If your baby is starting to get restless when in the baby carrier then it could be a sign they are ready to face outwards when babywearing.
This will open up a whole new world to them and can accelerate their cognitive development and nurture a sense of exploration and adventure.
You may have heard that it is unsafe for children to be outward-facing in a carrier. This is partly true, but there is much more to it and in this post, we will help you understand all there is to know about the forward-facing position.
When Can Babies Face Forward in a Carrier
Your baby can start facing forward in a carrier from 6 months old. However, this is a general rule only and you will need to assess if your child has adequate head and neck control to be able to confidently face forward.
Aside from the level of physical development, you will also have to assess your baby’s level of interest in facing away from you (this could take longer than you think with some kids).
A good level of mental resilience is also required. The level of stimuli increases exponentially when they turn around to face the world instead of your familiar face.
This can be unsettling and quickly overwhelming!
Not Sure They Are Ready
You can test the waters by using the side hip carrying position. This will give your child options for where they would like to face.
They can see what is in front of you and behind you, but can always nestle into your ribs if it all gets too much.
Most carriers that can face outward will support the side carry position. It can place some more strain on your back and shoulders though given the weight is not centered.
So you will need to be sure you are strong enough to carry your little one this way or you could risk injury or back pain when using a baby carrier.
Do Babies Like Forward-Facing
Not all babies embrace the outward-facing position, whereas some love it! You won’t know until you try it out.
There are some cues to look out for that could indicate they are hungry for more exposure and ready to handle it:
- They are very calm when you interact with others when in a baby carrier.
- They do not react to sudden noises or surrounding activity.
- They are no longer content just leaning into your chest and are trying to look around more.
If you notice these behaviors then spin them around for a few minutes and see how they like it.
But take it slow! A happy baby can turn quickly once over-stimulated.
What To Do If They Don’t Like It
If your baby will not settle in the forward-facing position then just spin them back around into the more familiar inward-facing environment. Most kids will settle down quickly when back in their happy place.
You can experiment with forward-facing at home while they get used to it before stepping out into unfamiliar surroundings.
If it is not a great experience then you can just discard it as an option. There are no tangible benefits to this position that cannot be easily swapped with other everyday activities that will provide just as much variety in stimulation.
Why Some Parents Don’t Like Forward Facing
Even if your baby is ready for more stimulation and exposure, some parents just don’t like the idea at all, and with good reason.
Below are some of the risks associated with facing forward. While most are not dangerous they can make your day harder if things go wrong:
- Less supportive of your baby’s head and legs. Greater risk of poor hip positioning.
- Less awareness of your baby’s wellbeing – once they reach the point of overstimulation it is already too late!
- Harder to get your baby to sleep and airways are not visible which could be dangerous.
- Supporting your baby feels less natural and comfortable – you can’t just cup your hands under their bum.
- The weight is centered further away from the wearer’s body which places additional strain on the lower back and shoulders.
Having said this, some of the dangers are significant enough for some baby carrier manufacturers to actively prevent forward-facing carrying positions in the design of their products.
Some of the best-known brands do not encourage forward carry with their carriers. If you are planning to buy a carrier for this purpose then check out our list of suitable carriers that will support forward carry.
How to Safely Face Forward in a Baby Carrier
In this section, we will cover some of the key risks that you will need to mitigate when your baby is ready to face forward.
Baby’s Neck and Airways
When facing outward your carrier will provide no head support if they tilt forward.
This will be a new experience for them as they will be used to leaning into your chest if they have been babywearing regularly.
As long as your child can independently hold their neck upright, then they can safely forward carry.
However, it is best that they do not fall asleep in this position.
If the head falls forward then their airways could become blocked. You also cannot see this happening when they lose head control, so it is best to avoid it altogether.
The biggest risk to the hips comes from the straightening of your baby’s legs. This places additional strain on the socket and can heighten the symptoms of hip dysplasia.
It is more difficult to maintain the M position with your child facing away from you, and you are less likely to notice if your baby gets their legs into a straighter position that could pose a risk.
You can overcome this with a supportive baby carrier that is designed to support this position… and use a mirror to make sure your baby is correctly positioned.
A baby facing outwards will be exposed to ever-changing scenery, people, and moving objects like passing traffic. It can be very overwhelming if they are used to snuggling into your chest.
You can overcome this by starting them off in a familiar setting like your home, and backyard.
When you venture outside then you can keep the babywearing sessions short, and build them up the periods of time as they get used to the extra stimulation.
What Baby Carrier Styles Allow Forward Facing
The following types of baby carrier designs are most commonly used when you want to face your baby forward.
We have provided some brief instructions for each type of carrier.
However, the details will differ for your specific model and we always encourage you to read the manufacturer’s instructions to ensure safe use.
Many parents opt for a structured carrier because they are the easiest to use!
When facing outward, the process for putting on your baby carrier is basically the same as if you were doing the standard inward carry position.
The only difference is when you place the baby in a carrier. They will face the opposite way and have their arms propped up on the top panel of the carrier.
You will also have to adjust the straps to ensure the snugness of the fit, and so they are well supported at their back.
This will need to be up against your chest and tightened to ensure adequate support for your baby’s hips.
Baby wraps are great for use with newborns and younger infants because you can tie them in so many different positions with a fully customized fit.
It takes some practice to get it right but gives you the most freedom when babywearing if you persist.
You will need to know how to alter the wrapping style to accommodate a forward-facing facing position, and how to tie it off.
Check out the video below for a short tutorial on how to achieve this:
As you can see, it is challenging to get the hips into a supportive position where the knees sit higher than the bum. Which is one of the reason so many parents choose not to wear their child in this position.
Many of the same concepts apply when using ring slings vs baby wraps. You will need to ensure your baby’s back fits right up against your chest and ensure the fabric is tight enough for a secure hold.
However, the major difference is the leg and hip positions. Your little one’s legs will not hang outside the fabric like with a wrap and will be entirely inside the pouch.
So, how do you maintain a hip-healthy position? There are two options:
- Cross your baby’s legs in front of them and lift the thighs so that they make a V.
- Bend the knees in a similar M position and hold them in position with the pouch of the sling itself.
When you position the legs in either of the above positions you will then tighten the outer layer of fabric to hold them in place. You can do this by removing all of the slack in the material, then hold your baby with one arm, while you tighten through the ring with the other.
You should avoid straightening the legs within the pouch of the sling.
The biggest adjustment you may go through when adjusting to this position is not being able to see your baby’s face when they are front-facing.
It changes the dynamic of babywearing and could negate some of the benefits of using a baby carrier altogether.
However, if you have a curious baby that will enjoy the experience then you can turn them around to face forward in the carrier for short periods of time to cultivate that sense of adventure.