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CPSC Issues Another Sling Recall…But Misses the Mark on Sling Safety

On June 2, the U.S. Consumer Protection Safety Commission issued a recall of Sprout Stuff Ring Slings.  Only about 40 of the recalled slings are in circulation according the recall press release.  One infant death (in 2007) is attributed to the sling.

Unlike the Infantino recall in March 2010, this recall is baffling to those who know about sling safety.   The Infantino slings were impossible to safely use; the high-sided “bag” construction did not allow an infant to be properly positioned (the flat bottom forced baby into a chin to chest position and the high sides collapsed in on baby).  Granted I haven’t seen a Sprout Sling in person, but judging by the picture on the CPSC website, the sling does not appear to have similar design flaws; it seems to be a pretty standard ring sling design.  So why the recall?

I’ll be the first to tell you that all slings are not created equal.  There are dozens of ring sling sellers on the internet and no guarantee that their slings are safely constructed.  Two identical looking slings could have significant structural differences – the rings and seams used can mean the difference in a safe sling and a dangerous one.  If these were problems with the Sprout Sling, then the recall would be understandable.  However, the CPSC recall states the slings should not be used “due to a suffocation risk for infants.”  This suggests that the infant death was due to suffocation and not due to faulty stitching or weak rings.

Tragically, an infant died in this sling.  My goal is not to assign blame to the parents, the sling maker or anyone else.  But if this sling a fairly typical sling design (and I realize that I’m making a big assumption based on a picture) and the death was due to suffocation and not due to a fall caused by faulty construction, the problem is not the sling but rather in how the sling was used.  Any improperly used baby carrier could cause an infant’s injury or death.  But so could any improperly used car seat, crib, stroller, high chair, or any other piece of infant gear.  No recalls are issued for those products when an infant is injured or dies unless the equipment itself was faulty.  If my kid breaks his arm by falling out of his high chair because I didn’t strap him in, the chair doesn’t get recalled.  The accident was due to my misuse of the product.

Again, my intent is not to blame the parents.  Unlike other infant gear and equipment, there is little public awareness of how to properly use baby carriers.  My recent post critiquing the Today Show’s Best Baby Carriers segment demonstrates that the information that is out in the mainstream media is often incomplete or even inaccurate.   Tara Trower of Mama Drama speculates that the recall may be related to the fact that unlike big name ring sling makers, many small operations like Sprout Slings do not include extensive wearing and safety information along with a sling.  Parents who buy slings may assume that they are safe; because proper wearing techniques are not as advertised as proper car seat usage, many otherwise safe slings are used in unsafe ways.

In the CPSC’s March 2010 warning about sling carriers (issued shortly before the Infantino recall), it was noted that CPSC is working with ASTM International to develop voluntary standards for slings while mandatory ones are developed.  The effort to create safety standards was actually begun several years ago when a group of carrier manufacturers approached the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association with their concerns.  Two years ago, the ASTM created a sub-committee to begin work on the sling standard (here sling refers specifically to carriers that are worn on one shoulder and not other types of carriers).  The ASTM currently has standards in place for soft carriers and frame style carriers (I would note, however, that the standards in place do not require that the carrier hold the child in an ergonomically correct – carrier to the knees, knees slightly higher than the bum – position; there is room for improvement).

Standards for sling construction could certainly keep structurally unsafe carriers like the Infantino “bag” style slings off the market.  But standards alone are not enough.  Just as a car seat meeting all safety standards can cause infant injury or death if improperly installed, so could a sling meeting all safety standards cause harm if improperly worn.  In order for babies to ride safely in slings and carriers of all kinds, there must be greater public awareness of how to wear babies safely.

This most recent CPSC sling recall is troubling because it neglects to put focus on correct sling usage and instead sends the message that the product itself is inherently dangerous.  I applauded the Infantino recall as those slings were inherently dangerous.  And it was good to see the CPSC include at least basic guidelines for sling safety as a part of that recall.  If the Sprout Sling was in fact structurally unsound, the CPSC should have included that information in its recall.  If the death was due to improper use of the sling, the CPSC is remiss in issuing the recall as the product itself was not at fault.  I would like to see the CPSC clarify this point and to emphasize importance of proper usage.  To contact CPSC to demand a clarification on this recall, use their comment form located here.  Let them know you are writing about #10-254, the Sprout Stuff Ring Sling recall.

In any case, this latest recall once again highlights the need for education and increased public awareness about sling safety.  Parents should have ready access to information about sling positioning and the benefits of wearing.

Our Babywearing Guide lists basics for babywearing safety; our Ring Sling and Pouch page lists reputable manufacturers who sell safe products.   Jan at Sleeping Baby Productions has an excellent primer on sling safety.   The Babywearing Safety Facebook page has additional information and links.  And of course has more information about choosing and using a sling.

I would encourage all of you who love babywearing to do your part to spread the word about not only the joys of babywearing but about how to do it safely.  Several of the links above include printable safety handouts or cards that you can use to educate parents and providers in your community about safe wearing.

We’d love to hear your stories of babywearing advocacy.  Leave us a comment and tell us how you help to spread safe babywearing love!

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Published in Babywearing Take Action