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Saturday, September 29, 2012

Dear Nanny: Why Not Face Out?

Dear Nanny,

I heard that facing out in a baby carrier is not good for babies. Is this true?

- Just Wondering


Dear Wondering,

A FFO (Front Facing Out) carry is not recommended for a few reasons:
  1. An overstimulated baby can't hide their face. Babies are learning and experiencing everything for the first time. It can be hard to take it all in sometimes (this is why toddlers often throw tantrums), so they get overwhelmed. When this happens they hide their face and close their eyes to calm down. A baby facing out has nowhere to go when they feel overwhelmed. It can be hard to tell if baby is getting overwhelmed while FFO – they won’t always cry or scream if this happens. 
  2. Babies take their cues for how to react by looking at their parents’ faces. If they can’t see your face they won’t know how to react, and they can’t get your reassurance. This is a critical learning technique. 
  3. *A FFO carry can not properly support a baby's rounded back or developing hips. Your baby’s spine won’t fully form into an S-shape until toddlerhood, and a rounded back cannot be supported by a facing out carry. Also baby’s hips are partly made of cartilage. Cartilage is elastic. If the legs and hips aren't properly supported, hip dysplasia can occur. Baby’s legs should be supported from knee to knee, with their knees higher than their bums.
  4. It's harder for the parent to assess baby's needs. When you can’t see your baby’s face, it can be harder to tell if they are getting tired, hungry, or restless. Harder, but not impossible. 
  5. It's harder on the parent's back than a FFI (facing in). A FFO position is not ergonomic for the wearer. Especially with a heavier baby. A baby facing in with a proper carry adds the weight to your center of gravity. While facing out, the baby’s weight throws off your center of gravity. 
  6. A newborn without complete head control should never face forward in a carrier, because of the stress on their neck and inability to keep their head upright. Not to mention that a newborn can't see more than a 8-12in in front of their face anyway.
*If you have a baby that is 3-6ish months old, you could use a ring sling and do a Kangaroo carry for a FFO carry that won’t strain baby’s developing body.

If you absolutely must do a FFO carry, get a carrier that offers good support. A CatBird Pikkolo or a Beco Gemini offer as much support as possible for a FFO in a SSC. Woven wraps can do FFO carries that support baby's hips too. FFO carries should only be done for a limited amount of time.

But my baby can't see well facing in!
Most babies won’t care. A baby who is used to facing out may have a harder time adjusting though. At about 6ish months you could do a hip carry in a ring sling, SSC, mei tai, or woven wrap. A hip carry gives baby plenty of things to look at. Another favorite is a high back carry with a mei tai, some SSCs, or a woven wrap. A high back carry allows baby to look over your shoulder, but they can still sleep or hide their face if they want. Young babies can be carried in high back carries in woven wraps, or burp carries in ring slings.


For more information on safe infant positioning, see my Infant Positioning post.

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