hold your baby in a variety of positions, such as hip, back, or front carries.
They can easily be taken wherever you go as they can just be stuffed into a bag to have available when you need it. They are available in a variety of colors and patterns, and their soft fabric and lack of hard plastic or metal make them very comfortable to wear.
Because of its versatility, it can be used over a wide range of ages, from infancy to toddlerhood.
The simplest tying method, which is demonstrated in the included instruction booklet, can hold an infant nice and snug against your body, simulating the feeling she had in the womb. There are also countless other tying methods that you can find on Youtube which can allow you to find something comfortable and capable of carrying your child through toddlerhood.
Wraps can be a bit tricky, though. It is easy to tie them too tight, to where you can squeeze your little one in. There are also safety concerns with tying them too loose, as your baby can begin to slouch and cut off her airway. Always use proper caution when using a wrap, double checking all knots before placing your baby inside.
Soft Structured Carriers
The most popular type of baby carrier is the soft-structured carrier (SSC). These usually look like backpacks, with straps and buckles, and a waistband which takes the majority of your baby’s weight off your shoulders.
They can typically be used in a front carry position, both facing in and out, and a back carry position. Because of their versatility and the weight support that the waistband gives, SSC’s can typically be used through toddlerhood.
There are several different models of SSC’s, and the slightest differences between each can have a big impact on how comfortable they are to wear and how long you can use them for.
I previously owned one of the cheaper models, which gave me the option for front and back carry. But the design and placement of the waistband restricted my ability to adjust the positioning of my baby as they grew.
By the time she was approaching her first birthday we were almost face to face when she was in the seat. This high positioning of the weight caused severe strain on my shoulders and I had to stop carrying her so I could recover.
Some of the pricier models are designed with more structure and padding. This makes them great for toddlers, and can handle the extra weight of a 2 or 3 year old with ease.
Due to their soft structure, SSC’s cannot be used easily with infants. Many models come with inserts for newborns, but these can be a bit bulky and uncomfortable.
Caution needs to be taken when using an SSC with a newborn. You need to make sure that your baby’s back is straight and well supported. They also need enough head space so that they do not become pinned between your body and the carrier. This can lead to suffocation.
The mei tai, and other Asian-inspired carriers, can be considered a cross between the wrap and soft-structured carrier. Typically, their design consists of a rectangle of fabric with four straps, one from each corner. These straps are then tied, like a wrap, rather than buckled, and the carrier shape becomes that of an SSC.
There are both pros and cons with this type of carrier. Compared to the SSC, they have little to no padding, which can make them less comfortable when wearing them for long periods of time. However, with their ability to tie rather than buckle, you have more versatility when it comes to positioning your baby, being able to place them at the right height and tightness to make it comfortable and safe for both of you.
Just like with the wrap and SSC, you need to be cautious when using them with a newborn. Always double check your knots to ensure that they are tight, and make sure your baby’s head has room to move, there is nothing obstructing her face, and her back is supported so that her airway remains open and clear.
If you are a traveler or avid hiker, a frame backpack is likely a great choice for you. Their design is pretty self-explanatory from the name: it is a backpack with a built-in frame that allows you to carry your child for longer periods of time with minimal strain on you.
They allow for easy child carrying while still giving you the storage ability of a backpack.
There are many things to consider when selecting a frame backpack:
Frame backpacks are the priciest of all baby carriers due to their size and complexity of design. You can make the most economical choice by being clear on what features you need, and which ones you don't.
The best frame backpacks offer plenty of padding and support in the waist, shoulder, and lumbar area.
This style of carrying will be far more strenuous on the body due to the additional weight, and longer periods of use. Spending a few more dollars on a carrier with advanced ergonomics could save you a lot of pain and money later on.
When using a frame backpack carrier you will not be able to carry anything else. If it is just you and your little one on the day out then you have to be able to carry all the other bits and pieces you need for the day.
You will want adequate storage space for food, water, entertainment for your little one, and possibly even sleeping gear, like sleeping bags or blankets.
If you plan on taking your carrier on an extended trip then how you will store the carrier itself will be just as important. Some designs will compress for easier storage on planes, or in your car.... Some will not, and are bulky thing to move around when not in use.
Features like footrests, wide seats, and plenty of padding will ensure that your child is comfortable during long walks or hikes. This is especially important to keep in mind since the metal framing of the child seat can become very uncomfortable quickly to a fidgety toddler.
An uncomfortable baby will bring an end to an enjoyable day.
Just like any other carrier, there are safety concerns to keep in mind. Babies should not be carried on the back if they are unable to support themselves. This means that you will not be able to use this type of carrier until your child is at least 6-8 months of age.
You also want to be careful of prolonged exposure in the sun if you are using your backpack for a long hike. Always apply sunscreen, and utilize hats and sun shades to keep your child safe from burns and melanoma.
There is also the more obvious risk of human error if you are walking down a rocky trail. If you were to slip and fall with your little one on your back it then this could be a recipe for disaster.
Babywearing is a great choice for most parents. However, caution needs to be taken when using baby carriers. Each type has its own safety concerns, and improper use, both in how you wear it and your baby’s age, can put your baby’s life at risk or cause improper development in the hips and neck.
Being aware of these safety concerns and ensuring you use the carrier correctly can save a life, and can make parenting fun and easy as you carry your little bundle of joy close to you at all times.
If you have any questions about the use of baby carriers, please leave us a comment below. And be sure to share this article with other parents who will find it useful.