The government warned Friday that baby slings that moms and dads are sporting can be dangerous, even deadly.

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WASHINGTON — The government warned Friday that those chic baby slings that hip moms and dads are sporting these days can be dangerous, even deadly for their little ones.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) said it has investigated at least 13 deaths associated with sling-style infant carriers over the last 20 years, including three deaths last year. One other case involving a fatality is still being investigated. Twelve of the deaths involved babies younger than 4 months of age, the agency said.

The commission is advising parents and caregivers to be cautious when using infant slings for babies younger than 4 months. It said that many of the babies who died in slings were a low-birth-weight twin, were born prematurely or had a cold.

In its warning, CPSC said that slings can pose a suffocation hazard in two different ways.

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• Fabric can press against a baby’s nose and mouth, blocking breathing and suffocating a baby within a minute or two, the agency said.

• The other scenario involves slings where the baby is cradled in a curved or “C-like” position, nestling the baby below mom’s chest. That curved position can cause a baby to flop its head forward, chin-to-chest, restricting the infant’s ability to breathe. “The baby will not be able to cry for help and can slowly suffocate,” said the commission’s warning.

Slings have been promoted as a way to calm fussy babies or for nursing moms who can breast-feed their little ones in the sling.

Safety advocates have been particularly worried about so-called “bag style” slings, in which the fabric wraps around the parent’s neck and cradles the child in a curved position.

But not all slings are dangerous, said Pat Shelly, director of The Breastfeeding Center for Greater Washington.

“The safest baby wearing is in a carrier that keeps the newborn baby solidly against his mother’s body, in an upright position,” Shelly said in an AP interview. “Parents should be instructed to allow the infant to keep his chin off his chest optimizing the airway for breathing.”

The popular SlingRider by Infantino has been singled out for criticism because of the curved position that the baby can fall into while inside the sling. Infantino says its SlingRider is safe.

The SlingRider was recalled in 2007 for problems with the plastic sliders on the sling’s strap. There have been no recalls because of a suffocation risk.

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