Baby Wearing Around the World
It’s a no brainer that baby wearing is one of the fastest growing trends in western culture to date. It’s high functionality, safety, and convenience has made it a popular choice among mothers and fathers. Although baby wearing may be an “up-and-coming” trend for us here in the United States, it is most definitely not so for the rest of the world. Baby wearing is an ancient (and I mean ANCIENT) practice that dates back thousands and thousands of years. Nearly every culture known to us has their own version of baby wearing, which leads to fascinating diversity in the structure and methodology of this tradition.
The Stigma Surrounding Baby Wearing
However, in western culture baby wearing is a relatively new practice due to the stigma that surrounds it. Around the turn of the 19th century there was a huge surge in the practice of “detachment” parenting. Parents were encouraged not to coddle or pacify their children, and instead leave them to cry and comfort themselves. This led to a decrease in many practices including co-sleeping and, you guessed it, baby wearing. Children were given their own nurseries, nannies, and strollers in place of a human bodies for comfort. Mothers who continued to baby wear or co-sleep were often those who lived in poverty and couldn’t afford the amenities their wealthier counterparts could. Thus, the stigma surrounding baby wearing sprung, and we’re all the worse for it. Psychologists and scientist around the world have studied detachment parenting practices and found them to be detrimental to the health of a baby and even to the mother. In the past decade attachment parenting and its practices such as baby wearing and co-sleeping have been proven to create happy, healthier babies. So why do we continue to frown upon it?
All Around the World
Fortunately, this stigma is mostly isolated to the western world, and baby wearing is seen as a cultural norm in many countries. So much so, in fact, that an attempt to introduce strollers into a market in Nairobi, Kenya failed miserably. When a local market store began to introduce strollers, rattles, and other European type parenting tools the results were devastating. Only one stroller was sold. Mothers in Nairobi viewed the strollers as an atrocity, unable to fathom why a mother would choose to push their child along the lumpy roads so common in their city. It is obvious that despite western culture’s influence in many countries around the world, child care is a subject many are unwilling to budge on.
What’s My Name?
For many cultures baby wearing is a lot more than just functional, it’s part of a tradition. In Malaysia parents carry their children on their backs in baskets made of rattan and wood, due to the scarcity of cloth in their markets. As the child grows the parents decorate their baskets with objects like taro shoot, snail shells, and taro root. Later, when the child touches the earth for the first time in a ritual called “chut tanah”, these embellishments become important in how the child is named.
Bundle Up That Baby!
Across the world, in Greenland, Inuit women and even young girls carry children in the heavy fur hoods of their garments. The hoods keep both the child and parent warm during the harsh Greenland winters. These garments double as a representation of the Inuit’s culture and belief system. It is believed that the clothing represents the cycle of life and reincarnation that their culture revolves around. Not only that, but the hood is completely functional allowing the mother to breastfeed without taking off clothing and exposing herself and her child to the elements (it averages 28 degrees in the winter). How nifty is that?
Wait, Dad’s Do This Too?
Baby wearing comes in many, many forms. Slings, baskets, and wraps are all different variations of the same practice. One such variation, the “mei-tai” is known to be popular among baby wearing men as it functions primarily like a backpack. Mei-tais originated in Asia and are the most common of their style in the western market. They can be worn to the front or on the back and allow for a large range of motion. This functionality was completely necessary for mothers working in the rice paddy fields with their young and has translated well into western culture.
Over the centuries baby wearing slings became extremely versatile. In hunter-gatherer cultures like the Navajo Native Americans, baby wearing was a cultural norm. The Navajo mothers carried their children in cradleboards which they could easily attach to a tree while they searched for berries, or the saddle of a horse while on the move. This ease of transfer was an ingenious way of ensuring the safety of their children without limiting their mobility.
Slowly but Surely
While the western culture may have been slow in the come-up of baby wearing, it’s not to say that we’re a lost cause. Baby wearing saw a surge of use beginning in the early 1900’s. Dutch psychologist Bill de Bosch Kamper helped spearhead this movement by advocating for baby wearing and creating his own type of carrying basket. In the 1960’s baby wearing hit its stride in European cultures and jumpstarted “Baby Björn”, an extremely popular baby product company. Today, baby wearing slings and wraps come in a vast array of styles. More and more parents are jumping on the baby wearing bandwagon, and for good reason. With so many patterns, colors, and style to choose from, baby wearing has not only helps parents achieve functionality and safety, but a sense of individuality as well. So, go ahead and put on your favorite baby carrier and tackle today’s jobs just like the centuries of parents have before you!