Warning: Carrying infants in baby carriers can be hazardous for both infants and adult carriers. Problems arise when parents wear carriers incorrectly, are unaware that carriers are particularly dangerous for certain infants, and parents cannot be notified when infant carriers are recalled for newly found defects, says the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).
Here is what you should know:
1. “Baby wearing” is probably safer than arm carrying – when done correctly. (Wheeling infants or carrying them in car seats may be the safest way to transport infants, but often impractical.) Carriers free arms for other purposes, helps maintain balance, and is less fatiguing. A squirming child in your arms is a distraction and can cause you to stumble.
2. Familiarize yourself with various carriers. There are chest, front and hip carriers, each with numerous variations. At purchase time, “test walk” your carrier. Find an object that weighs approximately the same as your infant. Practice assembling the carrier and placing the weight in it. Preferably have someone accompany you with experience. Infants have been injured, some seriously, while being improperly placed into a carrier or when an incorrectly assembled one came apart. Carriers come with written directions and, sometimes videos. Read/watch carefully.
3. Before purchasing a carrier, make sure you are comfortable wearing it. Some salespeople tell you that aches experienced when first wearing carriers are temporary. Not always so. Select one that is comfortable immediately. Select one that doesn’t tilt/pull your in the direction of the carrier. This can affect your balance and be fatiguing.
4. Match infant to carrier. Most carriers have minimum/ maximum weight limits and need replacing as infants grow. Sling-type carriers keep infant’s 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 sit unassisted. Many carriers come with headrests. Front strap-on carriers tend to cause back and neck strain.
5. Take special care when using carriers with very young infants. Until four or five months of age infants cannot support their heads. They bend their chins onto their chests, possibly compromising their airway 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.
6. 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 oxygen-poor exhaled air. A similar scenario can occur if a mother covers the infant’s head with a blanket while nursing.
7. Certain infants are especially at risk to breathing problems. This includes infants born prematurely or with an unexplained low birth weight, being one of multiple births, or having experienced significant heart/lung problems at or soon after birth. Such infants, for the first year of life, even when they appear healthy, have less heart/lung reserve when their breathing is compromised. This can also occur with severe upper respiratory infections and during air travel. Lower cabin oxygen levels requires more forceful breathing.
8. Be leery of hand-me-down carriers. Products for young children are frequently modified for safety reasons. Recalls are common. Previously used carriers may lack the latest safety features and may have been recalled. CPSC maintains a website, www.cpsc.gov where you can check for recalls and other problems. At purchase time, register warrantees with the manufacturer to be notified if a recall occurs. You can also sign up to get recall notices by email. Go to www.cpsc.gov/cpsclist.aspx.
9. Unusually cranky infants 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 which 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 what is next to you. And “my foot is caught under my backside.”
10. Miscellaneous. Carriers are not substitutes for car seats. Don’t use carriers while cooking or in other potentially hazardous places. Bend at the knees, rather than at the waist, when picking up an object from the floor. Keep an eye out for wear and tear. Small infants can fall through leg openings of carriers designed for an older child.