Woolworths, we need to talk

Today Woolworths Australia posted an article about babywearing on their baby and toddler club page. It purports to be from an expert and to be a helpful guide in navigating your way through the available options. So lets have a look at what this expert has to say.

woolworthsThis is the Image that they have chosen to head the article. It shows a stretchy wrap worn baby facing out. The adult appears to need to keep her arms on the baby to ensure that the little one does not topple forwards. Babywearing advocates and experts generally attempt to show a baby in an optimal position, knees above the bum and spine curved, and almost always choose an image that shows a carrier being used in a way that is safe to be hands free.

So, on to the article itself. The red is my edits and comments. The black is the article as it appears on the woolworths site, which is linked above.

With so many style of slings and baby carriers available it’s hard to know which one to invest in. – This is true. It is confusing and many people struggle to work out what to start with.   Dr Penny Adams guides you on the best way to carry your baby. – So we know the name of the author, the title of Dr is there to remind us that she is an expert.  

Slings and carriers are a great way to keep your hands free while enjoying close contact with your infant, but there are several things to be aware of when purchasing a carrying aid. – This statement is one with which we can all agree. It is true that before buying a carrier there are things we should be aware of. carrying aid is not a common way to describe a carrier, but maybe this expert uses a term I haven’t really heard before. I’ll keep going. 

Babies have been carried by parents and carers since time immemorial with various types of carrying aids. This is also true. The main aids (there is that word again)available these days are:

  • Pouch: A padded pouch that is strapped to the carrier’s body. Pouches allow your baby to face you in a “cuddle” position, and some are designed to also position your baby face out, allowing more freedom of movement and better visibility for older babies.
  • Sling: Usually made of soft fabric and carried over one shoulder. A sling allows the baby to be carried both face-in, face-out and also wrapped around or across your body.
  • Wrap: A simple long cloth strip wrapped and tied off around the body across both shoulders.
  • Solid frame backpacks: These are usually for carrying older babies and toddlers.

Ok – now I am confused. I recognise the descriptions of the wrap and the solid frame backpack but those first two categories do not describe the carriers I know and use. I think that it is possible that the ‘pouch’ is describing the category of carriers better known as soft structured carriers (SSC) or buckle carriers. but I’m not sure. Cuddle position is an interesting description of a forward facing in baby, and I am lost again as the expert informs me that facing out gives my baby more freedom of movement and better visibilty. I think she may mean that baby can look around more easily but I am not sure. The sling category MAY be referring to a pouch or a Ring Sling. I am not 100% sure. I was not aware that ‘A sling allows the baby to be carried…wrapped around or across your body.’ I am hoping that continuing to read will help me understand more. after all, this article is here to help me decide which carrier to buy. 

Pros and Cons of Baby Carriers:

Pros:

  • Close contact with your baby
  • Allows you to be “hands free”

2 pros. That is all that this expert could come up with. I don’t take exception to either of them though I might have thought an expert might be able to give me slightly more positives. Oh look, I googled and found this infographic. Maybe if Dr Penny had thought to do so she might have been able to expand her list? 

Thank you www.closeparent.com for this infographic.

Cons:

  • Can result in poor posture for you and/or bad positioning for your baby Very true. It is possible that you can use a carrier in a way that results in poor posture. Of course, usually that can be remedied by actually making sure that whatever carrier you are using is adjusted properly. 
  • Chafing of you or your baby Struggling to make sense of this one. Chafing is unlikely to result from a properly fitted and adjusted carrier. oh well, clearly the expert knows what she is talking about. After all, she is a doctor. 
  • Breathing difficulties with certain slings This is not a con of baby carriers. This is a risk if the baby is positioned chin to chest. A baby placed in a chin to chest position, in a carseat, swing, pram, sling, will be at risk of having her airways blocked. 
  • Risks of spills e.g. hot drinks on baby Yes, we should always avoid spilling hot drinks on our children, that is definitely not a safe thing to do. I would never want to see anyone scald their child by spilling hot tea or soup onto them. I am still unsure how this is a ‘con’ of  using a carrier though. 

I thought it possible that I misunderstood the word con, so I checked the dictionary, and found this; 

adverb
1.

against a proposition, opinion, etc.:

arguments pro and con.
The above list seems to be a list of things that can happen if a carrier is misused. Every single one of the ‘cons’ listed is just as likely to occur if you are not using a so-called carrying aid. Blatantly disregarding the safety of your baby is not a con of babywearing. This feels similar to saying that the con of using a fork to eat is that you may miss your mouth and stab yourself in the eye with the prongs. 

Choosing your Baby Carrier

It’s best to wait until you have had your baby before buying a sling or carrier because you should give these aids a trial. Again the use of the word aids. I am somewhat surprised that this expert does not suggest maybe trying a carrier out while pregnant using a toy to give you an idea of how it works before the baby arrives, but oh well, many women do find that the bump gets in the way of trying a carrier properly and prefer to wait until the baby is here.   It’s helpful if your partner has a test run too. Different styles of carrier suit different sizes and shapes of both parents and babies. This advice is good, different styles can fit different people differently. Having your partner try the carrier is also a good idea, though you do need to remember that it is the primary caregiver who will spend the most time with the baby and most likely use the carrier when alone with the baby, so even if the carrier is not a great fit for one parent it may still be a good investment for a couple. 

Important things to consider when buying a sling/carrier are: oh good, I was hoping that there would be a list. I like lists. 

  • Is it easy to use – can you get it on and off on your own, adjust the straps and buckles and remove your baby without waking him or her? A better question might be are you able to use the carrier independently. While ideally you will be able to remove your sleeping child without waking them some babies will never transfer from a carrier and stay asleep. This should not stop you using and enjoying a baby carrier. 
  • Is it comfortable for both you and your baby – is there enough head support for a younger baby, are the straps wide enough to spread your baby’s weight evenly and can you hold a normal posture when you are using the carrier? All reasonable questions. 
  • Is it safe – does your baby feel well supported when you have both hands free or when you bend down, and can your baby breath freely? At this point I might have expected to see an info graphic, Maybe TICKS or the BCIA visible and kissable. I’ll add those here because Dr Penny forgot that it is good to show an image to reinforce your words. 

What’s the Safest Bet?

There are no Australian safety standards for slings and carriers to guide you. Currently true. Many of the carriers available here do however meet safety standards in Europe and North America. The ACCC is currently encouraging fair trade organisations to promote safe use rather than official safety standards. While there is good evidence that skin-to-skin contact has many maternal and baby benefits, there is little research on the use of slings and carriers. Again true. research is scarce and hard to find. My preference is a pouch style carrier as there have been suffocation deaths using slings. And here we are again confused by terminology. As I said above, it is possible that this expert is using the term pouch to refer to all front pack carriers and SSC. The reference to suffocation deaths in slings is misleading though. There have (tragically) been some cases where babies have died while in a sling or carrier, more than once from what is described as positional asphyxia. Most of the deaths reported have actually occurred in what is most often called a bag sling. which is a subcategory of pouch sling (see, terminology does matter) and there is a recall out for a specific brand and style of sling that holds babies in a position that is likely to cause breathing problems.   In my opinion they should not be used for premature babies, babies under four months of age or babies with breathing problems. We are all entitled to an opinion. This opinion is particularly uninformed and makes it difficult to respect the author’s position as an expert. The babies that she is recommending avoiding using a carrier for are the most fragile and vulnerable children and the most at risk of positional asphyxia. That risk is not increased by being held in a properly supportive and fitted carrier. The “cuddle” position of the baby in a pouch gives the right amount of splaying of the hips and good support for the buttocks. Even though they are more expensive than slings, pouches tend to be easier to use. So assuming – which we all know is a dangerous thing to do – that the ‘expert’ is describing a parent facing in position in an SSC and that the position she is describing is the spread squat position this author is advocating for SSC/Buckle carriers over slings as being easier to use.  

I’m confused again because up there ^^^ I was introduced to 4 categories of carrier and now at the end I am being given a comparison only between 2 styles. Why isn’t this expert giving me any more information about the wrap or the frame carriers? And now I come to think of it, I am sure that I have seen a few carrier styles out there that have not been described at all. But after all, this is an expert, we are told.

I would also have expected an expert to inform me that the optimal position she describes can be achieved in many of the different styles of carrier that are currently available. Including a wrap, sling, pouch and Mei Tai – which is a carrier that our expert seems not to have heard of.
As with all baby products, check the weight and age recommendations when choosing one for your baby. Oh good. This is solid advice. I absolutely endorse this statement. 

I added TICKS as a reminder that there are things to look out for to ensure your baby is safe. 

To sum up, I am disappointed to read this information presented as expert advice. It is confusing, is not reflective of babywearing practice within Australia and uses some very strange terminology that makes it hard for anyone to be sure what exactly they are being told. There are risks and benefits that could have been logically presented, but the author has seemingly chosen not to look for that information. The categories she has created do not encompass all the options currently available in Australia, and her definitions are difficult to understand. At no point does this article even mention the possibility of using a carrier on the back, a fact which seems even stranger when you realise that one of her four categories can only be used on the back (frame carriers). I would also have hoped that an expert would encourage people to do research by attending a local meet, or spending time on a forum or group, or visiting a website that has actual good advice. 

I maintain that the safest place for a baby is on the caregiver. A well fitted carrier will allow the caregiver to meet the needs of their baby while continuing to operate in the world. Articles like this may have the power to stop someone from choosing to carry their child, and that is something that all of us should mourn. We work hard to tell people that babywearing IS safe. That it IS the best way to care for your child. And this is undermined by large corporations endorsing the opinions of experts who know little or nothing on the topic they are writing about.

I very much hope that woolworths and other corporations and organisations vet their expert advice more carefully next time. They have an enormous reach and the ability to use that power for the good. This, Woolworths, is not good. You should be embarrassed.

If you would like an article that WILL help you to navigate your options with your new baby, try this one at Mamasphere.

I am informed that the article above has been modified by Woolworths after the outcry on their social media pages once members of the local babywearing groups read the original. This is as it was a 10.30pm Melbourne time on the 12/11/2014.

(edit) Woolworths has removed the original article and responded to posts on their page thus; ‘thank you for your feedback. We appreciate all the comments regarding the Baby and Toddler Club article and as such the article will remain unpublished whilst we review.’  Thank you Woolworths for listening.

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