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Can I cycle with my baby in a sling, papoose or baby carrier?
An increasing number of parents are using slings, wraps, papooses and baby carriers to transport their new born babies and infants, enjoying the benefits of close physical contact whilst being able to go anywhere without taking a pram or buggy. It was inevitable therefore that recently there was a debate on the Family Cycling Facebook Forum around the question "Can I cycle with my baby in a sling?" To help parents with the legal and safety implications I've written this article. It does not mean that Cycle Sprog either supports or condones parents who cycle with their baby while using a sling, wrap or baby carrier.
Is it legal to cycle with my baby in a sling or papoose?
Please note this answer applies only to the United Kingdom (UK).
In a word - No. It is illegal to ride a bike wearing a sling or baby carrier in places where the Road Traffic Act is in force.
At a basic level, the Highway code rule 68 states:
You MUST NOT
carry a passenger unless your cycle has been built or adapted to carry one
This is from the Road Traffic Act 1988 Section 24 Restriction of carriage of persons on bicycles, which states:
(1)Not more than one person may be carried on a road on a bicycle not propelled by mechanical power unless it is constructed or adapted for the carriage of more than one person.
(2)In this section—
(a)references to a person carried on a bicycle include references to a person riding the bicycle, and
(b)“road” includes bridleway.
(3)If a person is carried on a bicycle in contravention of subsection (1) above, each of the persons carried is guilty of an offence.
This may seem to imply that your baby would be guilty of an offence by being carried in a sling or baby carrier on a bike, but remember that the age of criminal responsibility is 10 years of age.
Within the Highway Code, Rule 66 advises:
You should not carry anything which will affect your balance or may get tangled up with your wheels or chain
This is however advisory, as the word "should" and not "must" is used, and there is no associated law.
Will I be prosecuted if I cycle with my baby in a sling?
As far as I am aware, at the time of writing no one in the UK has been prosecuted for cycling while carrying their baby in a sling, papoose, wrap or carrier.
It's worth also noting that Rule 64 states "You MUST NOT cycle on a pavement" (Highway Act 1835 - Section 72 and Roads (Scotland) Act 1984 - Section 29). Once you become a cycling parent, there are times when you have to weigh up options. To abide by this law makes it virtually impossible for young children in most parts of the UK to ride their bikes, and some parents choose to interpret this rule to mean "push when it's busy, ride when its quiet". This reduces, but does not remove, the risk of prosecution.
You must decide yourself whether you are happy to cycle while carrying your baby, knowing it is against the law. If you're happy with that, (or you are cycling in a place where the Highways Act does not apply - in the UK that is very few places!) then here's some more information to help you make an informed decision.
What does the sling, wrap and baby carrier industry say?
The safety instructions that come with baby slings and carriers all carry warnings about not using them for sports and other activities.
For example, the BabyBjorn user manual states: The baby carrier is NOT suitable for use during sports or other leisure activities.
Baby Carrier and sling manufacturer Boba have some more comprehensive information on their website which includes the follow advice:
High-Speed Common Sense: A baby wrap is not a safety device and it does not replace a car seat. For these reasons and about a million others, do not wear your baby in a wrap when driving or riding in a car or while riding a bike.
Use Your Noggin: If there’s an activity you wouldn't do while pregnant or one that requires protective gear, don’t do it while babywearing. That means no climbing ladders, riding horses, running, skating, skiing, swimming, mowing the lawn, cleaning with harsh chemicals, skydiving, white water rafting, bungee jumping…you get the idea.
Smart Moves: For all those times you need to bend over, lean, adjust the wrap or move in some other awkward way (parenting…are we right?), be sure to support your baby with your arms and don’t let go of your baby until your position is back to neutral.
Protection from the Elements: Just like when they're out of the carrier, babies need sunscreen and appropriate clothes. Don’t let your little one get too hot in the summer (overdressing can cause heat stress) or too cold in the winter
Activities to avoid
Baby Carriers are designed to be used during normal activity of low to moderate risk and exertion. Any activity requiring specialist safety equipment is not safe to do when using a baby carrier e.g. climbing, cycling, horse-riding.
You can exercise in your baby carrier as long as the motion does not cause your baby to be shaken or thrown around. Sling dance, dog walking and yoga are good ways to stay healthy postnatally. Swimming, running, jogging, cardio-vascular high impact aerobics should be avoided when using a baby carrier.
The Sling A Baby website has this graphic to illustrate activities to avoid when wearing a baby sling.
One of the reasons that the industry provide these warnings is that their products have not been designed, or tested, for cycling. This is very different to the child bike seat industry, who test to British and European safety standards. If you cycle with your baby using sling, wrap or carrier, you need to be aware that it will not have been designed or tested for the activity you are using if for, so you do so entirely at your own risk.
So, is it safe to cycle with my baby in a sling or papoose?
This is the million dollar question. I cannot answer it for you.
Each parent must make their own decision as to what constitutes a risky activity. BabyBjorn's advice that their carrier should not be used "during sports or other leisure activities" is vague. Cycling down to the road to the shops is neither a sport nor a leisure activity. However going for a walk along a footpath on a Sunday afternoon is a leisure activity and playing chess is considered by some a sport.
Boba and Action Baby Carriers' advice that any activity requiring specialist safety equipment is not safe to do when using a baby carrier - e.g. climbing, cycling, horse-riding - is sensible if you're doing mountain biking or BMX. But does cycling down a protected cycleway require specialist safety equipment? (bearing in mind that there is no legal obligation to wear a cycle helmet in the UK).
Each of us has our own perception of what is risky, and each of us makes countless decisions each day on how we parent. What one persons decides is the right answer for them, may not be the right answer for someone else. Below I've listed a few things to think about to help you decide whether cycling with a sling or baby carrier is right for you and your family.
Questions to answer before deciding on whether to cycle with your baby in a sling or carrier
The following may help you come to a decision:
- What riding position are you adopting on your bike, and does that affect the safety of your child?
There is a big difference between the upright position of a city bike and the crouched over positioning of a road bike. The gap between the baby and the handlebars will be a significant consideration, as well as how easy it is to mount and dismount the bike with a baby attached. A step through bike (as used in Netherlands) would be easier than a bike with a cross bar.
Always, always always consider the ability of your baby to breathe and make sure their airway is unobstructed at all times - this means your body must be upright while you're cycling, or doing any other activity (the reason you should never sleep with your baby in a sling or carrier). Follow the TICKS rule of
IN VIEW AT ALL TIMES
CLOSE ENOUGH TO KISS
KEEP CHIN OFF THE CHEST
when ever you are using a sling or baby carrier.
There is a lot more useful information on the NCT website about the safe wearing of a baby sling or papoose.
2. How confident a cyclist are you?
If you've been cycling for years, and perhaps even cycled during pregnancy, then this may make a difference to your decision. If you're a beginner cyclist, then I'd strongly advise against riding with a sling or papoose.
3. Do you care what other people think?
In our increasingly risk adverse society, you can expect stares and comments if you do something that is perceived to put your baby at risk (and cycling with a baby is considered risky, even by hardened cyclists, as this thread on Single Track Forum shows). You can either bow to the pressure or ignore it, but as a cycling parent you'll need to get used to it. Here's an example of what I mean.....
4. Is there an alternative to cycling with a carrier or a sling?
Many cargo bikes and trailers can be used from birth (with the appropriate support for the baby). Front and rear bike seats are suitable for babies who can hold their heads up.
5. Where are you riding your bike?
Where you live and what cycling you are doing could well affect your decision. Are you battling rush hour traffic, riding single track black runs or riding a road bike over cobbles? You will possibly come to a different decision than someone who is riding a step through bike on a flat protected cycle path or a gentle traffic free country route.
6. Have you considered the risks to your child?
No doubt you have, or you wouldn't have got this far in the article, and there isn't any need to go into graphic details, but things to consider include:
injury if you fall on top of the baby
damage to baby's unsupported neck or spine due to excessive shaking if cycling over uneven surfaces
injury if sling or carrier is not fastened correctly
lack of protection in case of impact
I have been asked if cycling with your baby in a sling, papoose or baby carrier could lead to Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS). Shaken Baby Syndrome is another term for Abusive head trauma (AHT), and is a form of violent child abuse. The Crown Prosecution Service for England and Wales recommended in 2011 that the term shaken baby syndrome be avoided and the term non accidental head injury (NAHI) be used instead. Given you are a caring and loving parent, worried about your baby's health, there is no risk of Shaken Baby Syndrome.
However, as mentioned above - when cycling with a child of any age, you need to make sure their head and neck are adequately supported. If you want more information about the risks of SBS, and whether general day to day and play activities put your child at risk, I found this article useful.
7. Have you considered the benefits of cycling with a sling?
It is inevitable that this article has to focus more on the negative sides of the debate. However it's worth thinking of some of the many positives:
Avoiding car usage - many families don't have a car, or try to limit usage for shorter trips
Getting out the house and cycling with your baby is a good way to get fresh air and regular exercise (recommended for treatment of Post Natal Depression)
Saving on the expense of adaptors for trailers and cargo bikes that are only used for a few months
Some parents prefer to have their baby close to them, rather than further away in a trailer or bike seat
You can get out in the fresh air and be active with your baby from a very young age
Many bike seats and trailers don't provide the support for a babies neck, whilst a baby carrier has been designed to support the neck and head.
8. What do the Dutch do?
They mainly use cargo bikes, but it's not uncommon for slings to be used. Of course they have fabulous infrastructure, so don't have the same worries about riding in traffic that we have in most of the UK. They also seem to grow up into strong, fit and capable children and adults, and I could find no medical evidence of issues with trauma from being cycled with from an early age.
9. How do other people manage?
Here's a couple of photos I found on the web to show how it's done:
10. What is your attitude to risk?
This is probably the most important question of the whole lot. Some parents will never even contemplate cycling with their children, what ever age they are, and others will leap on a bike and ride with them from birth without a second thought. Others (probably you if you've made it this far), will weigh up the pros and cons and do what feels right for them and their families. Two comments I found from parents whilst researching this article sum up both sides of the debate perfectly:
"To even consider strapping the baby to you (at any age) while cycling is insane even if you are not off roading. Do you really need a few possible scenarios spelling out?"
"Moving from a to b should be as comfortable as it can be so you reach your destination comfortably. You can protect your child on a bike to some extent, but it's no different than if you were in a 4x4 that comes off second to a truck in a collision at 70mph, it's much down to luck how badly you are injured or if you survived. The daily quality of life and interactive nature of riding with your child is way better than them sat behind you in a car too. Safety is always relative."
We hope that this article has helped you to understand the legality (or otherwise) of cycling whilst carrying a baby in a sling, papoose or baby carrier, and provided some pointers for you to consider in terms of your decision making.
Disclaimer: The information given in this post is done so in good faith. Please note that there may be other risks not known to me or not reasonably foreseeable at this time. Neither Karen Gee or Cycle Sprog can accept any liability for any prosecution, accident, injury or fatality arising as a result of cycling with a baby.
Bit of background to my use of slings and bikes:
I have written this article after online discussions with parents who have, and haven't, cycled with their babies in carriers and slings. Personally, I did not cycle with my baby in a sling or a baby carrier. This is because the thought never occured to me when they were that age. I used a papoose extensively for walking, and looking back now I can't believe the thought didn't cross my mind - but it really didn't occur to me to get on the bike. I tended to walk most places and used cycling post pregnancy as a way to get away from my babies rather than taking them with me! When they were old enough I used rear seats, front seats and trailers to transport my children. It's impossible for me now, almost 8 years later, to second guess whether I would have cycled with them whilst wearing the carrier, or not.
This post was first published in July 2016 and updated in November 2018
Other articles you may find useful:
- The best bike for a 1 year old
- The best front bike seats for toddlers and young children
- The best rear bike seats for toddlers and small children
- Choosing the best balance bike for your child
- Is it safe to cycle while pregnant?
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