Don’t be surprised when planning your baby’s first trip – whether across town or across the ocean – becomes a monumental undertaking, not unlike outfitting a cruise ship for a long voyage. For one, how do you carry your baby plus all the paraphernalia he or she requires?
1. “Wearing infants” is the most practical way to transport them. While wheeling or carrying them in a car seat may be somewhat safer, these conveyances have shortcomings. Wheels can’t go everywhere and seats are heavy, clumsy, and fatiguing for the adult carrier. The least safe way of transporting infants is in your arms. A squirming infant or toddler is a distraction and may block your view when you walk, which can affect your balance, causing you to stumble.
2. But infant carriers can be problematic. Issues arise when you wear carriers incorrectly, are unaware some types may be hazardous for certain infants, or have not been notified that your carrier has been recalled for a newly found defect.
3. Familiarize yourself with various models before buying one. There are chest, front and hip carriers, each with numerous variations. At purchase time, “test walk” a few. Find an object that weighs approximately the same as your infant. Practice assembling the carrier and walk it with the weight. Have someone with experience accompany you. Infants have been injured when they were improperly placed into a carrier or when an incorrectly assembled carrier came apart. Carriers come with written directions and, sometimes, videos. Read/watch carefully.
4. Prior to purchasing one, make sure that you are comfortable wearing it. Some salespeople tell you that aches experienced when first wearing one are temporary. Not always so. Select one that is comfortable immediately and doesn’t tilt or pull you to one side, affecting your balance.
5. Match infant to carrier. Most carriers have minimum/maximum weight limits and need replacing as infants grow. Sling-types keep infants’ heads upright. Backpack carriers are the most comfortable for adults, especially when carrying older infants, and for long walks/hikes, but should not be used until infants can sit unassisted. Many carriers come with headrests. Front strap-on carriers tend to cause back and neck strain for the adult. Generally, the most practical ones for younger infants are front-carriers; they allow you a full view of the baby.
6. Take special care when using carriers with very young infants. Infants cannot support their heads until four or five months of age. They bend their chins onto their chests, possibly compromising their airways and reducing the amount of oxygen that gets into their lungs. This also impairs their ability to cry for help, increasing the risk of suffocation.
7. Check frequently that an infant’s nose and mouth are free. Many carriers consist of soft fabric, which can contour over the infant’s face, impairing breathing. Even if the fabric only partially covers the nose/mouth, the infant’s ability to inhale oxygen-rich air is impaired and forces him/her to re-breathe air with less oxygen. A similar situation can arise if the infant’s head is covered with a blanket (for breastfeeding, for example).
8. Certain infants are at risk for additional breathing issues. This includes infants born prematurely or with an unexplained low birth weight, or who were one of multiple births or experienced significant heart/lung problems at or soon after birth. Such infants, for the first year of life, even if they appear healthy, have less heart/lung reserve when their breathing is compromised. (They are also more likely to have breathing issues with upper respiratory infections and during air travel as lower cabin oxygen levels require more forceful breathing.)
9. Be leery of hand-me-down carriers. Products for young children are frequently modified for safety reasons. Previously used carriers may lack the latest safety features and may have been recalled by the manufacturer. Register warranties with the manufacturer at time of purchase so you can be notified if recalls occur. The US Consumer Product Safety Commission maintains a website, https://www.cpsc.gov/recall-products/baby-carriers/ where recalls and other problems are posted. You can also sign up to get recall notices by email. Go to www.cpsc.gov/cpsclist.aspx.
10. Unusually cranky infants in carriers may be asking for help. “The sun is shining in my eyes.” Sunshade attachments are available for some carriers. “I’m hot.” Most sling carriers consist of thick fabric that acts like a blanket, increasing an infant’s temperature in hot weather. Some slings have mesh sidings or flaps to allow air in. “I just touched a rose bush. My finger is bleeding.” Be aware of your surroundings. And “my foot is caught under my backside.” Ensure infants are placed properly.
Miscellaneous facts about infant carrying. Carriers are not substitutes for car seats. Don’t use carriers while cooking or in other potentially hazardous places. When picking up an object from the floor while wearing a carrier, bend at the knees rather than at the waist. Keep an eye out for carrier wear and tear. Small infants can fall through leg openings of carriers designed for an older child. Baby carrying is not safe while you are riding in a car.