BabyWearing Institute

Babywearing Blog

Crade Carry - a Potential Death Trap

Posted on November 2, 2012 at 12:35 AM

The following article is taken from “Babywearing Safely and Securely” an ebook available through the Babywearing Institute and Amazon.

To cradle or not to  cradle?

Cradle carry, a potential death trap!

Among babywearing friends the debate continues about teaching the cradle carry or teaching upright carries only. After consulting with many professionals and reading the incident reports from the Consumer Product Safety Commission,  we strongly recommend a tight upright position over the cradle hold. The majority of incidents were in the cradle hold. Although not all ruled positional asphyxiation, it is my believe that the majority were preventable with an upright firmly supported position. In 30 years of working in the babywearing world, I have never encountered parents who insisted on carrying their babies in the cradle hold after receiving this important information. It simply makes sense.

The following topics will be covered in this  article.

 · Positional Asphyxiation risk very high! (chin on chest to kink airway)

· Baby too far removed to sense needs or distress

· Baby can't move head away from babywearer's body or clothing, too little to work against gravity with low muscle development  – forced position

· Baby gravitates to the lowest point in carrier with risk of PA

· Vestibular stimulation of the brain less favorable

· Can't feel every movement of the baby

· Any objects added to the carrier (receiving blankets) are adding a greater risk for shifting and suffocation in the carrier

· Baby is shifting or bending sideways with movement of the babywearer

· Often baby's face not visible

· Hip position not favorable to optimal development

· Extra fabric layer between baby and babywearer

· Olfactory awareness is lost

Positional Asphyxiation risk is very high.

Positional asphyxia is a type of suffocation that occurs when the body is put in a position that restricts airflow. This can lead to unconsciousness and even death in mere minutes and often goes unnoticed because baby is in a position where he cannot send out a stress signal.  In infants, positional asphyxia can occur when they are placed in a semi-seated position like the cradle carry in a baby sling. Positional asphyxia can occur due to the prominence of the occiput (back of the head), as well as the overall lack of  neck muscle strength, which forces the head to slouch forward pushing the infant’s chin down against his/her chest.6 This body position causes the windpipe to narrow or close. 

Another cause for positional asphyxiation is the infant’s nose is submerged in bedding material. This position increases the likelihood of difficulty in breathing. This is because, the exhaled carbon dioxide (CO2) during breathing does not escape and is more concentrated in the bedding material

Baby too far removed from caregiver to sense distress

In a cradle carry baby’s head is very low compared to an upright carry. Most, if not all, baby carriers designed to be used in the cradle carry, are fabric and baby sinks into it. By having the head removed too far from the caretakers senses, baby is in danger of sending out distress signals that will go unanswered. If baby’s head is upright below the babywearer’s chin, baby can be seen, heard, and smelled, along with being touched. Any kind of distress can be sensed immediately and the caretaker is in a position to remedy the situation before an emergency occurs.


Baby can't move head

 The muscle tone of a newborn is not developed enough to lift the heavy head against gravity. In the cradle carry baby has to work against gravity and turn the head at the same time should the airway be in a compromised position.  This task is far beyond a newborns ability. The cradle carry is a forced position where baby has no control of his well being. Because the baby is too far removed from the babywearer’s senses, baby’s stress signals are unfortunately sometimes not received in time to safe baby’s life.


Baby gravitates to the lowest point in carrier with risk of PA

Because of the movement when carried in the baby carrier, baby will naturally gravitate  to the lowest point of the carrier. Being “stuck” in the lowest point curls baby up in a little ball, which is the risk factor for positional asphyxiation (PA). It is not the natural form of the spine called kyphosis, it is the fact that the heavy head is rolled with the baby’s chin onto baby’s chest, which kinks the airway and baby cannot work against gravity to free himself from this potentially fatal situation.

Vestibular stimulation of the brain less favorable

The vestibular system in the brain is the foundation for  a numerous amount of skills. Among them for example, standing up straight, keeping once balance, moving through space,  coordinating information from the vestibular organs in the inner ear, the eyes, muscles and joints along with jaw and gravity receptors on the skin, adjust the heart rate and blood pressure, limb position and immune response. To name all the functions it would be another  book, suffice it to say that the vestibular system is invaluable. Being carried upright in a baby carrier supports and  stimulates the vestibular  system.  Being laid in a cradle hold is less favorable to the intricate brain connections.

Can’t feel every movement of the baby

When baby is carried upright with no extra layer of heavier baby carrier fabric to interfere with the closeness between babywearer and baby, the wearer can feel every little movement of the baby. A baby in the cradle carry is in a separate hammock and the babywearer is often unaware of baby’s movements. Leaning forward dangles baby in the air, away from the babywearer.

Any objects added to the carrier are adding a greater risk for shifting and suffocation in the carrier

Some babywearing educators who have not furthered their education, try to fix an ill designed product by adding receiving blankets, rolled up towels or cloth diapers among other things.  Anything placed in the carrier adds a hazard to babywearing.  Do not place anything with the baby in the carrier. Baby is bound to shift in the cradle hold and any objects placed in the cradle hold with the baby can shift to compromise baby’s airway. When carrying baby upright in a carrier that is suited for baby’s development, baby does not need any other objects to be embraced securely by the upright carrier.

Baby is shifting or bending sideways with movement of the babywearer

Because a newborn has a curved spine called the kyphosis, baby’s natural position would be with a curved back. Baby is most comfortable in this position and will, when shifting in the carrier during movement, assume this position. This is not possible sideways around babywearer’s body so baby shifts facing the babywearer. Baby will end up being turned against the babywearer’s body which can compromise baby’s breathing ability. Loose clothing and heavily patted rails of the sling present a hazard to baby. 


Often baby's face not visible

One of the major risk factors of the cradle carry and those products designed to only carry in the cradle carry, are the fact that baby is not visible to you at all times. Some carriers have padded rails that obstruct your view of your baby, others have elastic to close baby’s slings from your view. Others are just simply too deep and the fabric closes over baby. Whatever the reason, not seeing your baby can put baby at risk because you cannot see and sense baby’s signals for help.


Hip position not favorable to optimal development

Of course the hip position is not favorable in a cradle position. The hip joints are pushed in an unnatural way, which prevents the hip socket from forming around the hip ball sufficiently. The better the hip position as baby the better the chance of a live long healthy hip.  The best position for the hip to harden in the perfect way is the spread-squatting position.


Extra fabric layer between baby and babywearer

Most baby carriers have an extra layer of fabric between babywearer and baby, preventing skin to skin contact. The first few weeks it is very comforting and stimulating for baby to feel his skin next to mom or dad’s skin. Skin to skin contact is a must in kangaroo mother care. Baby’s oxygenation improves, the heart rate increases to a level that is normal for a baby who feels secure. The parent is able to help baby regulate his temperature. 

Babies with skin to skin contact are much better at breastfeeding, latch on without help and latch on well. Babies latching on well get more milk easier than those who latch on poorly. This in turn helps mom not get sore from constant nursing. Baby can access milk that the pump cannot. A baby in skin contact has no reason to cry.  Babies enjoy skin to skin contact but many baby carriers block this possibility. Even if you prefer not to wear your baby skin to skin, the more layers (especially if the fabric is synthetic) keep you from feeling baby’s every movement, being able to read baby, and will keep you from responding immediately to baby’s every need.


Olfactory awareness is lost

We often don’t think about the sense of smell when considering babywearing. Humans have around 10,000 olfactory receptors.  About 3 % of the human genetic code is working on the construction of the olfactory receptors. Because through the olfactory awareness one can even discern another humans fitness and health to identifying poisonous substances and safe food. Olfactory receptors are closely connected to memory, even more than any other sense.  Having baby close to your sense of smell is another way to get to know your baby intimately. You can sense distress by the change in smell in your baby, which will alert you to check on baby. A baby in the cradle carry is too far removed from your main olfactory receptors and an important way of bonding is lost.



The cradle carry is better left unused. 21 of the approximately 25 babies, who have died in baby carriers in the past 20 years, were carried in the cradle carry. No doubt, it is a high risk carry because of many ill designed cradle carry devices and little education on safe babywearing. Find a baby carrier that allows you to wear baby closely embraced upright, close to your center of senses. Any kind of distress can be sensed immediately and taken care off before baby might be in serious danger. Upright wrapped tight is the safest way to wear your baby.








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1 Comment

Reply Claire
9:39 PM on November 15, 2012 
Thank you for this great information. I see cradle carry carriers all the time and always wonder if parents know the risk. I never felt safe with my babies in the cradle carry. We need this information everywhere. I will send people to your site for good information on safe babywearing.