Facing baby out.
(First published 19th December 2015)
I often get asked about carriers where baby faces out. It's not an unreasonable request. Lots of babies enjoy looking around them and a forward facing carrier can seem to be the answer to that. I stock three in the library that offer this position. The Lillebaby Complete Organic, the Ergo 360 and the Beco Gemini. These carriers are specifically designed to accomodate a baby in the forward facing position so please don't try with any carrier that doesn't offer this as a specific feature. Unfortunately, when asking for advice online and amongst parenting friends, it's difficult to get accurate information as the subject gets weirdly emotive.
There is a definite scaremongering camp, particularly in online forums and FaceBook parenting pages. I've seen women torn to shreds for simply posting a picture of their baby smiling out of a popular high street branded carrier. This has always left a pretty sour taste in my mouth. Firstly, I do hate the smug snobbery that can rear its ugly head in some babywearing circles. The idea that somebody choosing a carrier that they deem "unworthy" is enough to see them cast out of slinging society (or simply made to feel stupid) is ludicrous to me. Offensive even. We're all carrying our babies. We're all doing our best for our child. Which leads me on to my second issue with this attitude.
It's difficult to be sure from photos, but broadly speaking the babies are safe and secure, assuming they're in an appropriately sized and designed carrier. Their airways are clear and their chins are off their chests. Their backs are well supported and they're not slumped or dropping. It's may not be the best way to carry your child, but as long as there are no existing hip conditions and basic safety guidelines are followed (alongside your own common sense, of course!) there's no reason to suppose that wearing your baby facing out would be harmful.
There are a couple of things to bear in mind, however. Firstly, hip support. Generally speaking, the forward facing position doesn't offer the same level of support to the hip joints as a well-fitting ergonomic carrier. This leaves the legs dangling which can cause unnecessary pressure on the hip joint. This is unlikely to be an issue if your baby has no existing hip complaints, but it is one of the reasons why most babywearing professionals don't recommend forward facing for more than about 20 minutes at a time.
Another consideration is baby becoming overstimulated and having nowhere to "escape". Imagine someone walking through a crowded shopping centre and holding you out in front of them. You're being plunged straight into the crowd. If you're overwhelmed there's nowhere you can hide your face. If you're tired, it's trickier to sleep. Whereas if your child is parent-facing, they can snuggle into you and away from the "outside". It may not seem much but it's another reason to keep forward facing spells to a minimum. As parent/primary care-giver, be aware of your child's cues. If they seem relaxed and happy then you're winning. But keep an eye out for tired or fretful behaviours and react accordingly.
Your own comfort is a consideration. In a well-fitting ergonomic carrier, your baby will mold to you and your shape naturally. Your centre of gravity shifts slightly as your child becomes a part of it. When your infant is facing out, their weight is constantly pulling away from you rather than becoming a part of your mass. You have a persistent strain on your shoulders coming from the weight quite literally hanging from your front. Obviously it's not hugely significant for a short time. It's a 15lb baby. But prolonged wear might give you some nasty shoulder strain!
So in summary, if you want to give forward facing a try, and there's no medical reason why you shouldn't, then have a go! Pick an appropriate carrier and limit the forward facing time accordingly.