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About baby carriers, slings and backpacks
Baby carriers, baby slings and baby backpacks are different types of equipment for carrying your baby on your chest or back.
A baby carrier is a soft padded carrier that you wear on your front. Some have adjustable options so you can wear your baby on your back or hip.
A baby sling is a pouch or strip of fabric, usually secured over your shoulder and worn across your front in various positions.
Baby backpacks usually have rigid frames. You wear them only on your back. They're suitable for older babies and toddlers who can hold up their heads. It's a good idea to ask your GP or child and family health nurse whether your baby is old enough for a backpack.
Carrying your baby in a baby carrier, sling or backpack gives you the advantage of having your hands free, and most babies like being able to see the world from up high. If you use carriers, slings and backpacks the right way, they're safe and practical ways to get around with your baby.
What to look for in a baby carrier
If you're interested in baby carriers, it's important to look for one that:
- allows healthy hip positioning for your baby
- is safe to use
- is comfortable for you to wear.
Healthy hip positioning
Healthy hip positioning is important to encourage normal hip development in babies and reduce the risk of developmental dysplasia of the hip.
Your baby carrier should allow your baby's hips to spread so his legs are straddling your body. Your baby's knees should be spread apart, his thighs should be supported, and his hips should be bent.
Here's how to carry your baby for healthy hip positioning, plus what not to do.
Carrying your baby with her hips together inside a sling can increase her risk of hip dysplasia.
These images are reproduced with permission from the International Hip Dysplasia Institute.
Safe baby carriers
There is no Australian standard for baby carriers, slings and backpacks. But the following tips can help you choose a safe baby carrier:
- Look for a baby carrier with the European standard EN 13209-2:2005 or the US standard ASTM F2236-08.
- Check that the carrier comes with easy-to-understand written, visual or video instructions that show you how to use it safely.
- Take your baby with you when you're shopping for a carrier. Ask a shop assistant to show you how to fit the carrier correctly with your baby in it.
- Your baby should be able to move his head, arms and legs.
- Check that your baby can see out of the carrier and that the fabric doesn't cut into her face.
- Make sure you can put the carrier on and take it off without any help. Also ensure that you can do up any buckles, straps or clips without help and that you can adjust all straps firmly with one hand.
Comfortable baby carriers
The best way to find a comfortable baby carrier is to try on different styles with your baby. If your partner and other carers will be using the carrier, look for a style that will be comfortable for them too.
Here are a few tips on choosing a comfortable baby carrier:
- Look for broad, padded shoulder straps that go across your back, as well as a broad waist strap. These will help to distribute your baby's weight evenly and keep some pressure off your shoulders. They should also stop the carrier moving from side to side too much.
- Ensure the carrier is appropriate for different seasons and won't make your baby overheat in the warmer months.
- If you plan to use the carrier as your baby grows, look for a carrier that you can change around so your baby can face forwards.
- Use your carrier only until your baby feels too heavy or uncomfortable to carry safely. Check the carrier's instructions for the maximum weight the carrier can handle.
Baby carriers aren't recommended for babies under four months of age or babies who can't hold up their heads yet. This is because they're at greater risk of neck injuries.
Using a baby carrier, sling or backpack safely
Here's how to secure your baby in a carrier, sling or backpack and use this equipment safely.
Securing babies in carriers, slings and backpacks: general tips
- Read the tags for height and weight, and use the right baby carrier for your baby's size.
- Tighten the straps before you put your baby in the carrier, then use the straps to get a snug, secure fit.
- Make sure you can adjust all straps firmly with one hand.
- Try to get into the habit of checking that the straps are still secure and show no signs of damage before putting your baby in each time. If any straps or buckles are damaged, contact the supplier or manufacturer.
- Get someone to help you put your baby in the carrier until you get used to doing it on your own. Some people find it helps to practise with a doll or teddy before putting the baby in.
Using carriers, slings and backpacks: general tips
- Wear shoes that are easy to walk in, and look out for uneven surfaces so you don't trip.
- Avoid using carriers in hot weather, because your body heat and the carrier will increase your baby's temperature. On hot days, you could use a shaded pram or stroller instead.
- Take care when putting on and taking off the carrier, because this is when falls are most common. If you can, get somebody else to help you, or sit down on the floor.
- Hold on to something stable - like a pole - if you bend down or lean forward while wearing the sling, carrier or backpack.
- If you're cooking, don't carry your baby in a front-wearing carrier or sling because of the risk of burning your baby.
Baby slings: avoiding suffocation risks
Babies can be at risk of suffocation if they're not correctly put into baby slings. This is because young babies can't move if they're in a dangerous position that's blocking their airways.
The T.I.C.K.S. rule can help you remember how to position your baby safely in a baby sling:
- Tight: the sling should be tight, with the baby positioned high and upright with head support. Any loose fabric might cause your baby to slump down, which could restrict his breathing.
- In view at all times: always be able to see your baby's face by simply looking down. Ensure your baby's face, nose and mouth remain uncovered by the sling and/or your body.
- Close enough to kiss: your baby should be close enough to your chin that by tipping her head forward you can easily kiss her head.
- Keep chin off the chest: ensure your baby's chin is up and away from his body. Your baby should never be curled so that his chin is forced onto his chest. This can restrict breathing. Regularly check your baby. Babies can be in distress without making any noise or movement.
- Supported back: your baby's back should be supported in a natural position with her tummy and chest against you. When bending over, support your baby with one hand behind her back. Bend at the knees, not at the waist.
Babies who were premature, had low birth weight, are unwell, or are under four months of age are at greater risk of suffocation in baby slings. Talk to your child and family health nurse, GP or paediatrician before using a sling.