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In Defense of Slings

Apr30

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Dear Amy,

I am seven months pregnant with my first baby. I have read every word you’ve every written about pregnancy on your blog and Zero to Forty (I skipped ahead! I cheated! I know!) and the Advice Smackdown. I love how you make scary parenting things seem easy and approachable and have already talked my mom into giving us the gift of a cloth diaper service early on (then we’ll do our own later, once we get the hang of it all) and have filled my registry with Miracle Blanket and baby food cookbooks.

I also registered for some slings. Which is why I’m writing you.

I’m sure you’ve heard about the sling recalls and the babies who suffocated while in the slings. OMG, so awful. Everybody who views my registry certainly has, and I’ve had a couple people comment that I should “take those things off” because I “certainly can’t use them now.”

So…should I? The slings I’d like to try have not been recalled, though one of them is the “pouch style” (similar to the ones you used) (hi, stalkerish!). I’ve registered for an Ergo as well but really liked the idea of using those pretty fabric slings too, especially when the baby is little. I still see plenty of moms using slings but wonder if the comments will continue and I’ll have to defend myself out in public when I’m newly postpartum and already emotional regarding all my many failings.

If you were having another baby (which I think you totally should btw, because your boys are just too cute), would you use a sling again?

Thanks,
Wannabe Earth Mama

Yes. I would use my slings again. In a heartbeat.

Here’s where I sound a little obnoxious: a few people recommended the Infantino slings to me along the way, usually because they were so affordable. (Compared to the $100+ price of some of the fancier, more complicated ones.) My sister-in-law even offered me one for free because she’d received it and never used it. And I swear, I took one look at that thing and said “No. Way.”

It just…LOOKED dangerous. The pouch is so deep and tailored and padded and gathered — it looked more like a purse than a sling. And far, far too big for a newborn. If you Google Image Search it now, you can easily find user photos where the padded and elasticized edges are CLEARLY closing up right over the baby’s face. It was a horribly designed sling, and I wanted nothing to do with it.

I’m NOT saying that mothers who used SlingRiders should have thought the same thing — seriously, this is entirely the fault of the manufacturer, even if user error was involved. (And I have no idea if there was, but 100% support the recall regardless.)

It really, really does suck that all slings are getting unfairly painted with a broad brush now. (I’m sure that infamous Consumer Reports blogger is crowing with glee.) It sucks that now we have to add babywearing to the Long List of Things People Will Judge You About.

The Baby Wearer
has some great links front and center on the site now in response to the recall and safety concerns, including the design distinctions I mentioned: The Infantino was more than a “pouch.” It was a BAG. A baby duffle, essentially. A properly designed sling is shallow, with no elastic or excess gathered fabric. There is no “flat base” to the bottom, just fabric that conforms to your baby’s shape and keeps him firmly in place with no risk of rolling. He rides up high on your chest, in a diagonal or vertical position — NEVER in a horizontal line around your waist. And most importantly — you can ALWAYS easily see his face. Even if he looks a little fetal-position smushed, you can SEE him, and nothing (fabric, elastic, your own boobs) obscures that view or his nose and mouth.

Every carrier I personally tried (New Native, Rockin’ Baby Sling, Ergo) met these safety criteria, so I would absolutely use them again. The only exception was the Hotsling, but only because I bought the wrong size. It was too big and Ezra hung too low on my torso. Which brings me to a hugely important point: EDUCATION. Watch the DVDs, check out YouTube, ask for a demonstration at the stores. There are even babywearing support groups across the country that will help you choose your preferred sling style and teach you how to use it.

I publicly praise slings a lot simply because of the convenience and hands-free aspect of them. I could carry Ezra around and nurse him…while fixing myself a sandwich or writing a blog post! Brilliant! But another thing that a really well-designed sling will give you is an INCREDIBLE sense of connection to your baby. And that’s something I really don’t think those over-padded and over-structured baby duffels provided, thus leading to a nightmarish scenario where a baby suffocated while his mother had no idea there was a problem. When Ezra was in our favorite sling (the Rockin’ Baby), the thin fabric allowed me to feel his little warm body and every movement. His head sat up on near my chest and heart, and even though I used the sling for hands-free activities, my hand still cradled his shape or stroked his face and body inside the sling every chance it got. It was not a utilitarian piece of baby transporting equipment, it was a really wonderful bonding tool, and a place where I could truly keep him close and safe and loved.

About the author

Amalah

http://www.amalah.com
Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy's daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it's pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.


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27 Responses to “In Defense of Slings”

  1. Katie Apr 30 at 11:43 am Reply Reply

    Thank you for this. Someone had given me one of those Infantino things with my first baby and I put him in it once and immediately packed it away. Just TRYING it you could feel how WRONG it was. He was just hanging around in there and it felt awkward and dangerous and weird. Not at all like a wrap or any of the other cute slings I’d seen women use. I do know a few women who used the Infantino kind and everything was fine and they were comfortable, but I never could.
    I fully plan on using your recommendations to get a really nice one this next time around.

  2. Betsy Apr 30 at 11:56 am Reply Reply

    We received a Hotsling as a gift, and I loved it. I never felt like my son was so covered up that he couldn’t breathe, and would totally use it again. It was pretty comfortable too, even with a 10+ lb newborn in it. It did take a few tries before he warmed up to it, but once he did I wore him all the time. Not sure how I would have ever done any grocery shopping without it. It didn’t last us too long, as by ~4 months he would get pretty restless in it. We eventually moved on to the Ergo (which I also love).

  3. Ellen Apr 30 at 12:19 pm Reply Reply

    Agreed! You always keep an eye on the baby to make sure his face isn’t covered by the fabric, just like how you would make sure the blanket doesn’t creep up when he’s in his carseat. I liked the fleece pouches from kangaroo korner. The baby’s face is never out of your line of sight at any time.

  4. Maria Apr 30 at 12:24 pm Reply Reply

    I wouldn’t have survived the first four months of my second son’s life without a Moby Wrap.

  5. Michelle Apr 30 at 12:33 pm Reply Reply

    I didn’t use a sling for my first and bought one of those fancy Baby Bjorn carriers. For my second I used a sling and LOVED it so much and USED IT WAY MORE. Reason for this is how EASY they are to use. I mean I could tuck it away in my purse/baby bag and off I went. The baby bjorn was great and everything but it took much more time to get it on, get the baby in it etc. Now I have no idea if it was the closeness of the sling…BUT…I nursed my second longer…he was just always in it – hanging out with me. I really valued the bond that it created for us! Plus you can use the sling for all sorts of other purposes. A quick baby blanket, nursing cover, baby spitter cleaner upper! Anyways. I think you have to educate yourself and do what is right for you. We used the hotsling and never had any trouble with it! I get so misty when I see new mom’s with their yummy babies all snuggled up in their slings! Reminds me of the very special times I had with my second….!

  6. Doug Apr 30 at 12:47 pm Reply Reply

    Slings definitely require a little common sense. We had a cople of different weights of Kangaroo Korner pouches. We were never really into wearing the baby constantly, but when she was very young and mostly slept it was really wonderful being able to have her held up close, where she slept best, and still having hands free to use a keyboard.
    When she got older it was mostly for being out and about – every try to push a stroller thorugh a crowded museum? Notice how usually it ends up that one parent is holding the baby anyway and the other is pushing the empty stroller? And you can’t get close enough to see anything? No fun. But with the sling it all works great – you can just walk around like normal people, you don’t get in peoples way, the baby’s happy, everything’s good. Makes all the difference.

  7. JCF Apr 30 at 12:48 pm Reply Reply

    I totally agree–I had a hotsling-like pouch that I used with my newborns, and after using that I was given an Infantino sling as a gift. Immediately upon taking it out of the box and putting it on, I could tell that it wasn’t safe, but I think only because I had experience with using a sling safely.
    Slings do have a slight learning curve, and you do need to be willing to take the time to practice and help you and your baby to get adjusted to one, but it is totally worth it.
    I had lots of people approach me (long before the Infantino issues) when I was safely using a wrap or a pouch with my sleeping newborn to tell me that they looked uncomfortable/smooshed/like they couldn’t breathe. If you know you’ve done your research and the person is clearly someone who doesn’t know the first thing about safe baby wearing (the childless, an older man, etc.), just smile and say your baby is happy and safe and walk away!

  8. andrea Apr 30 at 12:51 pm Reply Reply

    I was given a hotsling and I LOVED it! I never felt like she was being smothered and I loved the closeness we shared. Slings have been used since time began.. it’s such a shame that because one product was poorly designed that people are turned away from using one.

  9. Lauren Apr 30 at 12:56 pm Reply Reply

    I loved my slings and consider them a MUST for air travel!! When I heard the recall on slings, I didn’t think I had put my child in any danger because I knew I used them properly! You just have to know how to use your sling properly but you do that with most baby items. People are going to comment no matter what and you will have to ignore them. Good luck and have fun wearing your baby!

  10. agirlandaboy Apr 30 at 1:15 pm Reply Reply

    I registered for a Hotsling and can count on one hand the number of times I actually used it, partly because I felt the baby was a little smooshed in there (and he was so high up on my chest that I couldn’t actually do anything anyway, and might as well just have held him in my arms), but mostly because I had two other baby carriers that did the trick far better.
    A homemade Moby wrap was my savior during the months my son was too little for the Ergo (he couldn’t stand it before about 5 months), and the Ergo then became our go-to carrier (and is still going strong at 16 months). For me, it was really helpful to have a carrier that EVERYONE could use (not true with the Hotslings, because they’re not adjustable), so I could pass the baby over to his dad or my mother or a friend. Also, taking ONE carrier instead of two or three when we went out just made more sense. And finally, slings are only good for a really, really short period of time, and my money was much better spent on an Ergo, which will last for years.

  11. Jacinta Apr 30 at 1:25 pm Reply Reply

    Well I LOVED the SlingRider, and so did my son. We didn’t buy it because of cost — we also own a Mei Tai and Bjorn which we bought to replace our Ergo, which my son absolutely will not tolerate.
    Yes, the SlingRider can be dangerous, just like co-sleeping. But if you use it properly (there’s mesh around the head part) and you’re careful, it’s fine. The number of babies who died were tiny compared to the number of babies who use it without incident — and while even one death is awful, you have to weigh risks and benefits, just like co-sleeping.
    Anyway, we sent one SlingRider back and swapped it with a toy my son can use now (he’s too old for the sling) and we’ve kept the other SlingRider for the next baby.

  12. Meghan Apr 30 at 1:31 pm Reply Reply

    I loved my sling for all of the same reasons posted above. But I would also recommend, if you are concerned about proper babywearing, to check out a local babywearing group or go to a store that sells them and has knowledgeable staff who can answer your questions. There are a couple near me in Boston, and their advice was terrific.

  13. Ms. K Apr 30 at 1:35 pm Reply Reply

    I second everything everyone else said – find a sling/wrap you like and get comfortable with it. Maybe borrow a couple styles from friends or go to a local babywearing-club meeting and try a few, see which type works best for you and your little one.
    I used a Maya wrap (really a sling) constantly when my DD was a newborn. Now that she’s a 23lb. toddler I prefer wraps that use both shoulders. She can ride on my back and see what I’m doing and I’m comfortable and can cook, hike, etc. (Great for those times when your toddler is feeling needy and wants to be held but you really have to get stuff done.)
    And yeah – random folks are going to comment on your parenting no matter what you do. My favorite was when I was wearing my kid in a Moby wrap and some well meaning soul in a car drove past me and yelled “girl you best be careful, that’s how that nanny killed that baby!” OMG.

  14. Michele Apr 30 at 2:11 pm Reply Reply

    Here’s a post from my favorite maternity store on safely positioning a baby in a sling (video): http://www.isismaternity.com/blog/index.php/2010/03/10/how-to-safely-position-a-baby-in-a-sling-a-video-demonstration/

  15. Melissa Apr 30 at 2:12 pm Reply Reply

    One of the most important aspects of Amy’s advice is, I think, that you need to trust your instincts when it comes to safety. Not just with respect to slings and other baby wearing devices, but with anything having to do with your kid. For us, it was cribs — we made the decision not to do a drop-side crib, and I’m very glad we did. Don’t rely on the idea that “they wouldn’t sell it if it wasn’t safe” or that each product is carefully reviewed and tested before it’s put on the market. My husband is a products liability lawyer, and his caseload revolves around the fact that there are hundreds of products on the market that simply are not safe.
    Ok, that sounds scarier than it should, but the point is — trust your instinct!

  16. Siobhan Apr 30 at 2:39 pm Reply Reply

    Thank you for this post! I hate the idea that some new moms will get scared off of using slings because of one badly designed product. I’m currently using a loveyduds wrap (www.loveyduds.com) with my newborn. It’s similar to a moby but in my opinion a little nicer and cuter. With this being my third baby it’s been especially helpful and made my life easier. And it’s so great for bonding because he’s right up against me. I can just bend and kiss his head whenever I need to. I did have an older lady acost me in the grocery store asking if I knew about the recall so I just calmly explained that I did know about it but that this was not even then same style and was perfectly safe. She continued for a bit but I just repeated that it was safe and finally just walked away. I don’t get it because when one stroller is recalled you don’t have people yelling at you not to use your stroller. But really it’s so worth the few annoying comments you might get.

  17. Emily Apr 30 at 2:41 pm Reply Reply

    This is perfect. I had a Rockin’ Baby sling on my registry, but took it off because my husband was nervous about the recalls. So I did and put on the ergo. Now I’ll re-add the Rockin’ and hope I’m lucky enough to score both!

  18. SoonToBeThree Apr 30 at 2:46 pm Reply Reply

    Right on!!!! The first thing I though when I saw those recalled slings, was that they looked like duffle bags!!! Of course babies were suffocating in those things. And I agree, education on proper use of the simple, safe, cloth slings is a very important part of using one. Who doesn’t check like a million times that their car seat is installed safely or the stroller is assembled properly….same thing applies to a sling or anything that you will be putting your baby into.

  19. Susan Apr 30 at 3:10 pm Reply Reply

    We have a Peanut Shell sling and I LOVED using it – and DH is not so much bigger than me so he could carry the baby in it too. Like Amy said, it’s extremely important to get the right size, so hopefully you live somewhere near a store that you can try it on in person, or order online from a store with a generous return policy.
    I watched the videos on the Peanut Shell website five or six times before I tried it with the baby, and then I decided not to use it until he was a little bigger because I listened to my instincts and thought that perhaps he wasn’t positioned correctly. Once he filled up the space a little better with less fabric near his face, we used it almost every day for four months.
    We starting using an Ergo around 6 months and that is just the BEST damn baby product on the planet. A few weeks ago I had my 16 month old in it at Target and an older product samples lady starts asking me about slings and aren’t they dangerous and “we didn’t have them in my day” – um, first, the Ergo is not a sling, though you do get the same luscious babywearing benefits (I kiss the top of his head probably every 20 seconds, seriously). Second, yes, actually women have been wearing their babies since the dawn of time, so obviously it’s healthy and reasonable, and a heck of a lot easier on your back than toting around a carseat carrier.

  20. Stacy Apr 30 at 3:28 pm Reply Reply

    I used both a Maya wrap and a homemade “Moby” wrap (google for a tutorial) and when the baby was really tiny I definitely loved the stretchy Moby-type full body wrap the best. I wore her all day, everywhere. It was fabulous. I did housework, everything. We travelled, walked all over the place, and she was happy as a clam. Even made a bigger size for my husband and he loved it! We used the Bjorn a lot, but it was always pretty uncomfortable. I was very envious of the Ergo carriers my friends had!! I never got the hang of the Maya sling when she was little, and mostly used it for a quick hip-carry between 6-10 months, but I always felt unsure of the “hand-free” aspect and kept one hand on her. It was a help in simply holding her, but for me it was a quick fix, not a long term carrier. At 14 months I would like to fashion another Moby style wrap out if non-stretchy fabric so that I can wear her on my back.
    I’m luck to live in Europe where babywearing us common and recommended to new mothers. :-)

  21. Liz Apr 30 at 3:55 pm Reply Reply

    I have 2 Hotslings that I used constantly with my daughter–I ended up getting 2 because I gained a lot of weight and then lost it quickly so the first Hotsling I bought became too big and I had to go down a size.
    I loved it and she slept in it constantly. It was intimidating learning how to use it so I went back to the store where I had purchased it and the owner helped me put it on correctly, make sure it was comfortable and the baby was in it properly. This was key! I felt much safer knowing a trained professional was assisting me.
    I also was gifted an ERGO and once my daughter was old enough (about 5 or 6 months), we used that nonstop. Wonderful sling to have. I bought the ERGO infant insert but never felt comfortable using it.

  22. MommiePie Apr 30 at 4:54 pm Reply Reply

    Amalah – just wondering if you used the Rockin’ Baby ring sling or pouch sling?
    Thanks!

  23. Ariel May 01 at 11:23 pm Reply Reply

    Great answer and explanation, Amy. I couldn’t live without my Moby Wrap (I guess it’s not technically a sling)–she was curled up in a similar fashion as a sling–high up, on my chest, where I could see her face the entire time. I was paranoid at first when she was so small, but gradually became better at putting the wrap on tight/loose enough and positioning her so we were both comfortable. She slept in it all day long, and it helped when I was out in public so people weren’t in her face and trying to touch her.

  24. Olivia May 02 at 8:02 am Reply Reply

    I love that last paragraph! When I talk about slings I tend to only mention the utilitarian aspects of them because I don’t want to sound like I’m trying to push a certain lifestyle. But slings really do promote awareness of your baby and help create a strong bond.

  25. KatC May 02 at 11:55 am Reply Reply

    I used a moby wrap at the beginning, and have now switched to a ergo, which I love. When I was getting used to “wearing” Sam, the best safety guideline that I heard was that he should always be close enough that I could kiss the top of his head. That’s something I love to do anyway, so it’s perfect!

  26. Caitlyn May 02 at 3:19 pm Reply Reply

    Jacinta – actually, the danger is less the fabric closing over their face than the lack of support – the child gets curled up with his chin pressed against his chest, and his windpipe can collapse, like a kink in a hose. A pouch or sling that holds the baby high and tight is safer, and a carrier that holds the baby upright against your chest, like a ring sling or a mei tai, is even better. All slings can be used unsafely; the problem is that the Slingrider cannot be used safely.
    The members of The Babywearer are actually very angry over the whole thing, because Infantino has been warned of the risk of suffocation multiple times since 2006, and have done nothing.
    Personally I like long woven wraps best, but there’s a number of excellent carrier styles out there, and they’re all super-helpful!

  27. CSACafe May 03 at 9:37 am Reply Reply

    I loved my sling as well – a Hotsling as first, then a Maya Ring Sling once the baby got a little bigger and difficult to get into the fixed sling.
    My local Leche League chapter hosts a wonderful event – the Spring Sling Fling, which I attended while pregnant and was able to judge the size for my Hotsling, try on a wide range of other options, and just get a ton of great advice. I strongly recommend seeing if a local chapter has an event like this for all the pregnant/new moms out there!

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