Lots of parents come to us wanting to carry their baby in a 'world facing' position (also referred to as forwards facing, or facing out) in a sling as they get bigger. This might be because:
They want to ensure babies get plenty of stimulation and can watch and interact with the world around them.
They would like their baby to stay awake in the sling sometimes, and when facing in they fall asleep (or get cross because they associate the sling with sleep and don't want to!)
Their baby fidgets/fusses or cries in the sling and tries to turn around to see what's going on (or watch a big sibling playing)
They would like to get more longevity from the sling as baby gets bigger
How to get comfy when world facing:
There are 4 main things to think about when world facing your baby:
Are they ready/big enough/old enough?
Is our sling suitable for use in a world facing position (and from when until when)
Is world facing the best option for us?
How will I make it as comfy as possible for both of us?
1) Are they ready/big enough/old enough?
For a baby to be comfy and safe facing out, they need to be able to hold their heads up for extended periods, without it bobbing around. This is usually from around 4 months and for some babies may be later than this, so, as with everything to do with parenting, it's so important to look at your own baby and their capabilities, especially if they were born prematurely or have any other reasons that they may not fit the general rules of thumb.
Prior to 4 months many babies might be able to hold their heads enough for you to face them outwards in your arms for short periods, and this is absolutely ok and fine! It's worth remembering though, that in the sling they will likely be in that position a lot longer and being supported in a different way which they are unlikely to be ready and able to do just yet.
No matter how old your baby is, when they fall asleep they will lose the ability to hold their head up! So, if you see them (literally) starting to nod off, it's safest to spin them round to face you again, to protect their airway (their heavy heads can actually obstruct their airway in this position) as well as to keep their necks comfy.
2) Is our sling suitable for world facing (and from when until when)?
There are lots of slings/carriers that are suitable for world facing, but not all of them will be recommended to be used in this position by their manufacturers! This surprises lots of parents, as many people believe that babies can only face out (and no longer in towards the person carrying them) when they get a bit older. Actually, this isn't true, and babies can face in towards you for as long as you and they like. In fact, some sling options that don't have a world facing position last longer in terms of safe age/weight limits than those that do! More on this down in point 3 below...
Of the slings that we love (and therefore hire and sell), those that are recommended for use in the world facing position (and the age they recommend doing so from) are...
Tula Explore (4 Months +)
As you can see, the age at which they are recommended to be used facing outwards also varies a bit, based on how big the body of the carrier is (and therefore will the baby's face pop out the top so they can breathe/see and all those important things), when the manufacturers feel that it is safe to do so from, and when they have safety tested from, so this is another consideration when choosing your sling/carrier.
Theoretically, you could face your baby outwards in many other types of sling, or wrap, however if it's not recommended by the manufacturer then it's really worth coming to see us, or your own local sling consultant or library, to discuss whether you can ensure that you and your baby are safe and comfy in the sling that you would like to use, or whether another option or another carrying position may be more comfortable for you both.
As your baby grows into a toddler, you may find it harder to keep comfortable in an outwards position and find it helpful to learn to back carry instead. Most manufacturers don't give particular upper limits to use in this position in particular (just the upper limit for using that particular sling/carrier in general), so again, be guided by your and your baby's own comfort levels and seek some support from us/your local sling consultant or library if you feel that this is no longer comfortable.
3. Is world facing the best option for us?
Some parents will be aware of some controversy around carrying babies facing out, and it's a subject on which sling consultants, manufacturers and parents themselves often don't see eye to eye. It's worth considering the sides of the debate and the evidence that we have available to us (at the time of writing this) to make an informed decision about whether you want to use this position or not. The main reasons that forward facing is not recommended by some, is that:
It's harder to give good spinal and hip support to babies, because typically legs dangle more in an outward position, putting more pressure down through babies' hip sockets, and causing their back to over-straighten. There is no formal evidence that this will cause damage to the vast majority of babies (though may not be as comfy for them as being carried in a supported 'M' position, with a gently rounded spine). However for a small proportion of babies, who may have undiagnosed/missed hip dysplasia, being carried in this position may exacerbate (worsen) the condition, whereas being carried in an optimal 'M' position may actually improve their outcomes. Some babies are more likely to have hip dysplasia than others, typically babies who are: female, first born, have a family history of dysplasia or have been breech or had reduced amniotic fluid in pregnancy. For every baby, both inwards and outwards facing, careful attention to positioning is really important and covered in point 4 below...
It can be a bit much for your baby: Babies can find it quite tricky to filter out the huge amount of information they are taking in, without actively being able to turn away from it or use your face and expressions to give them guidance and reassurance. When carrying a baby in your arms, you're much more likely to periodically shift their position than in your sling or carrier, giving them regular breaks to prevent overstimulation.
It's harder for your baby to check in with you: although we may not feel it most days, the person carrying a baby can be intensely interesting for them! Not only will an overwhelmed, tired or frightened baby be able to hide away a bit if facing you, but a curious baby can watch the way that you are interacting with the world to help them to make sense of it all. This process (called triangulation) means that a baby facing in will see the way that you react to a situation and use that information to help them work out how they should feel.
It's harder for you to check in with your baby: The person carrying a baby facing out might be less likely to notice that they are tired/uncomfortable/falling asleep/finding it tricky to breathe, so it's even more important to be conscious of checking in with them.
It's harder for you to get comfy: A baby who has dangling legs and an over-straightened back will also be one that is slightly tilting away from your body. As the distance between your body and your baby's increases, so does the amount of leverage on you (and so your baby feels much heavier). You lean back to compensate, and therefore put more strain on your back. again, more on avoiding this in point 4 below...
If you decide you would rather not world face your baby (or have a sling that doesn't recommend use in this position), what else can you do?
Continue to inwards face. Many babies and toddlers will do so quite happily, and may naturally pop one or both arms out of the sling and slightly turn to see what's going on, if they'd like to. Some slings have a wider vantage than others, so comparing types or brands can be helpful too. A big benefit of this is that your baby can choose where they'd like to face, and pop their head back against you when they'd like a bit of a rest. Also, it's much easier for both of you to be get comfy for longer carrying periods, and protect your backs, if they are facing in towards you.
You can pop your baby onto your back in most ergonomic carriers (typically recommended from 6 months/sitting independently) or even earlier if necessary with other types of slings and support from us, or your local sling consultant or library. The advantage here, is they can see where they are going, but you can carry their weight much more easily without hurting your back.
You can carry your baby on your hip in many types of sling or carrier, enabling a much wider view and the possibility of switching hips to vary your carrying position.
4. How will I make it as comfy as possible for both of us?
As with carrying facing in, in general you will be comfier if:
Your baby is held high on your body, and tight in towards your chest. So, if your back is hurting, lifting your baby/child up (so their weight is off the sling) and pulling everything tighter is the most effective first step you can take! Your baby's head should be high enough on your body that you can kiss it by simply lowering your face, and not stooping your whole torso down.
The straps of your sling are wide on your shoulders (not pressing on your neck) and crossing low on your back (if your sling has crossed straps), or that the back strap is positioned between your shoulder blades and not high up on your neck or way down low on your back (if your sling has an 'H' style back).
Your baby has a good 'pelvic tuck' position, with knees up higher than their bottom and their back pressing in towards you like this. In some narrow-based carriers this might be tricky, especially in an outward facing position, so if you're not sure or can't manage, again come along and see us/your local consultant or library for some support.
Stay responsive: If your back is hurting, or your baby is fussing, it might be time to change positions. In general, it's worth thinking about facing out as a position for shorter lengths of time, with many manufacturers recommending 20-30 minutes as a maximum duration.
Finally, we entirely believe, as the wonderful Rosie Knowles points out, that carrying your baby or child doesn't need to be scary, difficult or expensive and should be something that helps you parent the way that you would like to, interact with your little one in a positive manner and your family to function in a way that is helpful to you. Every single situation is slightly different, so following a set of strict rules for carrying (or any other aspect of parenting) is unlikely to be helpful. Think: is my baby safe? Are we both comfy? Is this working for us? If the answer to all 3 is yes, carry on!