Baby wearing: safety tips

For the recent years you may notice that more and more parents prefer to carry their newborn babies in a carrier instead of the stroller or plastic carrier. This method obviously has a lot of benefits, but before to start to carry your baby you have to know a couple of things that will make your experience safe and smooth.

Newborns have their own specific set of needs, and you should have different concerns about wearing a newborn than you would about an older child. While an older child might be able to tell you if he or she is being held too tightly, for example, or if he or she is having trouble breathing, a newborn baby can’t tell you anything like that. Because of this, it’s very important to choose a baby carrier suitable for newborn babies when you opt to wear your infant.

Types of Baby Carriers for Newborns

  • Wraps – Wraps are designed to go around your body and support your baby’s weight with very durable but lightweight stretchy fabric. They don’t have any fasteners, rings, or clasps that could potentially pinch your baby or come unhooked and cause harm to your child. They are better suited for older babies, but there are a couple of ways you can wear them to provide plenty of safety for your newborn, too.

  • Slings – When you have a newborn carry in ring sling for maximum safety. This is one of the most popular methods for newborn babywearing. These slings are made of durable, strong fabric that is run through one or more rings to allow for easy adjusting and tightening as needed. These slings are available in a lot of different colors and are often a little more affordable than wraps.

  • Soft Carriers with Inserts – These are the types of baby carriers you’re probably most used to seeing out in public. These are structured carriers that usually provide extra support at the baby’s chest, back or both. They have adjustable straps you can put over your shoulders and are meant to be worn on your chest, although some parents wear them (incorrectly) on the back. Infant inserts are absolutely required for newborn use, but these can make the whole carrier much harder to wear and much heavier, too.

Newborn Babywearing Safety

Let's start off with some very basic and intuitive safety tips to keep in mind when using a baby carrier. The first is via a babywearing safety acronym titled T.I.C.K.S.

  • Tight

  • In view at all times

  • Close enough to kiss

  • Keep chin off the chest

  • Supported back

Always keep your newborn’s airway clear

Wrap your carrier tightly enough that your baby is held upright and can’t change position. Your baby should have his or her chin up instead of pressed down to the chest, and the baby should not be able to curl up, lean over, or sink against you. This will keep the lungs and airway free and clear to operate safely as they should. This can be achieved by adjusting your wrap, sling, or carrier appropriately and carefully checking your newborn regularly.

Always keep your newborn’s spine supported in its natural position.

The natural position of a newborn’s spine is rounded slightly with “frog legs,” or the hips and legs in a squatting position. The legs should never be spread wider than the baby’s pelvis naturally sits, and the baby’s bottom should be kept lower than the knees at all times. The wrap or sling shouldn’t flatten the baby’s spine against you but should provide plenty of support to keep it upright and stable at all times.

Protecting Baby's Hips

One thing you'll notice when your pediatrician examines your newborn is that they will perform a test of baby's hips. What they are looking for is symptoms of hip dysplasia, which is a fairly common development issue. The International Hip Dysplasia Institute is a good source of information on how positional care in babywearing can make a big difference in creating healthy hips. They also cover related topics such as proper swaddling, and guidelines for car seats.

Most hip development issues occur in the first 4 months of a newborn's life. Thus, special care should be taken with young babies. Baby wearers should allow for frequent breaks from the carrier so that baby can move its hips, knees, and the rest of the body around freely.

Sling-type Carriers and Risks of Hip Dysplasia

In addition, sling-type carriers have been called out as potentially risky for hip development, if the baby's legs are in a straight position (see illustration below from the International Hip Dysplasia Institute).

A newborn should always be worn very high on your chest

You should be able to see your baby’s face at any time when you glance down, and it’s best if the baby’s face is in your peripheral vision no matter what. The baby’s face should be free and clear of any blockages, and the baby’s cheek should rest gently against your chest. You can use part of your wrap to support your newborn’s neck and head from the back, but be careful not to block the mouth or nose when you do this.

Use a thin wrap for a newborn and consider upgrading later on when your baby gets larger and heavier

Thin wraps are much more supportive than you might realize, and they can gently cradle and hold your newborn without flattening the spine or potentially causing breathing blockages or issues. Thin wraps are as widely available as the thicker options, but they should only be used until the baby weighs eight to ten pounds. They are perfect for newborns up to three months of age. If you will be using a soft carrier with an infant insert, you should use this for up to at least four months of age. You should never use a rolled-up towel in your baby carrier in place of an infant insert designed for newborn use.

Supporting Head and Neck

Until baby's neck is strong enough to hold its head up on its own, baby's head and neck should be properly supported. This milestone typically occurs around four months of age. Do not attempt a front carry facing out position until baby has the strength to comfortably hold up their head on their own. Most babies younger than this are usually content being snuggled facing in right up against mom or dad's chest anyway.

A back carry position offers reduced support for baby, and the parent can't see what is going on with baby. As a result, back carry positions are not recommended until baby is a bit older, at least 6 months old, and many parents use front carry positions exclusively until baby is a toddler, which we feel is wise.

Never keep your baby carrier on in the car, in a pool, or on a ride

Most of these are common sense, but in a quick moment, you could make a poor decision for the safety of your baby. If you keep your baby in a carrier, wrap, or sling in water, there’s no way to tell if your baby is floating or safe from being submerged. Wearing a wrap, sling, or carrier in a vehicle can very easily cause your baby to be hurt during something as normal as a quick stop, and rides (such as those at theme parks) are dangerous for your baby in the same way.

Keep your newborn’s safety in mind at all times when you plan to practice babywearing

Although this has been a very common practice around the world for centuries, and it remains quite popular, there are always risks that go along with any mode of transportation for your child. You should always want what’s best for your baby, and newborns are a little bit more sensitive to potential issues than older children are.

As long as you keep safety in mind at all times, you should be able to start babywearing with your newborn from day one if you want to. And you can continue this practice for as long as it’s comfortable for both you and your baby. Many parents practice babywearing up to the age of two or so, and many older babies and toddlers get a lot of joy out of being kept close to Mom and Dad for so long.

Whichever method you choose, babywearing can be a fun and pleasant experience for everyone involved. Give it a try soon and see for yourself why this has become such a popular practice with parents all over the world.

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