Timeless and Universal

Is the practice of Babywearing catching up with history? Is it only something native peoples do? How many parents do you see or know who wear their babies in carriers?

Or is it something that celebrities like Madonna, Angelina and Brad, Gwen Stefani, and Julia Roberts are popularizing?

The answer to the first question is yes, Babywearing is experiencing a vigorous renaissance. And yes, every country in the world has a traditional baby carrier designed to meet their particular needs such as type of work, climate, and wearing positions: Mexico, the Rebozo; Peru, the Manta; Guatemala, the Parraje; Alaska, the Amauti; Papua New Guinea, the Bilum; Indonesia; a Selendang; Asia, Mei-tai (China) and Onbuhimo (Japan)i. All mothers, African, Welsh, Ethiopian, Maori and European have carriers of their own designs. A beautiful book about this is: “A Ride on Mother’s Back, A Day of Baby Carrying Around the World by Emery and Durga Bernhard, Harcourt, Inc.

Just look around in airports and shopping malls and you will see moms and dads and their children looking safe and comfortable using baby carriers. And, yes celebrities are influential by being photographed wearing their babies and making it fashionable! Prior to 1969, however, the custom was not present in US culture. In the 1960s, Ann Moore, a nurse in the Peace Core in Togo, West Africa, was intrigued by the African mothers carrying their babies in fabric slings secure against their bodies. When she returned to America she found it was a radical idea.

Nevertheless when her daughter was born she tied her daughter to her back African style but the baby kept slipping. She then asked her mother to help her sew a simple back pack. With her baby strapped on her back she was able to ride her bike, run errands, and cook all the while staying close to her daughter. “Some people warned us that we would spoil our baby says Moore. “But I thought that the more you satisfy a¬†baby’s needs in the first years of life, the more they’ll grow up to feel secure and loved. ¬†And then they would become loving people when they grew up. So it became a mission for us.

After refinements, Moore’s invention, the Snugli¬Æ, received a patent in 1969 and since then brands of baby carriers have proliferated in every configuration, color and pattern. Her timing coincided with the revival of natural childbirth and breast feeding. In 1956 breast feeding rates in the US had dropped to 20% when five women met and became the La Leche League Founders and incorporated as LLL in 1958. The name was changed to La Leche League International in 1964. At their convention in 1968 the delegates were carrying their babies in Snuglis¬Æ! And they began selling them to their members.

In 1976, a consumer report called the Snugli¬Æ “the soft baby carrier to have. Subsequently the Wall Street Journal printed a front page story on the product, and the Snugli¬Æ became a part of American culture. Another part of American culture was Dr. Benjamin Spock, the authority on child rearing and his book published in 1946, The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care. He assured parents that they were the true experts on their own children. They had been told that picking up infants when they cried would only spoil them: Spock told them that cuddling babies would only make them happier and feel more secure.

The baby bible of the post Dr. Spock generation became The Baby Book published in 1976 by Dr. William and Martha Sears, both pediatric specialists. They heard parents in their practice say, “As long as I carry my baby she’s content. They became early proponents of Babywearing and began their personal study of the beneficial effects in 1985.This contributed to hundreds of thousands of American parents embracing Babywearing. www.askdrsears.com

By the 1970’s women were moving from hospital births to midwifery; then to hospital “birthing rooms and men were being allowed during delivery and babies to room in with the mothers. The hospital setting was dynamically altered in response to consumer demand. The rate of midwife-attended births shows a 45% increase since 1982 and the rate of midwife-attended hospital births has sharply increased 1,000% since 1975. All these events merged and flowed together during the past 50 years to make the Babywearing resurgence of today possible.

Fast forward to 2009 and we find that westernized versions of the ancient concept have been duplicated in dozens of imaginative variations and become main stream worldwide. This is due in part to Internet marketing as well as word of mouth, mother to mother. Mothers in Africa now buy soft structured baby carriers, an idea that has come full circle. Instead of a radical idea, it is called bonding and studies now reveal the many benefits for babies who are held close to their parents.

Besides enabling parents to be hands free for their many duties while wearing their baby, research has shown that babies cry less. They cry (on average) 43% less overall and 54% less during the evening hours. It is good for baby’s mental development because they spend more time in a quiet, alert state. It is good for their physical development as well by being close to your heartbeat, breathing and warmth to help them adapt to life outside the womb. This is particularly important for premature infants.

Babies quickly develop a sense of security and trust when they are carried and often become independent at an earlier age.(Jennifer Norton, 2006 www.thebabywearer.com) It can be said that the benefits are too great to innumerate.

We are at a major juncture in history for how babies enter our world, a uniting of the old ways with the new. This happy confluence of the wisdom of the timeless and universal can best be summed up by the goal of raising well-integrated children who have strong self-preservation instincts and the ability to peacefully discern and articulate their needs. Most of all each new generation of babies can be ushered into life with the best loving support possible. This is Peaceful Parenting for a Peaceful world.


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Sydney Seaver was a part of Ergobaby since 2004, first as Personal Assistant to the president and eventually as Administrative Assistant. She is a graduate of the University of Texas with a BA in Liberal Arts. Prior to coming to ERGO she had her own company, Ergonomic Resource Group. She is the mother of five including two sets of twins and grandmother of eight including a set of twins.

October 6, 2010
November 6, 2010