Monday, May 27, 2013

The Forward Facing Controversy

There is a huge controversy over forward facing out while babywearing.  Having your baby facing away from you while babywearing is extremely taboo among much of the babywearing community.  Many babywearers believe this a horrible practice that should never be done, but like so many things in life, this issue is not as black and white as many believe.

One of the most famously linked articles against forward facing out is the Nine Reasons Not To Carry Your Baby Facing Out by Boba.  Wearing your baby facing out is not ideal for many reasons.  It is easy for very young babies to get overstimulated and they do not have the ability to look away from this stimulation while facing out.  It also is not very ergonomically ideal for the baby or the wearer.  It does not support baby's hips or spine very well and it changes your center of gravity by wearing something so far out in front of you.  Forward facing out is not something I personally like doing or recommending... but... I do not think forward facing out is as taboo as many believe.

Yes, a newborn with little to no head control and new to this world should not, in my opinion, be worn facing out.  It is just too hard to make sure baby's airway is open and that they are not overstimulated.  But at an older age, I do think some forward facing out can be okay.  And before you write me off or come after me with pitch forks, please hear me out.

Some babies just really like to be held facing out and if your arms are getting tired and you have a carrier that allows you to do a forward facing carry, then why wouldn't you use it and save your arms?  Most babies enjoying being held facing out to some degree and parents and caregivers hold babies like this all.the.time!  Babywearing is an extension of holding your baby.  It's a tool that allows you to keep your baby close and hold your baby when you otherwise might not be able to.  So I don't believe allowing your baby to face out while you wear them is a black and white issue, but I do think there is a huge gray area and you need to decide for yourself where you and your baby are at.

Theory VS Reality

In theory, wearing your baby facing in from the start can help your baby more easily accept being worn this way.  If your baby is content being worn facing in, there really is no reason to wear them face them out.  But some babies don't care if facing out is less than ideal, they insist on it anyway.

I don't like wearing my babies facing out... my first hated it, I never tried it with my second, but my third probably would have loved it.  She had excellent head control and by 8 weeks old, she had developed an habit of looking upside down to see what she was missing.  It looked awful and horrified many people while we were in public.  It was super embarrassing when people would run up to me at the grocery store and ask me if her head was okay.  I always reassured them that she was doing this herself, but they all just gave me the same disbelieving look, horrified of my apparent ignorance.  But I am her mother, I know she was alright.  She would literally fight me like crazy with those strong little neck muscles when I tried to get her to lift her head, pushing against my chest with little fists.  I am sure we made babywearing while facing in look far from ideal and facing out probably would have been much better for the PR of babywearing everywhere!

How's that for an arched back!  While facing in!

My baby grew out of the flip top head thing and was content to continue to being worn facing in, but some babies aren't as willing to let that go.  Though rare, some babies are just never content to be worn facing in, or will only do it when they are tired and ready to sleep.  But parents that have questions about facing out are often told it is "dangerous" and should never be done.  But theory doesn't always line up with reality and like most things in life, facing out is not as black and white as many believe.  There is room for facing out in certain situations, with certain babies, and for a certain amount of time.  There are things to be aware of when wearing facing out, reasons not to do it and things to watch for, but most people won't hear these and will either stop listening or stop babywearing, neither of which benefits anyone.

The Gray Area

One of the biggest things to consider is your baby's development and personality.  Young babies are easily overstimulated and overwhelmed when there is too much going on.  Being able to turn away from people and objects and bury their face in your chest or back is important for babies that can be easily overstimulated.  There is no magic age or time limit for which forward facing out is okay since all babies are different.  Some babies are just more introverted than others and will never like facing out.  Even if they don't get overstimulated while facing out, they may want to be able to escape when people come up to them or if there is suddenly a loud noise.  If your baby is content facing in, save yourself the trouble and just keep them that way!

Consider their age and size and physical development when deciding if you should wear them facing out.  Young babies with poor head control should be worn facing in to insure their head is properly supported at all times and their airway is open.  Older and bigger babies should be worn facing in to avoid the strain on your back caused by your center of gravity being unnaturally far forward.  If you or your baby has hip or spine issues, forward facing may or may not exacerbate this and you should consult your doctor.  But most babies will not be affected by the limited time they spend facing forward or we would have seen an epidemic of spinal issues caused by the abundance of forward facing carriers being used everyday.

If you decide to wear your little one facing out, make sure you stay tuned into your child's ques.  Watch them for signs of over stimulation.  If they begin to act fussy, squirming, moving head, zoning out, or "talking" more than usual, they may be done facing out.  You know your child best, so anything that seems unusual or a change in behavior usually indicates they have had enough sensory input.  This may be after 20 minutes, or maybe only 5.  It may also depend on where you are at and what is going on.  Your baby might like facing out at home, but get overwhelmed when shopping.

Also, don't let your baby sleep facing out.  First of all, getting sleepy and going to sleep can be a way for babies to cope with being overstimulated when they are unable to get away or decrease that stimulation.  Additionally, acing out does not offer adequate head support while a baby is sleeping.  So if your child is showing signs of getting tired or if it's close to nap time, face them towards you while babywearing.

I am not endorsing facing out while babywearing.  It is not something I personally encourage people to do since most babies get used to being worn facing in and can enjoy it when you walk around and give them things to look at.  High back carries can also allow babies to look around, but still give them the ability to control their stimulation by hiding their face if they choose.  But if your baby is as stubborn as my flip top head baby, it's okay, you CAN still wear them!  Your back might hurt and you might not wear them as often, but both of you can still enjoy babywearing.  Trust your gut and listen to your baby.  As always, be safe while babywearing.  Making sure you use your carrier properly is far more important than if your baby is facing in or out.

One more photo of the flip top baby... this time being held by daddy and not worn at all.

Here's another post about facing out that I found on the Beltway Babywearers blog, which is the Babywearing International chapter for the DC, MD, and VA area.