In celebration of International Babywearing Week (October 10 to 16th) I want to spotlight the efforts of the Baby Carrier Industry Alliance (BCIA). I recently attended the All Baby and Child (ABC) Trade Show in Louisville, Kentucky where Jose Madrigal of Beco invited me to the first formal BCIA meeting on Sunday evening, September 25th. The purpose of the alliance is to “advance the well-being, growth, and interests of baby carrier manufacturers, importers, distributors, retailers and educators.” The story of the birth of BCIA is nothing short of heroic.
On March 12,2010, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) issued a warning regarding the use of baby slings with infants younger than four months old, stating that slings pose a suffocation risk for infants in this age group. On March 24th, the CPSC announced the voluntary recall of more than one million Infantino SlingRiders. The CPSC cited three infant deaths reported in this particular bag-like pouch sling and called for the development of mandatory safety standards for slings and other soft baby carriers.
It is unusual for the CPSC to call for mandatory standards. In fact, during the same time period in which the CPSC has worked with industry to develop more than 300 voluntary product safety standards it has issued less than 50 mandatory rules.
The call for mandatory standards was influenced by several factors. One was the resolve of Inez Tenenbaum, who became chair of the CPSC in June of 2009, only nine months before the recall. Under the Bush administration, the CPSC had been widely criticized by politicians and consumers alike for being ineffectual and too tied to business. Tennebaum has long been a child advocate in her work as an elementary teacher, a Head Start administrator, South Carolina state superintendent and a lawyer specializing in educational issues.
When the Infantino sling was recalled, Tennebaum took it very seriously; she didn’t want any dead babies on her watch. The CPSC began to look at records of past reports on soft infant carriers and subsequently to ask to review the records of several baby carrier manufacturers. When a recall of an established and well-respected baby carrier company was threatened by the CPSC, BCIA sprang into action.
For the last three years, a loose coalition of baby carrier manufacturers has been meeting semiannually with the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) to develop a draft of voluntary safety standards for sling-style carriers. There is also ongoing development of standards for soft infant carriers and frame carriers. Kristen DeRocha of Hotslings chaired the ASTM subcommittee on slings until this summer when Rochelle Price of SlingRings became the chair. Susan Gmeiner, of Maya Wrap, has also been instrumental in the development of sling safety standards.
In response to the requests of the CPSC for company records and the threat of recalls, the nascent BCIA began working with legal counsel experienced in consumer product regulatory law as well as strategic communication. With this help, BCIA deepened its understanding of regulatory policy on Capitol Hill and members reached out to their elected representatives for help getting fair treatment for the sling industry. The influence of Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC), Senator Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) and Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), as well as a babywearing industry White Paper helped CPSC see the importance of slings as a product category. By November 2011, when the CPSC issued a statement on safe babywearing, their tone had changed, “For many parents across the United States, “babywearing” promotes a positive bond between child and parent.”
At the first annual BCIA meeting, Executive Director Vesta Hartman Garcia described how she demonstrated baby wearing to CPSC Chair Tennebaum at a meeting arranged by Neal Cohen, CPSC Small Business Ombudsman. Garcia said that shifting to an educational mode with the CPSC changed the tenor of the relationship. Cohen received an award from BCIA that night for advocating for the baby wearing industry at CPSC and helping BCIA to navigate within the commission. Upon acceptance, Cohen remarked that the work baby wearing manufacturers have done over the last few years to develop voluntary safety standards for carriers is ground breaking in the product safety industry.
It’s ironic that a centuries old practice like baby wearing needs safety standards, but it’s been true with homebirth, breastfeeding, and co-sleeping as well. When a practice is maintained only among close-knit communities it requires no rules or protocols; everyone knows how to do it because everyone sees it modeled. Once a practice expands outside of its original close-knit community, it may require education. The Infantino SlingRider is a case in point. Big companies like Infantino got into the sling business as the industry grew, increasing by 43% to $21 million in sales between 2006 and 2008.
The SlingRider was sold in department stores where it is less likely that someone instructed the buyer in the use of a sling or noticed that the pouch of the sling was too deep to be safe. Previously, most if not all slings were purchased from someone who also gave instruction. How else except with education could one understand the nuances of a wrap, for example, as without instruction or example it might be “just a piece of cloth.”
I remember when Mothering published our first article on baby wearing in 1985. It was called “The Baby Sling” though it was about how to tie up this enormously long, multi-colored piece of heavy cotton cloth into a baby carrier. It was fun watching Pacia and Shelley lay the cloth out on the ground and figure out how to use it.
When my children were babies in the seventies I carried them in a red-corduroy Snugli (see photo above of Finnie, Lally and me in 1976), the only soft carrier available at the time, or in a hard frame backpack that I sewed from a kit. I remember how liberating it was when I finally surrendered to the Snugli. It was with my second child, fussy and colicky, who never wanted to be put down. I just put him in the carrier one day and set about my business and my life got a whole lot easier.
As early as 1980, three home businesses were advertising baby carriers in Mothering. The development of babywearing in the US was strongly influenced by Jean Leidloff’s book, The Continuum Concept (Da Capo Press, 1986), which describes the author’s experience living with a South American Stone Age tribe whose members always hold their babies in arms. By 1987, Over the Shoulder Baby Holder took out a display ad. In 1989, Bill Sears, then a young doctor, wrote an article for Mothering called “Wearing Your Baby,” which described how his wife, Martha Sears, had fashioned a sling out of a sheet.
In addition to being a practical solution for both baby and mom, baby wearing also has other benefits. Recent studies have shown that babywearing facilitates breastfeeding, decreases crying, and helps babies sleep better. A recent study at Columbia University compared the attachment of babies carried in a baby carrier vs. babies carried in a car seat. The study showed that after 13 months, the babies who had been transported in wearable carriers were significantly more likely to demonstrate a strong attachment to their mothers.
I’m proud of the babywearing manufacturers for acknowledging themselves as an industry. It’s hard to imagine the complexities of commerce when you’re dreaming of your home business and BCIA members have done an excellent job of growing with their businesses as the demand for their products has grown. The forethought and dedication of the members of BCIA has protected not only a growing industry, but our access, as parents, to a quality product that actually helps us do a better job. Thank you BCIA.
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Tags: ABC Show, American Society of Testing and Materials (ASTM), Baby Carrier Industry Alliance, Baby Carriers, babywearing, Beco, Bill Sears, cpsc, CPSC Small Business Ombudsman., Hotslings, Inez Tennebaum, Infantino SlingRider, International Babywearing Week, Jean Leidloff, Jose Madigal, Kristen De Rocha, Martha Sears, May Wrap, Neal Cohen, product safety standards, Rochelle Price, Senator Amy Klobuchar, Senator Jim DeMint, Senator Olympia Snowe, SlingRings, Slings, Susan Gmeiner, The Continuum Concept