Friday, May 28, 2010

The Good and the Bad about Baby Slings

Part 1: The Good
I have to say I feel biased writing this post because I am such a big proponent of babywearing after my own sling-toting experiences with my daughter. However, there have been 2 recent reports published by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission warning about sling use in young infants. At our office, and as we travel to spread the Baby Behavior messages around California and beyond, we are continually asked our opinion about the recent controversy over the safety of sling use. We hope to give you some research-based (and real life) perspectives on the good and the bad about baby slings. There was so much information out there that we decided to write this in 2 posts. Today, we'll look at the benefits of baby wearing, and next Tuesday we'll look at the recent reports questioning sling safety and share some tips to help you make an informed decision about baby wearing.

Wearing Your Baby (Safely) Improves Infant Attachment and Reduces Infant Crying
I was given several slings while pregnant with my daughter, and I never could have imagined then how useful a sling would be after my bundle of joy arrived. The sling gave me the ability to do many activities “hands-free” while keeping my baby close. I have vacuumed, done laundry, prepared meals (but not cooking on a hot stove!), hiked trails, grocery shopped, played Frisbee with my dog, and safely navigated a few airports, all with my baby girl safely tucked against my chest. With some practice I even learned to breastfeed my daughter in the sling. As you can imagine, slings are a great bonding tool for mothers and babies, but fathers and other caregivers can also wear the baby. I have some pretty funny memories of my Husband wearing our 9 month old daughter in my bright red Moby Wrap! Baby wearing by other caregivers not only provides mom with a break, it also allows those loved ones to connect and build a close relationship with the baby. The “skin-to-skin” contact also regulates the baby’s heart rate and temperature - not to mention the fact that babies are just a lot happier when they are close to their mom or other loved ones. Wearing my daughter in a sling also helped me connect with her during the very challenging 1st 6-weeks of her life when I was exhausted and depressed. But you don’t have to believe just my own experience! Let’s take a look at the research.

The Research: More Secure Attachments

A small study by Anisfeld, et al, showed that increased physical contact (mothers received soft baby carriers and were instructed to use them everyday) resulted in significantly more secure attachment between mothers and infants. Eighty-three percent of infants held in baby carriers were securely attached versus 38% in the control group (given infant seats) at 13 months of age. The presumed reason being that carrying the baby leads the parent to provide faster responses to the infant's crying and cues, resulting in the infant feeling more secure. Further analysis even showed that sling-wearing positively affected infant-mother attachment beyond that which was attributed to increased responsiveness of the mother when wearing the baby close. You might wonder how they objectively measured how much time moms wore their infants in the carriers. Well, they actually sewed pedometers inside the slings!

The Research: Reduced Crying

A randomized controlled trial of full term breastfed infants by Hunziker, et al. found that carrying your baby in arms or in a baby carrier (that provided body contact between mother and infant) for at least 3 hours per day (in addition to carrying regularly provided during feeding and in response to crying) reduced daytime crying by 43% and nighttime crying (4pm-12am) by 54%! Also, the normal peak in crying that occurs at 6-weeks of age was practically eliminated.

From my own experiences and from research findings, it seems obvious that babywearing has many benefits, but is it really safe? When baby slings are worn properly, they can be safe, but it’s very important to follow a few important safety guidelines. As with any baby product, you must learn to use slings properly and always keep safety in mind. In our next post, we’ll give you a brief overview of the recent safety warnings from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission and share some guidelines for wearing slings safely. Stay tuned!

Next time: The Bad: Recent Warnings from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission About Sling Use

1. Anisfeld E, Casper V, Nozyce M, Cunningham N. (1990) Does Infant Carrying Promote Attachment? An Experimental Study of the Effects of Increased Physical Contact on the Development of Attachment. Child Development 61:1617-1627.

2. Hunziker UA, Garr RG. (1986) Increased carrying reduces infant crying: A random-ized controlled trial. Pediatrics 77:641-648


  1. I've read pretty much this exact same thing time and time again, of course from Dr. Sears, but also every other attachment parenting proponent.
    So, imagine my surprise at finding that my own baby did not like to be worn. But I had read so many times that all babies like it, that it is universally great for them. So I tried different carriers/wraps/slings. I especially wanted the Moby to work so I tried many times with different holds, varying tightness, getting help from those who use it with success, waiting a few weeks between tries, all to No Avail!!
    At almost 5 months she still hates it. At 3 months she started liking the Bjorn, which of course all the attachment parenting types say will ruin her spine even though there's no real evidence of this.
    I still believe in attachment parenting, but I am so sick of reading the same thing over and over about what all babies will definitely like! All babies are different!!

  2. I used a Sweet Sugar baby wrap when our son was 2 and 3 months. Now I use an Ergo Baby Sport Carrier. He's 4.5 months. It's wonderful to be able to "hold" him but have my hands free. He likes it, too.

  3. In response to our first comment (from anonymous) for this post: We hope that all of our readers understand that we completely agree with you about all babies being unique. Also, we don't mean to imply that attachment parenting means you have to use a baby wrap or sling. Wraps and slings are just tools for parents who want to use them. If you have time and interest, maybe you can share what you think is the reason why your baby doesn't like slings. For example, slings might limit what babies can see or how much they can move. Perhaps we can help parents look for characteristics of babies who may not like being in wraps or slings. Thanks!

  4. Well, she definitely doesn't like having her head restrained/cradled/covered so all of the newborn positions were out. Now that she's old enough to face outward and be upright (which she prefers), I'm not sure what she doesn't like about the kangaroo positions. She definitely doesn't like pressure on her stomach. As for the lotus position which is supposed to be better for the spine when they can't sit independently yet, I think she doesn't like having her legs restrained. She's very gassy and being unrestrained and mobile seems to be important, and is found more with the Bjorn (which is also easiest of all carriers to get on, IMO).

  5. i've used just about every style of baby carrier available, pouch sling, ring sling, stretchy wrap, woven wrap, soft-structured carrier, and borrowed a mei tai (altho never a bjorn style, i didn't like the way it fit me). i love them all for different reasons. i have 3 children who have responded differently to each carrier. my first loved to be held, so loved (and still at 4yo) loves every carrier. my second, from birth, wanted her own space and was rarely worn until after turning 1, now she loves the ssc. my third is busy at 10mo but so far loves to be worn, which is good since i have 2 toddlers to keep track of :-) i was quite surprised when my second didn't like to be worn, but that is who she is. it would have made things easier when she was a baby, but she was quite happy to lay on the floor.

  6. Thank you for this. I forget, from time to time, that wearing my baby is a great way to calm her down when she's fussy and I want to be productive. I remember it when I'm out, and at church, but I forget to wear her around the house.

    So I promptly plopped her in my Mei Tai and did some laundry and dishes. And then again yesterday I plopped her in again, this time on my back, and did some more dishes and even played my Trombone.

    I also wore her on Sunday on a 2 mile walk home from a baseball game. She wouldn't sleep otherwise, with all the excitement, so this was a great way to calm her down and get a nap.

  7. In the way way back days...before they had slings or wrap carriers I took a crib sheet and knotted it at my shoulder and that worked just fine for my first baby and I for many months. This was born out of neccesity because we lived in an upstairs apartment and the laundry was downstairs. So the only way I could carry laundry and little Ben was to put him in that sling. It worked...not glamorously but functionally.

  8. In response to the first comment; my baby also doesn't like the sling much... she is only 9 weeks old now, but is so curious. She just doesn't settle down when there is so much to see, she can already hold her head up but has not got great control which means she bumps into my chest frequently and hurts herself too. She does not like to be restrained I think and I need to remove all visual stimulation for her to sleep. Its a shame because I really want to hold her close to me, maybe it will still change. As long as she is happy I am happy though!

  9. My daughter didn't seem to care for the wrap in the house and would continue to cry, especially during those early weeks however the wrap in combination with the vaccuum would often work. One thing that worked 99% of the time was to put her in the moby wrap, put a hat on her and zip my coat around both of us and get outside for a walk. As soon as we took one step out the door she would stop crying. I came to really enjoy those peaceful walks together. They were my secret defense against evening crying!

  10. I have the same issue as a previous commenter. I have a ring sling, a pouch, a Moby, an Ergo and a Mei Tai and love them all for different reasons, buying just can't get my 3 and a half month old daughter to love babywearing as much as I do. I find I have the most success with carriers if she's being worn outside of the house and I keep moving so that she can sleep. As soon as I stop moving or go into a store, she wakes up and I usually have about 5 minutes before she screams to get out. I think she hates to feel restricted and confined. The pouch and the ring sling have been great inside at parties when she is overwhelmed. I start with her in a kangaroo hold, then move her into a modified cradle as soon as she calms down and she will usually fall asleep as long as I keep moving and I don't ever sit down. I'm not ready to give up on wearing her yet, but would love any tips or advice for getting a baby to like it more!