As much as Baby loves your face – and she certainly does – there comes a time in many an infant’s life when she starts to want to look out at the world when you’re carrying her around in a sling, and not just up into your eyes. Baby’s increased interest in the world can lead many parents to think that switching the way babies are carried so that they face outwards, towards the world and away from their parents, can be the best way to help their children experience the world. Is Baby ready yet, though?
Outward-facing carriers are one of those topics that sounds harmless, but can inspire some fairly heated arguments in parenting circles. Even though front-facing baby carriers are specifically designed with babies in mind, there are rumors and accusations floating around that these kinds of carriers are not the best way to carry children, and can even be harmful. Is there any evidence behind these rumors, though?
The most immediate danger associated with front-facing carriers is an extension of one of the most immediate dangers associated with newborns in general. Very young babies who do not yet have full control over their own neck muscles can have a hard time regulating their head movements in front-facing carriers, which is why even the manufacturers of these products, who say that they’re perfectly safe when they’re used right, do not generally recommend using front-facing carriers for babies younger than 4 months old.
The concern that babies facing forward can become overstimulated without the option of turning their faces into their parent or caregiver’s chest is a worry that applies more to some babies than to others. In part, it can be a question of age too, since babies who are very young can begin to feel overstimulated quickly, and parents and caregivers using front-facing carriers may miss some earlier signs of this overstimulation. The other part, though, is a question of personality. You’re the one who knows Baby, so you’ll have a better sense of how much stimulation she can take without getting overwhelmed than any general guidelines will.
One of the main arguments against outward-facing baby carriers are the claims by some baby-wearing advocates that outward-facing carriers (or ‘crotch danglers’) do not give sufficient support to babies’ hips, and can cause skeletal or developmental problems like hip dysplasia. However, no scientific studies seem to back this worry up. The connection is drawn because some chiropractors have speculated that there might be a connection, and because cultures that use tight swaddling and cradle-boards that put babies’ hips in a similar position to front facing carriers have a higher rate of hip dysplasia. The main work that is cited in reference to this concern was written by chiropractor Rochelle Casses in the ‘90s. Since her paper came out, many carrier companies have modified their design to give better hip support, and the difference between the older and newer carriers can be seen just by looking at the position babies’ legs are held in.
Though evidence points to front-facing carriers being generally safe when used correctly, there are alternate ways of carrying older babies so that they can get a taste of what it’s like to see the world without having to worry about any of these concerns.
- The hip carry: Though it’s not for everyone, since it can cause some strain on the parent or caregiver, carrying Baby on your hip in a sling carrier can give her the chance to look around with her hips comfortably splayed and supported, while allowing her to her face in your shoulder if and when she needs a break from all the stimulation.
- The baby backpack: As Baby grows older, another way to give her the opportunity to take in the sights without taking away the support for her splayed hips given by your body is to use a carrier that lets you set her up on your back, looking around at the world from just behind you.
- Baby frog-legs: For younger, smaller babies, sling carriers can work almost like hammocks that babies can sit in with their legs folded up and bent at the knees, so that they get the same kind of support for their hips that they might get when sitting on the floor. This position can be a little uncomfortable for the adult in the equation, though, so most people don’t use it to cover very much ground.
The bottom line
Though there has been no evidence of harm from babywearing facing out, there’s also no reason you need to do it, unless Baby insists. What you’re physically comfortable with when carrying her is an important consideration, too. If they does insist, and you’re concerned about possible negative effects, you can definitely give alternate carries a try. Even if out-facing is safe, it’s always important for you to feel physically and emotionally comfortable with what’s going on.