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  • Zoe

Forward facing out or backwards facing in?

There was a recent post on our consultant facebook group regarding the language for positioning in a sling/carrier and it sparked some interesting conversations around the terminology used.

It really got me thinking about the language we use as consultants and sling librarians and the companies who make and sell slings/carriers.

The term forward facing out or front facing out (FFO) has been used as the standard in the carrying industry to mean facing away from the person carrying, with the child's spine against the person's body. This is quite misleading really, yes it does face out, but forwards implies to do it the other way, facing the person carrying is backwards?

There is mixed use of the acronym FFO in person and online. Whilst it orginally started out as front facing out it is used to mean either forward facing out or front facing out.

The word forward implies progress, developing and therefore once you go forwards you don't go backwards?

<Paul carrying Mai in a carrier, she is facing away from him, he is engaging by holding her hands>

Much of the terminology has been lead by those manufacturing and selling slings/carriers i.e. those trying to sell us stuff! So many of these terms are marketing and PR phrases to try and seduce us into buying their product, to make their product seem better and to justify the price tag!

Companies have realised that the term forward facing out or front facing out has some negative connotations and have started to move away from using this term to phrases such as "world-facing". There is also a risk that those of us in the carrying world do not want to make people feel bad, so we use nicer sounding phrases, to shy away from the issues surrounding facing a child away from their caregiver.

When done with consideration and thought and whilst being responsive, it is absolutely fine to face your child away from you in a carrier or sling.

There is a push to have babies developing faster and quicker, it is seen as the next step in a child's development to face them away from their caregivers. Consquently, far too often babies are being put in the facing away position before they are developmentally ready. They need to have very good head control as there is no head support in this position at all. When this position is used in a responsive manner, looking out for cues that the child needs their position changing then it is entirely a positive thing but this in reality doesn't happen. Babies are faced outwards too soon, their cues aren't watched for, so they fall asleep in that position which is not recommended due to the head slumping forwards and possibility of compromising their airway. They can also become totally overwhelmed facing away from their caregiver, the world can be sensory overload!

Babies go through a developmental stage at around 4-6months when they come out of the fourth trimester and almost fight being so snug to us in a carrier/sling, to arch backwards and twist and turn. Often coinciding with their physical developmment, learning new skills like rolling over and grabbing at items. Nicola at the West Yorkshire sling library wrote about this back in 2013 and coined it NOSY baby syndrome - Not Only See You! It is a useful description!

This doesn't mean we have to change to a carrier that faces outwards, if we recognise what is driving their behaviour, we can help by making adjustments. Such as allowing their arms to come over the top of the carrier/sling, trying different postions such as a hip carry or off-centre carry. I have heard parents say "oh my child doesn't like me they fight being in the carrier", often not understanding the reasons driving the behaviour.

There is also no eye contact in this position. Eye contact is really key for communication and those eyes will look to ours for reassurance and for guidance when faced with a huge amount of sensory input. In fact researchers at the University of Cambridge in 2017, found that eye contact helped to "sync" the brain waves of the parent and the child and they state that this is likely to impact communcation and learning.

Dr Victoria Leong, lead author on the study said: “When the adult and infant are looking at each other, they are signalling their availability and intention to communicate with each other. We found that both adult and infant brains respond to a gaze signal by becoming more in sync with their partner. This mechanism could prepare parents and babies to communicate, by synchronising when to speak and when to listen, which would also make learning more effective.”

At sling library or in consults when discussing facing away from caregiver, I often describe a scenario that you are walking along with your child in the carrier facing away from you, and a fire engine goes past sirens blazing or a loud lorry and the child finds this unexpected, they cannot look to you for guidance or reassurance that it is ok. Imagine the scenario with a child facing you in a carrier, you would likely speak to them whilst looking at them and say "oh that was a bit loud wasn't it, its ok". Your child might still be upset but you reassure them, kissing them, stroking their head explaining it is ok. This is how children learn, they take their guidance from us about assessing risks and the world around us. By facing away we can lose this connection that carrying gives us.

Carrying helps to build secure attachments through being responsive and this applies however you carry, not using any one position passively, without thought, as to your child's needs.

Hip carries and off-centre positions on the front or back carrying can be good alternatives to facing away as they provide somewhere to rest their head when it gets heavy or tired. They can also see our faces and we interact more when a child faces us. A study in 2008 showed that when using buggies, turning the child away from their carer led to half the number of interactions between the child and adult - this interaction is key for building language and social skills. They also assessed infant stress and found the heart rate was lower for those facing their caregivers and child was also more likely to fall asleep when facing their caregiver.

There is also the issue of object permanance, this develops around 8-12months so the concept of knowing something exists without seeing it develops much later than when babies are typically faced away from caregivers. Out of view means you cease to exist for them until they have developed this.

Also many do not realise that in fact we do not have to face babies away from us at all. There are many other options such as hip carries and back carries which are possible depending on age and head control of your child and type of sling/carrier used.

Often these are more comfortable too due to the impact on centre of gravity in differing positions.

<Zoe carrying nephew R in a hip carry in a buckle carrier at 5m he is smiling>

So I made a decision to change my language around forward facing out positioning to be descriptive, saying facing away from caregiver. Phrases like "world-facing" implies baby needs to see the world. Well firstly it doesn't really allow the baby to see more of the world, they just can't see directly behind their heads but they still get a good view of their surroundings when facing their caregiver! They don't really need to see the world in isolation, they need to see you - their caregiver, they need to see the interactions you have with the world, and with them. It is all about the shared experiences we have that help to build language and brain development and social skills.

<Paul carrying Jude on his back in a buckle carrier Zoe standing next to Jude we are all smiling and looking at the camera>

Useful posts exploring this topic:

Zoe is a trained and insured carrying consultant, based in the Surrey Hills, Supporting you to carry safely, comfortably and confidently. Sharing the science behind carrying, supporting infant development and parents/carers mental and physical health.

For more on the science see other blog posts or instagram.

Zoe is available for consultations both in person and online to help you get carrying and runs workshops for professionals on infant carrying and the science behind it.

You can book online.

She writes and speaks on attachment, trauma, adverse childhood experiences and how carrying can be a prevention and intervention.

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