8 Reasons to reconsider using a forward facing carrier
When shopping for a new product, most people want the best option available. It’s normal human behaviour to want the product with the most features. In most situations, we’re not sure if we will ever use all of the features, but worry that we may miss out if we don’t have every option possible, just in case we need it one day.
There are many features on baby carriers that are fantastic and that you should consider when purchasing your first carrier, and often carriers with a forward-facing option seem more appealing for that reason, however there are some factors to consider before you mark forward facing down as a ‘must have’ for your carrier.
When looking for their first carrier, many people opt for a one that can have the baby facing out. It sounds like an appealing option to have – babies do like looking around (at times), it’s often featured in popular movies (The Hangover being my favourite example), and, well, it’s just an extra feature, so why not?
Despite the known issues with forward facing (which I will cover below), having the forward facing out option can change the whole structure/build of your baby carrier even when NOT using that feature.
1. Many forward-facing carriers don’t encourage healthy hip positioning
In order to forward-face, generally the width of the carrier must be fairly narrow, and carriers with a narrow base do not encourage healthy hip positioning.
To cover what positioning isn’t ideal in a carrier, we firstly need to discuss optimal positioning and what to look for.
The most optimal positioning for the developing hips and spine of the baby is to have their knees slightly higher than their bottom, in what we often call the ‘M’ position. In this photo, you can see that the baby is supported right out to the back of her knees, and her hips are higher than her bottom (note the ‘M’ position)
This is supported by recommendations of the Hip Dysplasia Institute who encourage parents to select a baby carrier that allows healthy hip positioning.
“When babies are carried, the hips should be allowed to spread apart with the thighs supported and the hips bent. The most unhealthy position for the hips during infancy is when the legs are held in extension with the hips and knees straight and the legs brought together, which is the opposite of the foetal position”. – See more at the Hip Dysplasia website
In order for a carrier to have the baby forward-facing, a narrower base is required (as you can imagine, it’s difficult to maintain the spread-squat, or ‘M’ position, shown in the first photo if the child is facing out).
Below is an image you may have seen before. In this carrier, you can see the legs are in a position which is not recommended by the hip dysplasia institute.
2. Forward-facing carriers are more likely to hurt your back
This follows on from the first point. Many popular forward-facing carriers (whether they be big brand names or cheaper alternatives), often don’t have a hip belt. This places all of the weight on your shoulders.
Optimal carriers have sturdy waistbelts which spread the weight evenly across your hips. In addition to this, a baby in the ‘M’ position (shown in the first photo), will have their weight spread evenly around you and the centre of gravity is close to your core.
There are a very small handful of baby carriers available that have a hip belt and allow for forward facing, making them a much more comfortable alternative than brands that don’t (the two that do this that I would recommend if forward-facing is a must for you are the Lillebaby Baby Carrier and the Tula Explore.
However, even in the best designed forward facing carrier, you will still have your baby leaning slightly forward with their limbs out in front of them – again pulling on your shoulders, with the centre of gravity away form your core and this can create strain on your back.
3. You will get months out of your forward facing-carrier, not years.
With most forward facing brands, you will only be able to use your carrier for months, not years compared to an optimal carrier.
This follows on from point number two. As your baby grows, they will get harder to carry in a carrier with a narrow base, and/or in the forward facing position, as a heavier child will put more pressure on your shoulders. In addition, generally these types of carriers specify you can only carry your child up until about 12kg. Most parents report they have had to stop wearing prior to this 12kg limit due to the pain in their carriers. In comparison, most optimal carriers recommend that you can carry your child up to 20kg, and most parents report that they are still very comfortably carrying their children at this weight.
To put this into perspective, many parents have to stop carrying their children around 6 months in non-optimal carriers, and parents using optimal carriers report they can still comfortably carry their 3-4 year olds in an optimal carrier. That’s almost four times the amount of time you get simply by using an optimal vs non-optimal carrier! (Again this can simply be due to a narrow vs wide base, and no waist-belt vs. having a waist-belt)
The exception to this rule are carriers that have an adjustable width that enables you to make the carrier wider which will provide support to their legs. Two carriers I recommend that have an adjustable base are the Lillebaby Baby Carrier and the Tula Explore.
4. You generally can’t back carry with a forward-facing carrier
We’re still talking about carriers that have a narrow base and no waist-belt. (There are so many of these on the market).
In most, if not all, cases these carriers do not allow you to do a back carry as they simply aren’t designed for it. The benefits of back carrying are incredible; it’s even easier on your back than a front carry, you have agreater range of movement with a child on your back than on your front (much easier to do dishes, run around with an older sibling at kindergym, etc.), you child has a great view over your shoulder, and it’s a bit easier on your back than front carrying.
5. Forward-facing carriers encourage unnatural positioning
Babies have a natural ‘C’ curve to their spine, as their spines curve slightly outwards. Optimal carriers support this ‘C’ curve and allow for the spine to curve when the child is in the tummy to tummy position. Most forward-facing encourage the child’s back to lay flat against the person wearing them, which forces their spine into an unnatural flat position which can discourage the development of normal healthy spinal curves.
6. Forward-facing can cause overstimulation
Babies can become easily overstimulated by bright lights, noises, people, and various new experiences. They can become easily tired, and in most cases only give very subtle cues that they are feeling overstimulated (such as averting their eyes). When an optimal carrier is used with the child carried tummy to tummy, the baby can cuddle up to the person wearing him/her, and block out anything that may be overstimulating. If a baby is in the forward facing position, they find it very difficult to hide away from things that may be bothering them, and their parents also often fail to pick up the subtle clues.
7. Forward-facing carriers can be difficult to use
Depending on the brand, some carriers that allow forward-facing can be fiddly to put the baby into the carrier. As busy parents, we all want something that’s simple and quick!
8. Forward-facing carriers can be uncomfortable for the baby
A carrier that doesn’t support the baby to the back of the knees can be quite uncomfortable for the baby. Imagine this: you have the choice to sit in a couch that allows you to sit right back into it and it supports you to the back of the knees or allows you to have your feet on the floor. Or, you can sit on a stool, not with your legs in front of you, but with your legs either side. Which would you choose?
Carriers with a narrow base can put pressure on the baby’s genitals instead of allowing them into a ‘seat’ like is shown in the first picture (with the ‘M’ position).
I’ve read all of this, and I still want purchase a carrier that has a forward-facing option. What can I do?
When looking for a carrier with a forward facing option I would suggest ensuring the carrier:
- Allows your child to forward face in a somewhat seated position with their legs supported (not hanging down below them)
- Has a waist-belt (for your comfort, and ease of use)
- Will allow you to do a back carry
- Has a reasonably wide ‘seat’, or a seat/width that is adjustable so it can reach out to their knees when they are being carried as toddlers. The wider the seat is able to go, the more supportive it will be through toddlerhood
- Has a decent weight limit so you can carry until you or your child are ready to stop (general rule of thumb is that it should be able to carry up to 20kg comfortably)
- A carrier that enables you to cross the straps at the back will also provide more back support, particularly when forward facing which can add extra strain
The two carriers I recommend that meet the recommendations above are the Lillebaby Baby Carrier and the Tula Explore. (Please note the Tula Explore doesn’t allow you to cross the straps at the back if that’s an important feature for you)
Even if your carrier meets all of the above guidelines, I still suggest forward facing for short periods only. Remember, you are much more likely to get loads more use out of a carrier that can carry your child comfortably for longer (including back carries) than being able to use the forward facing feature, which can only be used for such a short time in your babywearing years
Can you imagine a forward facing 2 year old or 3 year old? Even if you think you may not carry your child to that age, it’s always nice to have the option. I’ve cooked many dinners at ‘grumpy time’ with my 3 year old happily on my back in a carrier!
As always, for more information please feel free to email us to receive guidance from a Certified Baby Carrier Consultant
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