Friday, November 15, 2013

'Babywearing' warm and fuzzy fun until somebody gets hurt

    A newspaper is a dialogue, a chorus of voices conveying and commenting upon the news of the day.
     So I am not correcting a Thursday story in the Splash pages — “That’s a wrap” about “wearable baby carriers” — as much as continuing the conversation, elaborating on some caveats that were online but, alas, not in print, and adding a new dimension to a piece that did not, for instance, contain the phrase “baby airbag,” which my wife uses to refer to carriers.
Don't use these
      This is based on hard experience, one January day nearly 18 years ago, when she left our apartment on Pine Grove with 3-month-old Ross in one of those soft, front-facing carriers — a backpack you wear on your chest that you slide your baby into.
     She was only walking a block, to visit a friend. But it was a block of Chicago city sidewalk, with plenty of cracks and crevices, and she caught her toe on one and pitched forward, breaking her fall with her knee, an outstretched palm and our baby’s head.
     I was at home, having taken time off work to do my share of diaper changing. I don’t remember the phone call — I can’t say with any certainty whether she was composed or hysterical, though I would put my chips down on the latter.
     What I remember clearly, vividly, as if it were a scene in a black-and-white Ingmar Bergman movie, was grabbing the empty blue stroller — she must have told me to bring it — and running full bore the several blocks to St. Joseph Hospital, pushing the empty baby carriage, with no idea whether our happy little urban homestead was about to be plunged into some medical nightmare of irreparable cranial damage. 
     A slight skull fracture, which took sitting for six hours in windowless rooms for the hospital to ascertain, via X-ray and CAT scans. My wife’s main memory is of the CAT scan operator asking, “Can’t you make him hold still?” and her answering, “He’s a baby.” 
     The other moment I can recall from that day is, toward the end of our Big Hospital Day, when one of the endless series of doctors who kept hurrying into the room, burst in with a blustery, “So how’s our little patient?” to which I replied, with all the gravitas I could manage, “Doctor, he’s incontinent and babbling!” which caused a flash of concern over the physician’s face until he remembered that all 3-month-old babies are incontinent and babbling.
      Ross was fine, the shadow of fate that passed over us kept moving and darkened some other poor soul’s home.
     My wife threw the baby carrier away and became a one-woman truth squad against them. Still, because people are biased by their own experiences, I didn’t want to unfairly question baby carriers’ utility. There are risks associated with strollers, too. At crossings, there is a tendency to nudge them into the street — “testing the waters,” I call it — despite passing traffic, and I know that babies have been grievously injured that way.
     But a little checking shows the risks of baby carriers is not limited to my family. In 2010, the Consumer Product Safety Commission warned of the risk of suffocation to young infants in baby slings —14 deaths in a 20-year period, with three dying in 2009. Most were under 4 months old. 
Consumer Reports found three dozen serious injuries to babies in slings, and urged parents “Don’t use slings at all.” 
     Even the most cuddly, fuzzy mommy website about baby carriers has a list of warnings. TBW, “The Babywearer.com” warns of babies falling out of carriers and urges practice with a doll. “Most of the reported accidents involving babywearing are due to the wearer tripping and falling,” it cautions. 
     Among its suggestions:
     — Careful going through doorways.
     —Don’t cook or handle hot liquids, for obvious reasons. Mind that the tail of your baby sling doesn’t trail into flames or get stuck in closing doors.
     — Don’t wear a baby carrier in moving cars; it’s no substitute for a baby seat. “For playing sports or cycling, use your discretion: What would happen to your baby if you were knocked over?” it asks. “How much is your baby being bounced or shaken?”
      I would say “use your discretion” is a naive underestimation of just how god-awful stupid people can be, and substitute, “Never bicycle with your baby in a front carrier.” 
     I hadn’t planned on writing about baby carriers. But I felt morally obligated to inject a note of warning. Babies are resilient; they aren’t as fragile as new parents fear. But caution is still a good idea, and you can’t avoid perils you don’t know about.


4 comments:

  1. Playing sports? While holding a baby?

    Insanity.

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  2. The problem with "baby wearing" isn't so much the carrier as the culture that surrounds it. New mothers, especially first-time mothers, are exhausted, frightened and often alone -- in the sense that the village crones who in times past would have surrounded her, offering advice, plumping her pillows and letting her get a much-needed nap -- are off playing golf in Scottsdale. Today's type-A, college-educated, modern mom can't quite accept that children are bombs that go off in your life, changing everything, and that you by definition give up control -- over your life, over pretty much everything -- once they arrive.

    And so they fall easily into these parenting "philosophies," which are as numerous and fast-changing as dieting advice, and frequently have someone with an M.D. after their name pushing it. Baby wearing makes a certain intuitive sense; of course an infant whose last address was the world's greatest hotel, warm and safe and with the best blackout curtains ever, would be comforted by a close approximation outside the womb. Swaddle a baby, strap them to your body, and they likely will quit crying. We're primates; we like to be carried like baby monkeys.

    The problem comes when the M.D. with a book to sell expands this into a whole suite of behaviors and products, and these new mothers go a little batshit, believing they MUST wear their babies every waking minute, they MUST sleep in the same bed, they MUST breastfeed exclusively for X months, etc. Hormones are already making many mothers mentally ill (I certainly was), and common sense sometimes doesn't return until well after your menstrual period.

    And then the first year passes, and you relax, and you realize that all this fretting about the tiny details of infancy is sort of like obsessing over your wedding day. It only lasts a set amount of time, after which you are a parent, or a spouse, for many years longer.

    My parenting philosophy these days is pretty simple, at least for infancy: Does it seem to work? Then it's OK.

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  3. Smart. I used to say that having a baby is the sudden realization that your entire world can choke to death on a penny. On the other hand, parents have had them on the lips of volcanoes and in rain forests for 100,000 years, and they seem to get by.

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  4. The first thing to think about is what type of stroller you will need. Are you going to be transporting just one baby, a baby and an older child or two babies? Even if you have multiples, there are stroller options available that will allow you to move all of your children at once. here


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