First pass at a public comment for the new baby sling regulations.

I have been a babywearing educator and advocate for 20+ years, since not long after my first child was born. Our first sling was a stretchy wrap. Our second, a pouch. I spent 5 minutes looking at the pouch, went to my sewing machine, and converted my wrap to several pouches, and used those to carry my then-toddler for months. So you could say I “designed” my first carrier just over 20 years ago. A few months later, a doula client of mine said she’d dreamed of turning a bed sheet into a sling by tying the corners–I blinked at her, said, “Not like that” and a few minutes later we’d fashioned a “hammock style” (to use the language of this proposed regulation) sling out of a queen-sized bedsheet folded, and then knotted at her shoulder. She cried, because it meant she could make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, now having two hands free–with a fussy infant, she’d been subsisting on ramen noodles for weeks because she could make them one-handed.

I say this to demonstrate the utter impossibility of any regulation or rule ever eliminating babywearing, as some have suggested, and also the difficulty of trying to micromanage micro-mini-cottage-type businesses. If a woman can make a baby carrier out of a sheet with no advanced training, no internet (this was 1994) and no babywearing community supporting her, you will always, always have people sewing for friends and family and neighbors.

A few months later, at a Midwifery Today conference, a “tricks of the trade” circle at which many midwives from around the world were in attendance taught a couple hundred midwives that a similar bedsheet could be used as a warm climate back carrier (obi-style wrap), a cold-climate back carrier (Inuit summer style), a front “pack” (two shoulder rebozo front carry with no knots), a back torso carrier (think kanga-style)… this was a bedsheet older than I was, thin, worn, pilled, probably poly cotton, washed hundreds of times. And still functional.

It takes a lot for a fabric to be truly unsuitable for babywearing. I have seen it. I’ve made carriers that ended up in the garbage a few minutes later because my own quick test with a doll said that they would not hold up a feather, let alone a baby. One manufacturer sent me a carrier which had one layer of twill on one side and one layer of silk on the other…. but it was a mei tai, so all the stress went on the shoulder strap seam, which failed in the middle of putting my child on my back. I’ve seen ring slings with big rings and thin, slippery fabric.

But the worst carriers I’ve seen, the ones that I would dub completely unsafe from the start, were put out by large corporations. Far from the relatively unstructured ring slings that are most common today, they actually gave directions and harnessed children into positions which were inherently unsafe, and prone to positional airway issues. The Infantino Slingrider debacle never should have been allowed to go on as long as it did. We were warning people against those carriers for years before they were recalled, to the point of going up to people in grocery stores and begging them to use something else. I started trading people for something in my stash just to get the dang things out of the used/resale market, and took to buying every one I found there. We can’t dismiss it as impossible for a design or fabric to be faulty–they clearly can.

We have come incredibly far in the babywearing community. With my first child, I had no clue what was out there, and thought I just “needed a snuggli or something”… my midwife directed me to a stretchy wrap, Mothering Magazine to a pouch. By the time my second child was born in 2005, there had been an explosion in the number and types of baby carriers on the market. From maybe a dozen or two, to hundreds, in a little over a decade. By the time my third child was born in 2012, taking to other pregnant moms, it wasn’t a question of whether people were going to wear “those sling things”, but , “Which stretchy wrap are you going to get? I can’t decide whether to get my husband an Ergo or a Boba or a Beco.”

We have managed tremendous feats of education of the general public around the whole idea of babywearing, and around babywearing safely. But there is also room for colossal failure. When longtime babywearing educators promote cutting the bottoms off of t-shirts and using them as a Ktan-style carrier, we have a problem. Many people might be able to make something like that work…but there are so many potential failure points that it is terrifying to contemplate. The price of failure is so high…

There has to be some middle ground. I’ve always been opposed to certification, but maybe we need an option for manufacturers to get certified in making sound fabric choices, in understanding the mechanics and safety considerations. Even a $300 or $500 course would be more manageable and would not eliminate the possibility of bespoke/semibespoke carriers.

Posted in Babywearing.

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