Here’s what you need to know before you buy a front-facing baby carrier.
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 front-facing ergonomic? Is it safe to carry your baby facing outwards? What are the alternatives?
Our top recommendations for the best front-facing baby carrier that offers the greatest level of ergonomic support are the Ergobaby Omni 360 Cool Air Mesh, Ergobaby Omni Breeze (and any of the Omni range, but these two are absolutely my favorites) and Tula Explore carriers.
These all have a deep, bucket-shaped seat, helping to support your baby in an ergonomic ‘M’ position with their knees higher than their bottom and their pelvis tilted upwards.
The best BabyBjorn carrier for front-facing is the BabyBjorn Harmony – which is essentially an improved version of the bestselling BabyBjorn Carrier One.
These carriers will be supportive for both you and your growing baby. They will keep their legs and hips are held in the optimum position for healthy development. And because their legs aren’t hanging and pulling their weight forwards, they will feel lighter and your back will be happier!
WHEN CAN I USE A FRONT-FACING BABY CARRIER?
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 or bobbing 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.
IT’S 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 with their arms over the top of the carrier, so they don’t feel restricted.
Or you could try a back or hip carrying position to allow a bigger baby to look around over your shoulders.
AVOID THE REALLY CHEAP BABY CARRIERS!
There are many other temptingly cheap carriers available from Amazon, supermarkets like Aldi and Lidl and other high street stores – such as Red Kite baby carriers, Tomy carriers, Chicco baby carriers and some Infantino carriers.
These are marketed as outward-facing carriers, but be aware that few offer sufficient levels of ergonomic support – when outward facing, or indeed facing inwards – due to their narrow base and overall structure.
These cheaper carriers tend to be outgrown after just a few months, despite often being marketed as suitable until a 1-year-old or beyond. So they really are not good value for money or kind to your back
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.
ARE FRONT FACING BABY CARRIERS SAFE 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. The Ergobaby Omni 360, Omni 360 Cool Air Mesh and Tula Explore baby carrier support babies very well in this position, making them our top choice for outwards facing carriers.
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 baby’s 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 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.
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Always follow the TICKS guidelines for safe babywearing.