There are baby carriers that hold babies in all kinds of positions: from flat on their backs with their legs straight, to curled up like a ball. What’s best? At this time, it’s hard to say with any certainty, but I think it’s fair to summarize the general thinking among people you would think of as babywearing experts as follows:
1. Newborns should never be held with their chins curled tightly against their chests; this position can restrict their breathing. Read M’Liss Seltzer’s article about correct newborn positioning for more information.
2. The best positions for newborns allow their legs and arms to come together and not be forced apart. This can be achieved in many different carriers in the reclining, or “cradle,” position, or in the upright, or “tummy to tummy,” position with the baby’s legs and arms folded up similarly to the fetal position.
3. Allowing a baby’s legs to dangle straight down with no support and supporting the baby by the crotch is not an ideal position. This is some concern that this position can cause problems for the baby’s developing spine and hips.
4. For a baby or toddler who is big enough to straddle your hip or waist, that straddling position is a good leg position. (It’s actually the same as or at least quite similar to the position that the legs are placed in and braced in to treat hip dysplasia.)
I also think it’s fair to say that there’s a split of opinion as to whether carrying a baby facing out is a good practice. Certainly, one can find opinions from vendors and others who say never to carry your baby facing out.
My position on the “facing out issue” (and I do have one … this is Susie speaking, not Magic City Slingers or NINO speaking) is that if you follow your baby’s cues and get your baby and yourself comfortable, facing out is fine. What I mean by following your baby’s cues is this: don’t face your baby out just because you see this position advertised as an advantage of front packs, and don’t face your baby out based solely on an assumption that babies prefer to face out. But if your baby is squirmy and seems to wish she could turn around, or if your baby is just not content facing in and you think she would be happier facing out, try it! (“Facing out” and “facing in” are not really accurate descriptions … but I think you know I’m referring to whether you carry your baby with the front of his body against yours (which I call “facing in,” although my baby looks any number of directions when carried this way) or with the back of his body against yours (which I call “facing out”).) I think the kangaroo carry in a ring sling or pouch, and the buddha carry in a wrap or mei tai, are all options that allow babies to face out without hanging by their crotches.
I think this is far from proven, but here’s one chiropractor’s theorizing about spinal stress caused by front packs and other carriers that support babies by their crotches, leaving their unsupported legs to dangle.
This synopsis of a resesarch study doesn’t seem to refute the idea that front packs cause spinal stress, because it doesn’t say whether front packs were studied … but it’s nice to know that, in general, at least someone has found that carrying babies upright in carriers does not damage their developing spines.
This “article” appears to be a Storchenwiege propaganda piece about how bad all other kinds of slings are, but it has some interesting comments about leg positioning in particular. (Note the weird position of the baby in the ring sling … I think there’s probably a consensus among most babywearing experts who aren’t in the business of selling one type of carrier that you can carry a baby in a ring sling with the kind of leg and back support that Storchenwiege advocates.)
OK … could I possibly have equivocated more about what I think people think? Obviously, opinions are varied. People will eventually do more scientific studies to shed light on positioning issues; in the meantime, I do invite your comments.