As the practice of babywearing has rapidly grown and developed, particularly over the last 10 years, baby carrier designers have continued to add functionality and appeal to their carriers in an attempt to retain (or gain) market share in an increasingly saturated market place.
Where once pretty much the only baby carrier you could buy was a Baby Bjorn, there are now a pile of different baby carriers on the market. The original Baby Bjorn was designed to allow a baby to be carried in a forward facing position. With the growth of babywearing worldwide, the ergonomics of carrying a baby has become more and more important. The traditional narrow based carrier (or front pack carrier) like the Baby Bjorn has gone out of fashion, as it does not provide a particularly ergonomic position for baby, or for the wearer. But the ascendancy of ergonomic carriers meant the death of forward facing babywearing, as an ergonomic position meant a wide base; too wide for the child to sit forward facing.
Now, for me personally, carrying my baby in a forward facing position wasn’t something I needed or wanted to do. On the front facing me, or back carrying, or on the hip in a ring sling, gave me enough flexibility to get on with my day. I also feel there is a potential for forward facing to lead to an overstimulated baby, who has nowhere to turn away from the busy world if feeling overwhelmed. But, for some parents, forward facing is something they’d like to be able to do. Their child enjoys the stimulation, or they catch public transport and enjoy being able to sit down with baby on their lap securely, for example.
So to meet this demand, while addressing the issues of ergonomic positioning, new carriers have been developed that have a forward facing position that provides a more ergonomic seat for baby. Two of the most popular on the market right now are the Ergo 360 and the Lillebaby.
At a glance
The Lillebaby I have used in this review is called the All Seasons Complete. It markets itself as a six-position carrier (newborn legs in, infant legs out, forward facing, toddler legs out, hip and back).
The Ergo 360 is a four-position carrier (facing in, facing out, hip and back). Though, to be properly comparative, the 360 does have an infant insert (purchased separately) which therefore also offers a “fifth” position for newborns with legs in.
The extra position the Lillebaby offers is legs out for a baby over 3.1kg who is happy to sit in the legs out position. The Lillebaby’s narrowest seat position is narrower than the 360, so while in a 360 a small baby would still need to be in the insert, they would likely be able to sit without an insert in the Lillebaby. This can be an advantage because inserts can be a bit fiddly to use, and can be quite warm if the weather is hot.
From my brief experience with the Lillebaby to date, I would suggest that not all babies would be happy to be in the legs out position from birth, and Lillebaby does provide instructions for keeping a newborn in the legs in position, in the event they are not happy to have their legs out of the carrier. But I envisage that the average baby would be able to use the carrier with the legs out position within the first month or two, much sooner than the Ergo 360, where the insert would generally be used until at least 4 months old, potentially up to 6 months old.
The Ergo 360 retails for AUD $239. The Lillebaby Complete All Seasons Tokidoki I’ve used in this review retails for AUD $235, though there are cheaper versions available, with plain fabric for example.
The Ergo 360 is distributed in Australia through Babes in Arms, and is available in many bricks and mortar baby stores and online. The Lillebaby is distributed in Australia through AngelRock Baby, Bellas Little Ones, HuggleBaby Carriers, The Infant Boutique, PixieMama, Nurture Nest and Wear Your Baby (online), or from the AngelRock Baby store in Ettalong, NSW.
The Ergo 360 comes in six colours currently. The Lillebaby Complete comes in a few more colours, as well as some patterns and the funky Tokidoki print that I tried for this review.
The short version is both of these carriers are great, and chances are you would be happy with either of them, but here are a few of my thoughts on pros and cons that might help you make a decision based on what you are looking for in a carrier.
- Is readily available in lots of bricks and mortar stores where you can try it on if you’re the kind of person who likes to try things before you buy.
- Has a wide firm waistband that secures via Velcro, which is quite unusual for a baby carrier, but I actually quite liked it, a lot more than I thought I would. It felt uniformly supportive right around my waist. The downside of the Velcro is it is noisy to remove and once you have it on it is pretty much impossible to adjust, so you want to try to get it the right tension first time.
- The front facing position creates a slightly better leg position for baby than the Lillebaby, in my opinion.
- Has narrower shoulder straps than traditional Ergos, which is a plus for smaller framed people, who often find the Ergo too big and bulky.
- The method of making the seat narrower to enable forward facing is much simpler than the Lillebaby.
- In developing a carrier with a simple but ergonomic front facing position, the maximum weight limit has been reduced from 20kg to 15kg. This is probably not a big issue, as by the time most children reach 15kg they will be too big in general for this carrier and you would want to be looking at a toddler sized carrier.
- Needs a separate insert for a newborn/small infant.
- Comes in options including Airflow and All Seasons, which include mesh to allow greater air flow, enhancing comfort in the warmer weather.
- While still providing a narrower base option for infants, the standard size is a decent sized carrier, and my 2.5 year old still just about fit, with the head rest up, whereas she wouldn’t really fit in the 360 at all anymore. This could definitely be a carrier that would last you comfortably from newborn to large toddler, which is a rare find.
- Has a lumbar support piece you can thread onto the waistband for front carries. I’m not sure how much value this adds, I didn’t wear it for long enough, but perhaps it would provide some extra support when walking for an hour or so.
- Has lovely cushy curved straps, and plenty of length in the padding so you don’t end up with webbing cutting into your armpit. Also has extra bits of padding under the buckles, including the chest clip, for extra comfort.
- Will fit an infant without an insert before the Ergo 360, potentially from birth, if you are keen to use a buckle carrier straight away. Note: I still prefer a stretchy wrap or ring sling for a newborn, but I know some people like the convenience of buckle carriers and would like to only have to buy one babywearing device if possible.
- Comes in funky Tokidoki prints.
Just one last point about forward facing – it is not recommended until around 5 months of age when baby has very good head control, and you can probably comfortably carry forward facing til around 12 months/10kg. It is important not to carry a younger baby forward facing.
How do you feel about forward facing carriers? Is it something you find useful?
PS: Thanks to my gorgeous friend Tracey and her patient little boy for helping me out with this review. And thanks to Angel Rock Baby for letting me try the Lillebaby.