World Storytelling Day - The history of babywearing
A mother and baby are hardwired for unity, we are naturally designed to carry our babies and our babies need to be nurtured and held mimicking the closeness of pregnancy in those initial months after birth (often referred as the ‘Fourth Trimester’) to thrive physically, emotionally and psychologically.
As we have evolved as a species, the fetal brain grew too big, which means our babies are born earlier than most mammals, and they continue to gestate outside the womb (known as ‘Exterogestation’) so as not to outgrow the pelvic dimensions of the mother, that too have evolved to allow for standing on two feet and walking.
So, from an evolutionary perspective, because natural selection favoured a larger brain, we are a “carrying” species, because our infants are not yet developed enough to cling to their mothers like primate infants. Carrying our babies was necessary for survival of the human race, to keep our young close, calm and quite so as not to alert predators compared to a “parking” species like wolves who hide their young in dens.
Baby carrying devices are documented by anthropologists as one of the first tools ever developed, used for centuries as a necessity for nomadic people to allow them to forage for food whilst keeping their babies close, safe and hydrated through frequent breastfeeding. This effective parenting tool was constructed from animal skins, plants, and woven fabrics & cloth, with the design varying greatly in different times and places, with climate influencing the type of carrier used and ways of wearing. Many cultures treated their carriers as sacred objects, often decorated them with amulets for protection of symbols.
So whilst baby carriers are not new, in Western cultures they are being adapted to bring back the culturally borrowed practice. The use of carriers in Western societies, fell out of style in the Victorian-era Europe as attitudes towards child raising shifted and parents worried about “spoiling their babies”. Carriages or prams became fashionable and a way to create space between themselves and their babies as they saw them as independent beings. Baby Carriers were then associated with lower classes and non-Western cultures. Only in the 1970’s did carriers start to make a come back and gained acceptance as a parenting approach.
Today, with the research we have showing the health benefits of babywearing both for the care provider and the infant, and a desire once more for a connected style of parenting, baby carriers find themselves on most baby shower wish lists or mum check lists. It is not uncommon for parents to own multiple different styles of carriers, made from different patterns and textiles to suit their lifestyle, but remember safety is the number one priority! You should ensure your choice of carrier is safety certified and you follow T.I.C.K.S safety guidelines for baby wearing https://www.productsafety.gov.au/news/baby-sling-safety
Baby wearing in developing countries has never gone out of style, lets look at some of the traditionally used carriers:
- Mexico & Guatemala – Rebozo (short wrap sling)
- Kenya – Kanga or Pagne (rectangle cloth)
- Papua New Guinea – ‘Bilum’ (net bag carried with a strap around the mother’s forehead)
- Peru & Bolivia – ‘Manta or Awayo’ (folded woven fabric tied at the chest, baby is carried on the mothers back)
- Indonesia – ‘Selendang’ (fabric tied over one shoulder)
- Canada/Alaska “Inuit mothers” – ‘Amauti’ – a purpose built pouch below the hood of a large coat to keep baby warm
- Korea – ‘Podegai’ – wide blanket with narrow straps to tie around the mothers torso