About baby carriers, slings and backpacks
Baby carriers, baby slings and baby backpacks are different types of equipment for carrying your baby on your chest or back.
A baby carrier is a soft padded carrier that you wear on your front. Some have adjustable options so you can wear your baby on your back or hip.
A baby sling is a pouch or strip of fabric, usually secured over your shoulder and worn across your front in various positions.
A baby backpack usually has a rigid frame. You wear backpacks only on your back. They’re suitable for older babies and toddlers who can hold up their heads. It’s a good idea to ask your GP or child and family health nurse whether your baby is old enough for a backpack.
Carrying your baby in a baby carrier, sling or backpack gives you the advantage of having your hands free, and most babies like being able to see the world from up high. If you use carriers, slings and backpacks the right way, they’re safe and practical ways to get around with your baby.
What to look for in a baby carrier
If you’re interested in baby carriers, it’s important to look for one that:
- allows healthy hip positioning for your baby
- is safe to use
- is comfortable for you to wear and your baby to sit in.
Healthy hip positioning
Healthy hip positioning encourages proper hip development in babies and reduces the risk of developmental dysplasia of the hip.
Your baby carrier should allow your baby’s hips to spread so their legs are straddling your body. Your baby’s knees should be spread apart, the thighs should be supported, and the hips should be bent.
Here’s how to carry your baby for healthy hip positioning, plus what not to do.
Carrying your baby with their hips together inside a sling can increase the risk of hip dysplasia.
These images are reproduced with permission from the International Hip Dysplasia Institute.
Safe baby carriers
There’s no Australian standard for baby carriers, slings and backpacks. But the following tips can help you choose a safe baby carrier:
- Look for a baby carrier with the European standard EN 13209-2:2005 or the US standard ASTM F2236-08.
- Check that the carrier or sling comes with easy-to-understand written, visual or video instructions that show you how to use it safely.
- Make sure the carrier is made from sturdy, durable materials.
- Take your baby with you when you’re shopping for a carrier or sling. Ask a shop assistant to show you how to fit the carrier or sling correctly with your baby in it.
- Check that your baby can move their head, arms and legs and see out of the carrier or sling. Also check that the fabric doesn’t cut into their face.
- Make sure you can put the carrier or sling on and take it off without any help. Also ensure that you can do up any buckles, straps or clips without help and that you can adjust all straps firmly with one hand.
- Never use products that are described as ‘womb like’ or ‘like a cocoon’. These products can cover your baby’s face or force them into the fetal position. This increases the risk of suffocation and overheating.
Comfortable baby carriers
The best way to find a comfortable baby carrier is to try on different styles with your baby. If your partner and other carers will be using the carrier, look for a style that will be comfortable for them too.
Here are a few tips for choosing a comfortable baby carrier:
- Look for broad, padded shoulder straps that go across your back, as well as a broad waist strap. These will help to distribute your baby’s weight evenly and keep some pressure off your shoulders. They should also stop the carrier moving from side to side too much.
- Ensure the carrier is appropriate for different seasons and won’t make your baby overheat in the warmer months.
- If you plan to use the carrier as your baby grows, look for a carrier that you can change around so your baby can face forwards.
- Stop using the carrier when your baby feels too heavy or uncomfortable to carry safely. Check the carrier’s instructions for the maximum weight the carrier can handle.
Framed baby carriers and backpacks aren't recommended for babies under 4 months of age. Young babies have limited head control. This increases their risk of airway blockage and neck injuries when they're placed in framed carriers and backpacks.
Using a baby carrier, sling or backpack safely
Here’s how to secure your child in a carrier, sling or backpack and use this equipment safely.
Securing children in carriers, slings and backpacks: general tips
- Read the tags for height and weight, and use the right carrier for your child’s size.
- Tighten the straps before you put your child in the carrier, then use the straps to get a snug, secure fit.
- Make sure you can adjust all straps firmly with one hand.
- Try to get into the habit of checking that the straps are still secure and show no signs of damage before putting your child in each time. If any straps or buckles are damaged, contact the supplier or manufacturer.
- Get someone to help you put your child in the carrier until you get used to doing it on your own. Some people find it helps to practise with a doll or teddy before putting the baby in.
Using carriers, slings and backpacks: general tips
- Wear shoes that are easy to walk in, and look out for uneven surfaces so you don’t trip.
- Avoid using carriers in hot weather, because your body heat and the carrier will increase your child’s temperature.
- Take care when putting on and taking off the carrier, because this is when falls are most common. If you can, get somebody else to help you or sit down on the floor.
- Hold on to something stable – like a pole – if you bend down while wearing the sling, carrier or backpack.
- Bend at your knees, rather than from your waist. This will prevent your baby from falling out of the carrier, sling or backpack.
- Make sure your baby can’t reach safety hazards, like hot food or drinks, when you bend down.
- If you’re cooking, don’t carry your child in a front-wearing carrier or sling because of the risk of burning your child.
- Never hold hot food and drinks, run after other children and do anything else that could be dangerous.
Physical activity is vital to your child’s healthy growth and development. Aim to balance any time your baby spends in carriers or slings with plenty of tummy time and other physical activity.
Baby slings: avoiding suffocation risks
Babies are at risk of suffocation if they’re not correctly put into baby slings. This is because young babies can’t move if they’re in a dangerous position that’s blocking their airways.
The T.I.C.K.S. rule can help you remember how to position your baby safely in a baby sling:
- Tight: the sling should be tight, with the baby positioned high and upright with head support. Any loose fabric might cause your baby to slump down, which could restrict breathing.
- In view at all times: you should always be able to see your baby’s face by simply looking down. Ensure your baby’s face, nose and mouth remain uncovered by the sling and/or your body.
- Close enough to kiss: your baby should be close enough to your chin that by tipping their head forward you can easily kiss their head.
- Keep chin off the chest: ensure your baby’s chin is up and away from their body. Your baby should never be curled so that their chin is forced onto their chest. This can restrict breathing. Regularly check your baby. Babies can be in distress without making any noise or movement.
- Supported back: your baby’s back should be supported in a natural position with their tummy and chest against you. When bending over, support your baby with one hand behind their back. Bend at the knees, not at the waist.
When to take your baby out of the sling or carrier straight away
- Your baby’s face is covered, or their chin is tucked in.
- Your baby is curled into the fetal position.
- Your baby is grunting, wheezing, or taking laboured, rapid or whistling breaths.
- There’s a grey or blue tinge to your baby’s skin.
- Your baby is fussy, restless or squirming.
Babies who were premature, had low birth weight, are unwell, or are under 4 months of age are at greater risk of suffocation in baby slings. Talk to your child and family health nurse, GP or paediatrician before using a sling.