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CPSC Warns of Baby Sling Dangers

The Consumer Product Safety Commission issued a warning Friday that baby slings -- which parents put around their necks to carry their babies -- may pose a risk of suffocation.

In researching incident reports from the past 20 years, the CPSC identified and is investigating at least 14 deaths associated with sling-style infant carriers, including three in 2009. Twelve of the deaths involved babies younger than four months of age.

Don Mays, of Consumer Reports, explains that the potential hazards of putting small babies -- especially newborns -- into bag-style slings arise because, "A very young infant's head will be folded forward. That cuts off the airway, and they essentially suffocate. Another problem could be if the baby's head could be nestled up against the carrier's body."

The CPSC said many of the babies who died in slings were either a low birth weight twin, were born prematurely, or had breathing issues such as a cold. Therefore, it urged parents of preemies, twins, babies in fragile health and those with low weight to use extra care and consult their pediatricians about using slings.

Between 2006 and 2008, sales for soft infant carriers rose 43 percent, to more than $21 million, reports CBS News Correspondent Elaine Quijano, but there are no federal safety standards covering sling-type carriers.

"Don't use slings at all," Mays recommends. "There are safer ways of carrying your baby than in a sling."

A lesson that will always haunt Lisa Cochran, whose week-old infant, Derrik, suddenly stopped breathing as he rested quietly against her in May in a bag-style sling, made by Infantino. He died.

"(Such devices were) highly recommended -- especially for breast-feeding mothers and mothers in general. … (They) kept (the infants) close to your heart, so they could hear your heart beat."

Cochran, of Keizer, Ore., and who is pregnant again, says, "I, as a first-time mom, had no clue I could walk into a store and pick something off the shelf that wasn't safe."

She is suing the Infantino, which issued a statement to CBS News saying, "While Infantino believes that its Slingrider baby sling is a safe product, the company is working with the CPSC to address the agency's concerns and those of any parents and caregivers."

While Friday's CPSC warning will address the suffocation danger, Consumer Reports says at least 37 other children have suffered serious injuries, including skull fractures, while being carried in or falling out of baby slings. That led to a recall in 2007.

Nancy Cowles, executive director of Kids in Danger, a non-profit group working on product safety issues, told co-anchor Erica Hill the CPSC needs to "look closely" at the carriers in which the deaths occurred to see if "there does need to be a specific recall of specific products, but the warning, additional instructions and a standard, frankly, for these products is what's needed to make sure that … when you go to the store to buy something, you know that someone has already made sure that it's going to be safe for your child."

"It should be noted that women have been using slings for centuries safely to carry their babies. Obviously, the ones involved in the deaths, I think people should wait to hear the CPSC's warning to see if there's anymore specific information. But with these products, you need to make sure you're using one that's been recommended to you, that they have adequate safety information, either on their Web site or that comes with the product, and that you check with someone and that you see what your baby's position is in it at all times, not just when you first put them in it, to make sure that it's going to be something that will keep them in a safe position."

Cowles suggested that parents suggest slings with their doctors, but it "certainly would not hurt to wait" to use them until a baby is several weeks old and has more control of his or her head.

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