Babywearing with Jess

Forward facing in a baby carrier; what’s the buzz?!

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Increasingly more and more people seem to be turning to babywearing to help them on their parenting journey, which is awesome.. But for some reason, I, at least in part, blame mainstream advertising of babywearing, there is often over emphasis on “front packs” or facing outwards…

Often when depicted in mainstream media, babywearers are featured with a baby facing outwards, away from the wearer, commonly too, in a carrier that looks far from ergonomic! Now I get why that would make better TV photage, clearer shots of baby and all that, but I often see mums who are new to babywearing post a forward facing shot on a babywearing group and get slammed by other “helpful babywearers” about proper positioning and risk factors, so what’s the low down??

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Jai in a Buddha/kangaroo carry in the ring sling while sitting at a picnic table at about 9 months old (this is a very lose carry as we are sitting down, note it should be much tighter than this)

Carrying baby facing outwards has all kinds of conditions and while ok under certain contexts, there are many issues that need to be considered and it should never be done for long periods of time or while baby is sleeping. It is much more difficult to monitor a baby you can’t see and one of the main safety considerations in any position or carrier is about keeping airways clear (always make sure you are following the TICKS guidelines for safe babywearing).

Just like in a carseat, pram, bouncer or any other way you may transport or hold baby, you need to ensure they do not have their chin to their chest. Not only is it more difficult to monitor this if you can’t see their face, but the head flopping forward when facing out is just something that can sometimes be unavoidable in this position and the reason you should never wear baby sleeping in a forward facing position.

This is also why baby should have decent trunk (head and neck) control, meaning they should be over a certain age limit (at least 6 months) before facing them outwards… Quite a few carrier options do allow you to face outwards (stretchy, Mei Tai, ring sling in a kangaroo or Buddha carry, with baby’s legs tucked up in front of them etc) and there are now some brands of soft structured carriers that do feature a more ergonomic outward facing option. The key is in the position baby is sitting in, note, SITTING, not dangling though.. The legs and hips of baby should be tilted upwards, so they sitting in front of you effectively.

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This great image from Diaper Bag Confessions demonstrates this brilliantly.

The issues around the ergonomics of outwards facing are just as relevant for the wearer as for the baby. Holding baby with their back towards you and their legs facing outwards puts the weight of them away from your centre of gravity making it feel greater. Your body has to compensate more to carry them in this fashion, with the weight pulling downwards and it is unsurprising that carrying them this way is uncomfortable, especialy for long periods of time or with heavy babies.

Over stimulation is a big risk factor, I remember myself being excited to “turn around” my young baby, years ago with my eldest, very early in our babywearing days. We went on a bushwalk with the dog, one we had already taken our young son to before, but this time we turned him to face away from us in the carrier. We hadn’t been walking for long when he went from happily taking in his environment, to just flat out losing the plot!

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This is NOT a great sitting positon for the record!! James wearing Josh at six months in a “front pack” in Riverhead Forest.

What I didn’t really appreciate at the time is the way that facing outwards in a carrier puts baby in a position where they can see and take in so much of the world around them, but they have no way to shut off when it becomes too much. When you have baby facing towards you, either in a carrier or in your arms, there are times you might find they will nuzzle into you or hide thier face on your chest, this is their way of closing out the world. It is a way for them to shut off before it becomes too overwhelming and when they are facing outwards away from you, they have no way to do this. Even more so, it’s very difficult to watch for signs or indications that they may be getting overwhelmed when you can’t see their face.

If you have a nosey bubba who is keen to see the world around them and is craning around in a tummy to tummy position and they are independently able to get in and out of a sitting position, my best advice is to try a hip carry or high back carry. Either of these gives baby the opportunity to see the world from your perspective but also still affords them the opportunity to nuzzle in or “shut off” if it becomes too much. They can also nod off to sleep in either of these positions and once they have done so, you can adjust and tighten your carrier and keep them in this position or readjust into a different one or even with a bit of practice, potentially transfer them to a cot, hammock, bed or other safe sleeping surface.

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Jai (almost one!!) in a high back carry in the Kozy Carrier at Playcentre

Most good quality ergonomic carriers with offer you more than one position or carry in which to hold your baby, if you are not sure about a particular carrier you have, feel free to ask me. Slingbabies also have a great article on their website about positioning in a carrier which can be found here –
http://www.slingbabies.co.nz/Site/Positioning_2.ashx

For more information or if you have any questions or queries, please don’t hesitate to contact me, either on Facebook or via email babywearingwithjess@gmail.com

Some other great articles and links on this topic include the following;
http://www.slingbabies.co.nz/Site/Articles/Forward_Facing_Out_in_a_Baby_Carrier.ashx

http://www.boba.com/blog/nine-reasons-not-to-carry-your-baby-facing-out

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