Babywearing is an instinctive parenting style where a baby is held close to the parent in a sling or pouch for a substantial part of the day. Every culture in the world has known baby garb in some form or capacity throughout time. Depending on the climate and the mother's role in the family, baby carrier go from small pieces of fabric at the hip, stomach, or back, to full cradleboards carrier on the back.
Many carriers have multi-uses. For earlier civilizations, it made sense to carry your baby; the world was full of sickness and predators and baby carrying kept your child from becoming a target of infection, wild animals, poisonous plants, climate exposure (snow, sleet, wind, rain), and other threats to child’s health.
Also, it made it easier for women, whom the family unit relied upon heavily for day-to-day functioning, to return to work much more quickly. They were able to carry about regular chores such as cooking, cleaning, harvesting, skinning, tanning, caring for other family members, and going to market, with their child, who was dependent upon them for food and comfort, in close proximity.
One might be surprised to realize how a seemingly simple invention of baby carrying device has played an important role in the progress of human species. Here is a list of countries around the world and a description of various ways they carry their babies.
North & South America
Mexico & Guatemala
In Latin American countries such as Mexico and Guatemala, Rebozos are used as baby carriers. Rebozos are short wraparound slings or shawls that are rectangular in shape and are worn over the shoulders. These shawls are used for carrying various accessories and clothing, as well as providing protection from the sun. Pregnant women also use Rebozos to help reposition the developing infant and they are also used as support for the mother during childbirth.
Peru & Bolivia
If one visits countries further south and head to Peru or Bolivia, one might see mothers carrying their babies on their backs using traditional mantas or awayos. This type of baby carrier is a large rectangle woven fabric that is folded in half and tied at the carrier’s chest.
Native America & Canada
The use of cradle boards as baby carriers were popular among many Native American and Canadian cultures for centuries. Mothers wrapped their babies in either cloth or fur and then placed their loved ones the cradle board which was latterly strapped to the carriers back. During travel, cradle boards were hung by a pommel from a saddle. Cradle boards went out of use during the 1950’s and were replaced by strollers. Not all indigenous Americans used cradleboards to carry their babies. In regions such as Alaska, the Inuit women used a parka material called Amauti when carrying their babies and toddlers in tow. A amauti is a very thick arctic coat with a baby pocket on the back and a large hood that goes over both the mother and baby’s head while still allowing the child to see over the mother’s shoulder.
In Eastern African countries such as Kenya, mothers use a Kanga also called pagne which is a short piece of cloth that is tied around the torso, so the baby can sit comfortably on the lower back. The Kanga is typically a rectangular piece of fabric with a border around it and used not only for baby carrying but also for carrying items and for protecting clothing whilst cooking. During the last century, traditional Swahili sayings began to be printed on each kanga.
In Mozambique a capulana is used for baby carrying. The capulana is a printed sling like piece of cloth wherein the weight of the baby is supported by the carrier's shoulder by tying a knot between the breasts.
Europe’s baby carrying traditions are a bit different compared to other parts of the world. During the 19th century, only Europe's poor and uneducated classes carried around their offspring and were physically close to them. Whereas the elite class created distance between adult and child with the essential goal of not spoiling them.
Until the 1950’s, Welsh mothers used long pieces of warm fabrics and shawls called Siol Fagu to carry babies. These carriers were also referred as nursing shawls.
Much like what the North American indigenous people used, mothers in Greenland carry around their babies using an amaarngut. Women and girls of Greenland typically carry around babies and small children on their backs in a hood of a garment designed solely for this purpose.
In Sweden, mothers have traditionally carried around their children using a bog or a boeg, which is derived from the English word, bag. These bags are made of leather and shaped into a rounded bag with edges and straps that were cut into traditional patterns. The infant would be bundled in something warm and then placed in the bog. In other parts of Scandinavia, cradleboards were used.
Similar to the Native Americans and Scandinavians cradleboards, Aboriginals mothers kept their babies in carriers made of bark but without the cloth covering. Aboriginal mothers would lay their babies in very small curved wooden dishes that she holds at her side or lays in the shade for scrub during hunting. During a corroborree, an Australian Aboriginal dance ceremony, it is very common for a child to be balanced on the mother’s shoulders, asleep as the mother dances. In these cultures the children are taken care of and even breastfed by many kin women, however, the baby still spends most of the time with their mother.
Papua New Guinea
In Papua New Guinea, the Ipili people use a net bag called a bilum as baby carriers. This bag is held at the forehead with the baby hanging from the front or back. A bilum carrier is available in different sizes and used for carrying many different things. The bag is lined with soft leaves or pieces of cloth to add more comfort for the baby.
Babies in Indonesia traditionally do not touch the ground for the first 3 months. Instead, they are passed from person to person. After this period, a special ceremony is held, and babies are then welcomed to play on the ground. When the baby is not crawling, mothers use pieces of fabric, called selendang slings that are tied over one shoulder and used as baby carriers. These slings are also worn as a dress or a skirt and are also used as plain carrying bags.
In parts of China, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam, mei tais are used as a baby wearing method. These baby carriers are worn with either a double or single strap and are often beautifully hand embroidered. The mei tai was first introduced in China and has been traditionally used for centuries. At first, the mei tais were only used by peasant women whilst working in the fields but now they are used by all classes of people in these regions.
In South East Asia, in countries such as Laos, Myanmar, and Tibet, a “Hmong”-style carrier is used as a baby carrier. It is a piece of square of fabric and the baby is worn in front or on the back. In these cultures, there is typically plenty of extended family so babies are often passed from one set of arms to another. As people move to cities and move away from more traditional ways, carriers are used far less and more Western ways such as strollers are adopted.
Benefits for the Baby
Babies who are in close physical contact and are carried by their parents benefit from a more stable heart rate and regulated breathing.
Being in close physical contact with a parent provides a baby with a rich learning environment where all of their most important needs can be met – food, warmth, love and touch. Babies who are carried learn more, stimulating brain development and expanding their future learning potential.
Baby wearing also increases cardiac output, improves circulation, promotes respiration and aids in digestion. Provides the exact level and kind of stimulation an infant requires, energizing their nervous system and creating a quiet, calm alertness in the infant. Decreases the levels of stress hormones circulating in a baby’s blood stream, resulting in a more relaxed, happy baby Develops the muscles needed for the infant to sit, stand and walk. Enhances motor skills by stimulating the baby’s vestibular system (balance organs) by exposing the baby to a variety of sights, sounds and motion. Offers easy access to the infant’s food source – mothers’ breast milk, without having to stop or sit down. Frequently carried babies fall asleep quickly and will usually sleep deeper and for longer periods of time in the comfort of their sling. Babies worn in slings feel safe and secure which helps to foster a solid sense of self.
Benefits for Family
For parents, an increased feeling of early bonding, a feeling of competence and confidence that their baby is well cared for, and less stress on the family because of the decreased crying are just a few of the benefits of babywearing. Additionally, parents feel able to get more accomplished in the day and report less frustration over early parenting and baby rearing.
Additionally, a baby quickly learns their role in the family, rather than allowing for the baby to become the center of the family and communities universe. Likewise, the baby learns about their culture, society, and family rhythms, equating to a more content and well-adjusted child, and more content and well-adjusted family.
Babywearing enables the mother to be acutely aware of her baby’s cues and signals and heightens her perception of her child’s needs. A study published in the Pediatrics journal found that babywearing reduces crying and fussiness by up to 51%, with parents feeling more competent and nurturing toward their children.