Visible and Kissable: What everyone with a baby carrier needs to know

If you’re pregnant, or have had a baby recently, chances are someone has given you a baby carrier. And for good reason! Baby carriers (yes, plural, I’ve used all kinds!) were hands-down, my greatest parenting tools in the first two years of my daughter’s life. She got the cozy closeness that babies need and love, I was more attuned to her needs because she was so close (which cut down baby-fussiness), and simultaneously, I got to be more mobile and do things that required both hands.

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While the rise of babywearing’s popularity is exciting in that it can be supportive for both babies and parents, the education around safety has not kept up at the same pace. I see this out and about all the time, and while I never want to contribute to a new parent’s sense of feeling judged in public, if it looks like your baby is actually going to fall on the ground, I will approach you and ask if I can help you out!

Just the way you need to learn about how to use car seats and strollers properly, you should use carriers with guidance (go back to the manufacturer’s instructions! If you don’t have them on-hand, Google them.) and common sense (for example, you wouldn’t baby-wear while mowing the lawn or riding a bike).

The greatest risks when babywearing are:

  1. Falls - opportunities for falls seem to be greatest when putting in or taking out baby, but can also happen when carriers aren’t used correctly.

  2. Suffocation if a newborn’s chin drops to their chest and it blocks the airway, or if baby’s nose and mouth are covered with a blanket or the caregiver’s coat, and there’s not enough fresh air available. (1)

For this reason, Health Canada has adopted the slogan “Visible and Kissable” (originally coined by the Baby Carrier Industry Alliance) to guide new babywearers in safe babywearing practice. The five points have some overlap, but they’re important concepts to practice. As a fellow babywearing educator, Lorraine, pointed out to me recently, “visible can mean to monitor your baby with all the senses available to you. For most people that will include visual, but not always.”

  1. Face in view at ALL times - You don’t know if your baby’s chin is up and they’re doing okay if you can’t see them. Resist the urge to cover their face with a blanket or hood in the interest of protecting them from wind and cold in the winter or sun in the summer, because it impedes airflow. If putting on a hat meets your needs for contending with the weather, put the same on baby! Coconut oil or a natural barrier ointment can help protect their little cheeks from the cold. If you think it’s too cold for baby to be out without a covered face, it’s best to stay inside.

  2. High and upright - In a front carry, your baby should be belly to belly with you (or belly to chest if they’re tiny!). A cradle carry in a sling or wrap presents too many safety issues.

  3. Chin up - You need to always be able to fit two fingers between baby’s chest and chin when they are in a carrier to ensure that their airway is being kept open. A slumped head closes off the airway and very little ones won’t re-adjust on their own if they don’t have the neck strength.

  4. Supported back and snug - This is important for baby’s skeletal and muscular development. But it will also support you in wearing your baby! If the carrier is loose or wonky, you can expect back pain.

  5. Close enough to kiss (the top of their head) - This ensures that #2 is being accomplished.

A few final thoughts:

Getting set up properly is one thing, but keeping continuous tabs on your baby while you’re wearing them and adjusting them/the carrier/yourself as needed is to be expected!

Once you’ve got these key moves integrated into the way you put your baby on your body, they’ll likely become second nature - you’ll just know what feels right.

If you’ve got your baby in the carrier, with all the knots or buckles done up, and you still feel that you need to keep a hand on them, be sure to review all the steps of putting them in safely and securely. One of the major benefits of having such a device is that you can be hands free!

If you’re getting mixed up with the carrier you have, don’t hesitate to get yourself to a Carry Me Close meeting or get in touch with me to arrange a babywearing consult, which I can happily come to your home to do — invite a few babywearing-interested friends and we’ll have a party!

I hope you enjoy keeping your baby close!

(1) Canadian Babywearing School, Educator’s Course, Milton ON, 2017.