The benefits of baby-wearing — and what to know before putting your child in a sling or carrier

Using a baby carrier or sling can help foster bonding, experts say — but they aren't for everyone. (Photo: Getty Creative)
Using a baby carrier or sling can help foster bonding, experts say — but they aren't for everyone. (Photo: Getty Creative) (monkeybusinessimages via Getty Images)

Transporting a baby around can make everyday tasks a little more difficult, but parents have two major options to help: Use a stroller, or strap on a baby carrier. Baby carriers are an increasingly popular choice. In fact, data show that the baby carrier market is worth $5 billion this year, and sales are projected to reach $5.7 billion by 2025.

There are a lot of different carriers on the market, with price tags ranging from $20 for a basic model to $750 for a designer option. But for all of the hype surrounding baby carriers, is there any benefit to taking your baby around town this way?

Doctors say there are plenty of perks to baby-wearing.

"Baby-wearing allows physical closeness between a caregiver and infant, which allows infants to benefit from physical touch, face-to-face attention, hearing language used by the caregiver and bonding," Dr. Katie Lockwood, attending physician at CHOP Primary Care Network in Flourtown, Penn., and assistant professor of pediatrics at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, tells Yahoo Life. There are bonding perks for you, too, she points out. Meaning, wearing your baby close to your chest can help you feel closer to her.

Baby-wearing also allows parents to go hands-free, Dr. Daniel Ganjian, a pediatrician at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif., says — a huge bonus when you have an infant that you typically carry around everywhere.

If you're nursing your baby, Lockwood points out that having her in a carrier "can also be a good way to discretely breastfeed while in public."

But for all of the benefits of baby-wearing, it's not perfect.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) notes that about 14,000 young children went to the ER between 2011 and 2020 after they were injured when they fell out of a carrier or sling or their caregiver fell while wearing one. Most of those babies had head injuries and some had broken bones or cuts. (To be fair, though, research has found more than 17,000 babies are injured in strollers each year.)

Because of this, the AAP recommends keeping the following in mind when wearing your baby:

  • When using a sling, make sure the baby’s body does not curl into a C shape, which may cause breathing problems. (The baby's neck should be straight and the head above the fabric.)

  • Check frequently to make sure you can see your baby’s face and fabric is not blocking the baby’s mouth or nose.

  • Make sure the carrier is the right size for your child and is made of sturdy material. It should support the back, and the baby should not be able to slip through the leg holes.

  • Check carriers and backpacks often to make sure seams and fasteners are not ripped.

  • Bend at your knees if you need to pick something up while wearing a carrier. If you bend at the waist, the baby could fall out of the carrier, and you could hurt your back.

  • Use the device’s restraining straps so your child doesn’t fall out, and make sure the baby is seated before you walk.

Experts stress using slings and carriers the right away to keep babies and small children safe and comfortable. (Photo: Getty Creative)
Experts stress using slings and carriers the right away to keep babies and small children safe and comfortable. (Photo: Getty Creative) (Newman Studio via Getty Images)

Baby-wearing also isn't ideal for parents with back and neck problems, Ganjian says. "Baby-wearing can exacerbate these issues or even cause them, depending on how heavy your child is and how long you're wearing them," he says.

It's important, too, to make sure that your child is positioned properly in your baby carrier. Every carrier is different but, in general, you want to make sure "the legs aren't straight," Ganjian advises. Instead, your child's legs should be in an "M" shape, where their knees are bent and positioned higher than their butt, he says. This is a more ergonomic position for your child. Infant slings are slightly different though, and it's important to consult the directions before using one, he says.

Also consider this, per Lockwood: You need to give your child time to move around outside the carrier, too. "If babies are being worn all day, they may not have an opportunity to develop their gross motor skills, so baby-wearing should be balanced with opportunities for tummy time," she says.

The final takeaway? Baby-wearing is up to you.

Doctors agree that baby carriers can be an asset to parents when they're used correctly. "It can be a good option for parents with older children at home so that they can continue household tasks and have hands free to assist other children while caring for an infant," Lockwood says.

As for baby-wearing vs. using a stroller, Lockwood says you don't necessarily have to make a choice — and it's ultimately family-dependent. "As someone who raised two infants in a city, I found baby-wearing a great alternative to a stroller as it helped avoid having to push a bulky stroller through crowded areas, over uneven pavement or in areas with lots of stairs," she says.

Ganjian agrees. "If you also have a toddler that you're pushing in a stroller, this can be a nice way of carrying your baby," he says. "But you can have a stroller and a baby carrier. It's not like one size fits all."

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