Babywearing is experiencing a resurgence in popularity – particularly in the Western world. But did you know it has been around for thousands of years?

A brief history of baby wearing

Babycarrying has been a necessity for millennia. We were once a nomadic race and baby had to come along with us wherever we went and we still needed our hands free to do the work that we needed to do.

Columbia babywearing.jpgDifferent cultures and traditions as well and climates led to the development of many different ways of baby carrying – none was better than any other, it just depended on what worked best for Mama.

European parents used shawls, scarves and even bed sheets to carry baby.

In South America women carried their baby in a cloth carrier that was tied over one or both shoulders.

In colder countries such as Alaska and Canada people carried baby in an over sized animal skin hooded coat, with an in built pouch or pocket for baby to sit in. Both baby and wearer could be kept warm and safe.

Interesting to learn is that both Aborigines and Native Americans made their baby carriers out of bark.

Asia countries have different carriers for each country, adapted as the terrain and climate is slightly different wherever you go. The heat and humidity of Southern Asia means that baby needs to feed more frequently.

Japanese babywearing.jpg

Carriers in Asia are often made up of long straps that go under the armpits and thighs and are best used for back carries.

Across Africa you will find babies being carried sitting low on the back, wrapped in a piece of cloth that is tied around the torso.

What changed?

But as countries and economies develop parents want to show their wealth and this is often done by emulating Western society, and so baby wearing is in decline and the number of pushchair or strollers sold world wide has increased.  Whether or no that is proven to be a good thing is a matter of opinion. I have seen densely populated areas in Asia dropping the bicycle as a sign of progress. In Vietnam and other Southern Asia countries you see families hanging off mopeds, and here baby wearing is still popular. But in countries like China the bicycle has all but disappeared and instead you have unbelievable traffic jams and pollution. Parents won’t baby wear as it is seen as a sign of poverty. How ironic as in the US and the rest of the Western world baby wearing has steadily been growing on popularity since the 1950’s!!

What made baby wearing popular again?

John Lennon babywearing.jpgWas it seeing John Lennon wearing a baby? Was it in response to being told by the male baby trainers who called themselves parenting experts that babies should be contained in strollers and cots and parents were silly to want to follow traditional parenting methods and couldn’t be trusted with their own child’s welfare?

One thing we do know is that when the buggy manufacturers tried to establish a market in Africa they failed. Family is a key element of the way of life across Africa and babies are carried by all members of the family. African parents couldn’t understand why they should need such a strange contraption that just wasn’t practical and cost a lot. They also wondered what was wrong with White people’s babies that meant they needed to be isolated!

The mid 1950’s saw Governments busy “rescuing”children from their unknowledgeable families and raising them in a “much needed” medically led care programme. Soon after this Ann Moore a paediatric nurse by training, invented the Snugli after working in the Peace Corps in Africa and seeing African babies being carried. This launched in the US in the 1960’s.

Who knows best?

The African parents had been right! Later research into child development showed that a lack of love and contact was delaying children’s development and causing a foundations of problems for later life. This was reinforced when we saw footage of the Romanian orphans who had been left in their cots. This helped to drop the image of babywearing only being for hippies!

In the 1970’s Didymos was founded in Germany. The Founders created a woven wrap carrier based on a Mexican Rebozo given as a gift to them.

Fastforward to Hawaii in the 1980’s. Raynor Garner invents a sling with two rings and padded edges for his wife to use to carry their baby child. The product proved to be so popular that in 1985 Dr William Sears brought the rights to the product and started promoting the use of slings. Sears, a paediatrician and father to 8 children, and his wife, Agatha, a nurse and lactation consultant, built an empire promoting baby carrying and attachment parenting. Martha coined the term “babywearing” as she described her sling as something she put on in the morning and took off at night.

Where are we now?

A huge amount of money is spent on buggies, rockers, jump seats etc. Babywearing has been proven to help with bonding and development in a way that these tools can’t. It helps with Colic and Reflux and even helps a parent get fit!

With so much choice what should you chose? Well one thing to remember is that all your child really wants is to to be with you, close to someone who cares for them. I remember something that I was told a day or so after my first child was born by an amazing paediatric nurse who I will never forget; you know your child best, and you should follow your intuition.

Chose the sling that is right for you and baby. Go to a sling library and try them out. It may be that the mass produced slings are not ideal. You could make one yourself or buy one from a smaller maker of slings. Many smaller makers are probably not making a huge amount of money from making carriers but that are good quality. You can even find patterns on line to make your own.

Give it a go, millions of women before us can’t be all that wrong

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