Mothers have been carrying their babies in wraps, baskets, cradleboards, a sash tucked underneath the baby’s bottom, and more for generations. In traditional babywearing cultures, infants are worn many ways. It makes sense that with the adoption of baby wearing in the Western World, mothers would be enticed to buy a carrier that offers the largest variety of carrying positions. Let’s take a look at how each of these baby carrier positions are used and determine the right baby carrier positions for you and your baby.
1. Facing In
This position is used for infants under four months. Infants under four months of age get over stimulated frequently and should remain facing towards the wearer’s body until they are older. This position also makes the most sense for breastfeeding mothers as it gives the infant easy access to the breasts. Mothers can see an infant’s rooting and hunger cues and quickly attend to their infant’s needs. In addition, infants will nurse for many reasons besides hunger, including comfort when they’re overstimulated.
Strangers are also a lot less likely to come up and touch your baby if they are facing towards your body, which will provide some protection from catching germs from any nearby coughing or sneezing. The facing in position is the position used for smaller infants, but it can also be the primary carry position for much longer. The benefits of a facing in position also don’t end at a certain moment in time. An eight-month old, one-year old, and 15-month old baby will still feel safer facing in and have more protection from unwanted contact in the facing in position compared to facing out. Most parents will begin transitioning to a back carry once their little one has grown into a toddler and the increased weight puts strain on the wearer’s lower back when worn on the front.
2. Facing Out
Most babies go through a stage where they are naturally interested in the world around them and enjoy looking out and taking everything in. Babies can safely be worn in the facing out position when they have good head and neck control and are at least 4 months of age. However, even when they do reach this milestone it’s important to limit the amount of time they are carried in the facing out position. Infants past four months will still get overstimulated and will show signs of overstimulation by crying, acting scared, and tensing their body, among other symptoms. Read the full list here.
It’s important to consider baby carrier hip position, as the carrier should also provide adequate lumbar and hip support for your infant to be safely worn in the facing out position. Their legs should be in the shape of an “M” or straddle position facing in and facing out. If baby’s legs are dangling down and unsupported, they are at risk of hip dysplasia. Learn more about baby carrier hip position and hip dysplasia here. The facing out position becomes obsolete by the time your child is a toddler. The weight of a toddler in this position would make a facing out front carry uncomfortable for both of you.
A hip carry is not used until the infant has enough back strength to sit upright on their own. Most infants can sit up around 6 to 7 months old. Carriers that support this position are either simple hip seats, ring slings, or a soft structured infant carrier that has strap attachments that allow for the infant to be carried similar to the ring sling.
Hip seats require moms to use one arm to support the infant while they’re moving around, but are active enough that they want to be put down frequently. So while they’re not completely hands-free, they are quick and easy to use. Hip seats are not small enough to be packed away into a purse or diaper bag, so if you’re out you’ll need to be prepared to carry it or keep it on even when not in use.
Most ring slings and some soft structured infant carriers can be folded away like a blanket and tucked into a bag when you’re not using it. Ring slings and other hip carriers work by placing the weight of the baby on one shoulder. Over time, the wearer may need to switch sides to relieve the strain placed on one shoulder.
The general recommendation is to wait until your baby is fully capable of holding their own head up and sitting up completely before attempting a back carry. Most infants are comfortable in the straddle position on the back around six months of age. Make sure you and your little one are both comfortable with a front carry first. Then, practice at home over a soft surface such as a couch or bed to guarantee that the back carry on outings will go smoothly.
Some parents transition to a back carry early on and find this allows them a fuller range of motion to easier prep food, do light cleaning, assist other children, or do a variety of different activities. A back carry evenly supports the weight of your little one between your shoulders and alleviates lower back pain that can happen when a baby is worn on the front for long periods of time.
Some carriers advertise a cradle hold. While a cradle or cross-cradle hold is a natural way to hold a baby in our arms, it can be dangerous in a carrier if the wearer is not monitoring the baby’s positioning. Wearing an infant in a baby carrier in the cradle position puts them at risk of asphyxiation. Infants should be able to move their arms, legs, and head freely while strapped into a carrier.
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(These images were shared from The International Hip Dysplasia Institute. )
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Choosing a carrier should be based first on safety and second on functionality and preferences. When purchasing a carrier in the U.S., look for the U.S. standard ASTM F2236-08. In Europe, carriers should come with the European standard EN 13209-2:2005. Consider baby carrier hip position, ensuring that your baby’s legs are in the “M” or straddle position. Make sure your baby’s back is well supported and their chin is off of their chest.
Your child should be worn high enough on your waist that when you look down you can kiss the top of their head. For comfort, look for padded shoulders and a broad padded waistband that will distribute weight evenly. For functionality, look for a carrier that can be used in all seasons, is waterproof, and is easy to clean. A carrier that grows with your infant and has a higher upper weight limit will allow you to use it longer. Once you’ve met safety and comfort needs, you can begin to think about baby carrier positions. Baby wearing is a great way for you both to enjoy life actively on the go!