Using a baby carrier to forward face out is both widely-done and controversial in the babywearing world. We all want to do what’s best for our babies, but this is one topic that leaves many parents confused about what the best practice is. Some say forward facing out is always fine, other say to never, ever do it. I find that extreme sides of any argument are generally flawed and filled with self-righteousness that helps no one. The truth usually lies somewhere in the middle, and I’m here to help you parse it out.
What is Forward Facing in a Baby Carrier?
Forward facing your baby in a baby carrier is when you wear your baby in any carrier on the front of your body, with baby facing forward, away from you, so that he or she can see the world. This is sometimes called wearing your baby Forward Facing Out or FFO. This can be done using a structured carrier designed for this purpose, a stretchy wrap, a woven wrap or a ring sling.
What are the Arguments against Forward Facing your Baby?
This babywearing position was popularized by a structured carrier from the company BabyBjorn, which has a narrow base and is designed to be worn on the wearer’s front, with baby either facing the wearer or facing out. In either position, baby’s legs are not held in an ergonomic spread squat/M-shaped position. Rather this carrier holds baby by the crotch and baby’s legs hang freely. This carrier style has been nicknamed a “crotch-dangler” by critics of this position.
This position is not ergonomic, as it is not ideal for proper hip development. People worry that this position will cause a hip dysplasia in babies who are carried like this. While this is a compelling concern, it is false.
Hip Dysplasia, where baby’s hip sockets develop abnormally, is a pre-existing condition and it cannot be prevented or caused. Once it is diagnosed, it is treated by keeping baby’s legs in a spread squat/M-shaped position, as this position facilitates optimal hip development in all babies, particularly those with a hip dysplasia. Baby’s legs are often held in this position using a Pavlik harness, however this is same position that babies are held in most baby carriers.
Since hip dysplasia is a pre-existing condition, using a narrow base carrier cannot cause it. Narrow base carriers are only problematic for babies who are diagnosed with this condition. However, carrying your baby in this position is not ideal for optimal hip development, so the babywearing community rightly recommends carrying all babies with their knees above their bum, with their legs forming an M-shape.
This “hip-dangling” position is a common way to forward face using a baby carrier, which is why many people are opposed to forward facing at all. However, it is possible to achieve an ergonomic leg position in most forward facing carriers on the market.
Babies are born with weak muscles. They gain trunk, neck and head control over the course of their first several months. At first, it is difficult for their to hold their own heads up at all or for sustained periods of time. When a baby is carried tummy-to-tummy with a caregiver, they are able to rest their head on the caregiver’s chest and aren’t required to hold up their own heads.
When baby is carried facing out, they can rest the back of their head on the carer’s chest, but they are susceptible to having their head droop forward. This can cause them to fall into a position were their chin rests on their chest and this can restrict their airway, which is quite dangerous.
For this reason, it is recommended to wait to forward face your baby in a carrier until she has sufficient head and neck control to hold her head up for sustained amounts of time. It is important to monitor baby to make sure that he isn’t slumping. Babies cannot sleep in a forward facing position. If baby falls asleep while forward facing, you must take her out immediately and either turn her to face you in the baby carrier or put her down to sleep on a safe sleep surface.
Young babies can become overstimulated and overwhelmed quite quickly and easily. When they are being held facing inwards towards their carer, they have the option to look around as they wish and then nuzzle in to get a break from the big, wide world. When they are forward facing out, they literally cannot look away or communicate that they’ve had too much.
Therefore, it is recommended to forward face out in a baby carrier at short intervals. A common suggestion is 15 to 20 minutes at a time.
Wearing baby facing you, in a high and tight carrier keeps baby close to your centre of gravity, which makes babywearing more comfortable and balanced. When baby is facing away from you, his outstretched limbs and the way his back is positioned pulls your centre of gravity forward, which can quickly become uncomfortable.
Ensure that your carrier is well tightened and keeps baby as high as possible, to ensure comfort for the wearer.
What are the Safety Guidelines for Facing Baby Out in a Carrier?
Use an ergonomic baby carrier that supports baby from knee to knee, with knees above bum and legs in an M-shaped position.
Wait until baby has strong head and neck control.
Never let baby sleep in a forward facing position. Always remove baby immediately if she falls asleep.
Limit time in forward facing positions to 15 to 20 minutes at a time to avoid overstimulation.
What are Alternatives to Forward Facing in a Baby Carrier?
Many parents feel that their baby prefers forward facing, because she wants to see the world and this position provides a greater range of vision. If your baby is too young to forward face, you plan on wearing him for more than 15 or 20 minutes or you know that he is likely to fall asleep, there are other positions that allow for this greater range of vision without compromising on safety or comfort.
You can move your baby into a hip carry, with their arms in. This is a well-supported position for young babies, but enables them to see more of the world. It also allows them to nuzzle into you if they begin to get overstimulated and need a break. It is also safe and comfortable to sleep in a hip carry.
You can hip carry using a ring sling, woven wrap, stretchy wrap, meh dai and some soft structured carriers.
Most carriers are designed to back carry babies older than 6 months old, who are sitting independently. If you are experienced with wrapping, you can begin back carrying your baby in a woven wrap from birth.
A high back carry allows baby to see the world over your shoulder, while still having the option to nuzzle in and/or take a nap in a supported position.