This article covers slings that babywearing parents commonly worry about. They include clip slings like the Mini Monkey, Babasling and Bubba Moe and front pack carriers like the Baby Bjorn, Snuggli and a long list of similar carriers. We will look at the known safety risks, the theorized safety risks and leave it to the parent to decide whether they should be used.
Clip slings look a little like bag slings, with several important differences. Firstly, they are adjustable. They are not as adjustable as ring slings such as Sakura Bloom or Maya Wrap, but unlike the bag slings, it is possible to adjust them. They also tend to have a shallower pouch for the baby to lie in so its face is not covered and oxygen is flowing freely over the baby. However, they are difficult to use in the correct newborn cradle position without which a newborn may be at risk of asphyxia or apoxia. It is sometimes possible to use these slings correctly in tummy-to-tummy upright carries which pose less concern for newborn positioning, but keeping the TICKS guidelines in mind when using them is paramount. As long as TICKS are followed, the slings are fine to use, albeit not necessarily comfortable.
Common brands of clip-slings are Babasling, Bubba Moe and Mini Monkey.
There is a common perception in babywearing circles that front pack carriers such as the Baby Bjorn, Snuggli and other brands of this kind are damaging to babies. These concerns center around the sub-optimal positioning of these carriers in regards to hip and spine development (see here).
It is certainly true that these carriers can become very uncomfortable for parents over a long period of time, especially as the baby becomes heavier. They may be uncomfortable for babies as well; although attentive parents are usually responsive to this.
It is also true that front pack carriers like the Bjorn promote a positioning of the hips and legs that are suboptimal for a baby’s development, see here.
It is unlikely, however, that these carriers are damaging babies on a widespread basis. In almost 30 years of use by a large group of babies, there is no documentary evidence that there has been an increase in hip and spine problems in these babies. Other baby items have resulted in an increase in Developmental Dysplasia of the Hip (DDH) in the general population, for example, a swaddling nappy used in Japan during the 19080s on a large scale was deemed responsible for an increase in DDH (see here for details); but there is no confirmed evidence that front pack carriers have caused similar outcomes.
If you have one of these carriers and you and your baby find it comfortable to use, there is probably a very minimal risk involved. Whilst not ideal, the problems caused by the carrier may in fact be self limiting due to the short time periods that the carriers can be comfortably used. In those societies where DDH has been linked to the use of baby carriers (cradle boarding in some Native American groups, see link above), these carriers were probably used daily for extended periods over the early years of an infant’s life. The front pack carriers such as the Bjorn are rarely used in such a manner.
There are many baby goods that place the hips and/or spine in a similar position (see here) – it is clear that a short period in a car seat is better than no car seat at all. The same probably goes for baby carriers.
The obvious exception is in children or families where there is a family history, diagnosis or suspected case of hip or spine problems. In this case, it would be wise to discontinue use of such carriers.
Overall, there are a number of slings that, while they may be suboptimal in terms of positioning and comfort, are not dangerous as such. Not all parents will feel that they are suitable for their child’s needs. However, if you already own one of these slings and you can follow the TICKS guidelines when using it, then it is probably not dangerous to use it so long as both you and your baby is comfortable.