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.


  1. I'm so glad to see this post! I agree that it's a grey area. I generally wear my kids facing in, but they don't always like it. I have read the posts about why it's not recommended to wear babies facing out & I agree it's not ideal, but I think in moderation it's not horrible. My oldest was not happy being carried facing in so I sometimes wore him facing out (in a Moby). I was careful to be sure the wrap was spread out between his legs so he was not dangling from a small strip and I made sure he was snug against my body. Like I said, I don't think this is ideal and wouldn't do it for long periods of time, but I don't think it's akin to child abuse as some would have you believe.

  2. I always told people not to wear their babies out, with one of the reasons being that you wear your baby the way you hold them. Imagine my surprise when I realized I almost ALWAYS held my second daughter facing out. :P

  3. The pictures of your baby make me laugh as my 7 month old does exactly the same thing . Even when lying across my lap he has to hold his head upside down! We only invested in a carrier last month and baby is not happy at all facing in . We wear him out to walk in the woods with our dog and he absolutely loves it . He just needs to see me wearing it and it gets him all excited. I agree with the over stimulation theory and it has made me think twice about wearing carrier round about town outward facing .

  4. This blog is really remarkable. Thanks for sharing this great stuff. Keep sharing more useful and conspicuous stuff like this. Thank you so much.

  5. Gee. I had no idea that baby wearing was a controversy. Obviously I wouldn't wear a small baby out. I just never even thought about this being an issue. Breastfeeding, what and how we choose to feed our kids...I guess I'll add this to my list of things to stress about, and go curl up in my bed and cry about yet another way I'm failing. Remember before kids, when we didn't feel judged by others, or when we could make choices without their being this big community of women pointing out how we may or may not be failing? I miss that.

    Thanks for your post and the information. For the record, I was just venting, and am not directing any negativity towards you.

  6. I have carried both of my boys facing with lots of baby wears outwards and they are just fine. I say to mothers everywhere educate yourself on such topics and then decide what's best for your baby. Also do not let anyone judge you or make you feel like a bad mother for not carrying your baby inward. Mothers need to stop judging each other. It does no good for anyone involved. We are our childs best teacher and I believe we teach them it is ok it judge and discriminate when we exhibit such behaviors against other mothers. We should use one another as allis not punching bags. Every child and every parent are different as long as what you are doing is not morally or ethically wrong you are fine. So do what is right by your child and ignore those who judge you.

  7. This is great! My baby loved being held against me in the Ktan or the Ergo with the infant insert, but as she got more interested in the world around her, she refused to be held against me or anyone else. Well, that's not true. She wants to be held against you, but wants to look around! So I found a Bjorn at a consignment shop and tried it. She absolutely loved it! and its easy to go from front facing to facing in when she gets tired. But I too wanted to make sure I was doing my due diligence and not harming my baby. So, of course I hit the internet. As an educated professional, I could not find one legitimate study or healthcare professional who wasn't getting paid by these companies, that was against forward facing carries. I mean at this day in age we should be able to find some proof of harm, not just a couple of bloggers with some rough luck, or Doctors getting paid by the company. Do whats best for you and your baby!

  8. My daughter HATES being carried facing in. She has even stop letting me hold her against my chest/shoulder. She insists on being held facing out. It is the ONLY way I can get her to stop screaming. The only time she will face in is to eat or sleep. I bought 2 different carriers trying to please her with the facing in position. Waste of money! I went and bought a third carrier where she can face out and she loves it. All the opinions of other moms don't really matter when you will do whatever you can to keep your baby from crying for hours.

  9. Thank you for this post! We put our 12 week old daughter face front on the baby Bjorn today only to be told by some of our friends that we've basically destroyed our daughters hips.

    My daughter has a strong neck for her age as she's able to hold it up on her own. She also hates facing towards us in the carrier, but today when facing out she was calm and happy.

    Through searching the Web all I found were many opinionated posts about why you shouldn't do it, but very little that is research driven.

    Hopefully we'll see some more definitive information, cause for new parents thinking what they're doing is perfectly fine, but are told they are doing something wrong can be pretty shocking.

  10. My baby has been neck arching, literally from birth. Our doctor was concerned, as arching is one of the key symptoms of cerebral palsy, so we have a neonatal neurologist appointment scheduled (why 'neonatal' to diagnose a baby, dunno). So... Just be aware that arching can be a symptom of something serious.

  11. The Slingalong is also a good choice - this one is a more traditional 'sling' style setup with a buckle that fastens at the shoulder. This was a really great one for nursing in, but probably isn't quite as comfortable to wear as the Hug A Bub or the Ergo.

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