This is such a common thing to hear in babywearing communities: “My baby only wants to face out”. This can sometimes lead to babywearers only using their carriers forward facing, or even abandoning babywearing altogether because they feel like there are no other options.
Let’s be clear here…
Forward facing isn’t necessarily bad. You still get a lot of the benefits of babywearing – closeness, hands free, bonding with your child, etc. It isn’t necessarily unsafe either, as long as your baby has good head and neck control, and the carrier is designed for it. It just isn’t optimal.
What’s Optimal Babywearing?
Safe babywearing is about following the TICKS. This means tight, in view, kissable, chin off chest, and supported back. These points are important because they prevent baby from getting into positions that might put them at risk of slumping or suffocating.
Source: School of Babywearing
However, optimal babywearing goes beyond safety, and highlights points relating to comfort and long-term hip/spine development.
Ideally, your baby would be turned inwards towards your body, in a seated position with their knees above their bottom. Their back would be supported by the carrier.
Why Isn’t Forward Facing Optimal?
Forward facing doesn’t meet these points because it forces the baby into a position that isn’t natural for their body and physical development, or their mental/emotional development. Let’s be more specific though. Here are 10 reasons why forward facing carries are best avoided…
Generally, carriers that are designed for forward-facing offer a narrow base for babies, rather than the wider base that supports baby’s hips. You should aim for a squat, with knees above the bottom, forming an “M”. Narrow-based carriers will cause your baby’s legs to dangle, which is not the natural position, and does not support healthy hip joints and development.
When carrying a baby upright in your arms, they will generally assume the more natural and comfortable position for growth and development of their hips and spine. This will almost always be facing inwards to their carer, with their legs “froggied” up. Forward facing doesn't come naturally to them. And from a parent's perspective, you can generally carry your baby in your arms facing you for a much longer period of time than you can in your arms facing your baby away from you. It's just how our bodies are designed.
Newborns are not born with adequate head or neck control for forward facing carries. It is extremely important that their heads, necks, and backs are properly supported and kept aligned properly when held. When facing you, they can relax and rest their head on your chest.
A sleeping baby can need extra head support to ensure that they are comfortable and don’t flop around too much. This is where an inwards-facing carrier can assist, with a hood. Or a baby can naturally lean their head in and rest it on their carer.
Your baby is discovering new things all the time, which is both exciting for them and (at times) scary! You can only cope with so much new stuff at once! Especially if you’re in an environment with lots of noise, people, and movement. A baby facing away from you can have no chance to hide or escape from the stimulation and you may miss their early cues, resulting in a very overstimulated baby. Balance here is key.
Rather than interacting with the outside world, the most important thing your baby can do while they are small is interact with and learn from you! Outward facing means you are not able to see or interact with your child as much, and you’ll miss out on this amazing benefit of babywearing. Seeing your baby’s face as they experience something new, or gaze up at you contentedly is one of the best things about parenting for me. Again, find the balance with this that suits you and your baby.
Babywearing can be really beneficial for monitoring your baby. When they’re facing you, you can easily monitor their breathing, facial expressions, and even their feeding cues. This means you can respond quickly, and keep your baby happy (if you miss other cues your baby will communicate with you by crying). Forward facing loses out on this awesome benefit!
Babies best conserve their heat when they are facing you. Why? Babies are designed with more fat on their rear, and lose heat more quickly with an exposed chest. Cuddling your baby on your chest will mean that you’re actually helping them regulate their temperature more effectively (especially if you’re the mother – your chest is designed that way!). Forward facing might mean your baby gets a bit chilly, especially in the cooler months.
It is equally important to make sure the natural curve of your baby’s spine is supported. This changes a lot in the first year or so of development, as your baby meets different milestones, going from rounded in a C-shape, to an S-shape curve. It is extremely important to avoid forcing a baby into positions it is not yet ready for. Rather than rounded inwards, a front-facing carry might force your baby to assume a backwards-curve in their spine, depending on the shape of your torso.
Usually, the level of comfort you experience with a baby carrier has a lot to do with weight distribution. The more efficiently weight is distributed, and the closer it is held to your centre of gravity, the more comfortable you’ll feel. Forward facing positions tend to put your child in a more awkward position, with more weight held on your front and further away from your body. This can mean that the carrier will pull on your shoulders and back, and you might feel the weight more quickly.
But My Baby Just Wants to Look at Everything!
I can distinctly remember going through a phase where my little dude always wanted to see what was going on. From around 3-4 months, every time he was held (in arms or the carrier), he would lean away to try and look at things. In particular, the ground was very fascinating to him!
Sometimes it was kind of difficult to babywear him directly on the front, because he would lean so far away from me that it would introduce a lot of slack into the wrap job (and I was still learning how to tighten properly at that point!).
My answer to my little Mr leaner (as I liked to call him) was to try more hip carries. We used the ring sling, tried traditional sling carry, and Robbin’s hip carry in our wraps. We could have also used a structured carrier or Meh Dai that offers this option, but by this point, we were mainly wrapping. Hip carries meant that my curious little one could stay snug against me AND see more of the world around him.
As my baby got older, and my skills started to improve, we moved onto back carries in our woven wrap. High back carries like a ruck enable your baby to see even more of the world!
So, Is Forward Facing In The Carrier Wrong?
No! If you and your baby love to forward face and it ticks the boxes for you comfort-wise, then keep going with what you’re doing. Just be mindful that it isn’t recommended to keep your baby in this position for more than 15 minutes at a time. You are still going to get loads of benefits from any style of babywearing, as long as you are doing it safely!
It is possible to forward face safely in a range of popular baby carriers, including some structured carriers, stretchy wraps, and even ring slings. However, by choosing to forward face, you must keep in mind its limitations, and be especially careful with limiting the amount of time spent in this position.
If you need to wear for long periods or naps, I’d really recommend trying a hip or back carries (if your baby is old enough).
And don’t worry, the constant leaning, nosy stage will eventually phase out. If you persist, your baby will go back to being relaxed in the baby carrier (for at least some of the time!) so you can enjoy more cuddles.
P.S. If you found this article useful, please go ahead and share away! Or leave a comment if you have any questions or thoughts relating to forward facing in a baby carrier.
P.P.S. If you’d like hands-on help with different carriers, carry-styles, and babywearing advice, Brooke can help! She is a qualified babywearing consultant and does worldwide Skype consultations!
Brooke Maree © 2017 All Rights Reserved
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