Common Questions about Forward-facing Baby Carriers

Babywearing mistake in advertising photo

We caused a bit of a stir earlier this week when we posted the photo above on Facebook and asked, “Can you spot the babywearing faux pas in this Babies R Us photo?”

The answer is: the baby carried outward-facing on the back. A baby should not be carried like this. The carrier is designed to be worn on the front with the baby facing outward.

Our point was that even a very large baby store can get babywearing wrong. Someone clearly didn’t read the instruction manual before the photo shoot. It does help parents when they buy from an experienced retailer that spends the day helping parents carry babies close and safely. Our employees at bynature.ca are trained in babywearing safety.

What actually happened during the Facebook conversation, though, was very interesting. Some commentors thought that both the baby on the left (front-facing front carry) and the baby in the center (back-facing back carry) were incorrect positions. The position on the left is not optimal, but it is not unsafe either.

We had a good discussion about forward-facing carriers, and we heard some of the comments and questions we hear a lot in the store. We’ve gathered those questions for you here.

Aren’t all outward-facing baby carriers bad?

No! Not at all. We don’t sell or suggest the BabyBjorn or carriers that don’t allow for optimal positioning, but we don’t feel they are inherently bad, either. Some babywearing advocates dismiss all use of these carriers, but in other circles the Bjorn and Snugli (the carrier worn incorrectly in this photo) are often referred to as “gateway carriers.” These carriers are readily available in mainstream department stores, and they are often a new parent’s first introduction to babywearing. They can be a first step toward an optimal carrier.

The BabyBjorn, for example, has been used for more than 50 years. As babywearing advocates, we would much rather see a parent using a carrier like a Bjorn, keeping baby safe and close to the wearer, promoting bonding and easing the transition to life with baby, than not using an baby carrier at all.

But, when a narrow-seated carrier is no longer comfortable and parents come to us asking how to continue carrying baby beyond 8 months, we’ve got lots of suggestions to help them continue babywearing comfortably (and safely) for much longer than the Bjorn will allow.

Carrying a baby in a carrier is much safer than any other device (car seat, stroller, bouncy seat, swing, etc.). Evidence supports this. We would rather support parents using these carriers, so they understand that it’s safe and good for baby to be carried close, especially since it can mean the difference between having a baby carried or not carried at all.

Isn’t wearing a baby front-forward facing unsafe for the baby?

No, there is nothing generally unsafe for baby about it. Forward-facing is not ideal, but it isn’t unsafe either.

But, I heard that outward facing baby carriers harm a baby’s hip development.

There isn’t any substantiating evidence that supports the theory that forward-facing is harmful to developing hips—despite rumors circulating on the internet. Absolutely no studies have been done with babies.

Front-forward carrying does not cause hip dysplasia. Hip dysplasia is congenital, meaning: babies who actually have hip dysplasia are born with it. A mild case could potentially be exacerbated by swaddling or poor carrier positioning, but poor positioning isn’t going to give a baby hip dysplasia.

Does forward facing babywearing cause a baby’s back to arch?

Yes, it can, and a baby’s back should not arch in any baby carrier, but that can be fixed with proper positioning.

Shouldn’t the baby have hip support in a baby carrier?

An optimal carry will support a baby with legs bent at the hips in an M-shape (the baby’s bottom being the center of the M with knees at the top of the M). A narrow seat is not optimal because it doesn’t support the bent legs. Yes, the M-position is ideal, but it is not unsafe or harmful to have baby forward facing even if not in M-position.

What are the issues with front-forward carrying?

For the wearer. The front-forward carry may not be comfortable for the wearer. For a newly postpartum mother, the baby facing out puts a lot of outward pressure on the wearer’s core muscle structure—even more if baby is hanging too low—as well as downward pressure on the pelvic floor. With a body that is recovering from pregnancy and birth, a body still processing relaxin, this outward pressure can damage the pelvic floor and core muscles and delay muscle recovery.

For the baby. There is nothing inherently unsafe about front-forward facing for a baby. A proper seat will likely be more comfortable for a little one (consider how you might like to be positioned in a swing with a seat or by a narrow band across your crotch), but it’s not a safety issue.

You might find that facing forward can be over-stimulating for some babies, since they can’t look away from what is going on around them, but this isn’t a safety issue. Many babies do like to be facing forward. If your baby is unhappy with the stimulation of seeing the busy world, you will probably hear about it. When your baby is uncomfortable or unhappy, it’s time to turn around and face in toward you.

Babywearing Safety

Our focus in our physical store and our online store is babywearing safety.

Babies should face in as infants, since this position stabilizes their head and neck and protects their airway. While forward facing or a narrow-seated carrier isn’t something we recommend, neither do we call it “dangerous.” When we talk about safety and babywearing to new parents, we only call “dangerous” those real, clear dangers of serious injury or death, such as positional asphyxia, poor positioning, or improper use of a carrier.

For more information on babywearing safety, see Babywearing International’s safety guidelines.

5 thoughts on “Common Questions about Forward-facing Baby Carriers

  1. Thank you for this intelligent, reasoned approach to outward facing carriers. I had to carry my baby facing outwards at all times, even when I was just holding her in my arms.

    She had a desperate need to be facing outwards, and it made me so angry to see the sweeping statements about how every infant should be held facing inward.

    Perhaps those condemning outward-facing carries would have liked to come try to force my infant to face inward while she screamed and thrashed and arched her back until she could be facing outward again.

    • Melanie, I’m so glad this helped. Sometimes a simple answer doesn’t quite address the need, so we tried to provide context based on our training. Good for you listening to your daughter telling you what she needed.

  2. My baby girl is 9 weeks old and also likes to face outward. I’ve tried a sling and Ergo baby carrier and she cries every time I try to put her in it. She does not like facing inward at all. Ergo just came out with a forward facing carrier (four position 360) that will be available to purchase in July 2014. It appears to answer any concerns about posture, etc. Not all babies are the same and I’m sure there are many other mothers out there with babies like mine, who prefer to see the world when being carried.

  3. I have a 3 month old boy who can’t stand being faced inwards. I’m glad I came across this article since everyone keeps telling me that facing out is a bad idea (even though he loves it). Now I can do some research and find a good facing out carrier for the rest of my paternity leave.

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