International Babywearing Week is drawing to a close. It drew particular attention this year, in part due to rumors of a recall of a (to judge from Twitter feeds) very popular brand of sling. But that recall is still unannounced as of today.

Babywearing is the use of soft carriers or baby slings to carry infants and toddlers. Advocates love the closeness and comfort it gives as well as the ability to carry on with other activities while engaged with your child. Many of the carriers used already fall under the ASTM International‘s standard on soft carriers — giving some assurance that the product meets minimum safety standards. ASTM is currently developing a similar standard for slings — in fact, a draft went out to ballot this week! But both these are voluntary standards — meaning not all products in either class have been tested to these standards. We urge the CPSC to continue their work on writing mandatory standards for these and all other durable infant and toddler products as required by the CPSIA.

Earlier this year CPSC recalled three of these carriers: a soft carrier whose buckles can break; 40 ring slings made by a very small firm in Texas after one death and one million bag type sling carriers after three deaths. In addition, CPSC issued a warning about baby slings in March, identifying at least 14 deaths in this class of product. They gave concrete suggestions for avoiding injury while still using a sling.

So what should parents do with this information?

First, it should be noted that the age of most of the babies who died in slings could be measured in days or weeks rather than months. With low-birth weight babies, premature babies, those with breathing problems or newborns, consider waiting to use a sling until the baby is older — over four months is CPSC’s recommendation.

At any age, closely monitoring the baby is important — something that a tummy to tummy upright hold, with the baby’s face visible and close enough to kiss, promotes.

Some slings are simply long lengths of material — and many are a puzzle for the uninitiated. Review and follow instructions carefully — check for a DVD of the instructions that comes with the product or a video online. Ask at your retailer if they provide instruction or look online — we’ve found many sites that give clear general safety warnings for slings as well as precise instructions for individual products.

While deaths in slings have garnered the most attention, the most common injury pattern is a fall — either of the baby out of the product or the caregiver and the baby. You will not be able to do everything you do normally while carrying a baby in a sling. Again, check your product’s instructions for carrying advice and what to avoid.

As the proponents of babywearing often point out, it is a centuries old tradition in many cultures and one that if practiced safely, can improve the quality of your bond with your baby. Then again, be sure to spend plenty of time interacting with your baby outside of any product — holding them in your arms!