Wednesday, March 10, 2010

What you need to know about your newborn's airway...

I am a (card-carrying) member of a massive online community just nutty about slings. We call it 'baby-wearing' with great affection, almost oblivious of the sneers from failblog. Almost.

Apparently, US authorities will soon be issuing a warning about the dangers of 'bag slings' which claimed the lives of two newborns last year. The specific brand in question, currently being sued, is Infantino, the 'Sling-Rider' model. The article released yesterday in anticipation of the warning has a notion of what went horribly wrong with this particular sling to kill these babies, but does not mention this:

Positional Asphyxiation

Which is a shame, because that is exactly what the problem is. It can happen in carseats, bouncy seats, infant swings, strollers, as well as, of course, bag slings. But not just bag slings. I would be remiss, as a babywearing advocate, to dismiss the risk of positional asphyxiation in any of the slings that I use, love, and give as gifts to families near and dear to my heart. If you are wearing a newborn, or love a newborn, please take a look at this excellent handout on safe newborn positioning.

Every newborn is at risk for positional asphyxiation. Did you know? Did they tell you?

"Remember, always support baby's head, and be careful not to let baby's chin fall down her chest -- it could block her airway."


Well, they should have. In NICUs, years before my now five year old was born, it was standard practice to subject babies, prior to release, to 'carseat tests' where they had to maintain their oxygen saturation level in a carseat for a certain period of time. If they couldn't do it, it was deemed unsafe to take them home.

As a legacy of our upright pelvises and oversized noggins, human beings are born with underdeveloped neck muscles. A newborn is helpless, in general, to correct an occlusion of their own airway for the same reason that we're supposed to support their heads -- they can't do it themselves. So they are at risk in any semi-reclined position where their heads can fall forward.

A highly unscientific experiment: where you are sitting, tip your chin down so that it touches your chest, and breathe from your mouth, a few breaths. Now sit back upright, and breathe again. Hear the difference? Newborns don't have the luxury of simply lifting their heads off of their chests, so they might fuss and cry, struggle a bit, start grunting, if they drift off you might hear them snore. You might even think it's cute. If you were measuring their oxygen saturation levels, you would realize that their airways are compromised.

Most babies, born at term, feeding well, growing and thriving, won't die from less than optimal oxygen saturation. Even if it happens a few times, even over the course of a nap or two. But many, many babies can't afford it, and need every bit of oxygen they can get.

The SlingRider from Infantino is under fire (from everyone, at this point) because it is not possible to achieve safe positioning for newborns while using it. It brings together several bad design decisions into a perfect storm of bad positioning. It breaks all the 'rules' of safe wearing, as baby is literally strapped, on his back, between two walls of fabric, hanging (in most cases) too far away from his parent or caregiver to encourage any feedback or contact. Using the SlingRider correctly puts a baby at increased risk of positional asphyxiation. The fact that Infantino had this information in 2006 and did nothing about it is merely hateful. You don't need to stop at the SlingRider. Don't buy anything by Infantino. ^_^

It does terrify me, as an avid babywearer, that someone might see me using a sling, and go out and endanger their precious child in the SlingRider. There's no excuse for it still being on the market, and whatever pain the babywearing community might unfairly incur from this impending official warning, I hope Infantino goes down hard.

If you have a SlingRider, please stop using it. Destroy it before you toss it. Consider donating it to a babywearing advocacy group to use in demonstrations. But please don't give it to a thrift store, or pass it along. If your sling is not a SlingRider, but you are unsure if it is of a similar design and therefore unsafe, please visit this helpful resource. There is a group on Facebook working diligently to get the word out about safe positioning. Please share.


  1. Thank you so much for putting this well thought out and informational post up! May I link to it from my blogs? I have never bought anything from Infantino, simply because they carry the SlingRider. I think that all bag slings should be taken off the market!


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  2. Thanks for researching and providing great links; I've sent it on to my MOMS group.

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  4. Hi
    Great tips! EXACTLY what I need as I think ahead for when baby arrives!
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