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Thou Shalt Not Grip a Moses Basket Lightly

Study: Babies can fall out of carriers with short handles

TUESDAY, Dec. 4, 2001 (HealthDayNews) -- If you use a so-called Moses basket to carry your infant, a new study suggests that you get a better grip.

British researchers say the baskets, which have been popular in the United Kingdom for about 25 years, pose a potential health hazard because their handles aren't long enough. If parents don't grab the handles firmly, the baby could tumble out and be injured, they add.

But the British organization that sets standards for baby products says the problem is much ado about nothing. Longer handles could increase the risk of the baby strangling, it says. What's needed instead, it notes, are clear instructions telling parents to make sure they use a secure grip.

Three children tumbled out of Moses baskets within a two-month period last year, according to author Markus Hesseling, specialist registrar at Alder Hey Children's Hospital in Liverpool, England. "Two of the babies involved fell out of the basket while they were carried on the stairs when one of the handles slipped. In their cases, this resulted in linear skull fractures," he says in an e-mail interview. The babies suffered no brain or developmental damage, he adds.

In fact, he notes, the risk for injury is relatively low. "Most accidents will not result in any harm for the baby at all, as they usually fall from a low height. Therefore, most accidents will not even be brought to the attention of a health professional," he says.

Moses baskets are named for the Biblical figure whose birth mother left him in one along the Nile. The modern version of the basket -- made of palm leaves, wicker, willow or sea grass, and often fitted with handles -- is a popular way to cradle babies in the United Kingdom. The infant can sleep in the basket, and the handles make it portable. They are also sold in the United States, with prices ranging anywhere from $69 to $300.

Close examination of the Moses baskets showed that their handles were not long enough to meet in the middle, Hesseling says. "It appeared obvious that the risk of a handle slipping was higher in those baskets where you had to pull the handles together first to make them meet in the middle. In other words, it requires a tighter grip to keep them together," he says.

A search of all available medical literature revealed no additional reports of injuries, nor were British manufacturers aware of any problems, he adds.

But government data on home accidents showed "24 reported cases in 10 years that were of a similar nature to ours. Taking into account that this database includes only hospitals in the country [rather than in urban areas], it is reasonable to assume that the real incidence of incidents involving Moses baskets may be much higher," he says.

"In the light of our cases," he continues, "we are asking parents to be extra careful when carrying their babies in a Moses basket, and to use both hands."

The findings were reported in a letter published in the Nov. 17 issue of the British Medical Journal.

The British Baby Products Association (BBPA), which sets product standards, doesn't support longer handles on Moses baskets and calls the idea potentially dangerous.

Longer handles "could increase the risk for strangulation of the baby," says Robert Chantry Price, the secretary of the BBPA in Pitstone, England. "There have been no problems with [Moses baskets] at all. And this is a bit of a freak case, these three examples. I'm not at all convinced that the stories were all true."

Price suggests that the adults "didn't pick up the basket properly. How many times have you been handed a glass, thought you had a grip on it, and seen it smash to the floor?"

Because the sides of the Moses basket are somewhat flexible, Price says that placing the baby in the middle of the basket "tends to put pressure on the sides, bringing the handles slightly closer together."

However, he says, the association has agreed to add instructions reminding parents to pick up the handles properly.

Katherine Type, owner of BabyBox.com in New York City, which sells the carriers, says she has never heard of any problems from customers who bought the baskets.

"And as far as I know, none of the Moses baskets have instructions on carrying," she adds.

What To Do

To read the letter and see what a Moses basket looks like, click on the British Medical Journal. And for more on ways to keep your baby safe, visit the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

SOURCES: Interviews with Markus Hesseling (via e-mail), specialist registrar, Alder Hey Children's Hospital, Liverpool, England; Robert Chantry Price, secretary, British Baby Products Association, Pitstone, England; Katherine Type, owner, BabyBox.com, New York; Nov. 17, 2001, British Medical Journal
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