Rear-facing or Forward-Facing Stroller? Strollers and Infant Development - Part 3

Stroller buying guide - which is best for baby.

With all the strollers (or prams or push-carts) on the market, how do you choose whether your baby will be rear-facing or forward-facing? Which is best for baby's development?

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Stroller Research Says Rear-Facing Is Best...

There is extremely limited research on the benefits and risks of forward-facing (or "toward-facing") versus rear-facing infant positioning in a stroller (there's no lack of information, however on the benefits of rear-facing for safe travel in the car - learn more!).

However, the one widely cited stroller investigation was conducted in 2008 in England and looked at over 2,500 baby-parent pairs, primarily comparing language and social engagement between the two stroller positions.

What that study found was that parents pushing with babies facing them were twice as likely to speak to their babies and the babies were much more likely to laugh. They also found that rear-facing infants had slightly lower heart rates and were twice as likely to fall asleep. 

...Or Does it

It's easy to look at this information and think it gives a clear answer that rear-facing is best. But there may be more to the story. 

The exact ages of the infants of the study aren't mentioned in the summary of the report and the report doesn't appear to have been published in a peer-reviewed journal so my access to the specifics are limited. But, if we're discussing laughing as an outcome, the odds are good that we're looking at the behaviors of babies at least 3-4 months of age and the summary does reference toddlers as well as babies.

If we're discussing rear- vs. forward-facing, one can also assume we're likely discussing babies seated in a semi-reclined or upright position, which is one that I don't recommend until babies can sit with just a little support (typically 4-6 months of age). 

From a language standpoint it does appear that the rear-facing positions for babies at least 3-4 months of age tends to result in parents speaking more to their babies. However, the study also found that less than a quarter of parents were speaking to their child, regardless of the direction their babies faced. So perhaps the biggest takeaway from the research is to talk to your child while out and about using a stroller

In anticipation of needing a double stroller come November, we now have a Baby Jogger City Select {affiliate} that can forward- or rear-face. I switch it around periodically, but I'll be honest, I've found that I personally talk to my son far more when he's forward-facing because we're looking at the same things. When he faces me, we just look at each other or he looks at what's behind me. So for me, I've found that I'm more likely to talk to my kiddo when we're taking in the same scene and both see the firetruck round the corner or the flower nearby at the same time. As in so many parenting topics, I think you have to find what works for you and your child to foster communication.

Stroller Positioning and Infant Stress Levels

I'm not a fan of using heart rate as a sole indicator of infant stress levels and here's why: our heart rates increase not just in response to stress, but also to our Central Nervous System arousal level (arousal level is similar to our wakefulness level). A baby's heart rate could elevate because he is excited, stimulated and alert. A much more accurate gauge of your baby's stress level are his cues. 

Let's talk about the babies increased liklihood of falling asleep rear-facing? That can be a sign that baby feels safe and relaxed OR it can be a sign of boredom or shutdown in response to over-stimulation or stress. Therefore, the observation that babies were twice as likely to fall asleep rear-facing is a tough one to interpret as solely positive.

As an Occupational Therapist, I'm very interested in babies and toddlers developing basic self-regulation skills. Self-regulation is the brain's ability to match arousal level to the environment or task demands. Unless your child has missed a nap or is in the stroller at naptime, a "bigger baby" (over 6 months of age) or toddler should naturally be awake and alert in stimulating environments.  

By the time a baby reaches his first birthday, routinely falling asleep on errands and outings is concerning to me regardless of which direction a child faces in his stroller. 

I do think that a newborn in the first 4 months of life is likely to be easily overstimulated by a semi-reclined forward-facing position. However, I recommend that babies remain flat in a stroller until they can sit upright with only a little support and therefore by the time baby starts to sit up and view the world in a stroller, his sensory systems and Central Nervous System as a whole has matured and equipped him to better maintain self-regulation in the face of stimulating environments. 

My Recommendations

At the end of the day, I don't think there is a clear right or wrong answer to this question. But from my experience working as an Occupational Therapist with infants, looking at this research and being a mom, here are my recommendations:

Keep baby reclined flat in a stroller until he can sit upright with only a little support (or better yet, wear your baby!). Supine (or laying flat on the back) is not only better for motor development than a fully supported semi-reclined position, it limits baby's view to the sky or ceiling (as opposed to a busy city street or crowded shop) and puts the caregivers face easily within view. 

Talk to your baby.  Speaking to your child, even before he can talk is KEY for language development. Whichever way your baby is facing in a stroller, make it a point to talk.*

The importance of talking to baby in a stroller.

Look for your baby's stress signs. Odds are, you aren't monitoring your baby's heart rate. But you can definitely be checking in for your little one's signs of stress. If you use a forward-facing stroller in full reclined position for your infant, be sure to peek frequently to check that baby is content. If your baby is in distress the majority of the time he's in a forward-facing stroller, you may look into switching to a rear-facing stroller until he's a bit older. 


I will be honest that as the sole daytime caregiver for my kiddo, I often use walks in the stroller as mental downtime for me. Morning walks are my time to listen to an audiobook with one earbud in. Afternoon walks I like to listen to music or just zone out and enjoy not supervising baby or toddler antics. I don't for one second feel bad that I don't talk to my baby around the clock and neither should you.

However, I do try to find balance by taking 5-10 minutes of our routine walks to talk or to stop to look at something interesting together. I also make a point to respond if my kiddo points at something or seems to be trying to tell me something. And when in interesting new places like shops, we talk about all the new things we're seeing. I encourage you, fellow parents, to find the balance that works well for you. Talk to your child often, make it meaningful, create shared moments but give yourself the mental breaks you need, too! 

Other parenting posts for you to enjoy:

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