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.

Imports at What Cost? Safety

Baby chewing on plastic ring

Choosing cheap imports can feel better for the wallet at the moment of purchase. When that product is inexpensive at the cost of safety, though, it is your baby who can pay. Injury or worse because of an unsafe baby product is part of the real cost of products that are made not to meet the needs of babies.

Give It To Me Quick

Buying cheap imports that use inferior materials, shortcuts in assembly, or even badly copied designs to keep costs low can be a safety risk for your child.


Safety Issues

For the people who make and sell children’s products, safety is now about testing, compliance, certification, and meeting the standards set in U.S. law, even for Canadians. Imported products are subject to the same safety standards as Made in Canada or Made in USA products—theoretically. In practice, importers don’t always certify safety compliance of their products. No, that isn’t legal, and, yes, they can be reported, but you need to be vigilant that your baby is not the one they are testing on.

The range of safety issues might go from mistakes, like a weak buckle on an otherwise safe product, to quality materials and work, to bad design, to a fake product that appears to be a safe, trusted product.

Some safety standards address materials and quality of work. CPSIA does not allow the use of certain plastic softeners, phthalates, in products that might be mouthed. To meet ASTM standards, every sewn child’s toy must have its seams strength tested. This kind of testing is just basic. Some of the testing required doesn’t quite make sense, though. Until amendments to the CPSIA law were approved, that law would have imposed lead testing on an organic cotton prefold diaper. In this case, safety standards are guarding against non-issues, since there is no scientific evidence that one will ever find lead in a cotton diaper. When there is a potential issue, such as lead in paint on a toy that a child would put in the mouth, safety standards are an important safeguard.

Safety standards do not test for inferior materials. There is no guarantee that cheap fabric won’t rip with regular use, as one fake baby carrier was found to do. Some of the imports that we are seeing in Canada and the U.S. mimic well-known products right down to the brand—that is, right down to the faked brand. Inferior copies of cloth diapers and baby carriers are easy to find on eBay and in the stores of some retailers who prioritized cost over safety. It isn’t always easy to tell the difference between these knock-offs and the real thing, but cost could be an indication of a copycat. The Baby Carrier Industry Alliance has even put together a guide to help consumers understand how to recognize a fake baby carrier. It is tough as a consumer to choose wisely unless you buy from trusted retailers or directly from trusted manufacturers.

By far the most important safety issue for your child is design. There is a big difference between a product developed over years of experience and a product introduced last year to fill a category. One example that I have seen repeatedly is the cloth diaper created by a company that specializes in baby bedding, clothing, and matching accessories. The company doesn’t know diapers, but they need one to fill out their line. Often this diaper puts microfiber next to a baby’s skin. If that manufacturer doesn’t know the product category well enough to realize that this will cause a rash, they are creating a safety issue for the babies unfortunate enough to wear those stylish imported diapers.

One terribly sad example of a product created by a company that didn’t understand the product category is the Infantino baby carrier.


Product Recalled: Infantino Baby Sling

In March 2010, Health Canada and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission recalled 1 million Infantino “SlingRider” and “Wendy Bellisimo” baby slings imported into the U.S. and 15,000 slings imported into Canada. Three babies are known to have died in these products. The problem wasn’t with slings in general but with a product that was nothing like the traditional baby carriers that have been used around the world for so long. This was a c-shaped bag with a strap. Babies were not held close to the adult. Babies’ airways were not clear. This was not a babywearing product but a shopping bag for a baby. Who paid the price for this heartbreaking tragedy of design and safety? Three babies paid with their lives.


Safe Baby Carriers

At bynature.ca, we carry only baby carrier styles that work for genuine babywearing. For us, the babywearing is the point not the baby carrier. We only choose baby carriers that can be worn safely. We have 3 carriers Made in Canada and 5 carriers Made in USA. We also like to work with manufacturers who understand their products. Many of the inventors and manufacturers of the baby carriers we offer were active in developing the standards all carriers must now meet.

When you look at the baby carriers we offer, look for the Safe Family Promise logos to find those products that meet extraordinarily high standards.


Go-to Organizations

I would normally look to consumer product safety advocates for neutral guidance on a subject like baby product safety. Sadly, I found through the experience of the CPSIA that product safety organizations I had previously trusted were less interested in evidence-based findings than rash alarm. Seeing how those consumer organizations operate close up, I no longer trust them, and I wouldn’t ask you to trust them either.

The good news is, there are trustworthy associations who understand their products and product safety. Most of them are parent inventors or store owners who do what they do because they wanted safer, more natural products for their own babies, and that desire grew into a business.

Soon after the CPSIA was passed into law in the U.S., makers and sellers of handmade toys came together as the Handmade Toy Alliance (HTA) to press for meaningful reform to the law. They, too, were alarmed by product recalls of imported, mass manufactured toys, yet the safety law put in place without exploration of its implications threatened to put them all out of business. They got reforms, so they can still make or sell safe, handmade baby products.

The Baby Carrier Industry Alliance (BCIA) formed in 2010, months after massive baby sling recalls mentioned above, to finalize the work they had already been doing to create a safety standard for baby slings. It is important to us that BCIA has worked not only with the U.S. CPSC but with Health Canada on a public education campaign to help families and healthcare providers understand safe babywearing.

Both of these trade associations represent natural parenting professionals who operate with the safety of babies in mind. I know this because I know them. When I write post after post that it is important to build trust relationships with the people who make your products, I think of some of the people involved in these two trade associations.


What You Can Do

Before you buy, look at a product’s safety record. SaferProducts.gov is a database maintained by the U.S. CPSC where the public can submit and read reports of incidents with consumer products, including sections for baby carriers and toys.

You can also use this database to find cautionary tales. One incident report about cloth diapers tells the story of a product imported from China through co-ops (where consumers get together to meet a minimum order). When the product caused a problem, there was no way to get a response from the manufacturer because there was no relationship to start with.

One of those externalized costs of cheap imports is safety and support. It costs manufacturers and retailers money to ensure that their products meet high standards for safety by creating quality designs, using quality materials, and doing quality work. Quality products often cost more. Sure, you could take a chance on the cheaper products, but do you want to?


Resources

Children’s product safety laws and regulations are more strict in the U.S. than in Canada. Products travel over the border so much that you can often confirm whether a product meets high standards by looking for certification to CPSIA, ASTM (American Society of Testing Materials) standards, or the European Union’s CE marking. If you don’t see markings on the product assuring compliance to safety standards, ask to see the product certifications (in the U.S., this is a CPC, Children’s Product Certificate). Asking for paperwork probably won’t make you popular, but it is certainly your right to know that a baby product you want to buy complies with safety laws.

More in this series

I Wore My Baby in a Sling

Baby in Maya Wrap sling baby carrier

I wore my first baby in a sling starting the day she was born. I knew no one else in person who owned a baby carrier, but another local homebirthing parent recommended that I read Dr. Sear’s Baby Book. I learned about babywearing from Dr. Sears, and my local baby store happened to sell ring slings with big, padded rails in pastel baby patterns.

I practiced wearing a 10lb bag of flour while I was still pregnant and had my husband do the same. I told him it was only fair he carry around the flour all day long since I was carrying at least twice that much baby weight.

By the time my daughter was born, my husband and I both wore her tucked up close to our chests.

This was a baby carrier lifetime ago.

Once I discovered Maya Wrap ring slings, I never wore another pastel nor padded sling. My daughter was close to me all day long. She loved facing out, seeing what I saw.

Several people told me that my daughter must be uncomfortable sitting in her sling, but I reminded them that she was, until very recently, quite a bit more tightly packed inside me and that I was quite confident that she was comfortable and happy.

And safe.

I carried my daughter safely and happily in a sling until she was a toddler and just stopped asking to be carried. She often slept nuzzled into my neck, hid in my hair, and watched my students as I taught university classes. The sling made my life easier and kept my baby close to me when she wanted to be close.

I can’t imagine how I would have parented my babies without a sling, but this is a real possibility for future parents in Canada and the U.S.

Baby sling safety has been called into question by consumer groups, Health Canada, and the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission. Most baby carriers on the market today are similar in style to traditional carriers around the world. These are time-tested carriers that give mothers freedom to carry on with their work while giving a baby closeness that helps with physical, mental, and emotional development. Unfortunately, the CPSC “has mistakenly lumped all carriers together and inadvertently tainted our industry as a whole.”

“Baby slings are the optimal place for babies to spend time safely developing and bonding to parents in a nurturing environment. Research shows that this caregiver attachment and stimulating, safe environment are critical to early childhood development. Parents, educators, advocates, manufacturers, and our civil servants need to stand together to maintain the rights of babies and allow parents to buy, make and use baby slings.” From “Position Paper on Babywearing and Kangaroo Care,” Baby Carrier Industry Alliance, October 2010.

The Baby Carrier Industry Alliance (BCIA) has gathered 50 years of scientific research showing the benefits of infant carrying and kangaroo care in their recently published “Position Paper on Babywearing and Kangaroo Care.” They are working to ensure continued “access to the safe, quality baby carriers that emulate in-arms carrying, providing the greatest benefit to both caregivers and children.”

If you care about the future of babywearing, the BCIA can use your donation and your offer of help now at http://babycarrierindustryalliance.org

Positive Babywearing Developments

There have been some really positive developments in baby sling safety in the past week since an AP story first alarmed so many dedicated babywearers.


First, manufacturers of baby carriers issued a joint statement on baby sling safety concerns.

They point out that an ASTM subcommittee started writing Sling Carrier Standards two years ago.

The vast benefits of babywearing should not be disregarded with the report of incidents from “bag-style” slings. The sponsors of this release make safer baby slings and carriers and have been active in the standard writing process and are dedicated to safety through engineering. “We see this as an opportunity to reach out and educate American consumers. We hope to provide valuable information allowing parents and caregivers to not only make informed buying decisions, but also to increase the awareness of how to properly wear children, especially babies, in baby slings and carriers,” says Kristen DeRocha, ASTM Subcommittee Chair.

This release was sponsored by Hotslings, Maya Wrap, Moby Wrap, Wrapsody, Gypsymama, Together Be, Kangaroo Korner, Taylormade Slings, Scootababy, Bellala Baby, Catbird Baby, SlingEZee, ZoloWear, HAVA, SlingRings, and Sakura Bloom.

You can find them on Facebook as Babywearing Manufacturers United.


Second, a national conversation has started about babywearing.
Not all of the news stories stop to mention the benefits of babywearing, but there are organizations making an effort to focus concerns where they belong, on one style of sling, and to emphasize that babywearing, when done safely, is a great benefit to parent and baby.

Babywearing International (BWI), for example, was quoted in an ABC News story today. BWI has issued a statement on babywearing safety yesterday as well.

Babywearing International welcomes the CPSC warning as an opportunity to better educate caregivers and the general public about babywearing safety. We remain committed to promoting babywearing as a universally accepted practice, with numerous benefits for both babies and their caregivers.

While you are Facebooking, follow Babywearing International as well as Babywearing Manufacturers United.

Those baby slings and other baby carriers that have been “engineered, developed and tested by parents” are safe to use with your baby. Keep in mind basic babywearing safety, and hold your baby tight.

Baby Sling Safety Concerns

Have you heard the news today? Have you heard the real story about baby sling safety?

Several mainstream news stories today have said baby slings are bad—all baby slings. That is just irresponsible reporting that ignores real problems with specific baby carriers.

The real story is that bag slings—slings that carry the baby low and curled up—can constrict a baby’s airway. The U.S. CPSC (Consumer Product Safety Commission) is preparing to issue a warning about baby slings. A bag sling is one particular type of sling that is not modeled on the traditional baby carriers worn around the world as long as mothers have had to carry their babies and keep working. The question is: will the warning be specific about bag slings or will the warning warn parents about all baby slings or even all baby carriers? I hope that when the warning is issued it addresses the real problems that experienced babywearing experts and teachers have continually warned about. Otherwise, that would be irresponsible regulation.

This issue is terribly important. Babies and parents benefit from the closeness of babywearing, and no responsible babywearing advocate would every recommend the positions and baby carriers that keep a baby from breathing freely.

Babywearing experts have called attention to design flaws in bag slings. Read this thorough article from May 2008 on bag slings. This article includes many photos, including photos that show the difference in safe positioning with pouch and ring slings.

The problem with today’s news stories: the average journalist does not know enough to tell one type of baby sling from another, and they rushed their stories too quickly to verify information with experts. I hope to hear follow-up retractions tomorrow from many major news outlets.

Quick Tips on Babywearing Safety:

  1. Make sure Baby can breathe
  2. Keep Baby upright
  3. Don’t let Baby’s chin rest on their chest
  4. Don’t cover Baby’s face with fabric
  5. Don’t curl Baby up in a “C” position

See Babywearing International for more extensive babywearing safety guidelines.

Parenting by Nature does not sell bag-style baby slings.