Baby slings are convenient, but are they safe?

Baby slings are convenient, but are they safe?

Katherine Gallagher loves the feel of her son, Mitchell, in a baby sling wrapped around her body.

She loves that she can do the dishes, hang out the laundry or do the shopping while she's holding him. The first-time mother often puts her phone in the sling's front pocket, or slots spare nappies in the sling itself. She also uses it to discreetly breastfeed.

Babies should have head and neck control before sling use was introduced. 

Ms Gallagher, 22, believes baby slings are perfectly safe, but she waited until he was three months old to use the sling. ''I didn't want him cocooned inside, I waited until he had some good head control,'' she said.

Despite the extensive use of baby slings in Australia - and at least five cases of infants being hospitalised in Victoria because of injuries from falling from one in the past 10 years - there is no national safety standard for the product.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission is now investigating the need for a safety code, particularly for babies younger than four months. The move comes after more than a million Infantino SlingRider products were recalled in the US after they were reportedly linked to three infant deaths.

In Australia, it is believed there have been no deaths associated with baby slings over the past decade. But at least 21 Victorian infants have been presented to emergency departments due to injuries sustained when they fell out of a baby sling, or when the person carrying them in the sling tripped or fell.

ACCC deputy chairman Peter Kell said the watchdog was looking into the need for a national standard and that the review would investigate the construction of slings and materials used. It will also look at how deeply a baby should sit within a sling, which appears to have been a key issue with the Infantino products.

Shanti McIvor, a mother of five who owns baby sling business Baba Slings, welcomed the introduction of a safety standard.

She said that since she started selling slings in 1999, no safety issues had arisen.

Babies should have head and neck control before sling use was introduced, Ms McIvor said, and parents should also check that their babies' backs were straight and not held in a C-shape.

She said slings were convenient, increased hormones such as prolactin for mothers, strengthened the bond between parent and child, were a breastfeeding aid and helped in putting babies to sleep.

''It's incredibly sad that these tragedies have happened for the families involved,'' she said. ''But a… it would be a terrible thing for it to deter people from carrying their babies as it's such a rewarding and nurturing experience for parent and child.''

www.accc.gov.au