A parent’s job is to keep their children safe and make them feel secure. As a certified babywearing educator and store owner I get a lot of parents who ask if it’s safe to forward face their child in a carrier. While it’s well known that as babies grow up they become more interested in the world and want to face out parents must still understand the physiological and emotional needs of their baby. Here are 8 reasons why I never recommend forward facing a child in a baby carrier.
1. The Spread Squat Position is not Possible Facing Forward in a Narrow Based Carrier.
The ideal baby carrier will be able to support your child and keep him comfortable for long periods of time not just short spurts here and there. Supporting your baby’s natural spine development is crucial during the first year of life. During the first year their spine is developing and it’s important to understand the stages in which this happens. Kyphosis is described as the slightly rounded position babies take during the first several weeks following their birth. This continues until they reach stage one known as Neck Lordosis which consists of the top 7 vertebrae. This stage begins as soon as your baby starts to lift his head and it’s complete when baby can hold his head up unassisted and can lean on his forearms. This usually takes place around 4 months of age. During this time your baby’s neck needs to be fully supported and the fabric of your carrier should extend from the back of your baby’s neck all the way under his bum and behind the hollow of each knee.
Stage two is known as Chest Kyphosis and consists of the 12 chest vertebrae. During this phase your child should be supported from his armpits all the way under his bum and behind the hollow of his knees. Normally kids going through this phase will naturally push their arms out of the carrier and want to look out. If you are thinking of forward facing your child, try moving him to your hip instead. This stage is complete when your child is able to sit up unassisted which is around 6 months of age for most babies.
Last but definitely not least is stage three, Lumbar Lordosis. This stage begins when your child starts pulling up on furniture and is complete when he is able to walk unassisted. During this phase supporting the lower back is key. Back carries are a great alternative to forward facing during this stage. It takes practice and a good place to start is on the edge of a bed or sofa. That way you and your baby are able to practice in a safe area.
“Because the human is a physiological premature birth, the skeleton of a newborn is mainly cartilage. The squatting spread position is most favorable. A clue for this is, for example, those populations where babies are carried in a wrap, close to the mother’s body, hip laxations are basically non existent. When the children sit in the wrap, the legs are 90º spread apart (45º from midline) and the knees are raised about 110º-120º. Thereby the pivotal muscles push above the hip ball into the socket, thereby creating a hydrostatic pressure, which in turn supports the hardening of the bone.” -Dr. Ewald Fettweis
2. Child’s Back is not Supported Properly and Forced into an Unnatural Position.
Forward facing your child in a carrier pushes their back into an unnatural position. It is arched instead of rounded. This may not cause your baby problems right away but could lead to future back problems later in life.
3. Baby May Become Overstimulated.
Baby’s sense of direction starts to develop around 4 months of age. Before that happens they usually like to face their parent or caregiver. This gives them security from the outside world which can be very scary for a small baby. Once their sense of direction develops they start to get interested in how their parents see the world and may want to explore and see out with them. It may be tempting to face your child out at this point but try a hip or back carry instead. That way if they want to fall asleep or hide from the outside world they can easily turn in towards the parent. Problem soloved.
4. Breastfeeding is Impossible.
This one is pretty obvious and needs little explanation. Breastfeeding is impossible when your baby is facing away from you and you’re not able to ready your baby’s hunger cues either.
5. The Center of Gravity is Too Far Removed From the Babywearer.
Carrying your baby while they are facing out can not only damage your baby’s back, it can also damage the babywearer’s back since your baby’s curved back pulls you forward. This position also negatively affects your pelvic floor.
6. Sleeping is Impossible and/or Uncomfortable.
A good carrier will provide the ideal spread squat position for hours at a time which leads to more restful sleep for your child. This also brings confidence to the new parent and allows them to be hands free to do what they want while their child naps without feeling guilty from leaving their child on the floor or in their crib alone. Did you also know babywearing also counts as “tummy time?”
7. Baby is Unable to Straddle Their Legs Around Babywearer, Causing Circulation to be Cut Off in Their Legs.
Circulation in the legs can definitely suffer when a child is suspended in a harness carrier for long periods of time. It’s hard to tell how long it takes or a child to loose circulation but the first signs of suspension trauma can happen in as little as three minutes. On average it takes anywhere from 5-20 minutes for this to happen. Of course it’s not fatal or anything extreme but it can be extremely uncomfortable.
8. Unable to Read Your Baby’s Signs.
I love how easy it is to read my daughter’s signals and cues when I’m wearing her in a sling. When she was a small infant I would have her positioned where her fists were near her mouth. Whenever she wanted to nurse she would let me know by chewing on her knuckles. No crying, just simple mother daughter communication. I was able to feed her on demand without the use of a nursing pillow or cover either. Doing this made our lives so much easier.
Unfortunately not all manufacturers of baby carriers are up to speed on safety and baby spine and hip development. They will often advertise forward facing your child in a carrier and make it look very appealing so it’s up to you to make the safe decision for you and your baby. If you are ever unsure on the positioning of your baby in a carrier please see your local babywearing educator or find a babywearing group in your area.
Please browse The Cozy Kangaroo website for safe and ergonomically friendly carriers and email me if you have any questions. Happy babywearing!