Dr. Catherine Fowler of Australia, as reported by CBS.com in 2011, made a comment that parents who face their babies out are “cruel and selfish“. Actually for the record she said they were “inadvertantly cruel”. I am not here to judge you ladies and gentlemen; a walk around the block with your baby in the forward facing position will probably not wreak havoc on your child’s development or health. I don’t think any parents that intentionally choose their little ones are cruel.
However, if you have a little one and you are starting to think that it may be time for baby to change perspectives and face the world head on, here are some reasons, (for your consideration of course), of why it might not be ideal.
Carrying your baby facing out…
1. Does not support your baby’s legs
Your baby’s upper legs should be pulled up to at least hip level, if not higher. This is possible only if the fabric in a baby carrier covers the whole back of the thigh to the backside of the knee, if the carrier has an adjustable seat, or if the carrier has footstraps.
When your baby is facing forward with legs unsupported, it isn’t that his legs are simply dangling – his spine and hips are unsupported too and there is simply nowhere for baby to “sit”.
Check out this medical research by the International Hip Dysplasia Institute and the infant biomechanics of different types of baby carriers. A baby carrier that supports the upper legs encourages proper hip development. Front facing carriers do not support little hips. Those babies already diagnosed with DDH should steer clear of front-facing carriers.
2. makes it tough for you to carry your baby and may not be so wonderful on your back either
It’s much harder to carry something that curves away from your body than something that embraces your body. With a front-facing carrier, the wearer has an awkward load and often ends up arching her back to compensate.
Babies’ bodies are naturally adapted to being carried facing you.
3. places your baby in an arched or hollow back position which places pressure on the spine
Extending the back (like arching after waking from a nap), is not injurious or “bad” in and of itself. The problem arises when you compress a “hollow back” under a load. Placing an infant in a front-facing carrier stretches the naturally convex rounded curve (see infant spinal development in upright transport paper) of his spine into a "hollow back" position. With nothing to cling to, weak abdominal muscles, and retracted shoulders, the infant’s pelvis tilts backwards and is forced to not only carry weight of his own body but also to absorb the force of every step that the carrying individual takes- all on his little compromised spine.
4. places undue pressure on groin and may chafe the inner thighs of your baby
Chaffing is no fun. Being suspended by their most sensitive parts is not ideal for babies, especially for little boys.
5. may overstimulate your baby
Babies can face their parents and still experience the world around them while taking it in at their own pace.
It is very easy for a small infant to become overwhelmed and there is little space to rest their little heads (and brain) in a forward facing carrier.
6. doesn’t support the head or the neck
When a baby surrenders to sleep, their necks and heads need to be supported. When a baby is facing inward embracing his mother, he naturally leans on her chest. If wearing a baby wrap or carrier, the mother can further support her little one's heavy head by tucking it partially under the fabric. or using a sleeping hood. Positional asphyxia is also something worth mentioning. It can happen when babies have no neck control and their chins fall toward their chests.
Little babies should never be placed in a position that can compromise their airways.
The US Consumer Products Safety Commission recently passed a law that the warning labels of forward-facing carriers must state that babies should not face out until adequate head/neck control is acheived. The law neglects to mention sleeping infants even though they don’t have control of their necks or heads while snoozing.
7. makes thermoregulation more difficult
The flexed position a baby assumes on his mother’s chest when facing her is more efficient at conserving heat than when the chest is exposed. The baby also has more fat cells (insulation) on its back side than front. For those who may retort "but I am already warm when wearing my baby", there is a study that shows mother's breasts do actually cool babies down as well!
8. makes it harder to respond to baby’s cues
With no eye contact it is harder to communicate with your baby, check their airways, see their spit up, see them rooting, practice Elimination Communication (worth googling), and know their needs. There’s a study that shows that even front-facing strollers interfere with your ability to interact with and respond to your baby.
9. throws off baby’s center of gravity
Most often the wearer will intuitively stick out her pointer fingers for the baby to grab on to and stabilize himself, or the wearer will try to support baby’s legs by lifting them up in the front. With no seat and nothing to grab on to in front of him it is tough for baby not to arch his back under the weight of his own body.
Carrying your baby facing forward is not the best option.
Embracing your baby, or having them embrace you is what your baby is adapted to do and quite naturally the way to go.