ErgoBaby are a very well established and highly respected brand in the sling world, with comparable universal recognition to BabyBjorn. They often feature in celebrity sling spots and have a certain cachet as the “ergonomic choice”. For years they have consistently refused to make a forward facing out carrier, believing that it is both more comfortable for a child to be carried facing inwards in a more natural “in arms” shape (better hip and spine positioning) as well as better for bonding and relationships.
Face to face interaction is very important for “social referencing”- the way a baby learns about the world and how to respond to it based on how the person he trusts mosts is reacting and engaging with it. ErgoBaby have written articles on this subject, and why they chose not to bow to the market. (here) So you can imagine the reaction when they announced the ErgoBaby 360 carrier, one that does allow forward facing out. Predictably, most of the general public loved it… and a large proportion of the babywearing community were less keen. A lot has been written about how disappointed people were at this U-turn. I wrote to Gunnar Dahl to express concern at this change of heart from ErgoBaby. He sent me a very courteous response, and offered me the chance to be one of the first testers of the new carrier. It was an invitation I was keen to accept.
It arrived in a handsome box containing the carrier and a leaflet with bright and clear instructions for use. It has a large “TRY ME” logo on the panel!
The first thing I noticed was the waistband. It is wider than many, and has a long length of velcro fastening, with an additional buckle on some webbing to clip together around the waist, after the waistband has been fixed in place, as an extra security feature. There are not many carriers with velcro fastenings (the Bondolino and the Marsupi come to mind). The velcro waistband works very well in terms of security as it is good strong velcro with a large surface area for maximum “stickiness”. It will fit a wide range of body sizes, and being “wraparound” and wide, it adds a feeling of extra support and closeness compared to waistbands that have webbing and buckle fastenings. The body of the carrier is attached slightly below the top edge of the waistband. So far so good! However, even though I like the waistband and so have visitors who have tried it, the velcro can be a little fiddly to undo and readjust if needed as the whole length of the waistband needs to be undone each time. By trial and error we have established that it is best to have it a little looser than needed so the long buckled webbing can be used to tighten it if needed later on.
Next I looked at the straps, which are the usual rucksack style, to be worn uncrossed and held in place by an accessory strap (or chest belt).Crossed straps is a very popular choice of strap style here in the UK, so there is a buckle at the end of each strap which would allow crossing of the straps for front carries if needed, but very few people find this easy to do, due to the position of the buckle (on the end of the strap, rather than on the panel). The buckles are a little stiffer and slightly more structured and thinner than the standard Ergo model, and are there mainly to allow hip carries if required. The Ergo has always felt like a carrier that was designed for back carrying positions, which it does well. The 360 is no exception.
The panel is the main point of interest. There are two pairs of buttons at the sides, which allow the width of the seat to be adjusted. The upper part of the back panel is quite narrow, and the adjusting of the lower half of the panel creates a bucket shape. The narrower setting is designed for smaller babies facing in, and for larger babies in the front facing out position. The facing in position is comfortable and ergonomic, as you would expect.
So, what about the forwards facing out position?
Typically, high-street carriers that offer the option of forward facing out have been pretty narrow at the base, meaning that baby’s legs hang straight down and will bump against the parent’s legs when walking. Such positioning may not be unsafe for the majority (see my article here about healthy hip positions), but it is certainly less comfortable to sit on a narrow band than to sit on a broad, widely supported base (akin to a bar stool vs a hammock.)
The ErgoBaby 360 attempts to address that, and in my opinion, it succeeds pretty well. The panel forms a bucket shape for baby to sit in when facing out, and it is almost impossible for the pelvis not to tilt slightly so that knees are brought up and are well supported in front and away from parent, which is good. The bucket shape also allows a little bit of lower spine curvature. It’s impressive – streets ahead of every other forward facing out carrier and certainly much, much more ergonomic than the usual high street carriers. Also, in the Ergo360, baby’s arms are not trapped inside small arm holes, so he will be able to move his hands to his face freely and suck his fingers when needed, which is important for his comfort So for parents who feel their baby needs to face forwards, and are unable or unwilling to use an ergonomic hip carrier, but still wish to ensure the most comfortable option for their child, this new 360 Ergo is the best solution on the market, I feel.
ErgoBaby are clear on the 360 box instructions that the front facing out position is for babies of 5months and over (due to the time it takes to develop reliably strong head and neck control such that airway is not at risk of compromise), and this position should not be used for sleeping. Parents should be aware of the risk of over-stimulation and turn baby around to sleep. They say on the box that this position is “recommended for a limited duration of time only when baby is awake, and turn baby inwards if showing signs of sleepiness or over-stimulation”. They don’t say how long this time is, and a video on their website (which most people won’t look at) seems to suggest ten minutes. It will be interesting to see how the parents using the carrier interpret this information and if they are able to detect signs of overstimulation easily. Many, many babies are carried facing forwards from only a few weeks of age for well over an hour at a time.
I found it comfortable to use facing out, even though I still prefer cross-strap carriers for front positions. So did others with different shapes and different aged children. We all liked the waistband for the extra support it gave, this is needed with such facing out positions (the centres of gravity are further apart so parent’s muscles have to work harder to maintain balance than a facing in carry).
Small baby and big toddler carrying in the Ergo360
An insert will need to be used for a small baby (to be carried facing in) – this is not included as standard. Such inserts can be pretty warm to use in hot weather, so this will need to be taken into account when choosing a carrier. Most babies will fit into the 360 by about three to four months of age (depending on the baby, of course!)
The wider seat setting does seem to increase the width of the base compared to the original model by as much as about 5cm. (This is due to the moulding of the panel, as it is more structured and curved) and the panel seems marginally taller (with the head rest down). With the head rest up there is an extra ten centimetres in height, which is an improvement in my books. The Original panel usually feels too short for toddlers to be supported up to the backs of their shoulders.
Ergo say the carrier is suitable for up to 36months. I am sure it is safety tested to the typical weight of this age range, and the 360 will certainly last longer than the Original. However, by two to three years, most children will find it a little too small in terms of the best possible comfort. The added headrest helps a lot to support the back, but it is not as wide as a typical toddler carrier (usually 2o inches at the base). It will be safe, (see my article here about knee to knee in weight-bearing children) and reasonably comfy, but for a big toddler/preschooler, greater leg support may well feel more pleasant to spend prolonged time in.
There is an integral hood that can be used for sleepy heads or sun protection when needed. (Do be aware, though that on hot days, hoods can trap air and increase the temperature inside the carrier.)
Mostly, this was good. I did identify a few issues, however. After a few uses, the buttonholes had begun to fray a little.
Also, the panel to waistband stitching was showing signs of strain. This is inevitable, as the panel hangs over the waistband and is stitched along its length about a third depth into the waist. This helps to create the bucket seat, but the stitches have to take a lot of strain.
The Ergo will have had to pass a lot of vigorous US testing before being released, and this is the “tester” model, so this may be an isolated issue.
I enjoyed this carrier. I think it is cleverly designed to meet a particular market of parents; those who wish to provide the forwards facing out position but are choosing to do so in a way that maximises their child’s comfort and is respectful of their growing body and natural spread squat positions. It will last a while, certainly longer than the standard models due to the headrest. It will be much more comfortable in all positions, compared to narrow based carriers, as baby’s weight is much more evenly distributed around the parent’s body. However, the facing-out position, even though it is much more ergonomic and supportive, still has the issues of reducing face to face contact and communication, which is so important for the growing brain still learning who and what to trust.
I particularly liked the supportive wide waistband with the extra buckle for a little more snugness if needed. It fitted a large range of sizes. I was just able to get the shoulder straps snug enough for a back carry with a toddler, but I would probably find them a little loose with a six month old (I am a small size 12).
I’ve had quite a few opportunities to discuss this carrier on my travels around the country recently, meeting parents carrying facing out. After a mutual love of slings chat, many mentioned that they had been finding their current high-street carriers uncomfortable or worrying in terms of hip or spine health, but don’t feel their child will accept facing in or hip or back carries. I have felt able to happily recommend this as a good alternative, for maybe twenty minutes or so when baby is well awake.