Do forward facing baby carriers cause hip problems? Is 6 months old enough to forward face baby when babywearing? What if my baby only likes facing out when worn, is that okay? What baby carrier brands are better than others for forward facing?
When I received the fourth email in a single week from a concerned parent asking about forward facing (a.k.a. front carry facing out) babywearing, I knew it was time to put all other blog posts on hold and tackle this topic. Let's clear up the confusion and give you a clear path to wear your baby safely and confidently!
Dangling Legs + Other Babywearing Worries
Will Forward Facing Hurt My Baby's Hips?
A baby's hips are fragile and need special consideration for several reasons. In an infant, the ball and socket hip joint is very shallow, not yet fully hardened and lacks surrounding muscles and connective tissues to support and give it stability. Age and weight-bearing (crawling, standing, walking) are the biggest factors in hip joint formation.
Carriers (used with baby facing in OR out) for babies before 6 months of age (and ideally after that) should support the back of the thighs, not just the baby's bottom. This creates more of a seat as opposed to carriers that allow the legs to dangle freely from the hips, which is believed to put baby at risk for hip dislocation and hip dysplasia.
While I've yet to find any conclusive research on the topic, a solid anatomical understanding of infant hip joint development underscores the importance of keeping baby's legs well supported with knees and hips bent, commonly called the "frog leg" or "M" position.
Is Forward Facing Safe For My Baby?
Because forward facing offers less support for the head, your baby absolutely, positively needs solid head control to be safely worn forward facing. It makes me cringe when I pass someone wearing a baby whose head is positively bouncing as the parent walks.
Good head control for babywearing is about more than neck strength - it includes the sensory processing skills to respond to the wearer's movements. The question is not, "Can your baby hold her head up and steady when sitting on your lap?" The question is, "Can your baby hold her head up and steady as you walk down the street, turn swiftly or lean over slightly when reaching?"
Forward facing is also unsafe for a sleeping baby since that most often leads to a chin to chest head position that can restrict baby's airway. Don't wear a sleeping baby forward facing.
Is Forward Facing Babywearing Bad For Spines?
First, let's talk about baby's spine. It's wisest to wait until baby is a steady sitter and is working on creeping or crawling to wear baby forward facing (they don't have to have mastered crawling but are at least getting into hands and knees for rocking or pushing backwards). This is around the time that the third and final spinal curve, the lumbar curve of the low back, is developing. In almost every case, it also implies that baby has solid head control as previously discussed.
One exception: if the babywearer is particularly large, I don't recommend wearing baby forward facing at any age. This can put baby in an unnaturally extended spinal position.
Now, let's talk about the wearer's spine! Forward facing distributes baby's weight a bit more, well...forward than wearing baby facing inward. It can be harder on the wearers back - especially for longer periods of time and for heavier babies. Be sure you're carrying your baby on your chest and not your belly, keep those straps snug and if you have back problems or feel them developing, limit or skip front facing your baby for wearing.
Is Forward Facing Overstimulating For My Baby?
For a newborn outside the home? Probably. But as we've already discussed, forward facing isn't an appropriate babywearing position for a newborn. By 6, 7, 8 months when your baby is hitting the developmental milestones I've shared, he's also very likely developed the sensory modulation skills to handle facing the world. In fact, many babies this age LOVE and seem to prefer this position.
However, every baby is different. Preemies who are developmentally not yet at their calendar age or temperamentally more sensitive babies may get fussy or "shutdown" (go to sleep) when worn forward-facing. Know your baby and watch for clues that forward facing isn't fun for your little one. If you have a baby you think might be more sensitive, begin with short 10-15 minute babywearing sessions in less busy surroundings (in your home, on a quiet walk) and build up to busier/longer outings following your baby's clues.
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Here are some soft-structured carriers that are great for forward facing:
Here are a few other positions to consider for babywearing your baby:
- Poppins hip carry -- or -- Robins hip carry with a soft wrap.
- Hip carry with a soft structured carrier. All three of the carriers mentioned above accommodate this position as can many other soft structured carriers with detachable shoulder straps. Check manufacturer's instructions for your carrier.
- Hip carry with a ring sling.
- Back carry with a soft structured carrier (never with a stretchy wrap). This is a good option in particular if your soft structured carrier doesn't accommodate a hip carry, like my beloved Boba 4G
Key Takeaways For Forward Facing Babywearing
- Carrier supports upper legs well with hips and knees bent; no dangling legs
- When baby has steady head control when wearer is moving (typically 4-6 months)
- When baby is a steady sitter working on creeping or crawling (typically 6-9 months)
- Parent does not have particularly round abdomen
- Parent has a healthy back
- No signs of baby distress