Mamaruga Zen Sling Review

Suptumitously soft and super adjustable – the Mamaruga Zen Sling is a real gem of a baby carrier.  It combines the feel of a wrap with the intuitive practicality of a buckle carrier.  Whilst also being one of the very few carriers that genuinely works beautifully well for tiny babies and then seamless grows with your child to continue giving them a great fit all the way into toddlerhood.

See how it works and hear my full thoughts here on my video review…  or read on for more

 

Key Zen Sling Facts:

  • It’s massively adjustable!  Both the width and height of the panel can be adjusted allowing this carrier to shrink all the way down to accomodate a newborn and then seamlessly grow and grow and grow all the way to still give a perfect fit to a 2 year old, possibly even older.  Better still the height actually adjusts in two ways – with the overall panel height adjusting separately to the leg openings.  Most adjustable carriers only allow you to alter one of these – which means often either shorter babies with chubby legs or tall and slender babies aren’t as well fitted… but by offering both the Zen Sling offers all babies a completely customisable fit!  And one that’s really easy to adjust as baby grows.
  • This carrier is weight tested for use between 3kg (6.6lb) and 20kg (44lb).  Realistically this is one that will work for most babies from within a couple of weeks after birth through to 2 ish…  For reference my daughter was 13 kg at 2, 15 kg at almost 3 and my son didn’t hit 20kg until he was 5… but it’s always reassuring to know that the fabric has been weight tested beyond what you will need!
  • It is made from dreamily soft Jersey knit fabric.  Feels a bit like a favourite pair of jogging bottoms.  The kind you secretly want to wear all the time!  Except that the Zen Sling comes in all kinds of lovely patterns and looks really stylish and not at all slouchy and slobby!
  • The fabric is slightly stretchy, this is wonderful with babies as doesn’t feel rough or restrictive on them, allows them to wiggle while still holding them securely.  Consequently sometimes parents don’t like this as much with bigger toddlers as the stretchy material does feel like it has more give than a woven cotton.  The closely related Zebulo is a great alternative if baby is a bit older and you want something light but more toddler proof!
  • The Zen Sling offers 3 carrying positions – front carry (facing parent), hip and back carry.  It doesn’t offer a facing outward carry but it does do the hip carry really really well so often parents find this is an ideal alternative and do not miss facing outwards.
  • The shoulder straps are designed to fan outward across your shoulder if you find this comfortable, and are designed to cross across your back when wearing baby on your front.  When wearing baby on your back there is a chest strap that comes separately that can be threaded through the straps if desired.  This carrier doesn’t offer “ruck sack or H shaped straps when wearing baby on the front, as it is very difficult to attach this seperate strap to your own back!  So this is definitely a carrier for those who prefer to wear their straps crossed rather than those that prefer the H shape.
  • My one gripe with this carrier is the waist band.  It is also made from soft jersey and I find as baby grows this has a tendency to fold/scrunch under baby rather than lie flush and this can be a little diggy over time.  It’s a small gripe, against an otherwise amazing carrier but it’s the one thing I personally would change!!

 

-Madeleine

Lillebaby Complete All Seasons Review

20170427_080049 (2)The Lillebaby Complete, as its name suggests, has and does everything!  It has a frankly staggering 6 carrying positions, works from a newborn (or maybe a month old) until at least 3, maybe even 4 years old.  Its filled with clever design features and has a emphasis on parent comfort with oodles of padding and lumbar support.

So what’s the catch?  …It is not small.  All this padding and features means this is a pretty bulky carrier.  If your after a lightweight travel sling or something that folds up pretty small to slip into your change bag or under your pushchair – this is not it.  However, if you’re looking for something you can wear a growing baby in for hours on end during long Sunday walks or on buggy free day trips this maybe just what you’re looking for.

Like ALL buckle carriers, it’s definitely worth trying this on before you buy.  All buckle carriers fit different body types better or worse.  In particular, as the Lillebaby is bulkier, it tends to work less well on a more petite frame.  More slender parents usually find the level of padding too all encompassing, and find a better fit with a less bulky carrier.  The length of padding on the shoulder straps also means that this carrier works better for taller parents, parents below around 5’4” ish or whom are very petite will often struggle to the straps tight enough when back carrying.  This is definitely a carrier that works best for more average to bigger builds.

For those it does work well for – it has some really lovely parent comfort features.  First and foremost is the lumbar support.  This was one of the first carriers to add a lumbar support panel, and I still think it’s one of the best because of how it’s shaped.  Its shaped so it sits right in a the middle of your lower back and support radiates upward.  I also love the fact its removable!! Because while its fab for front carries, when you move to back carries you might not want a lumbar support panel right in the middle of your tummy.  Secondly, the straps can be worn crossed or rucksack style across the parents back according to personal preference and comfort.  Again choice is great as often different partners have different preferences and the Lillebaby is a carrier that will often work really well for partners who have very different body shapes and difference preferences.  And the straps tighten in two directions so you can either pull forward or backward so works well with different mobility levels and relative wrist strengths!  Many carriers tighten in only 1 direction and some parents find tightening backwards a real challenge! So two way tightening can be a real boon.  Thirdly, it has a very wide firm waist band that really anchors the carrier combined with firm long padded straps.  As discussed above the amount of padding doesn’t suit everyone but for those it does fit well, the firm padding does make for a supportive comfortable carrier.

For the baby, the Lillebaby complete is weight tested from 3.2 to 20 kg (7 to 45 lb) and the manual demonstrates 6 different carrying positions.  These are;

  1. Fetal – wide seat setting.  Suitable for first few weeks only, if at all.  In this position baby goes legs inside the carrier.  You start by rolling up a blanket to make a little cushion for the baby to sit on, then sit the baby on it and bring the whole carrier up and around them.  Lillebaby suggest this for newborn – 3 months.  In reality, I don’t like this position and only very rarely show it to people.  I don’t like it because by having the legs in the carrier this can put extra stress on developing ankle joints.  Also parents are often confused by the whole blanket thing and essentially making their own infant insert out of a rolled up blanket.  Most babies can actually skip this stage and go directly to the second position.  It’s only really the very curled up babies who would benefit from this position and usually most parents with a very curled up baby find this carrier too all encompassing for their tiny baby and opt to use something like a stretchy wrap or Caboo until baby is a bit bigger and fits in one of the other positions anyway.
  2. Infant facing inward – narrow seat setting.  Suitable from a few weeks old until around 6 months.  In this position baby sits directly in the base of the carrier using the narrower seat setting.  In this setting the bottom of the panel is tapered, which allows you to fit a smaller baby by putting them in the part that is narrowest and then as they grow you sit them deeper into the panel where it is wider … so that in this way you can get a great knee-to-knee fit for babies all the way from a few weeks old upto 5 or 6 months.  Likewise you can alter the position of the neck support to ensure baby is supported upto the nape of the neck but no higher as they grow.  So in theory as soon as baby can open their legs wide enough to sit astride this narrowest part, this carrier can be used.  This varies from baby to baby but for most this is usually from a few weeks.
  3. Older baby facing inward – wide seat setting.  Suitable from 6 months onwards. This is actually the same position as number 2 in that baby sits directly in the base of the carrier with legs out either side, but differs in that now you use the wider setting.  The Lillebaby is so wide on this widest setting that babies are not usually big enough to do this until they are around 6 months old – often older.  This wider seat position will then go on supporting them until they are at least 3 years old (although many parents will prefer to use the back carry position from a year or 18 months onward for their own comfort).  Likewise the infant neck support can be used clipped up to extend the height of the carrier to continue to support a growing toddler.  Often parents are worried about knowing when to move from the narrow seat to the wider one – and it’s simply a case of being guided by your child and how long their legs are!  Once baby is long enough to sit comfortably in the wider seat without any material passing the backs of their knees they are ready for this position and will find it more comfortable verses the narrower setting as they are better supported.  While, if the material does pass the backs of their knees then they will be more comfortable in the narrower seat position.
  4. Infant facing outward – narrow seat setting.  Generally from 6 months plus.  In theory the forward facing position can be used once baby has strong neck and head control (for more facts on forward facing and how to tell if your baby is ready please click here), however they do also need to physically fit the carrier in that position.  And because the Lillebaby is a relatively big carrier, while many babies might be developmentally ready earlier… few actually fit the Lillebaby Complete in this position before 6 months.  This can sometimes be frustrating for parents who feel they’d like to forward face earlier and there are other – smaller carriers – where you can forward face earlier.  The flip side is that because this carrier is bigger it can be more comfortable in the forward facing position as baby is more contained and thus puts less strain on parents back (as the forward facing position is, for absolutely any carrier, the position that puts the most strain on parent’s backs.  The physical size of the Lillebaby carrier can help mitigate this, but the con is baby has to be bigger too which of course means more strain anyway… so it is all a bit Catch-22!).
  5. Hip Carry – either seat setting. Suitable once baby has reasonably good neck and upper torso control.  The hip position can be a lovely alternative to forward facing, as it affords the same view for baby while giving both them and you a little more support.  It’s a particularly good option for babies who’d like to forward face but are not quite big enough yet.  The one downside to this position with the Lillebaby specifically is the firmly padded shoulder straps often don’t sit as comfortably over the shoulder in this position compared to lighter weight/softer straps.  If the hip position was one you were using a lot a more softly padded strap would be more desirable, although as this is a position people tend to use more infrequently it’s not really a big critism. 
  6. Back Carry – wide seat setting. Suitable once baby can sit independently, roughly 6 months onward and can last realistically to around 3 years or even beyond.  Last but not least the back carry position is one where the Lillebaby really shines!  An adjustable chest strap and all that padding means many parents will continue to be comfortable carrying their growing toddlers on their back to at least 3 years of age!  The one thing to check is that you can get this carrier tight enough!  Because the padded shoulder straps are relatively long, more petite parents can find that they simply can’t get the carrier tight enough to be comfortable on their back.  It is really worth being aware of this and checking before you buy – parents of young babies must always think I am mad when I make them try this carrier on their back with a doll before letting them buy one but there is nothing worse than shelling out for a carrier for your 3 month old, happily use it on your front and then discover a few months later that it doesn’t fit you on your back!!

 

There are a whole host of other cool features on this carrier too, including:

  • head support panel attaches via buckles that are on elastics which allows this panel to support gently and move with baby rather than being rigidly fixed into place.
  • If your not using the head support the buckles neatly tuck away and the panel poppers into place.
  • There is very soft light padding under the side buckles to ensure that these do not dig uncomfortably into parents side or into breast tissue.
  • A breathable zip down mesh panel to give the “All Season’s” aspect of this carrier.  This panel can be neatly tucked away to help keep baby cool during the summer months then zipped back up to help keep baby snug on cooler days. It’s definitely a nice feature although, how much cooler it is I have never been too sure – I’ve always found padding level and bulk to have more of an affect on overall warmth of a carrier than the presence or absence of mesh.  

 

My one complaint about this carrier, however, is that it is not easy to switch between the narrow and wide seat positions.  If your are only using this carrier to face baby inwards this is not so much of an issue as you’ll only have to do this once when baby grows out of the narrow seat position.  But if you are using this carrier to carry your baby facing outwards – you’ll need to swap ALL the time.  Forward facing is a position best done in short bursts, and I encourage parents to follow their baby’s cues and turn them inward before they get too tired or overstimulated…. HOWEVER, because the Lillebaby requires you to take the carrier off and put the baby down and faff for 2 minutes completely reconfiguring the waist band, this is A LOT easier said than done. It’s a real shame as it’s often this that puts parents off and they choose a carrier where they can switch back and forth more easily.   

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All in all the Lillebaby Complete All Seasons is a feature packed, long lasting behemoth of a carrier – perfect for those looking to carry for long periods and use their carrier for a long time.  It’s well made and very well designed.  Like all carriers it’s well worth trying before you buy as it doesn’t fit everyone, but for those it gives a good fit to this can be a great versatile option.  The Lillebaby Complete costs around £140.

 

-Madeleine

 

 

Connecta Review

img_2034The first time I ever saw a Connecta my first thought was “I bet that’s uncomfortable”.  At that point I’d only ever tried fairly well padded carriers like Ergo’s and Manduca’s and the thought of carrying my then 9 month old something with a completely unpadded waist band and barely-there padding made me shudder.  I was, of course, totally and utterly wrong.

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Rachel 9 months

What I realise now is padding is not necessarily an indicator of comfort.  Padding can be great if it fits you well, but if the shape is wrong for your body then that padding can actually make matters worse by ‘standing off’ your body in places and thus focusing the weight onto smaller pinpoint areas.  What matters far more than padding level is how a carrier fits you.  If it fits well it will be comfortable, if it doesn’t fit well then it won’t.  Simple as that!  The genius of the Connecta is by not having bulky padding it gives a lot of people an absolutely perfect fit – because the webbing waist band and the softly padded shoulder straps are able to mould exactly to your body and give a very even weight distribution.

Connecta currently come in 3 sizes standard (birth – 2 years ish), Toddler (18 months – 3 or 4 years), and Pre-school (3 or 4 years onwards). Each with two strap options – regular and petite straps. The petite straps have simply 1.5 inches less padding to enable more petite parents to get the straps tight enough while back carrying.  This review focuses on the standard (baby) size.  For further info about the toddler size specifically see separate review.

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Rachel at 5 weeks

The Connecta is a very flexible carrier.  It’s extremely simple – just 2 layers of fabric with some straps sewn on – but this means it can be worn in different ways:  In different carrying positions and at different heights.  All of which means it can fit a wide range of parents and personal preferences.

And the lack of padding and bulk means it’s really lightweight and not at all hot to wear – great choice for summer.  Also a great choice to use around the home as its so soft and comfy and you won’t overheat indoors.  It also packs down really small!  So it’s perfect to slip in your bag or under the buggy.  Sturdy, secure and comfortable enough for a long walk, but soft enough to wear around the home.

It fits a wide range of babies – generally speaking the Connecta works really well for babies from around 1 month of age through till about 2 years!  Which is a huge range!  This is because both the height and width of the carrier can be adjusted.  The width can be adjusted with the accessory strap that comes with the carrier, and the height can be manually adjusted by altering the position of the waist band on the adult and then simply putting the baby in deeper or shallower with respect to the carrier.  The intergrated hood can also help alter the height of the carrier and help support babies head – either by fastening as a hood for an older baby or by being rolled up into a neck cushion for a younger baby.

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Tandem Carry with 2 Connecta

Another reason this carrier lasts so well is the fact it offers 3 carrying postions – front, hip and back.  Front is great while they are little, then when they enter nosy, want to see everything stage the hip comes into its own and the back carry is fab as they start to get older and heavier.

It is worth noting that when front carrying the straps cross over the parents back.  Many carriers offer both crossed and ruck sack style strap configurations but because there is no attached chest strap it is difficult to wear the Connecta in ruck sack style while front carrying.  It’s possible when back carrying as the accessory strap can be then attached at the front to act as a chest strap, but this is very difficult to achieve while front carrying because of the difficulty in attaching something behind your body.  This is not a really a criticism as I find many people find crossed straps more comfortable anyway, but it is worth being aware of as there are people who don’t find crossed straps comfortable and prefer ruck sack style.  If you fall into the latter category but like the idea of the Connecta, then take a look at the Kahu which is a broadly similar carrier but does over rucksack straps.

20171110_114320The other thing to be aware of is that the shoulder straps adjust in one direction only.  This means that while they are very easy to tighten while back carrying, when front carrying you need to work against your wrist joint to tighten.  There are ways around this (reaching across your back from behind or doing the “chicken dance”) and while most people don’t find this an issue at all, some people really do struggle to tighten and for them this is a total deal breaker.  I’d say this is the case for about 1 in 20 – so definitely worth trying and seeing if this is OK for you or not.  If it is a deal breaker, the Kahu Baby and Intergra baby carriers both have two way buckles and can be a good alternatives.

All in all the Connecta is a very flexible, lightweight, simple carrier which will suit anyone looking for something they can use for a long time with their little one in different ways as suits their life!  Cost is £80 and these can be purchased from Sheen Slings at sling library meets, consults and workshops (or please get in touch for a doorstep collection or even postage).

 

Carrying Stories – Juliet

Carrying your baby is such a personal thing – people carry for different reasons and different carriers suit different people.  Here is Juliet’s story….

20180101_132833_resized“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.

20180607_110833_resizedRosa 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.

IMG_20180422_140246 (1)_resizedImmediately 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.

20180414_111314_resizedTony 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.

20180414_112334 (1)_resizedWe’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!

Beco Gemini Review

IMG_2460 (1)The Beco Gemini is a little bit magic.  It’s a carrier that has really grown on me.  When I first got this carrier 2.5 years ago I didn’t have a child who fitted it (Tom was too big and Rachel hadn’t even been conceived yet).  Trying with a doll I simply thought “yeah, its fine”… but over the years seeing this carrier on other parents and then later wearing it myself with Rachel I have come to realize why this carrier is fantastic… simply put it’s because the shoulder straps and waist band don’t match. 

That probably sounds a bit odd, but let me explain…  Almost all buckle carriers can be divided into 2 groups based on the thickness of the padding of the straps – a) carriers with light, soft or even no padding and b) carriers with relatively thick, firm padding.  Likewise, for virtually all of these carriers the padding level is similar on both the shoulder straps and the waist band.  I.e. carriers like the Ergo and Lillebaby carriers have thickly padded shoulder straps and firm thickly padded waist bands, while light weight carriers like the Izmi or Connecta have no padding or only very light soft padding across both the shoulders and the waist band.   The Gemini, however, defies classification into one of these two groups because it has firm, thick padding at the waist band but soft light padding at the shoulder straps.  

This padding ‘mismatch’ is just magic! And works for so many parents.  Usually when helping parents find the right carrier for them I start by getting them to try first a thickly padded carrier and then try a very lightly padded carrier.  Some parents then decide they love the supportiveness of firm padding and we try more thickly padded carriers.  Others decide they like lighter weight more form fitting carriers and we instead try more of that type.  Then there is a significant subset of parents who tell me they like the firm waist band of the carriers with thick padding but they find it too much on their shoulders, but then when they try a lighter weight carrier they like the feeling on their shoulders but don’t like the more flimsy waist.  For this subset of parents the Gemini is almost always just perfect.  A true Goldilocks carrier – firm enough on the waistband to feel supportive for hours, while still being soft and light on the shoulders and not feeling at all bulky.   

Another reason its so often a winner, is that the Gemini is a very easy, very unfussy carrier.  It doesn’t have loads of bits and bobs to adjust and fiddle with.  No features, no pointless pockets, no hood, no multiple points of adjustment to faff around with.  Just click, click and go.

What it does have, however, is 4 carrying positions.  You can carry baby on your front facing you, on your front facing outward, on your hip and on your back.  This carrier is weight tested from 3.2 to 16 kg (7 to 35 lb) and is one that realistically works well with a newborn all the way through till around 18 months to 2 years.  A lot of this flexibility comes from the fact the ‘seat’ of the carrier has two settings – a narrow seat and a wider seat.  The wider seat does inward positions (front, hip and back) from about 4 months onward (depending on the size of the baby), while the narrow seat accommodates younger babies while parent facing and allows older babies to face outwards comfortably.  Adjusting between the two seat settings is ultra simple it simply fastens into either position using poppers.  This makes the Gemini one of the few adjustable carriers that can be switched from facing in to facing out (or visa versa) with just one hand if need be!  The poppers also do up independently on either side so I’ve even used this carrier in additional needs situations, including once with a baby who was in a leg cast – the poppers meant we could use the wide seat on one side to support the uninjured leg, but reduce the width on the side with the cast to ensure the carrier didn’t put pressure on the cast itself.   Which makes this an incredibly flexible carrier that will grow with your child and adapt to their needs whatever they maybe. 

Its also flexible for the parent – offering both ruck sack style straps and the ability to cross across the parents back.  Most people usually have a strong preference for one or the other and often one parent will prefer crossed, while the other prefers ruck sack.  So its great the Gemini offers both!

 

IMG_2464It is worth noting that compared to other similar carriers – like the Ergo Omni 360 and the Lillebaby Complete – the Gemini doesn’t last as long.  While those will take to 2.5 years ish, the Gemini will often only last till around 18 months to maybe 2 years depending on the size of your child.  It’s certainly not the best when it comes to longevity.  This isn’t really a criticism as part of the appeal of this carrier is that it is smaller and the reason it works really well for newborns (or babies in the 2-3 month age range who are often between settings in a lot of other carriers) is because it is a smaller carrier.  And many parents find themselves carrying less around then anyway or are very happy to move onto a toddler carrier that stage.  But it is worth noting if you have a child who is tracking the upper percentiles on height and weight.  However, if that is the case… the Beco 8 can be a great option, as the 8 is in many ways the Gemini’s big brother – a very similar but bigger carrier.

It also comes in a really lightweight mesh – “the Cool” option instead of the cotton, which can be brilliant choice for a summer baby or if you want a sling you can fold up easily as it folds to around 2/3rds of the size of the normal cotton canvas version.

I have just one gripe with this carrier.  The safety buckles. Or rather I did…. this is an example of where Beco has listened to parents… and these have been fazed out over the course of 2018 and now in 2019 all new Beco Geminis come with a new standard buckles.  I am so glad, because the safety buckles were a bit of a pain to undo,  especially the ones on the shoulder straps.   Many people would get used to them after a few goes, while others would just find them infuriating.  It’s still worth knowing though, particularly if your purchasing a second hand carrier rather than a new one because its worth checking which buckles and if you can undo them easily!

So all in all, the Beco Gemini is a fantastic carrier, offering  multiple carrying positions and super flexibility of use combined with a firm supportive waist band with light soft shoulder padding.  It comes in two main finishes – a standard cotton version and a lighter cooler mesh version called the Gemini Cool, which cost £99.50 and £105 respectively.  Both are available to purchase from Sheen Slings at sling library meets, consults and workshops (or please get in touch for a doorstep collection or even postage).

-Madeleine

The Facts about Forward Facing

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.

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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.

IMG_2451When 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?

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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.

21013881_1288986917896999_3133343590819235261_oIts 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.  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!

img_8713The 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.  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.

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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.

-Madeleine