Baby carriers have been around for thousands of years. Prior to the early 1900’s, parents worldwide used a variety of long cloths, shawls, scarves and even bed sheets to snuggle up their babies and get the chores done.
Babywearing was not something 'special' and different as it is perceived today in the Western world, but just what they did to cope. And cope they did! Mothers had to work incredibly hard and didn't have time to stop and entertain baby, so baby just came along for the ride. It was common sense for mother to use a baby carrier to make her life a little easier.
Even today many traditional types of carrier are still used in developing countries, although this is usually restricted to indigenous communities where babywearing is totally normal, a necessity and way of life.
A Carrier for every country....
Each country/area of the world has a traditional baby carrier designed to meet their particular needs, i.e. hot/cold climate, type of work mothers do, cultural/traditional wearing positions.
For instance Mexican people use the Rebozo, which is a square of woven cloth tied over one shoulder with baby usually on the back-
Peruvians have a Manta which sits over both shoulders like a cape, and baby sits high on mother's back.
Guatemalans use Parraje-
European mothers used a mixture of pouches, wraps and short cloth carriers.
Alaskan/Canadian people have the Amauti which is a very thick arctic jacket with a baby 'pocket' in the back, baby even fits under the over-
Papua New Guinea mothers use a Bilum-
Indonesian mothers use a Selendang which is a long ornate wrap.
Aboriginal mothers used to keep their babies in carriers made of bark, similar to the cradleboards used by Native Americans but without the cloth covering.
Asian mothers use a variety of carriers including Mei-
Welsh mothers used to wear their babies in warm shawls, called 'Siol Fagu' (nursing shawl ).
Ethiopian mothers use a blanket with top straps, similar to the Onbuhimo.
African mothers use a 'Khanga' which is a short-
Maori women carried their babies in a cloth inside their cloaks, or in a flax Pikau (backpack).
The decline and rise of babywearing....
Sadly, in many of those countries babywearing has become less common because it is seen as something 'poor people do', and since only rich people can afford strollers, they *must* be desirable. (Forget that they are often totally impractical for the terrain etc) The more you have, the better off you apparently are.
Ironically, even though the women from the developing countries are trying to 'be more like the Americans' by NOT wearing their babies, babywearing is rapidly gaining in popularity with the exact people they are trying to emulate.
Interestingly, strollers were recently marketed in an African city but met with amusement and dismal failure to sell. The mothers wondered why on earth they would need such contraptions, and what was wrong with white people's babies that they would need to be in such isolation!
With the introduction of self styled 'baby trainers' in the middle of last century, and the ensuing movement to make babies independent and stop them being spoilt by too much love and attention, babywearing declined in western countries. Mothers stopped learning mothering from other mothers, and instead took the advice of men, deemed 'experts' because they were male, and doctors. Never mind that men and women have been shown to have totally different parenting styles and expectations (not wrong, just different).
Babies were put in strollers and cots, instructed not to be touched, and a whole range of inventions to avoid the 'bad habit' of carrying your baby. This move away from traditional mothering followed the move of birthing from home to hospitals, and seeing mums as 'just another silly mother', not to be trusted with the welfare of her own child. Sue Kedgley (1996) "Mum's the Word-
The State was determined to 'rescue' babies from their unknowlegeable families and encourage what they deemed proper medically lead care. It only took the first half of the 1900's to undo centuries of mothering knowledge and support, and it has taken another 30 years to even begin healing this rift.
Later research has quashed the 'spoilt baby' theory and we know now that lack of love and touch actually severely delays babies' development. They need and indeed crave bodily contact and movement in order to thrive. (We all know about the devastating situation of the Romanian orphans , left in cots without love and touch, and how they have missed out on so much potential development as a result. This sadly shows just how important it is.)
Until recently, baby slings were seen as only for hippies and native people', made of pieces of cloth and not easy to use. But as Dr Maria Blois says in her book 'Babywearing' (2005), that changed in Hawaii in 1981. That year a man called Rayner Garner invented a sling with two rings and padded edges, for his wife Sachi to wear their baby. His design was so popular and useful that in 1985 Dr William Sears bought the rights and continued making and promoting slings. The basic sling design still exists today in many variations, and many brands and types to choose from.
Dr William Sears coined the term 'babywearing' which has gained in popularity (along with soft carriers/slings) since the 1980s. He sees baby slings as an extension of the womb environment, bringing with it many benefits for baby's development and parents' sanity!
Babywearing is becoming increasingly recognised in the UnitedStates and Europe as an important parenting tool, and there is even a very highly sought after 'wrapping school', Die Tragenschule, with branches in Dresden and Europe. People in the medical and baby worlds are beginning to realise the value of babywearing as a means of bonding with baby and aiding development. This generation of parents are gradually learning to trust their instincts again, and feel confident to follow their intuition. After all, babywearing is a thousand year tradition, and the last century is only a speed-