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Sling safety: in and around water

baby in a ring sling at a water splash park
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Sling safety: in and around water

baby in a ring sling at a water splash park
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It’s getting towards summer holidays so we’re starting to think about carrying our babies in the heat and on holiday.  Maybe you’re considering a sling to carry your child in or around water, at the swimming pool, or beach. Maybe you have an older child to look after as well. Ordinarily carrying your little one in a sling makes things simpler, but what about around water?  How safe is it to have your baby in a carrier around water? Let’s look at options for carrying around water and consider some of the safety implications of doing so.

Choosing a sling

One of the most popular carriers for use around water is a ring sling made of lightweight water-safe fabric. The Melliapis ring sling is one example of these. These are usually made with plastic rings rather than metal. They can be a gauze or mesh fabric, or something similar to swimsuit materials. 

When using these it’s important to note that wet fabric doesn’t hold tension when the same as it does when dry. Some additional adjustment may be needed when you get in the water.  Other options include wraps such as the WeMadeMe Wuti or Flow stretchy wrap or fine gauze wraps like Calin Bleu. Buckled carrier options include Integra and Kahu Baby carriers, which come in quick drying solar fabrics.

baby on the beach with a bucket. The water in the background and huts over the water.

Benefits

Choosing one of these styles of carriers for your holiday or beach trip can have many benefits. They are

  • lightweight and quick drying
  • sand brushes off them easily
  • cooler and less bulky than other styles.
  • offer a safe, comforting place for your baby
  • carrying minimises some of the overheating challenges of hot weather.
  • a sling is often handy around splash parks, swimming pool changing rooms and campsite showers – If your baby tolerates a shower, mine never would!

Too cold: keeping babies warm enough

Babies can’t regulate their body temperature effectively. This is this is why we’re so careful in how we dress them in summer and winter. Overheating is always at the forefront of our minds, especially in summer and on holiday. Overheating is a big concern when it comes to managing SIDS risks. 

Over cooling

However in water over-cooling has a far greater impact on a baby’s smaller circulatory system. This is because babies have less insulating body fat, so they don’t retain warmth easily. 

If the air temperature is warmer than the water, we feel the cold of the water more keenly. This is why at the start of swimming lessons pupils are encouraged to put their shoulders under. We are better able to acclimatise to the temperature if our whole body is in the water. Consider how much of your baby is in the water when they’re on your body in a sling in a swimming pool. Also consider and the impact of moving them between warm air and cold water environment. This can make it impossible for them to regulate their body temperature.

Wet fabric

Remember cooling isn’t only whilst in the water. Wet fabric, such as the sling, baby’s clothes and your clothes, has a similar cooling effect to being in water. Even after you’re out of the water a wet sling can keep babies cold. This can make it impossible for babies to warm themselves up.

Water depth and temperature

Humans cool two to five times more quickly in water compared to air of the same temperature. This can be full or partial submersion. The depth of water clearly has an impact on this. Deeper water tends to be colder, especially in outdoor and unheated water environments like outdoor swimming pools and beaches.

Managing risks: carrying and water safety

Water depth

Water depth is one of the biggest considerations when assessing the safety of using a sling or carrier around water. Some pools and beaches may have uneven floors. Sometimes environment shelve and water suddenly changes from shallow to deep. On a beach shifting sands can mean shelving is not a permanent feature, so it may not be obvious or marked in anyway. This can increase the risk of slipping, tripping or falling into deeper water.

Slipping

When an adult slips in water whilst carrying a baby in arms their natural instinct is to hold their baby away from them and keep the baby above the water. This is a natural protective reaction like pulling a child away from a source of danger – heat, traffic, falling objects. What happens if they fall in water with a child in a sling or carrier?

Rescue

If an adult requires rescue whilst holding a child in water, the child can easily and quickly be passed to a bystander. The adult can then be rescued. If there’s no bystander to hand the child is more likely to float and stay safe if they are unrestrained.

If a baby is held securely within a sling or carrier it is much harder to lift them clear of the water if you slip. It is also much harder to rescue a casualty if they have a baby in a carrier.  This can mean the baby becomes a casualty as well.

Buoyancy and sling safety in water

Babies and children have a natural buoyancy. If you put a sling or carrier on whilst on dry land and then lower their body into the water they may float a little within the carrier. You have safely adjusted for gravity, but you may need to readjust for water pressure and buoyancy. A poorly adjusted carrier will not be supportive, and may not be protecting your baby’s airways.

Slings: poolside or in the pool

Many pools set a limit to the number of children to each adult. This is because one of the biggest drowning risk factors for young children is lack of adequate supervision. Unfortunately carrying a baby in a sling whilst supervising another child in the water won’t always meet supervision criteria. A sling may still be useful for navigating the showers and changing rooms though. 

Check in advance the requirements for supervision and whether you’re able to use your carrier in the pool area.

Manufacturers’ instructions

Most sling manufacturers are very clear about the purposes and safe use of their products.  Nearly all have safety warnings against use during risky activities. This usually includes running, cycling, skiing, horse riding and swimming.

If a carrier or sling is marketed as ‘safe for use in water’ you still need to meet all normal safety and positioning criteria.

sally wearing her child on her front in a sling at the beach

Making an informed decision

It’s clear then that there are concerns about using carriers in the water. However, it’s not always practical to have your baby in your arms. Choose your activity, and when and how you use your carrier to balance the needs and safety of all concerned.  Generally speaking, the less water there is the lower the risk. Being able to carry a new baby close in a comforting sling whilst paddling in ankle deep water is quite different to wading waist deep.

The information here can help you risk assess your activities and enable you to make an informed decision about when to use a sling. As with all things consideration of the risks specific to your family, planned activity and environment is key. Now you know what to consider to have a safe and fun filled summer.

Recommend0 recommendationsPublished in Carrying safely, Sling choice & fit, Why carry
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