Many babies aged 3-6 months start to enjoy looking around them. At this age, their neck and upper back muscles are strengthening so that they can support and turn their head. Their eyesight is also improving and so there really is a whole new world for them to look at!
One way of helping your baby to look around is to carry them on your front, facing outwards looking at the world. But there are many conflicting opinions about when and whether this carrying position is suitable.
How do you tell when your baby is ready to face outwards? Is outward facing comfortable? Is it ergonomic? Is it safe? What should I look out for? What are the alternatives? We’re here to tell you what do you really need to know about outwards facing babywearing.
IS IT A PHASE?
As with all stages of your baby’s development, outwards facing is a phase. For most babies it will start around 4-5 months, until around 9-10 months. After this, your baby will be able to turn around themselves to look at things, so will usually be happy for you to face them back in toward you. Or you could try a back or hip carrying position to allow a bigger baby to look around over your shoulders.
WHEN CAN I CARRY MY BABY FACING OUTWARDS?
To be safe when carried facing outwards your baby’s neck needs to be strong enough to be able to fully stabilise their head against the movements of your body. This means that they need to have full head control to completely stop their head from flopping around as you walk. For most babies, this won’t happen until they are around 4-5 months of age; it varies from baby to baby. They also need to be tall enough for their chin to sit above top of the baby carrier.
IS OUTWARDS FACING COMFORTABLE?
In our experience, outwards facing can be comfortable, provided you have a suitable and well-fitted carrier. However, because there is more weight pulling forwards when carrying your baby in this position, you are more likely to feel the weight on your back or shoulders.
Outwards facing positions are usually less comfortable than positions where your baby is facing towards your body.
WHICH BABY CARRIERS HAVE AN OUTWARDS FACING OPTIONS?
Our top recommendations for carriers that offer the greatest level of ergonomic support are the Tula Explore and Ergobaby Omni 360 baby carriers. These have a bucket-shaped seat, helping to support your baby in an ‘M’ position with their knees higher than their bottom and their pelvis tilted upwards. So it’s supportive for baby and you.
Many other inexpensive carriers that are available from high street stores and supermarkets are marketed as outward facing carriers, but be aware that not all will offer sufficient levels of ergonomic support.
IS OUTWARDS FACING ERGONOMIC FOR MY BABY’S HIPS?
There’s a lot of concern about hip support in carriers; for optimum hip support make sure that your carrier holds your baby in a seated position with their knees tucked up higher than their hips.
Check that the fabric of the carrier supports your baby’s bottom and thighs fully across their seated width, from the back of one knee to the back of the other.
Some outwards facing carriers allow babies legs to hang down straight – these will usually feel less comfortable.
ARE OUTWARDS CARRYING POSITIONS SAFE?
The limited research available suggests that carrying your baby facing outwards for short periods of time is very unlikely to cause them any harm.
Do make sure that your baby is strong enough to support their own head, and always turn them back to face you for sleeping to protect their airways.
If there is any concern that your baby may have hip dysplasia or other hip development issues, then you may wish to be more cautious as it’s harder to get optimum hip support when outwards facing.
IS THERE ANYTHING I SHOULD WATCH OUT FOR?
Long periods in an outwards facing position can be overwhelming or overstimulating for some babies as they cannot see their parent and turn away from strange situations if they are not comfortable.
Change to an inwards facing position if your baby needs to sleep, or seems at all unsettled or uncomfortable.
WHAT ARE THE ALTERNATIVES TO OUTWARDS FACING?
If your baby is able to roll over then they have a strong enough back to let them have their arms out over the top of their carrier. This will let them have the freedom to look around, whilst they are still able to see you.
Do make sure that the carrier is snugly supporting them at least up to their armpits to keep them secure. You could also try a back carrying (one of our all time favourite carriers for this is the Manduca XT) or hip carrying, especially in a ring sling. These two carrying positions of these will allow a curious baby to look around and may be more supportive for you than outwards facing once your baby gets bigger.
If you have any more questions about outwards facing – whether your baby is ready, whether your carrier is suitable, or anything else! – then book in to see one of our experienced consultants for all the advice you need, or just contact us by phone or email.