For the last 4 years+ I've been teaching what I call a "Benefits of Babywearing" class through several local venues-- hospital-based lactation support groups, our local Babies R Us locations, pediatricians offices, small home groups, through chirpractors offices-- you name it. My goal has always been to open parents eyes to all the amazing physical and emotional health benefits that babywearing gives to a baby. It still blows my mind. Not the idea of babywearing, but the science behind it all. It totally makes sense. An infant's development is measurably physically improved by babywearing. I'm just overwhelmed that something as simple as a piece of cloth, used to fasten my baby to my body, can actually measurably physically benefit my baby. It's so simple, it's almost stupid.
But not all baby carriers are equal, and not all of them are safe. And that's also been a part of the classes that I teach. When I teach a class, I bring several different styles of carriers to each class in order to demonstrate the pro's and con's of each style so that parents are then able to make an educated decision about which carrier style best meets the needs of their family. One of the carriers that I include in the demonstration is the Infantino Sling Rider, which would be considered a "bag style" carrier.
My overwhelming concern with this particular style of carrier is the awkward and compromised position into which the baby slips when he is placed inside the carrier. There is no feature to keep the baby's body in good alignment, so the baby usually ends up in what we call the "chin-to-chest" position. I'm a nurse, a pediatric nurse, and just hearing those words said in relation to a infant under three months old is enough to make my skin crawl. The chin-to-chest position is just that-- the infant's chin drops down to rest on their chest (remember your newborns at that age, they really don't have much of a neck), and their little, teeny, floppy airway is occluded-- folded in half, if you will. The infant airway, or trachea or breathing tube, is pretty unremarkable at this stage, at least in regards to it's ability to maintain itself. It's soft, floppy, and extremely narrow; that's why infants are so grossly affected when they're hit with the common cold, for example. Let me just say it bluntly: it is possible for an infant to "cut off" their own ability to breathe if they are placed in the chin-to-chest position. Try it yourself and see; bend your head down and forcefully rest your chin on your chest, and notice how you begin to work harder to breathe through your nose. More forceful, deeper breaths, indicating that's its much more challenging to get a good deep breath in this position. And we don't even have teeny, floppy airways. Now imagine that you are an infant with a teeny, floppy airway.
My concerns are not invalid, either. Others have been voicing their concerns for several years as well. In fact, one third-party group reviewed the Infantino Sling Rider (along with several other styles/brands of carriers) back in the fall of 2006 or 2007 ( I don't remember which off the top of my head), documented their findings, and presented it to the manufacturer in the following February, I believe assuming that the bag-style carrier in question would be pulled from the market, at least until modifications could be made to make it safe for use.
Here were some of the findings that the third-party reviewers found when reviewing the Infantino Sling Rider in use with actual moms and babies:
1. Due to the elastic gathering at the opening of the carrier, the actual oxygen levels within the carrier were significantly lower than that in the area around the mom. What does this mean? The baby is not being exposed to the oxygen it needs to breathe and oxygenate itself.
2. Due to the poor positioning of the baby in the carrier, i.e., the chin-to-chest position, some babies in the study occluded their own airway. They subsequently displayed the following impairments:
a. The babies oxygen levels went down, probably due in part to the lack of airflow inside the carrier, and in part to the compromised position the babies were in.
b. Their respiratory rates went up (as their bodies were trying to compensate for inability to suck in oxygen/air by increasing how fast the babies breathed).
c. To compensate even more, their heart rates began to rise above normal levels, again, in an attempt to adequately oxygenate the baby.
d. Some babies were noted to begin "grunting" which is a sign of respiratory distress.
e. Some babies were noted to have color changes-- blue/purple around their lips, etc.
f. Some babies thrashed around and cried to try to communicate their discomfort/distress.
g. Some babies just became "still" and didn't move (many parents take this to mean the baby is comfortable, sleeping, safe. Not often the case).
Parents have reported similar behaviors in their infants when using the Infantino SlingRider; these parent reports can be found either at the Babies R Us website or the Amazon website, by searching for the Infantino Sling Rider. Several of the reviews are disturbing, and many describe behaviors similar to what the third-party reviewers found when doing their study.
What's most disturbing to me is the manufacturer's response to all of this a few years ago when they were presented with the cold, hard facts. They shrugged their shoulders. Didn't seem to care, didn't make any changes, and certainly did nothing to publicize these findings. I get angry sometimes, when I'm teaching a class, and I present this information to a room full of parents or parents-to-be, and inevitably someone speaks up, usually a dad, but sometimes a mom, to say-- "If the carrier were really dangerous, I think the maker would pull it from the market. I don't believe what you're saying." Often at this point they accuse me of just trying to sell my own carriers; for those of you who know me, you can back me up when I tell you that that is the absolute last thing I've ever tried to do. I'm a firm believer in "you have to do what works for you." And I've provided parents with websites, stores, lists of resources, even referred them to competitors, to make sure that they were able to find a carrier that actually works for them.
I digress. Unfortunately, it finally happened. The Infantino Sling Rider company "got what it asked for"-- a documented death in one of their carriers, and not just one, I might add, but several. Consumer Reports notes the instances in their article dated October 26, 2009. (For some reason I am not able to input the link to the article here, but it is imbeded in the title of this blog).
They got what they asked for, alright, dead babies and devastated families. And it didn't have to happen.
Sadly, the Consumer Reports article attempts to say that ALL baby slings are unsafe, dangerous, shouldn't be used. Not true. I have pushed people to LEARN how to use their carriers correctly over the years, as even a good carrier can be used incorrectly and potentially be the "cause" of a problem (I say "cause" because it's not actually the carrier that causes the problem, it's the wearer not using it correctly). Three biggest instances of this, in my opinion, are: a "bigger baby, let's say a 6- or 8-month old, that's just really pitching a fit, and the parent is trying to force the baby into the carrier, and the baby is thrashing, throwing itself around, a recipe for disaster. A baby carrier is just that, a carrier, not a restraining device. Next example, a parent not tightening the carrier up, wearing it very loose and low, baby hanging out, again, looking for a fall, or the potential for the baby to fall into the chin-to-chest position. I've seen this several times, usually a ring sling, and the parent is attempting to carry the baby in the cradle position, but is not adjusting the sling to support the baby, allowing the baby to just kind of curl up inside the body of the sling (I've always thought that maybe these parents were trying to wear it the way they've seen the Infantino Sling Rider worn). And the third instance, wearing a carrier that is too big for you-- usually it is a pouch, or pouch sling, and the baby is sliding into . . . the chin-to-chest position, and we've already been through those dangers. It is critical to make sure not only that the carrier you are using fits you, but that you are also using it correctly.
My heart goes out to the families of these beautiful babies whose lives were needlessly lost. The data was there, several years ago, and the manufacturer KNEW about the potential harm that their product could have, creating a compromised position in babies, they just didn't seem to care.