Tips for Safe Newborn Babywearing

Watch baby’s airway. It’s the number one rule of babywearing and is particularly important for newborns and babies with any sort of breathing issue. This rule applies to any sort of “baby holder” – baby carriers and slings, but also bouncy chairs, swings, and even carseats. All of these can be used safely. But used improperly, all can compromise a small baby’s airway.

Consider that a newborn’s airway is about the diameter of a drinking straw. Think about what happens to a straw when bent – it kinks and doesn’t allow liquid to flow through. When a newborn’s head is allowed to fall into a chin to chest position (or one in which the head is tilted very far back), baby’s airway kinks just like a drinking straw and air can’t get through, a condition known as positional asphyxia. Most of the time this means that baby’s oxygen saturation level will drop; in extreme cases it can have lasting impacts or even result in death.

Newborns have large, heavy heads in relation to their bodies and very little neck and trunk strength. This means if we don’t position them properly, they can easily slump into the chin to chest position. While the focus of this post is on how to prevent positional asphyxia in baby carriers, it’s important to remember that this condition can occur in carseats, bouncy chairs, swings, and other baby “holding” devices if they are improperly used or baby is not monitored during use. You know how all carseat instruction manuals stress the correct recline angle on an infant seat? That’s to prevent baby from slumping into a chin to chest position and ending up with a compromised airway. Always be mindful of baby’s position!

Babywearing is a SAFE activity. But like anything else you do with your newborn, it’s wise to be mindful of how to do it safely and comfortably!

The video below covers basics of babywearing newborn safety – what you should know before you ever pick up a carrier.

Here are some of the main points for quick reference:

  • Be mindful of baby’s airway – always. If baby slumps into a chin to chest position, you need to reposition him and adjust your carrier. Grunting, snoring sounds, color changes – all can be signs that baby isn’t getting adequate airflow.
  • Think about how you hold your baby and let the carrier do the same. You are the carrier; the sling/wrap/carrier is merely an extra set of arms and should hold baby just as you would.
  • Keep baby “close enough to kiss.” A common beginner mistake is to wear baby in the carrier too low and/or too loose. The carrier should be high and tight to keep baby in a position high on your chest so you can monitor her breathing. A snug carrier keeps baby in an upright position and prevents a chin to chest slump.
  • An upright tummy to tummy position can be done in any carrier and is preferred. The cradle carry may be an iconic sling position but it is tricky to do safely. An upright tummy to tummy position is much easier to get snug and secure …and most babies prefer it. If you nurse in a cradle or semi-reclined position in a carrier, it’s recommended that you return baby to the upright tummy to tummy position when you are finished.
  • Baby’s face should always be visible. The carrier should never cover baby’s face and baby should never be rolled into the wearer’s body (unless nursing). Most babies will naturally turn their heads to the side when held upright on someone’s chest. A snug carrier will help them maintain this position.

Stay tuned for more newborn safety videos demonstrating safe wearing in different carrier types! And visit our full Babywearing Guide for information on different carrier types and links to other babywearing content.

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