Why we make carriers that allow your baby to face forward
Whether or not you should carry your baby in a carrier that lets him or her face forward is sort of controversial amongst those of us who think--a lot--about babywearing. In the interests of full disclosure, I will tell you that I carried my own two children in this manner infrequently. I personally preferred to carry them facing inward (on the front, hip, or back) and they were not babies who demanded to be carried differently. I have, however, known lots of moms who have told me their babies absolutely demanded to be carried this way, despite their attempts to persuade them otherwise. Since the inception of Catbird Baby (the idea for which I first began to contemplate in the summer of 2004), “can my baby face forward in your carrier” has been one of the most frequently asked questions we’ve received. At first the answer was “no, that’s not how mei tais are meant to be worn.” But I could see it was a sticking point for some people. So I thought about it and asked myself “why can’t the design be modified to allow it?” For me, the problem with forward-facing had been that the way it was done in most widely available carriers at that time was not very comfortable for me and didn’t work well for my chubby babies. (Everyone who seemed to like it had skinny babies!) But what if we could design our carriers in such a way as to make it more comfortable for both the wearer and the baby? Trying to solve a design problem like this is one of the things I love about being in this business and I began working on it from nearly the beginning of Catbird Baby.
Concurrently, I started to hear more and more about how bad forward-facing is for babies, so I started reading. I read a lot. And I couldn’t really find any research that seemed compelling and convincing that carrying a baby while facing forward was harmful in any way. I thought more about what I felt baby carriers were intended to do and, for me, that is to hold babies against our bodies in the same positions in which we hold them in our arms. The primary way that we do this is, indeed, facing our bodies, usually straddling the middle, or the hip. But I also sometimes carried my babies facing forward. For a change of scenery, a new position to try to quell tears or fussiness. When I did carry them in my arms facing forward, I held them with their backs to my chest and my hands/arms supporting the backs of their thighs as if they were sitting in a seat. This is the position that we try to mimic with our carriers when used in the forward-facing position. But just as I didn’t carry my babies in my arms on as many occasions or for as long a period of time in this position as I did facing my body, I rarely recommend facing forward as the go-to method, or for prolonged carrying. Not because I feel it’s harmful, but for the simple fact that it will never be as comfortable to carry a load that is pulling away from your body than it is to support a load that is leaning into you and relying on the strength of your legs and hips--strong parts of your body--vs. the muscles in your arms, back, and neck. Some people argue against facing forward for reasons of overstimulation to the baby. I haven’t seen clinical evidence to support this and in general I trust that parents usually know their babies best and will pay attention to the cues that might signal that baby is overtired or overstimulated and needs the comfort and shelter of mom’s or dad’s body. Facing forward is also usually a carrying position that is quite specific to a certain developmental period; it cannot be done safely until a baby can hold his or her head completely on their own and has at least a bit of control in the upper body as well. As your baby gets heavier, they may still enjoy facing outward from time to time, but it will become less and less comfortable. This is why we recommend switching to back carrying as your baby becomes heavier. This will be most comfortable for carrying a heavier baby or toddler who may be getting so big that front carrying is a bit unwieldy--but with a higher back carry, your baby can still see over your shoulder and get the view that they crave.
We want to make carriers that have options for all parents and babies and we realize that part of this is a desire on the part of some parents to carry and babies to be carried facing forward at times. In the absence of medical data indicating it is harmful to health and with carriers designed to provide as much support for a seated position as possible, we want to offer this option when appropriate. I feel the key for parents is to be realistic about the potential comfort level and developmentally appropriate age for this carrying position, and to be ready to move on to back carrying as your baby becomes a toddler. Babywearing is an incredibly useful and powerful tool and to make our carriers as versatile as possible, we decided to include this carrying option on the carriers we make. But remember, it’s just one option of several! And becoming skilled at all carrying positions, especially inward-facing ones, will ensure that your babywearing days are long and comfortable.
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