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