What comes to mind when thinking about babywearing? You might think that it’s something only “crunchy” parents do, or you may find the number of carrier options a bit overwhelming. Maybe you’ve felt a little intimidated by the elaborate wrap job of a parent carrying a baby on their back. Perhaps you have also found yourself fascinated by the closeness between parent and child and wanted to give babywearing a try for yourself.
Wearing a baby in a wrap or carrier is an age-old practice that has been used in one form or another by parents across the globe. Carrying your child close can also bring several benefits to today’s families.
Here are some of the details on babywearing over the years and across various cultures, as well as some ideas for babywearing in our often-hectic society.
Babywearing throughout History
Wearing a baby is a fairly new concept in modern Western culture, with the majority of carriers and wraps becoming available within the last 40 years. However, the history of babywearing actually dates back many centuries.
While it remains unclear which people group was the first to wear their babies, it’s likely that simple slings were the earliest form of carriers. These were probably made from natural materials that were easy to find, like animal skins or large leaves. As people became more skilled in producing fabrics from natural fibers, they began to fashion slings and wraps from materials like wool or silk.
In many ancient cultures, wearing a baby was often a necessity. The task of simply living required every member of the family to work hard all day long. Babywearing allowed the mother or another caregiver to go about their many daily tasks while the baby came along for the ride.
Even though mothers were frequently the ones to wear their babies throughout the day, older children also helped out. In some cultures, older siblings, cousins or young aunts and uncles were actually the most common people to wear a baby.
Growing in availability and popularity since the 1970’s, structured carriers are the newest version of babywearing.
Babywearing Around the World
Strollers may be commonplace in many areas of the Western Hemisphere, but baby carriers in various forms are the norm across the globe.
Parents have developed an astounding array of techniques for wearing their babies. Photos of these diverse carriers prove that the only thing that remains constant from region to region is that parents make good use of whatever resources they have available to keep their babies close.
Here are just a few examples of babywearing from around the world.
Fabric Carriers. Long strips of cloth are probably the most common form of baby carrier around the world. Parents use various wrapping techniques to secure their children in a front, hip or back carry. Folding the fabric can also create a sling-style carrier.
The fabric used for babywearing often feature a culture’s traditional colors or designs.
- African wraps often feature beautiful bold patterns and high-contrast colors.
- Japanese mothers have traditionally used long silk sashes or pieces of kimono material.
- The Mexican rebozo displays the rich colors and intricate patterns often seen in traditional Mexican art.
Beginning in Wales and eventually spreading to other parts of Europe, both mothers and fathers used large shawls tied around their bodies in a low sling style to wear their babies. The baby would most often sit on the parents’ hip and face forward.
Many different carrier styles in Asia include long, thin strips of fabric that function as straps. The baby is often wrapped or supported by a larger piece of fabric and then secured to the parent with these straps. Scandinavian parents also used straps to secure their swaddled baby in a front or back carry.
Baskets. Baskets have also been used as baby carriers in many different regions.
In Europe, the mother carries a large basket strapped on her back. This allowed an older baby to have a little more freedom to move around as they rode along.
In some Asian countries, parents wear a yoke-style carrier with two suspended baskets.
Traditional Columbian carriers resembling a cloth basket are worn on the back and make use of a support strap resting on the parent’s forehead.
Within a Parent’s Clothing. Inuit parents in the far northern regions of the US and Canada have an additional purpose in babywearing: Keeping the baby close also means keeping the baby warm. Specially designed coats have extra space inside that allows the baby to ride next to the parent’s body.
The Maori of New Zealand often wear their babies on the hip or back and use a blanket or cloak to cover the baby from the shoulders down.
Cradleboards. Several Native American tribes in North America have traditionally used various forms of a rigid wood piece called a cradleboard. Babies are swaddled and then secured to the cradleboard with straps.
These pieces often serve multiple purposes. Babies can remain in an upright and engaged position even when set down, they can be worn on the mother’s back or could be secured to a horse’s side while the family traveled from place to place.
Benefits of Babywearing
Soothing for babies and parents. Babies love being carried and held close. The sound of their parent ’s heartbeat, the motion of their breathing and the warmth of being snuggled are often among the most calming sensations a baby can experience.
Every baby is an individual, and some babies may flat-out hate being put into a carrier. However, most babies seem to enjoy being worn. They often tend to quiet down when placed in a wrap or carrier and simply enjoy the ride.
Wearing your baby next to your body can also provide a sweet bonding experience between parents and their babies. In today’s fast-paced culture, many moms and dads may feel like they have a never-ending list of daily tasks to accomplish, and they don’t get the chance to sit down and simply snuggle their baby as much as they would like. Even during your busiest days, wearing your baby can give you the opportunity to enjoy some cuddly closeness with your little one.
Your Baby Can Nap While Out and About. If you have to go somewhere during your baby’s normal nap time, placing them in a carrier or wrap could be the key to getting at least a short nap in. A parent’s walking provides a gentle rocking motion that many sleepy babies just can’t seem to help but fall asleep to.
Multitasking is a Little Easier. Some parents find that wearing their baby around the house allows them to get more chores done. Washing dishes and vacuuming are two examples of jobs that can much easier if you have two hands available. This is especially true when your baby is old enough to be carried on your back.
Trying to balance the infant’s car seat, shopping bags and possibly wrangling older children can make grocery shopping a challenge, to say the least. Wearing your baby allows you to leave some pieces in the car and gives you more space in the cart. Not having to worry about your baby licking the shopping cart handle is an additional bonus.
Many parents find that while babywearing is enjoyable and convenient with their first child, it becomes almost a necessity with the second or subsequent children. Wraps and carriers can be a great help in allowing you to give your baby the closeness they crave while also letting you spend time doing fun activities with their older sibling.
Lets You Go Places You May Have Thought You Couldn’t Take a Young Child. Some activities or places are hard to navigate with a stroller, particularly those with rough terrain, a layout that is difficult to steer around or congested streets and venues.
A few examples of these places and activities could include the following:
- Hiking trips or other outdoor activities.
- Crowded settings, such as a busy market.
- Touring museums.
- Shopping in stores with small, tight spaces.
- Outdoor fairs or festivals.
When your baby is snuggled securely against your body, they are often quieter and more content in unfamiliar environments. If your baby is a little older, wearing them will also reduce the chances of them reaching out and grabbing things. Strangers are also far less likely to touch your baby when you have them in a wrap or carrier.
Types of Carriers and Wraps
Stretchy Wraps. Usually made from soft cotton jersey, these carriers are long pieces of fabric that hold your baby in place with folds, layers of material and knots.
Stretchy wraps usually work best for young babies from newborn up to about three months. After this age, the baby begins to be more active and could potentially slip out of a stretchy wrap. Additionally, an older baby’s greater weight can overstretch the material and cause even the best wrap job to become slack.
- Soft material is very comfortable
- Great for newborns.
- Readily Available in Stores.
- Not suitable for older babies.
- Can stretch out while being used.
Woven Wraps. Woven wraps are the most versatile choice for babies of all ages, from newborns up to preschoolers. They also offer the widest array of options for wearing your child on your front, side or back.
The sheer number of ways to carry your baby in a wrap could be enough to intimidate any parent. However, many of these techniques are simple and with some practice, they often soon become second nature.
Woven wraps are usually made from natural fibers. Materials that are commonly used include cotton, linen, wool, alpaca and hemp, as well as blends of these fibers. Even if you carry a heavier child, the strong, tight weave prevents the wrap from stretching out.
These pieces often feature ornate designs that have been woven by hand, making them resemble a beautiful piece of art. Bright colors, intricate patterns, color gradients and varying textures all lend a unique touch.
Depending on the material used, certain wraps can be more suitable for differing weather conditions. Wool tends to be warmer and can be a great choice for winter. Hemp and linen are light and breathable, and they are ideal for hot days.
Wraps are available in a variety of lengths that fit people of all heights and sizes. Your torso length and personal preference will dictate which size will work best for your body.
- Most pieces are handmade.
- Vibrant Colors with lovely and unique designs.
- Numerous ways to carry your baby.
- Can double as a blanket or nursing cover in a pinch.
- Different fibers are ideal for every season.
- Can be used for children of all ages, from newborn to preschooler.
- Can be expensive.
- Requires time and practice to use properly.
Slings. Slings are similar to wraps in that they are pieces of woven fabric. However, while a long wrap requires multiple passes around the baby and parent, a sling is a single loop of cloth that provides support for the baby. Due to this difference in construction, slings offer less carrying options than wraps.
Simple slings are designed to fit over the shoulder and allow the baby to sit on the parent’s hip. They are available in various sized lengths, and you can determine your proper size based on your torso length.
Ring slings are slightly different. They are a long strip of cloth similar to a wrap that has two nested rings at one end. After placing the ring end on your shoulder and settling your baby on your chest or opposite hip, pull the remaining fabric snugly around your baby and feed it through the rings. This sling allows you to easily create a custom fit for multiple caregivers. Ring slings are most ideal for newborns through toddlers.
Since slings fit over one shoulder, they do not distribute your baby’s weight as evenly as other carriers do. This can lead to neck or shoulder discomfort if your child is larger and heavier or if you use the sling for a long time period.
- Easy to get baby in and out of.
- Totally customizable sizing for multiple people with ring slings.
- Can become uncomfortable if used for a long period of time or with an older child.
- Limited options for carrying positions.
Structured Carrier. These carriers use an ergonomic design to evenly distribute a child’s weight across the parent’s core and shoulders.
The typical structured carrier features a fabric panel that forms a pouch for the baby to sit in and has multiple points of adjustment that allow for a customized fit. Straps, buckles, Velcro, snaps and buttons all work together to let you tailor the fit to your body and your baby.
A structured carrier fastens around the parent’s waist, and padded straps fit around each shoulder. The baby sits in the pouch with their bottom and back supported. Many carriers also have a head support panel for newborns that can be folded out of the way for older babies and toddlers.
Cotton canvas or another strong fabric are the most common materials used in structured carriers. An ever-growing number of design choices let you choose a simple, neutral color scheme or a bold, bright pattern.
Some simple styles of structured carriers may offer one or two options for wearing your baby, while more elaborate styles can be worn in a number of ways: front inward-facing carry, hip carry, front outward-facing and back carry.
A simplified version of a soft structured carrier consists of a square or rectangular piece of fabric with long straps on each of the four corners. The baby sits in the cloth piece, and the securing straps wind around the parent’s body and under the baby to provide support.
Heavy-duty structured carriers are also available. These pieces resemble a traditional backpack, and they are mainly designed for occasional outdoor adventures, such as a hiking trip. These carriers work well for their intended purpose, but they are not ideal for daily use.
- Easy to use.
- The ergonomic design is comfortable for baby and parent.
- A wide array of options to choose from.
- Available in a variety of price ranges.
- Some models can be used for newborns through toddlers.
- Simple design or vibrant patterns.
- Some models can be expensive.
- The baby could get too warm in hot weather.
- Some models require additional support pieces for newborns.
Using Wraps and Carriers Safely
Make Sure You Understand How Your Model Works. Even though using the carrier may seem straightforward, always invest the time to thoroughly read the instruction manual included with your stretchy wrap or structured carrier. Make sure you understand and follow all the instructions provided by the manufacturer. If you feel that any pictures or illustrations in the manual are unclear, visit the manufacturer’s website or search online for tutorials on using your specific model.
Woven wraps typically do not come with instructions. It can be extremely helpful to have an experienced wrapper show you how to use one in person. Social media could be a good place to inquire if any of your contacts can suggest babywearing groups in your area. Online video tutorials or virtual babywearing communities might also be able to provide some answers to your questions.
Wear Your Child in a High and Snug Position. Your child’s head should be high enough for you to easily kiss at all times. Having your baby positioned too low on your body could make it difficult for them to breathe well.
Always Ensure That Your Child’s Face in Free of Any Obstructions and Their Head is in a Safe Position. Never keep a blanket, clothing or toy close to your baby’s face.
Your baby’s nose or mouth should never nestle into your chest. Position your child’s head so that they are laying on one cheek and their face is visible at all times.
Newborns are especially prone to sliding down and tucking their chin to their chests. This position is extremely dangerous and could cause your baby to have difficulty or even stop breathing. Make sure to position your baby’s head with their chin raised comfortably, sometimes referred to as the sniffing position.
Don’t Cook or use Sharp Objects While Wearing Your Baby. Hot water or grease could splash your baby and burn them, and a knife could slip while you are using it. Washing fruits and vegetables or packing a sandwich for tomorrow’s lunch should be safe as long you use appropriate caution.
Babywearing can provide numerous benefits to both parents and children. With the wide variety of options available to choose from, it’s likely you can find one that works well for your family.
In addition to enjoying the convenience and closeness with your baby, you can also take pride in the fact that you are continuing a practice that has been essential to parents around the world for countless generations.