At a speech today to the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association (JPMA), CPSC Chairman Inez Tenenbaum announced that CPSC will soon issue a safety warning about a popular parenting item — the baby sling.

While slings in some form have been around for hundreds, perhaps thousands of years, they are becoming a popular way to carry an infant or toddler — keeping the baby close, while allowing freedom of movement.

Last year, ASTM International, the group that sets voluntary standards for many juvenile products, began to develop a standard for this class of products. This is a difficult undertaking since some products are no more than a length of material.

CPSC has (as of fall 2009) about 50 injury complaints on the slings — most were skull fractures or closed head injuries from falls — either the baby falling out or the caregiver falling with the baby in the product. But 12 were deaths. While five were labeled ‘undetermined’, seven listed positional asphyxiation or suffocation as the cause. Unbeknown to the caregiver carrying the child, the child had moved into a position that cut off air flow.

Consumer Reports warned against the use of slings in a blog post last year, citing these same issues and the lack of a standard.

Before using a sling, read all instructions carefully. If your’s doesn’t come with adequate instructions, look for one that does — some even have DVD’s to give parents more information. Make sure the baby can’t fall into a position where her or her chin is pressed to the chest or with the face against the mother’s body or the sling material. As soon as CPSC’s warning is available (really — don’t announce something that isn’t ready!!) we will post it here.