Babywearing: Why Forward Facing Isn’t For You

by Amanda Hearn · 52 comments

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Why forward facing is not idealBabywearing has so many benefits, but it can have downsides too.  Choosing a carrier that offers the proper support for baby and wearer is key.  As I have mentioned in the past, I am among the group of babywearers who do not like forward facing carries.  There are few ways to do it properly, so I never recommend it.  In general, forward facing carriers offer little support for baby, and wearer, in a variety of ways.

Forward facing carries are often more strain on the adult wearing the child.  Many of the carriers designed to be worn this way are not designed or structured well enough to give proper support to begin with, let alone with baby’s weight distributed improperly.  Carriers like this often become quite uncomfortable, and even painful after short periods of use.  For carriers that do offer proper support and structure, it can still cause extra stress to the back and shoulders due to the way the weight of the child is carried and distributed in contrast to the way that it is when they are facing towards the wearers body.

Notice the images below – On the left of each image is a child in a forward facing carry, and on the right the child is facing inward. 

The first thing I notice is the posture of the adults.  You can clearly notice that both of the adults are arching their backs to compensate for the lack of proper weight distribution of the child.  You can easily see how this would 1) wear on the back quicker, causing discomfort and pain, and 2) tug on the shoulders, again causing discomfort sooner than if the weight was being properly distributed.  Looking now to the child in each set of photos, you can notice how each is cradled in the inward facing position; their weight is supported properly and their bodies are in a comfortable position.  In the forward facing positions, their posture and positioning looks awkward, uncomfortable and not well supported.

The support of the child is the most important issue here, as it can directly impact development.  The image below from hipdysplasia.org is a wonderful illustration as to why a proper carrier with a wider bottom and proper support is so important.  Notice how the carrier to the left offers no support to the child’s legs or hips, leaving full pressure on the developing sacrum and spine.  On the right, you can see that the wider base of the carrier cradles the child and gives fuller support, relieving the hip and spine from strain.  Think also of how this better weight distribution would increase the comfort lever for the adult as well.  The bottom set of this illustration demonstrates the impact a narrow carrier can have on the hip from improperly supporting the legs.  Generally speaking, forward facing carriers only come in a narrow harness design, as they cannot provide the wider base allowed by an inward facing positions.

In addition to the support and physical comfort aspects of forward and inward facing carries, the emotional support of the child is an aspect to consider as well.  Infants and toddlers need the feeling of protection and security.  Facing inward, the child can retreat from the stress easily if overstimulated.  While some children may love the chance to look around, this can be achieved by using a back carry when the child is old enough, while offering all of the support needed, as it is facing toward the wearers body.

There are many wonderful carriers that offer the fully supportive features needed to provide both wearer and baby with a safe and comforting babywearing experience.  You can check out a quick comparison of several carriers here on the Baby Carrier Overview & Review Spreadsheet (feel free to add your reviews too!)

If you are looking for a quality carrier I would recommend ones like the Ergo Baby Carriers, Onya Baby, Beco Baby Carriers, Boba Carrier, etc.

What’s your favorite carrier and why would you recommend it to others?

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{ 46 comments… read them below or add one }

Alicia Simmons February 21, 2012 at 11:29 am

What are the proper ways to wear a baby forward facing? I really think my 5 month old would enjoy seeing things from a different perspective. Is there a carrier that does forward facing properly?

Thank you!

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Amanda February 21, 2012 at 12:09 pm

Forward facing in wraps, and I believe some slings, ‘can’ be done with a younger child sitting with their legs criss crossed/froggy style. This supports the legs, relieving the stress on the hips, sacrum and spine, but still lacks support from awkward weight distribution which can be uncomfortable for the wearer.

A back carry is the best way to allow them to face the world in a properly supported carry. Hip carries are an option too, but personally I don’t find them as comfortable for longer periods of time.

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Les February 21, 2012 at 12:50 pm

Alicia, I never put my kids forward facing, but once they get to be about 5 months old mostly carry them on my hip with a ring sling. They can look out to face the world, snuggle up for comfort when needed, and when they get overwhelmed they can put their face into my side. Both of my little ones have loved being carried like this!

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Nicole February 21, 2012 at 11:53 pm

That’s about the age that my youngest son really loved riding on my back in the Ergo. He could see the world but he knew I was right there.

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Jeannette February 3, 2013 at 9:04 am

At 5 months, you are everything for your baby! That’s all the perspective he/she needs. You can talk, babble and take in the same sights. It’s really enjoyable to face each other.

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Jen February 21, 2012 at 11:40 am

I think it is possible to forward face an infant in a Moby, but the problem is baby shouldn’t be “standing” but sitting on the little chair of fabric you’ve made, so then their legs are rather floppy out in front of you. You can cross them and cover with fabric to hold in place, but the Moby works best for young infants and I find this hold to be a bit awkward.

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della August 29, 2012 at 3:58 am

Its impossible to create the right seat for baba in a moby to face forward. Also they are removing the forward facing position from their instructions due to increasing evidence that it is not ideal for baby or for parent.

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The Mom: Informed February 21, 2012 at 11:46 am

You can wear your baby with a WOVEN wrap high on your back where they can see the world. Much better than facing out.

Unless you have a younger one that can sit froggy styled and facing out.

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Sundari February 21, 2012 at 11:54 am

Seems that the Beco Gemini does a nice job as a forward-facing carrier (provided the baby can support its own head).

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Stacy February 21, 2012 at 11:56 am

Alicia & Jen,
The point of this post is that there is NO good/proper/safe way to forward face your child in a carrier except for the ways/modifications that The Mom: Informed stated.

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Erica February 21, 2012 at 12:23 pm

If baby wants to face out why not try a hip carry Alicia. That way you are not pushing their spine in an unnatural curve and baby can turn into the parent for comfort if over stimulated.

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Auth December 23, 2012 at 3:30 am

I have the moby I got it off craigslist for 20 bucks, so I fiegurd it was worth a try! I really need to get online & start trying to figure out how it works before baby v gets here, though. it seems like you have to be really familiar with it to love it

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Jen February 21, 2012 at 12:49 pm

But Mom:Informed just agreed with us that froggy-style (as we both described) is safe for baby, though possibly uncomfortable for mom.

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Alicia Simmons February 21, 2012 at 1:39 pm

Thanks for the info. I purchased a baby k’tan to use a forward facing carry. I’ve only been using a Hava Sling so far and I need something that distributes weight across both my shoulders. Unfortunately I find the Ergo uncomfortable. I think I’ll still keep the baby k’tan and just not use it for forward facing. Time to figure out a hip carry! Thanks for all the information!

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Anonymous June 3, 2014 at 6:56 am

Ktans are pretty comfy, but don’t do well forward facing!

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Alexx S February 21, 2012 at 1:55 pm

All of the posture/hip concerns apply to those “jolly jumper” type things, exersaucers, and anything else that supports your child by their crotch. Keep that in mind, too!

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Amie February 21, 2012 at 3:28 pm

The tomy sling is both a inward and out ward facing sling which can be used from birth until 1 year old it is brilliant x

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Christina Greulich February 21, 2012 at 4:32 pm

If I feel like my baby wants to look forward I usually just do a hip carry…

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Rachel N February 21, 2012 at 4:52 pm

I have an ergo carrier that I love! I used to have a lillebebe carrier that your child can face forward in. I did it once on a hike with my son when he was about 9 months and he loved it but is was SOOOOO hard on my back and neck that I never did it again.

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Tanya Mize February 21, 2012 at 5:33 pm

I absolutely agree with you on the dangers of ffo but i also want to point out that that child in the 2nd set of pics is WAY too big to be in that BabyHawk. Her legs should be supported knee to knee.

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Jenny February 21, 2012 at 10:43 pm

Whoa! I’m the mama in the first set of pictures and I totally didn’t even realize I was leaning back like that when I put my son in the carrier forward facing. It’s so obvious when I see the pictures next to each other, though. And honestly, he didn’t feel secure forward facing AT ALL. This is a great post, though!

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Brittany H February 22, 2012 at 12:45 am

I had no idea about the hip displasia thing. That’s really interesting. It makes sense! Even with wider base baby carriers do you still have to worry about how the baby is sitting to prevent this? Is there an easy way to know what a good and bad position is?

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Kirsty February 22, 2012 at 10:38 am

Tania – Yes!! That’s exactly what I thought when I saw those pics. To wear a child that large you need a much wider base (18 – 20 inches).

Brittany – I believe the best way to know your baby or child is supported properly in a carrier is to see that the base of the carrier provides knee to knee support.

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Tanya Mize February 22, 2012 at 2:12 pm

Knee to knee and baby’s bottom should be lower than their knees. Also, they should be upright (not cradled), on your chest and close enough to kiss (obviously those last two are irrelevant for back carries).

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Rebecca A February 22, 2012 at 10:43 pm

Great thoughts and ideas on the two ways, never thought of it like this before! Thanks for sharing!

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tobasco February 28, 2012 at 10:31 pm

Believe it or not, there ARE some babies out there who just outright refuse to be worn facing in. This was my daughter. So, I could wear her facing out, or I could not wear her at all. It was never uncomfortable for me. I don’t understand why so many people say NEVER EVER DO IT rather than discussing the few ways mentioned in the comments to do it safely. Yes, I did all the research, no I’m not some horrible selfish mom who has sentenced my child to a lifetime of hip problems. I’m not “doing it wrong”. When she got bigger, I did wear her on my back so that she could see forward. Even now that she’s a toddler, she always requests the shopping carts at the grocery store that allow her to face forward rather than looking at me (our grocery store has two different fun/kid carts). There is just something about going backwards that she cannot stand.

As for the emotional aspect of it, my daughter could easily look up at me when she was facing forward. Yes, you still have to make sure they’re not over stimulated, but she could still see my face if she wanted too, she could still hear my voice, she could still feel my touch, and if she needed too, she could still close her eyes. I don’t see how any of these things is different than having your body face mom.

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Alexia December 1, 2012 at 1:03 pm

Amen! My daughter REFUSED to sit in a sling in ANY position, REFUSED a back carry, REFUSED a front carry facing inward. Believe me, I tried — 4 different carriers in a variety of positions for baby. The only time she didn’t scream her head off was in a Baby Bjorn facing forward. So it’s not “when we know better we do better” — for some babies that IS what’s better. Assuming that I made that particular choice because I didn’t know better seems rather condescending, don’t you think?

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Aimee March 2, 2012 at 7:18 pm

Like Tobasco, there was a period of time when my daughter absolutely would not be inward facing. It was either outward or not at all. And yet, I ALWAYS recommend that children be worn properly and inward facing when I talk about babywearing, because it’s pretty uncommon for people to do the amount of research you need to do to learn how to properly wear a child outward facing. It’s much easier to just talk about not using “crotch-danglers” and to suggest good carriers.

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Jenrose April 16, 2012 at 5:02 am

I find this kind of article very frustrating. If you’ve ever watched people carry babies in arms, they tend to find a variety of ways of doing so that are very in tune with what their babies prefer. Lots of dads carry a baby high on their chest, kind of “sitting” on their arm, often facing out to the world. My best friend’s daughter didn’t like any position but facing out, essentially “crotch dangling” from her mother’s hand while braced against her hip. I try very hard to pay attention to what my baby wants, within reason, and babies under about 18 pounds are not that difficult to carry facing out, though I wouldn’t want to do it in Bjorn over about 14 pounds, if ever.

My position is that babywearing is an extra set of hands which help us support our babies much as we would with our own arms, but leaving our arms free, or at least, freer. While it’s very well and good to say, “Just do a high back carry!” the reality of the situation is that back carries are scary for a lot of parents, especially with new babies, and with shorter babies, indeed, most infants under about 6 months old, parents with any joint mobility issues at all may have a very difficult time wrapping or doing a mei tai up high enough for baby to see, and indeed, wearing a baby up that high may be MORE painful than wearing a baby lower, facing out. I’m an expert with mei tais and a confident back-wearer, and I find it challenging to get a really good, comfy position on my upper back, my baby doesn’t really like the view lower down, and back carries are just not very convenient for a babe who nurses frequently.

We do not have good research that tells us that front wearing is actually a problem for babies. We have several people who fervently *believe* it *might* be a problem, but we do not actually know that it *is* a problem. And my instincts as a parent with many, many years of babywearing experience (which I believe every bit as valid as the speculation of a chiropractor) says that front facing carries done sensibly are self-limiting, temporary, and probably harmless.

So, what does that mean? How does it actually work? Well, my carriers of choice for the stage my son is in (he’s 3 1/2 months, about 15 pounds) are the Wrapsody Bali Baby Stretch and the Pikkolo. Both carriers allow me to wear the carrier without the baby in it, put the baby in facing out, pick the baby up, turn the baby around, put him facing in, pick him up, sit him in the carrier sideways to nurse, then shift him to full facing in. So our average grocery store trip looks like this: I start out with a fed, awake baby who is interested in the world, and keeps twisting to look around. So I face him out. He stops twisting and is content for a while to watch people. Then I notice he’s rubbing his eyes, or hiccuping, or yawning, or turning his head. These are all signs that it’s getting to be a bit much, so before he has time to fuss about overstimulation, I turn him around. He remembers, facing my front, that I have boobs, and starts to bob his head against my chest. So I lift him up a bit, shift his legs over so he’s being cradled by the carrier a bit (possible in a pikkolo, but hard to explain), work enough nipple for him to latch onto through my layers of clothing, arrange myself so not much is showing, and continue shopping. Eventually he falls asleep, and I gently shift him to a more upright position (so he won’t spit up down my front), facing in, and continue my shopping. Eventually we get back to the car, I gently lower him into the carseat, he naps until our next stop, and we start all over again.

Why face the baby out? The baby likes it. What do I do to reduce any possible impact on his spine? I pay attention to how his dad would hold him in that position, sitting on the arm like a chair, and it is super easy with both pikkolo and wrap, to get that “chair” position. Both are providing support through the torso, which most cheap front packs don’t…. they just hang the weight off a mom’s shoulders, which surely is painful once baby gets to be a certain weight.

How do I keep baby from getting overstimulated? I just pay attention. He’ll tell me when it’s too much, then it’s no trouble to turn him around. By being attentive BOTH to his desire to learn about the world, and his desire to escape it, I help my baby find balance, and teach him to recognize his own needs, as I learn how to recognize his signals.

Hip carries are no good for parents, like me, who have chronic joint and back issues. I’m in physical therapy all the time (have been since before my son was born, it’s actually better now), and have to pay extreme attention to my balance and weight distribution. Hip carries often put parents out of balance, though a good sling can minimize that, it can’t eliminate the inherent asymmetry of the position. In a younger, healthy mom, it may not be much of a concern (I hipcarried my eldest constantly as a young mom, and she hip carries both her siblings) but for moms pushing 40, or with chronic pain or joint issues, saying “Do a hip carry” or “do a back carry” can be a nonstarter. I’m expert at both, and know my body well enough to know that while a front carry facing out isn’t perfect, it’s a lot less hard on me right now than either high back or hip carry.

There are times when I don’t give my baby the option. If I’m cooking, he’s not only in a back carry, but a relatively low one, where I can reach his feet easily. If my back hurts, I won’t face him out, and may do a low back carry, with his weight mostly on my hips. But if I’m in a position to let him face out, and he wants to, I’m of the opinion that 20 minutes facing out isn’t going to ruin anything. Babies just aren’t that fragile.

I don’t recommend “only” facing a baby out. At some point, they get too big and too handsy to continue the position. But if you’re paying attention to seat, and stimulation, and not pushing the position past its welcome, I don’t see a problem with it. Just don’t do it with one of those godawful front packs. Those really will hurt your back, and they really don’t offer baby much support at all.

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Paige May 2, 2012 at 1:33 am

Jenrose, you definitely raise some very valid points, and have explained a few situations where yes, FFO might be just the thing you/your baby need for a very short period of time (20 minutes or less). It’s not the worst thing you could do, for sure. But it isn’t the best way either, ergonomically or developmentally. And when we know better, we do better, right?

The problem with so many of the ‘crotch dangler’ carriers is that they are specifically designed and marketed as a completely acceptable way to wear your baby through the entire babywearing relationship. Most people don’t know this but within the manual for a baby bjorn it actually states baby should be in their carrier a maximum of 30 minutes per day! How sad that they are the most prevalent style of carrier on the market right now! Isn’t it wonderful that there are newer companies such as moby and ergo with carriers (and sooo many more small business mamas who have even more comfy carriers! Tula Baby Carriers, I’m talking to you! ;) ) that do support knee-to-knee and help baby get the nice deep seat that helps those tiny hip joints develop correctly? And it is more comfortable for the wearer too. Plus they receive reassurances and connection by being within sight and kissable because of proper positioning!

Here’s a great article written by Boba with more reasons, links and science behind keeping baby facing in for more information.

http://www.bobafamily.com/blog/2011/10/11/nine-reasons-not-to-carry-your-baby-facing-out/

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Amanda May 6, 2012 at 11:31 am

Thank you so much for sharing your experience and the great additional resource from Boba (love them!).

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Jenn September 16, 2012 at 12:55 am

What is a ring sling? I think that sounds interesting, but not sure what it is…..

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Beth Rees February 4, 2013 at 9:53 pm

I love this post. I love your reasonings and the explainations given. My 19 month old still loves to be front carried forward facing. He likes the back on occasion, but I don’t think he likes not being able to see me. I am not sure a ring sling would work though for him since he is so heavy. Wouldn’t that put strain on my shoulder?

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mozila fire February 20, 2013 at 8:17 am

Today, I went to the beach front with my kids.
I found a sea shell and gave it to my 4 year old
daughter and said “You can hear the ocean if you put this to your ear.” She put
the shell to her ear and screamed. There was a
hermit crab inside and it pinched her ear.
She never wants to go back! LoL I know this is completely off topic but I had to tell someone!

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Samantha Lippard May 12, 2013 at 8:44 am

Thank you for this information! I love baby wearing and my babies were always facing inward!

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Diane Larson May 18, 2013 at 2:54 am

This is absolutely great information. Whenever someone wants information on FFO, this would be a great post that I could link them to! Thank you!

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Kristen D July 7, 2013 at 12:23 am

I have a Beco and it’s able to forward face. I tried it once, and I was so uncomfortable. My daughter didn’t seem to mind it, but I sure did. However, even when I put her facing me on my front, my back is still so sore. I have chest carried her in a Boba 3G, Boba wrap, and the K’tan. None of them felt good on my back. The only time my back hasn’t hurt from front carrying is in a known crotch dangler. Why is this?

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Katie Wiseman November 1, 2013 at 4:06 pm

I have a question. First of all, I can’t seem to get my 2 month old to get comfortable in the “right” position. When she is facing my chest, she gets fussy and squirmy and doesn’t seem comfortable at all. When she is forward facing, she seems totally content and sometimes falls asleep. FYI, I have a homemade Moby-type wrap.
I noticed that your two baby-wearing models are both very thin. It looks like their babies legs are spread out beyond mom’s hips. There’s no way my child’s feet could spread out that far because I am overweight. Now that I think about it, I rarely see overweight people baby wearing.
I really enjoy wearing my baby, but it seems like forward facing is the only way she’s happy. She looks up at me, and I talk to her and she coos and aahs and I feel like wearing her THIS way is better than the alternative which is her just hanging out in a chair or something.
Would you have any idea of why she’s not comfortable in the chest-facing position? Do you think this is because my wrap is homemade? or do you think it’s because I’m overweight? Or am I just doing it wrong? (I’ve watched LOTS of tutorials on youtube.) I appreciate your feedback.

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Amanda Hearn November 4, 2013 at 5:41 pm

Hi Katie, thanks for commenting.

My initial thought is that at two months old, I would see if she is more comfortable in a frog-like position with her legs. (knees up a bit and tucked closer to her body) That seems to be how mine preferred to be at that young of an age. Also getting her high enough on your chest in a wrap style (which I loved at that age). I was very large breasted while nursing and I seem to recall carrying them higher to rest their heads at the top of my chest more.

I’ve known many people who were happy with their homemade wraps. I had one myself, but I did prefer the ones I bought. The stretch of the fabric made a difference to me. It might be worth trying one on at the store, or seeing if you can try out one from a friend and see if it makes a difference for you.

This is a really great question and I have asked a friend of mine to help as well. I loved wearing my babies and have a bit of experience, but I think she may be able to better help answer your questions — be sure to check back here :)

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Beth K. December 27, 2013 at 6:24 pm

Thanks to the poster and all the commenters. I too have a baby who wants to look out, and we usually carry him that way in our arms. I planned to return the ergo and get something designed for front-facing, but I’ll research more first! Can young babies be carried in the backpack position? I thought that was supposed to start later. My little guy is almost 6 months.

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Stephanie April 1, 2014 at 1:42 pm

My son loves to face out and when I tried it with a Baby Bjorn it was horrible, but then I bought a lillebaby and he and I love it. I feel comfortable wearing him that way and have done it for – quite literally – hours without reprieve and felt no back pain and he was happy. I always make sure he’s seated properly when facing out but as he’s not tall enough to see over my shoulders he doesn’t always like to be on my back, since he can’t see. I would recommend the lillebaby carrier to anyone that asked me.

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Heywood April 21, 2014 at 2:26 pm

Judgie nonsense. Do whatever works for you and your baby. How about moms support each other instead of constantly telling one another what is right and what is wrong?

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Stephanie May 26, 2014 at 6:56 pm

I am in occupational therapy school and we learned about a lot of this stuff.

For people saying that Frog sitting or ‘W’ sitting is the best. It’s not if the child will be in that position for a while. It’s actually a compensatory action that child uses to lock the pelvis to gain stability. Normal children use it as a functional position when they are transitioning a lot. Sustained ‘w’ sitting is bad on the knees and not advised for children with problems already.

Very good post though, Amanda!!

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Kris August 7, 2014 at 3:10 pm

You should add the Tula carriers to your list. I just got one and it is phenomenal!

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Jennifer November 6, 2014 at 3:49 am

This is great info for those new to baby wearing. I like the graphic about hip dysphasia. I wore my babies in a mayawrap when they were little. Always facing me.

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Katie M December 1, 2014 at 12:14 pm

Thank you for the information. I didn’t know about hip dysplasia. All this information is vital for when we’re going to be babywearing in a few months.

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