Many parents, when starting to look for a suitable carrier, ask whether it allows the baby to be positioned facing outwards with his back to the adult carrying him.
Several mass-produced carriers suggest a front facing outwards (FFO) carry as an option for older babies. Much of the publicity for these slings, and for others we would otherwise recommend, features photographs of cute babies beaming at the outside world.
But, while it is true that at around the age of four months some babies become intensely inquisitive about the outside world and want a view of more than just the sling wearer’s chest, FFO is not a carry SlingGuide can recommend.
Concerns have been raised that FFO lacks adequate support for a baby’s developing spine and hip joints, and also fails to give them the sense of security provided by other carries.
However, a curious baby can easily be satisfied without having to resort to FFO. There are several alternative positions.
One good alternative, which allows the baby to see more of the world while remaining secure and comfortable, is a hip carry in a pouch, ring sling, wrap or one of the specially designed soft structured carriers developed for hip carries.
Another is a high back carry in a mei tai, wrap or soft structured carrier, which enables the baby to peer over the sling user’s shoulder but still snuggle into the parent when she wants to do so.
A third option is a high front carry in a mei tai, wrap, or soft structured carrier, again positioning the baby so he can see over the sling user’s shoulder, but turn away when he has had enough of the outside world.
There are several disadvantages with the FFO position. Unlike the suggested alternatives, it does not allow the baby to cuddle into the parent when outside stimuli become too much for her, but holds her in a fixed position unable to seek reassurance.
Nor does FFO allow the baby to be seated in a position which provides support for his buttocks and thighs. All good carriers should enable the baby to be seated with his legs at 90 degrees to his torso and with the base of the sling supporting his legs to the backs of his knees. But in FFO the baby is held in a position which places his weight on the crotch and the base of the developing spine.
It has been suggested this may lead to a greater risk of testicular infection in baby boys, and may be a risk factor for spinal compression and hip dysplasia, but these are concerns on which we would like to see further research. However, if you envisage yourself in the baby’s place, sitting in a squat position with support for your buttocks and thighs, sounds a much more comfortable proposition than having your weight supported by your crotch.
Further objections to FFO are that the fixed position forces the baby’s back against the sling user’s chest and out of its naturally slightly rounded position, and it fails to provide adequate head support if she falls asleep.
FFO is also a carry we cannot recommend for the comfort of the sling wearer, as the position shifts the baby’s centre of gravity downwards and away from the person carrying him, making the baby feel a great deal heavier.
A further alternative to FFO, but not one that SlingGuide would wholeheartedly recommend, is the Buddha or Kangaroo style carry in which the baby faces outwards but with her legs crossed under her inside the sling.
This position has the merit of supporting the baby’s weight across the buttocks and thighs rather than just at the crotch, but the sling user would need to be very aware of the baby’s reactions and be ready to move her when she has had enough of the outside world.
It is also still open to the objections that it does not provide sufficient head support or allow the baby’s back to assume its natural, slightly rounded shape.
Moreover, it is a carry that could allow the baby to tip forwards out of the sling, so the wearer would always need to have one hand free to keep the baby in position.
While we at SlingGuide feel the Buddha or Kangaroo style carry is better than FFO, we would still always recommend the alternatives outlined above as being more comfortable for the baby and the sling wearer.
Much of the research involving the FFO carry has been conducted in Germany and is, unfortunately, not available in translation but further information on the points above can be obtained at the following websites: