When they physically big enough to fit facing forward in the carrier you have for them
This can vary a lot from child to child so I will discuss both in depth below to enable you to judge for yourself when your baby is ready. Parents often ask me for an age, but because babies develop and grow at different rates there isn’t a magical age where all babies all suddenly overnight become ready to face outwards! For most babies this is somewhere between 4-5 months, but equally some babies won’t be ready until nearer 6 months. Better to know what we are looking for developmentally and in terms of physical fit and be led by your baby.
In terms of developmental readiness, what we are looking for here is primarily neck strength – they need to have excellent head control and upper body strength. The reason for this is simply because when forward facing the carrier is unable to provide any head support. And because they are facing outwards their head and uppermost torso isn’t even supported by your body either. So they must be able to hold their heads up themselves for the full duration you will be wearing them outwards.
I often encourage parents to think about how they naturally hold babies in arms, and then see if a baby carrier can be used to emulate and replace their arms. But it worth realising that you can hold your baby in arms looking outward much earlier than you can use a sling. This is because you naturally will hold your arms in a way that supports their head if they need it. And your arms are responsive, so if baby starts to tire or starts to slump – your arms will automatically respond to this and adjust the support for baby or automatically turn them inwards. Next time you are holding baby like this, do think about how long you hold them facing outward. How long can they hold their own head for? How steady is their head? Do you use your arms or body to help stabilise?
It is important to realise that carrier can not be used to support their head while forward facing without risking impinging on their airway. So developmentally they need to have rock solid head control. I remember my daughter went through a distinct ‘nodding dog’ stage where she could mostly hold her own head but she looked a little bit like one of those nodding dogs. I could quite happily hold her looking outwards in arms but she wasn’t strong enough to do this in a carrier. It was a few more weeks until she reached rock solid.
The other developmental sign to look for is time spent awake. As I mentioned this position relies on baby supporting their own head – which is something they need to be awake to do (even fully grown adults will lose tone and their head will loll if they fall asleep sitting up!). So if you are planning to go out for 30 minutes wearing your baby outward facing, you need to know that they will be happy to remain to stay awake that whole 30 minutes. Or be prepared to stop and change them to inward facing long before they start to get sleepy. Hence, ideally we are looking for babies who have reached an awake cycle of at least 2 hours to give you a decent 30 minutes or so within that awake cycle where they are the most awake and inquisitive to forward face.
Typically babies will reach these developmental considerations somewhere between 4 and 5 months. It is extremely rare a baby is genuinely ready before 4 months.
As well as being developmentally ready, baby also needs to physically be large enough to fit forward facing in the carrier you have for them. Their head needs to be able to clear the top of the carrier (so they can breathe!) and they need to be able to do this without over extending their back. They need to be able to sit comfortably in the carrier, with their weight on their bottom, legs comfortably supported and not overly splayed out. When they are able to do this will depend on their size (primarily their torso height and inner leg length) and the carrier you have.
There is a HUGE variation between different carrier brands. Some like the Lillebaby Complete and Beco 8 are huge. Great if you have a child tracking on the upper centiles for weight and height because it will continue fitting them longer, but frustrating if you have a smaller framed baby as it could be at least 6 months (maybe more) before baby fits. Others, like the Izmi Baby carrier will fit much much sooner, even for babies who are right on the lowest centiles (I once got a great facing outward carrying on a 6 month old who was born early so while 6 months old and developmentally ready, was still the size of an average 2.5 month old!). The Beco Gemini is another good one for fitting babies slightly earlier if they are ready. Carriers like the Ergo Omni 360 and the Tula Explore are much more in the middle, most children will start fit well in these somewhere between 4-5 months.
But my baby really hates being held inward and wants to forward face already!!!
This the the really hard bit. The fact that most babies will hit what I call “nosy baby phase” long before they are ready to be carried outwards in a carrier. Generally, nosy baby phase starts right around the time the huge developmental leap that happens at the end of the fourth trimester. As baby transitions from a sleepy newborn into a much more awake, more alert and far more interested in the world baby. And as baby become more interested they will start to strain to see more and might start fighting a carrier if it is impairing their view. Typically this starts happening around 12 weeks or so.
And parents will start finding they hold baby looking outward in their arms and/or on their hip more and more. But for all the reasons above discussed above, baby is not yet ready to be carried forward facing in a baby carrier. I honestly understand why parents feel frustrated! So what are the options?
The first is to see if you can tweak the fit on your current baby carrier to give them a better view. For a stretchy wrap this might be twisting the straps near the shoulder to safely move the fabric further from baby’s face, giving them clearer sight lines. For a buckle carrier or meh dai this might be fitting it slightly differently so the panel doesn’t come up as high, or so a strap isn’t sitting across baby’s field of view.
The second, and arguably more successful thing to try is a Hip Carry. Hip carries can be a fantastic solution as they give exactly the same view outwards as carrying forward facing, but without any of the cons. Baby can safely fall asleep or get tired in this position because their head can be supported in this position – both by the carrier and because baby’s head will naturally rest against their parents body in this position. It also overcomes worries of overstimulation, as baby can turn their head away as they are starting to become tired. Even once baby is ready to forward face – this is a hugely useful position to know for those times when baby is tired but fighting sleep! And many of the carriers that offer forward facing, offer a hip carry too so you can use either depending on which one works for you and baby on any given day!
Many carriers are sold as fitting from newborn all the way through to toddlerhood. However, some of the adjustments required to truly get this amount of flexibility out of a carrier aren’t always obvious or well explained in manuals.
In this video I demonstrate how to “shorten” the back panel on a carrier by simply sitting baby deeper into the carrier. This is one of the easiest adjustments to make and one that often makes a huge difference to how well a carrier fits a smaller baby.
I demonstrate using the Ergo Omni 360 because a) this is a very popular carrier, but also because b) it has a very long back panel so does often need shortening using this method!! But the same method will work with essentially any buckle carrier.
You can carry a baby facing outward in a suitable carrier once baby has a really strong neck and are tall enough to sit comfortably forward in the carrier you have for them with their head fully clear of the top of the carrier. This differs from baby to baby and also carrier to carrier as some are bigger than others. For the Ergo Omni this is typically somewhere around 4 to 5 months. More info on how to tell if your baby is ready and the pros and cons of this position can be found here.
Here’s How to put them in:
Important things to note:
Check carrier is set up correctly for baby before you pick them up! Both that the width setting is correct and that the siders or buttons are on the inward facing position (the narrower setting) before you pick baby up. (If baby is already in the carrier, move the buttons or sliders to the forward facing position first, while baby is still inward facing before you swap baby to the front facing position)
Take your time getting the waist band in a comfortable position for you and snug. Carrying your baby facing outwards puts more strain on your back than carrying them inward facing, so tiny differences in how well the carrier is fitted to your body will make a lot of difference to your overall comfort. More so than inward facing.
When putting baby in, pause to get them in a comfortable sitting position before bringing the carrier panel up… so their weight will be on their bottom rather than sitting straddling the carrier with their weight on their inner thighs. This will ensure their comfort.
Once carrier is done up (either crossed or ruck sack as per your personal preference), tighten around baby so that carrier is tight enough that their weight doesn’t pull away from you strongly if you lean forward but baby is comfortable and not flattened against you.
While shown for the Ergo Omni 360, much of this this also applies for many other forward facing carriers too.
As ever, if you are finding your experiencing pain while carrying or at all worried about baby or worried that is doesn’t feel right – please do get in touch with your local sling consultant or sling library and they’ll be really happy to give you face to face support which can make all the difference.
The Tula Explore is the first carrier from Tula that offers the option to forward face your baby!
See it explained in detail and in action here;
Key Features of the Tula Explore;
It’s width and height can be adjusted through poppers which means this carrier doesn’t need infant inserts.
Manufacturer recommends it for use for babies from just 3.2kg (7lb) all the way upto a fantastic 20kg (45lb). More realistically, however, I’d say this carrier works well from around 4 weeks through to 2 years old.
For the baby it has very soft leg padding and a softly padded neck support pillow that can be placed in different positions for different ages and stages.
Offers 3 carrying positions – front inward, front facing outward and back carry position. This carrier does not easily offer a hip carry position.
For the parent it has a fairly wide and firmly padded sturdy waistband, and it’s shoulder straps are bulky but soft and moldable. The long webbing but short padded part means this carrier is one that can fit both women and men very well and both the petite and the plus sized. Straps are designed to be worn “rucksack” or H style, and do not cross across the back.
It also has a detachable hood and a pocket on the waistband for small things like phone and keys.
All in all this is a fab option for someone looking for a sling that will last into toddler hood, want to forward face and are most comfortable with straps in ruck sack style. It is very similar to the Ergo Omni 360, in terms of shape and size. The main differences being that this carrier is a little simpler to use with the absence of buckles to do up at the shoulder straps but offers a bit less flexibility than the Omni as it doesn’t offer a hip position or the ability to cross straps across the back. The Tula Explore retails at £154.90
Many of us naturally will carry baby on our hips when carrying in arms, as doing so gives one arm free for making lunch and puts baby in a position where they can see what we are doing and and chat to us while we potter about.
Ever wondered if you can carry your baby on your hip in a buckle carrier?
Developmentally, the hip position is one that works best once baby has “some” head control… so generally around 2-3 months onwards. It is an absolutely great position for “nosy” babies who want to see everything while still getting a good view of their caregiver. It’s a great position for communication and shared moments. As such, hip carries can be a great alternative to forward facing, as it gives baby the same view but makes it easier for them to see you, for you to read their cues and also for them to tuck in and relax ready for a nap when needed. It can also be less harsh on the parents back compared to forward facing.
Carrying your child on your back can be truly freeing! Back carries completely free up your hands to get on and get stuff done, and they are generally more comfortable too as most of us load bear better on our backs than our fronts. Plus once your child is tall enough to see over your shoulder they can have an absolutely great view of the world and can chat to you right next to your ear where you can hear them even on a busy street.
There are so many pros! But, actually figuring out how on earth to get them onto your back can be pretty intimidating. There are actually loads of different methods and this is where a trained Sling consultant can be really helpful, they can work with you – with your individual flexibility, coordination and learning type to help ensure you are completely confident moving your baby on and off your back on your own unassisted!
While there are many many methods, the “secure hipscoot” method is the one I teach most often. Or at least this is the starting point I teach most often, I will frequently modify it here or there depending on the individual and depending on the carrier used… but the video below shows my starting point.
Carrier in the video is a Beco Gemini, but this method will work with the vast majority of buckle carriers including Ergo Omni, Adapt, Original and 360 models, Lillebaby, Boba carriers, Manduca, Kahu Baby, Connecta and many many others.
It is my personal favourite method because it feels really secure at all times! It doesn’t rely on cooperation from the child, and in fact can be done with a very active wiggler once your confident. I once used this method to put my then 2.5 year old onto my back on a moving tube train while he was in a full temper tantrum… I simply would not have managed to get off the train with him and our bags and coats and other stuff any other way!
If you are giving this a try at home, do give it a go over a soft surface like a bed or a sofa. I learnt to back carry when my son was about 8 or 9 months old and he absolutely loved a controlled fall when I messed something up and got stuck!! But if your struggling at all do remember that this is by no means the only method! One of the downsides of this method, at least in this form, is that it does rely on a fair degree of shoulder motility, and as such isn’t a great option for those with stiff or injured shoulders. So if this is you or if your struggling at all learning to back carry do contact your local sling consultant who will be able help you find the method that works for you
Carrying your baby is such a personal thing – people carry for different reasons and different carriers suit different people. Here is Juliet’s story….
“I knew I wanted to carry my baby when I first found out I was pregnant. It seemed like a common sense thing to do; aside from the fact that we’d be able to keep going to places we enjoyed that may not be accessible with a buggy, I knew that I would want to keep her close and how this would benefit both of us. In advance of Rosa’s arrival, we bought a stretchy wrap and an Amazonas Smart Carrier. I liked the idea of the stretchy, it seemed soft and snuggly, but Rosa’s dad, Tony, was all about the buckles! When she arrived, I found that I alternated between the two. Whilst I did like the closeness the stretchy wrap provided and used this when I was staying local, the Amazonas was definitely more practical when going out and about and for longer walks.
Rosa put on weight quickly and at around 3 months, I packed the stretchy wrap away. We carried on using the Amazonas, but as Rosa grew and her head control improved, we realised the limitations of it. Tony in particular wanted a carrier that could do a front outward carry (as well as wanting a more neutral colour than the purple, green and cream swirls of the Amazonas!). We went along to Sheen Slings library session and chatted with Madeleine about our options. We ended up borrowing 2 different slings to try – a Lillebaby and an Ergo Omni 360. Whilst we liked both, the Ergo was the winner due to the ease of use. After just a few days of having it, we put in an order for our own brand new one using a gift voucher we’d been given.
Immediately the Ergo became our go-to carrier. I have explored other options since getting it – I have a lovely woven wrap and a ring sling, but I don’t find either to be as easy, comfortable and supportive to use as the Ergo. Luckily, Rosa seems to love it too! We started with front inward carrying and when she was strong enough, started to use the front outward carry for periods too. As we got closer to her 1st birthday and she got heavier, we started to have a go with back carrying and recently, because I find it difficult to get her into a back carry by myself (need to practice more!) I have started doing a hip carry with it so she can see where she is going but can still snuggle in if she wants to.
Tony and I both love carrying Rosa, I think keeping her so close has really helped us all to bond. Rosa seems to love being up at our level, seeing the world as we do and constantly interacting with us (and others who stop and talk to her, which happens a lot!), which you just can’t do in the same way when they’re in the buggy. Tony was out shopping with her recently and she had a hold of some toothpaste. He went over to the counter, she passed it to the cashier and then passed over the card to pay as well! All that interaction will benefit her language and social communication skills no end! Recently, we’ve done trips to the zoo, farm, aquarium and we regularly go out walking in forests and parks. We only ever take the carrier on these trips and always feel a sense of freedom as a result. Rosa’s always found it easy to sleep in the carrier too and since I have learnt how to breastfeed in it, we can keep on the go whilst meeting all her needs.
We’re dreading the day when Rosa outgrows the Ergo, but rest assured we will be back at the sling library to find a toddler carrier to add to our collection! There are far too many benefits to stop carrying any time soon!
Ergobaby carriers are really popular, and it’s very easy to see why. They are very well made, well designed and fit a wide range of parents and babies. They don’t fit everyone of course – like any buckle carrier it’s definitely worth trying on before you buy – as different brands fit different body types differently. As a general rule Ergo’s are on the bulkier side so its worth checking the padding agrees with your shoulders and they can often feel too much on smaller frames. But for many many people they fit like a dream and for them Ergo carriers represent a fantastic option.
What takes most people by surprise, however, is just how many different models there are! Over the last few years, Ergo have brought out a new carrier or new variant on one of their existing models out every single year! Most people coming to the sling library ask me simply if they can try “THE” Ergo, but there are 4 main models and then 3 of these models have mesh versions – 2 of which differ from the non-mesh version in ways other than simply having mesh. So it does take a bit of thought to work out which model will suit you best.
So what are the differences? How do I help people work out “Which Ergo?” There are 3 main factors to consider when comparing each model;
Would you like to use this carrier with a newborn/baby under 4 months old? (While in theory all can be used from newborn, 2 of these models require the use of a bulky infant insert that most parents don’t get on well with, while the other two have a really great adjustable seat which removes the need for any inserts).
Would you like the option to face baby outwards? (All 4 models offer front facing inwards, hip and back carrying positions, only 2 offer the outward facing position as well).
Would you like the option to cross the straps across the adult’s back? (All models can be worn in ‘Rucksack’ mode, but only 2 give you the option to cross the straps as well).
I also encourage parents to think about budget and how much value they place on each of these considerations, because there is of course a price difference! And its not insignificant – the difference between answering no to all 3 questions and answering yes to all 3 is currently £55! With prices in between for each iteration in between. So its very much worth considering the pros and cons of each carrier in conjunction with the price.
So with all these considerations in mind – lets look at each model in turn…
Requires an infant insert
Weight tested from 5.4 kg (12 lb) to 20 kg (45 lb) without the insert, from 3.2 kg (7 lb) with the insert
Does not offer a facing outwards position
Straps can not be worn crossed across parents back
Has an absolutely huge pocket that will easily fit a nappy or two, wipes and a few other essentials
Where the Ergo Original really shines is for babies aged 6 months to ~2 years. Its the simplest, and cheapest of all the Ergo models and it is a great carrier for older babies through to toddlers. It has a slightly shorter back panel than the other models (as it doesn’t have a fold up head support that also acts to extend the panel) so it won’t last quite as long as each of the others but it will nonetheless last well into toddler-hood. While the Original can be used for newborns, it requires the addition of the Easy Snug Infant insert – which in all honestly is a faff, pretty darn hot and seems to confuse literally every parent I’ve ever met. If you want a carrier you can use from the beginning, I would avoid anything with an infant insert. The newest version of this model now features the same amazing lumbar support panel as seen on the Adapt and the Omni. Previous versions of this model just had webbing only, and the lumbar support is a nice addition.
Mesh Version – Ergo are not currently selling a mesh version of the Original carrier. They did sell a mesh version in the past (I think it was called the Ergo Performance), but this is no longer on the market.
The All Position 360
Requires an infant insert
Weight tested from 5.4 kg (12 lb) to 20 kg (45 lb) without the insert, from 3.2 kg (7 lb) with the insert
Adjustable head support
Does offer forward facing carrying position
Straps can not be worn crossed across parents back
Has a wide Velcro waistband
The 360 is the model I am most frequently asked for – it’s the one everyone has heard of! It’s not necessarily the one people most frequently go onto buy, however! Like the Original it needs the bulky hot infant insert to carry a newborn, so this is a carrier that works best from ~4 or 5 months. It has a slightly narrower seat than the Original so does tend to work a bit earlier, typically from 4-5 months rather than ~6 months for the Original. It also has a longer back panel, because the head support can be used to extend the length of the panel, which means this carrier will often last a little longer too – typically until around 2.5 years, maybe even 3 years with a relatively petite child.
What’s really popular about this carrier is the deep ‘bucket’ style seat for the baby, which gives an excellent position for babies in both the parent facing and the facing outwards position. Swapping between the two carrying positions is as simple as switching over a couple of buttons (“When facing away, go to Grey!”).
The two things that can be less popular are the waist band and the ruck sack style shoulder straps. The 360 has a very wide Velcro waistband. Some parents absolutely love this waistband as they find it fits them better because of how wide and form fitting it is, and how it’s continuous and thus there isn’t any webbing to dig etc. However, the vast majority don’t find they get a better fit with the Velcro, find more traditional webbing easier to tighten correctly and dislike the noise and clothes ruining potential that comes with Velcro! I can’t count how many times that Velcro has woken babies up during Sling Library sessions – it can be really annoying! For the straps, again like the Original, the straps do not cross across the parents back on the All Position 360. Many parents really struggle to get the chest strap done up on their back and thus opt for the Omni 360 or another carrier to avoid this struggle! However, if the Velcro waist or the Ruck sack straps put you off, don’t despair as both the next two models have these sorted!
All in all the 360 is a good option if your baby is 4-5 months plus, you’d like to be able to forward face, you like velcro and have flexible shoulders allowing you to easily do up the chest strap.
Mesh Version – All Position 360 Cool Air Mesh, cost £144.90*
Interestingly, the 360 Cool Air does not have the Velcro waist band. Instead, it has webbing and the same lovely lumbar support found on the Adapt and Omni 360. The shape of the carrier and the shoulder straps and everything else remain unchanged, its just the waist band that differs. The waist band, and of course the presence of Ergo’s “Cool Air Mesh”. As mesh goes, this is very very soft and not at all scratchy. Although there isn’t really that much of it. Only the upper panel, the leg padding and one side of the shoulder straps (the side touching the parent) has been replaced with mesh. So the jury is out on how much cooler this carrier is verses the standard cotton version.
Adjustable seat – no infant insert
Weight tested from 3.2 kg (7 lb) to 20 kg (45 lb)
Adjustable head support
Does not offer a facing outwards position
Straps can be worn crossed across parents back
This is my favourite of the Ergo models. It was the first Ergo to offer the amazing lumbar support panel and to offer the option to cross the straps across the wearers back. These two things make such a difference to parent comfort and ease of use for me. I am not very flexible and have always struggled to do up the chest strap on the Original and the 360 so at last having an Ergo where I could cross the straps and avoid that strap altogether was a big deal for me! Although my one and only bug bear about the lumbar support is that it is not removable and it does look a bit funny across your tummy when carrying baby on your back. That said it is supremely comfy and feels a bit like wearing a tummy support! But out of vanity I’d probably remove it if I could for back carrying!! The other reason this is my favourite model is the adjustable seat. It adjusts using velcro within the carrier and poppers on the outside… to give an absolutely beautiful fit to any baby from about 4-6 weeks old all the way through till 2-2.5 years old. The bucket shape of the seat make it so easy for parents to get a good positioning and super comfortable carry for both them and their little one.
The one thing the Adapt doesn’t do is allow baby to face forwards. It offers 3 carrying positions – front facing inwards, hip and back carry. For both my children these 3 positions have always been enough, neither have really needed or wanted to forward face. If your debating the pros and cons of forward facing this article might help! However, if you want to forward face but like all the advantages of the Adapt over the All Position 360 then the Omni is most likely the carrier for you.
Mesh Version – Adapt Cool Air Mesh, cost £129.90*
The Adapt is available in a mesh version, and unlike the 360 and the Omni there are no differences (aside from mesh of course!) between the mesh and cotton versions of the Adapt. A large proportion of the carrier is replaced with mesh and a very soft mesh, so I would expect this carrier to be a fair bit more breathable than the cotton version, and worth considering if you travel a lot, have a summer born baby and/or someone who finds they get hot easily.
The Omni really is the model that offers absolutely everything. It has a super simple and intuitively easy to adjust seat, which is very similar to the Adapt and allows this carrier to be realistically used for babies from 4-6 weeks old all the way to 2-2.5 years. The size adjustment is done via Velcro tabs, which are conveniently colour coded to help you know how to size it for your baby as they grow. Like the All Positions 360, the Omni can be used for forward facing and has the same buttons which allow it to be simply switched from inward to outward facing modes (“When facing away, go to Grey!”). Like the Adapt it has the lovely lumbar support panel and the option to cross the straps across parents back for increased parent comfort. It also has safety buckles at the sides, which can be easily opened with one hand (once you’ve got the knack!) And a detachable zippered pocket on the waist band.
The one and only thing it doesn’t have is a small price tag! But then that is the price of everything and for many parents the improved parent comfort verses the 360 and the ability to forward face compared with the Adapt makes the extra price tag worth it. It’s worth paying the extra if it means you get more use out of the sling.
The main difference with this version (other than the presence of mesh) is that the buttons that you use to switch between inward and outward facing carrying positions have been replaced with sliders. While the buttons are a nice intuitively easy system for switching they are a bit fiddly to do with one hand and thus hard to do while holding baby or with baby still in the carrier. The sliders on the other hand are dead easy to change with one hand – you just push. Its a fab update and one I hope will be rolled out onto the other 360 models in the future.
You can also see the Ergo Omni 360 and All positions 360 compared in the flesh here
All in all Ergo have 4 great carriers and it’s worth spending a few minutes considering the differences so you can ensure you can get the one that suits your needs and budget! Ergo do also make a newborn specialist carrier (the Embrace) and a stretchy wrap (the Aura) both of which are lovely for newborns. You can read more about the Embrace here, and the Aura here.
*Please note all prices quoted here are based on RRP, and are correct as of April 2018. Ergo and other stockists do offer sales from time to time and the RRP may well change overtime so please don’t take these prices as Gospel!
At least a couple of times a month a parent comes in and says they have a Baby Bjorn or other narrow based baby carrier which they were using, perhaps not comfortably but happily using nonetheless, but now they are worried because they heard that it was “BAD”, “Bad for their babies hips” or even worse that it was “dangerous”. Once a parent even dissolved into tears because they thought they’d damaged their baby. As much as I love the internet, I really wish people would stop using it to scare parents.
It is well past time to bust the myth of the BAD carrier. Time and time again I hear sentences like “I’ve been told the Baby Bjorn is bad and only the Ergo holds baby correctly”. While there are differences between narrow based carriers and more ergonomically designed wider based carriers (of which the Ergo is just one of a great many!)… the most important thing is baby positioning and NOT the carrier they are in. It is more than possible to get good positioning in a narrow based carrier if you know what you’re looking for, equally if you simply plonk your child in even the most brilliant wide based carrier with no idea what you are looking for it is certainly possible to end up with a suboptimal carry.
So as a picture is worth a thousand words, let’s take a look at what I mean! My models are the wonderful Cat and William, and William is just 8 weeks old in these pictures (albeit he is quite a tall 8 week old). Looking first at a narrow based carrier – here we have used the Baby Bjorn Original carrier.
The first two pictures (on the left) were taken just plonking poor William in without paying any attention to his positioning. Note how his legs hang straight down and this in turn pulls his spine straight. This means he is bearing the weight of his legs and the weight of his body is resting on his upper thighs and crotch. Developmentally his spine should be curved into a c shape so the carrier is currently artificially straightening him out. None of this is dangerous, it’s just all less comfortable for him. It’s also less comfortable for his Mum as all of his 6kg is resting solely on her shoulders and upper back only.
Now let’s compare this to the two pictures on the right. Here we have thought carefully about William’s positioning, and how to achieve a better position for him. First and foremost we have tucked his pelvis so that his weight is resting on his bottom and not on his inner thighs. To do this Cat literally reached inside the carrier and swept downwards and toward herself to tilt his pelvis such that his bottom is right in the base of the carrier. Then, because the carrier isn’t wide enough to continue to support him in this position (he could easily re-straighten from this point), we have used a scarf to support his legs in this “spread squat” position. By supporting his legs so his knees are at least as high as his hips (or higher), he is bearing none of the weight of his own legs and all of his weight is resting quite comfortably on his bottom. The other knock on effect of this more tucked position is allowing his spine to adopt its natural curved c shape and consequently bringing his head to rest comfortably on his mum’s chest. The addition of the scarf seems like such a tiny change, but you can see from the photos what a massive difference it makes to how William’s body is positioned in the sling, and consequently to his comfort levels. And not only his comfort, the scarf also helps give his Mum support at her waist helping to distribute baby’s weight better.
Now let’s take a look a wide based more ergonomic carrier. Here we have used the newest Ergo model – the Ergo Omni 360.
Again the first two pictures (on the left) were taken just plonking William in, and generally putting the carrier on in the manor most parents do if they haven’t ever been professionally demonstrated a buckle carrier. You will note the base of the Ergo Omni is much wider and thus William’s legs do not hang down. But if you zoom in you will see his knees are pointing downward and his weight appears to be resting on his thighs rather than on his bottom. Likewise, again his back has been artificially straightened out by the carrier. In this has happened in part because his pelvis is not tilted toward his Mum, and partly because the waistband is too low with respect to Mum – which has ment baby is too low and due to this is straightened out as Mum tightens the straps.
By contrast, the two pictures on the right show optimal positioning. Again we have performed a pelvic tilt – sweeping William’s pelvis toward his Mum so that he sits directly onto his bottom in the base of the carrier. We have also raised the carrier’s waistband so that it sits on Cat’s true waist, rather than her hips. The result is that we can see William’s legs are in a beautiful spread squat, weight is firmly on his bottom and not being carried in his hips or thighs and his back is once again in a beautiful c shape with his head resting comfortably on his mothers chest. So much more comfortable. And likewise Mum is more comfortable because, by having the carrier tight and on her true waist, William’s weight is transferred onto her hips.
Again small changes have made all the difference!
While I have shown just two carriers here, the same applies for literally any carrier on the market. It matters less WHICH carrier you have versus HOW you are using it.
Don’t get me wrong here – I am not suggesting we all go out and buy Bjorn Originals! There are big big differences between narrow and wide based carriers, in terms of how easy it is to get a great positioning for your baby and a comfortable carry for you. And in terms of how long those carriers will last you. Most narrow based carriers such as the Bjorn Original only really work from around 4-6 weeks until around 5-6 months after which they generally become too heavy and too uncomfortable even with the scarf trick. Whereas the vast majority of wide based carriers will last well until around 2-3 years of age. In fact you can just how well they fit a 3 year old here. These wide based carriers do vary in terms of how well they fit a newborn, with many working best from 4-6 months but there are an increasing number on the market that do fit newborns well such as the Ergo Adapt, Ergo Omni, Izmi, Mamaruga Zen sling and Tula free to grow to name a few. Hence I would always advise anyone purchasing a new buckle carrier to purchase a wide based carrier.
However, many people are given second hand carriers by friends, and often these are narrow based carriers such as the Bjorn Original (in fact, I would say nearly 50% of the time someone brings a sling that they have been given to one of my sessions its a Baby Bjorn Original!). While I wouldn’t advise spending money on one of these, anyone who is given one shouldn’t feel bad using it. Yes it won’t last as long as a wide based carrier, and yes it won’t be as comfortable for you as a wide based carrier but it does give you a flavour for carrying your baby! Following the advice above will make it more comfortable for you and your baby and gives you time to see how carrying your baby works for your family and how it can help you and then you can spend the money on buying your own carrier safe in the knowledge this is something that you’d like to do! In fact, I have worked with a great many parents who have used a newborn sling such as a stretchy wrap or a Caboo around the home for the fourth trimester period, then used a gifted Bjorn for a couple of months for out and about when their little one is starting to grow out of the stretchy or Caboo developmentally and then move onto a wide based buckle carrier around 5-6 months when baby fits into these better. Moral of the story – used correctly with a little help from a scarf, a narrow based carrier can have a time and a place.
There is no such thing as a “Bad Carrier”, only poor positioning or a carrier that that doesn’t fit well. No matter what carrier you have (or if you haven’t bought one yet) the best thing you can do, is go along to a sling library or visit your local consultant and get advice on how best to fit your carrier to you and baby.
Carrying babies forward facing (looking outwards toward the world) is something I get asked more questions about than anything else. So many different questions on this topic. The reason is simple – there is a lot of conflicting opinions on this and even more conflicting information. A disturbing amount of this information comes from articles originally written by carrier manufacturers who either did or didn’t make forward facing carriers and was motivated by marketing. Very very little of it has any evidence to back it up. So its no surprise that often parents are left pretty confused about whats best for them and their child.
So here are some of the questions I am asked and the facts to be aware of when deciding whats best for you and your little one;
Is forward facing dangerous? Nope. There is absolutely no evidence to suggest forward facing your baby is in anyway dangerous, so long as they are developmentally ready and awake. These carriers have all undergone safety testing – they simply would not have passed if there was evidence that forward facing could harm your baby.
Rachel aged 7 months in the Ergo 360
The better question is – Is forward facing comfortable? While not remotely dangerous, its hard to get as comfortable position forward facing verses facing inwards. Both for your child and for you. For your child this is simply because the forward facing position in most carriers offers less support. Less support for their legs, less support for their neck and upper bodies and as their backs are against you they are often slightly flattened out verses how they’d be either in arms or facing toward you. None of this is dangerous, nor even uncomfortable in the short-term but but if worn for longer periods they might start to become less comfortable over time. Think of it a bit like being in a rock climbing harness, completely fine for short periods you wouldn’t want to be in it all day every day.
For you the parent, forward facing is less comfortable as it puts the child’s centre of gravity further away from you. We load bear best by holding weight high and tight to our own centre of gravity – when baby is inward facing the weight is held very close to our centre gravity. In contrast, when facing forwards baby’s weight is held slight away and thus feels heavier and puts more strain on the parents body. Again not a problem for shorter periods, and worth listening to your own body and reading babies cues when forward facing to ensure comfort levels on either side aren’t exceeded.
Is forward facing better for my child’s development? Nope. Again there is absolutely no evidence to support this at all. I completely understand why people might think this would be the case, forward facing allows the child to look out and therefore perhaps ‘gain a better view’. However, there is no evidence that this is helpful to a baby. In fact there are several lines of research suggesting parent’s facial expressions are key in infant learning. This is called ‘social referencing’; in new situations or experiences babies look to their parents or primary caregivers and watch their reactions first. I.e. when someone picks up my daughter she immediately looks at me, if I smile she smiles and is happy to be held. While if she can’t see me or I don’t smile she immediately cries. She is using me as a touchstone to reassure her in this new situation. Similarly as she begins to eat solid food, if I am eating it, she wants to eat it…. if I am not eating it, she has no interest! Looking to our parents and watching their facial cues is an evolutionary driven imperative, it allows the infant to judge if a situation is safe or dangerous. I.e. if my daughter reaches for something and I look alarmed … she knows its dangerous. It also helps babies determine what is important/interesting, i.e. say she is looking at a new toy she also looks at me – am I looking at the toy? Do I find the toy interesting too? Thus when holding or wearing our babies its important for their learning that they can see our faces. When facing out they can’t, they don’t need to see our faces all the time so its fine but this idea that perhaps facing out is better for learning is certainly false.
Its also worth noting that in a well fitting inward facing carrier where baby is able to turn their head easily, they should still be able to get a really good view of the world. And its worth considering how good a view they need – how well can they actually see? Its interesting to note that while their eye sight is developing rapidly, children don’t generally reach full adult 20:20 vision until somewhere between 3-5 years of age! In fact babies lack the ability to see in 3D until depth perception starts to develop somewhere around 5 months.
When can I start forward facing my baby? When a) they have excellent head control and upper back strength and b) they are big enough to comfortably fit the carrier you have for them.
I prefer to explain this in terms of developmental markers rather than age because different babies will reach this sooner or later than others, and its more important that babies have reached this developmental stage than arbitrarily be over a certain age. The reason they need excellent head control and upper back strength is simply because when forward facing the carrier is unable to provide any head support. And because they are facing outwards their head and uppermost torso isn’t even supported by your body either. So they need to be able to hold these up for themselves. And its it needs to be rock solid – I remember my daughter went through a distinct ‘nodding dog’ stage where she could mostly hold her own head but she looked a little bit like one of those nodding dogs. No nodding dogs!!… we need rock solid.
Comfortably fitting the carrier you have for them is different between different brand carriers. Some are bigger than others, and so the baby needs to be older/physically bigger before they can be used in the forward facing mode compared to other smaller brands. Rachel and I are working on a full comparison of the forward facing carriers in the library, which will include more information on this… But what you are looking for when trying carriers on is that baby is not over extended – that their backs are not really flattened out and over extended in order to look over the panel and equally their in a good sitting position with legs not over spread or conversely under supported. When trying carriers on trust your gut – does baby look comfortable or overly straightened?
Tom at 10 months old in the Lillebaby Complete, making friends at the Chinese New Year Celebrations in Trafalgar Square
How long can I forward face my child for? Several manufactures suggest a time limit for forward facing. This is something I find fascinating, because babies are all different and they are different on different days! Some days my children would have been happy forward facing for an hour, other days they’d have got fed up of it after 5-10 minutes. So far better to read their cues than work off an arbitrary time limit. And it really is arbitrary because as far as I can tell, unlike the limits set for car seats which were set based on research and understanding of optimal infant positioning, these are suggested not based on any researched or evidence but in response to articles written by companies who didn’t make forward facing carriers and were suggesting that it was ‘dangerous’. So the companies who did make forward facing responded by suggesting it was ‘safe’ so long as under an arbitrary time limit.
Confused? I know I was! So what cues are we looking for in deciding how long to forward face your child on any given day? Babies enjoy forward facing best when they are wide awake and at their most playful and alert. So we are looking to time around this phase, and as mentioned how long this phase will last will be different on different days! We are then looking to turn baby inward before they get tired, as they are becoming less playful, less alert,… long before they are actually tired we want to bring them inward. When forward facing, babies don’t have the ability to snuggle in if everything becomes too much, so we run the risk of over stimulation and ultimately over tiredness. The best way to avoid over stimulation is to turn baby in long before they get tired. This gives them the option to snuggle in and helps them process, and ultimately should help them get that all important nap when they need it! We all know the pain of a missed nap!
Does it matter if my baby falls asleep while forward facing? Yes. Unfortunately, there is no head support for baby while forward facing which means if they fall asleep and their head starts to loll there is nothing to help support their head. If this does happen please check their airway – check that as their head lolls it doesn’t loll over the top of the carrier.
In an ideal world you’d turn your baby inward long before they started to fall asleep, but accidental naps do happen!! So best practise would be as soon as you notice that baby is falling asleep you’d turn them inward. While I understand it is obnoxious to move a sleeping baby, the forward facing mode is really only designed for babies who can hold their heads up and are awake enough to be able to hold their heads up.
But my baby isn’t happy in their Caboo/stretchy wrap, they are nosy and want to be able to see and only forward facing will let them do this. I completely get this, the vast majority of parents coming to me considering forward facing are those whose babies are starting to grow out of the Caboo or Stretchy wrap. As I have discussed at length before both the Caboo and stretchy wraps are amazing for newborns, but parents often feel ready to move onto something else when babies leave the 4th trimester and go through that huge developmental leap where there are sleeping less and more interested in the surrounding world. These slings are pretty confining, they are like swaddling, so it not a big surprise that babies might grow out of them developmentally around the same time they grow out of swaddling. However, please don’t mistake this restlessness in a stretchy wrap or Caboo – where the sides of the sling come up high close to baby’s face – to mean your baby particularly wants or need to forward face. Instead swapping baby to a carrier where the fabric doesn’t pass beyond the top of the shoulder blades – giving baby the freedom to turn their head this way and that unfettered – is usually more than enough to cure this new-found restlessness in slings.
Its also worth noting that forward facing is not the only alternative for a nosy baby. Most slings and carriers also offer positions on the carers hip or back. In general, for a buckle carrier, the hip position can be used once baby has good head control (video of how to do it can be found here). From here baby can see outward and get just as good a view of the world as they would forward facing, but they can also see the parents face for social referencing. They can easily tuck in towards the parent when they start to become tired and naturally fall asleep, and they are fully supported in a very ergonomic position. Its also possible to wear a younger baby on the hip in a ring sling or woven wrap or even a stretchy wrap, provided that the sling is worn in a way that supports the baby’s neck. Often a muslin rolled into the wrap or sling is perfect for this – providing support behind the babies neck but still allowing them to move and be as nosy as they like!
The other alternative is to wear baby on your back. Once they are tall enough to see over your shoulder they can get the same view as forward facing on your front, but it is more comfortable for you the parent as we load bear much better placing weight on our back verses carrying weight on our fronts. Like the hip carry, it also gives the child the option to tuck in and fall asleep when needed. For a buckle carry, this position can be used once the baby is able to sit independently or is very very close to being able to sit independently. So in theory often from 6 or 7 months old, however, most 6 or 7 months old can’t see over their parents shoulders yet and thus are usually less impressed with this position. Instead back carrying in a buckle carrier comes into its own from around 1 year old. Video of how to do it can be found here. However, it is possible to carry younger babies on the back – my choice for this is a woven wrap because it is possible to wear babies up much higher so they can see over your shoulder right from the beginning and because they can be tightened to give better support enabling a baby who is not yet able to sit independently be worn on the back without fear of slumping etc.
It is also worth considering how long the forward facing phase lasts for. As discussed above, babies can be worn forward facing once they have excellent neck and upper torso strength. This is typically around 4 months (although this can vary a lot, anywhere from 3 months to 6 depending on the individual child). Interestingly, around 8-10 months most babies seem to grow out of forward facing. They are less interested and/or equally happy or even more happy in a inward facing carry. Also around this time they get a lot heavier and the extra strain of forward facing starts to become too heavy for the parent. Consequently, this is also often when parents start thinking about switching over to back carrying instead. So the forward facing carrying phase is actually pretty short, typically only 4 to 5 months. When you consider the majority of forward facing carriers are designed to be used from birth all the way to 2 or even 3 years old – the forward facing phase is only actually quite a small percentage of the total life of a carrier.
Rachel aged 8 months in the Ergo Omni 360
Finally its worth considering cost and your budget. Generally speaking you’ll pay a premium for forward facing. So its worth weighing all the information above up and decide how much you might use the forward facing position and how much it is worth to you. How much are we talking? Depends on which carriers but for example the new Ergo Omni 360 is £155 verses the Ergo Adapt (which does not offer forward facing but is a very similar carrier to the Omni in every other way) at £110. So in this case the ability to face forward is costing £45. Most forward facing carriers are around the £120-£150 mark. While carriers lacking this function (but offering all the other positions, and a great many other features etc) are typically in the £75-100 region. The exceptions to this are the Izmi priced at £75 and the Beco Gemini at £99… but these are a fair bit smaller than other forward facing carriers such as the Ergo 360s, the Lillebaby Complete, the Beco 8, the Mountain buggy Juno etc etc and thus while they do cost less they are unlikely to last your baby quite as long. Deciding on whether its “worth it” or not is really a personal choice and depends a good deal on the personal preferences of both you and your child! This can be where hiring a carrier for a couple of weeks and trying it out in your normal day to day life can really help. I’ve had parents who’ve tried it out and decided that forward facing is a position they really love and use frequently and likewise I’ve had parents that to their surprise have found that they barely used the forward facing position. For the latter group many went on to choose another carrier that didn’t offer the forward facing position and saved themselves a good deal of money. While those in the former group invariably were able to happily go and spend the extra money safe it the knowledge that it would be worth it for them.