This is the second part of our series on babywearing safety. You can read Part One here.
Most babywearing is common sense, but there are a few basic guidelines to start out with when you’re learning:
- Use a good quality carrier- this can be as simple as a towel or a bedsheet or an expensive carrier but it should be good quality. They are not all created equal.
- Follow the manufacturers instructions
- Follow your own instincts and be aware of your skill level
Most importantly, remember TICKS.
TICKS was created as a simple acronym to remember when wearing your baby, it’s a basic safety message distilled:
Close enough to kiss
Keep chin off the chest
Supported straight back
Tight: A baby carrier should be tight enough to press the baby up against you.
There are two problems with a loose carrier: firstly, it will start to hurt. Even a little baby hanging slightly away from your body will start to cause the wearer pain quite quickly. Whereas a properly fitting, tight carrier will allow you to carry quite a big child for a long distance or time.
The second problem with a loose carrier is that it can allow the baby to slump. This is a significant safety issue in a newborn, but will also be a problem for babies with low muscle tone or respiration compromised in some other way. See our article on protecting infant airflow. A simple rule of thumb for a baby in an upright carry- if you can press on their spine and straighten it as they move closer to you, the carrier is too loose.
In view: Your baby should be in your line of sight at all times. You shouldn’t have to push away any clothing or fabric from the carrier to see his/her face. This guideline ensures that the baby’s flow of oxygen is unhindered. You wouldn’t put your baby to sleep with his/her face covered with a blanket in a cot or bed- and your baby carrier should not do this either. This safety tip refers to front carries, for safety information on back carries see below.
Close enough to kiss: Your baby should be positioned high on your torso- you should be able to bend your head to kiss his/her head and I recommend you do it often! By carrying your baby high on your body you are keeping him/her close to your center of gravity. Some unsafe slings (see our article on choosing a safe sling ) are used with the baby slung very low on the body- below the navel or near the hip. This kind of positioning can lead to a number of problems such as parental back pain and obstruction of airways.
Keep the chin off the chest: This is another tip that aims to prevent the obstruction of a newborn’s airway, or the airway of a baby with low tone or compromised respiration. Your baby should not have its chin curled into its chest. For more information, see our article here. A simple tip is if you can fit two fingers between the baby’s chin and its chest, you’re doing OK.
Supported straight back: Spinal development and baby carriers is discussed in our article on developmental safety. Briefly, however, when we hold our babies in arms, our instinct is to support them along the length of their spine. The same will happen in a well-fitting baby carrier. The baby should not be slumped, but its back should be supported in a smooth, straight position.
A great resource is the original TICKS pamphlet which is printable and easy to follow. This pamphlet is a great for any parent new to babywearing.
There are some things you shouldn’t do while babywearing- these are generally activities that will put your baby at risk of falls or harm due being attached to you. Some are obvious: welding and firefighting is definitely frowned upon. Clearly a carrier is no safe substitute for a carseat. Climbing a ladder with a baby in a carrier isn’t recommended- but there is a difference between a stepping stool and an eight foot ladder. Horse riding and bike riding puts the baby at risk for falls if you fall. Baby Wearers International has a thorough list here.
There are some slings that are made specifically for the water- these are great for the shower, taking your older child into a pool while holding onto the baby securely or at the beach. They are never intended for swimming in either front or back carries. No carrier is a suitable substitute for an infant flotation device on a boat.
Youtube and internet tutorials are great ways to learn babywearing. Internet groups such as our own Babywearing Buy Sell Swap, Kanga Collective or Baby Carriers Downunder or the Facebook page for your local sling group (search your locality and “babywearing”) can be great places for supportive and constructive trouble-shooting advice. They can also be great places to connect with local babywearers for in-person support.