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Throughout Time - Throughout the World: Baby Wearing

Posted Feb 21 2011 1:13pm

"It is especially necessary for the parental generation of the human species to fully understand what the immaturity of its infants really signifies: that the infant is still continuing its gestation period, passing from uterogestation to exterogestation. Among the most important of the newborn infant's needs are the signals it receives through the skin, the first medium of communication with the outside world." - Ashley Montagu
Medieval Babywearing - circa 1400
Consider this: a newborn foal is able to stand, walk, and communicate within moments of birth. It is mobile, able to find and nurse from it's mother independent of her assistance. On the other hand, humans are born completely dependent upon their mothers to help them get nutrition, move them from location to location, and keep them clean and cared for.

Essentially, this phenomenon is considered in the childbirth community as 9 months in, 9 months out. Until your child is mobile independent of you, it makes perfect sense to provide a marsupial environment for them. As Maria Blois so aptly said, baby wearing truly does allow for a continuation of the womb-environment.

"Postnatal life should ... be considered a direct extension of prenatal life." - Aletha Solter, founder of Aware Parenting , Kindred Magazine , Dec 2006 - Feb 2007
This closeness has so many benefits, not only for the baby, but also for the family unit. It creates ease of which to care for the child, reduced crying, ease of nourishment, and emotional soundness in the home, to name just a few.

circa 1796
"Babes in arms almost never cried and, fascinatingly, did not wave their arms, kick, arch their backs, or flex their hands and feet. They sat quietly in their slings or slept on someone's hip — exploding the myth that babies need to flex to "exercise." They also did not throw up unless extremely ill and did not suffer from colic." - Jean Liedloff, The Importance of the In Arms Phase

Giotto di Bondone 1304-1306
Benefits for Baby
Babies who are worn/carried benefit from a more stable heart rate, more regular breathing (a 75 percent decrease in apneic episodes), longer periods of sleep, reduced stress from unneccessary crying, decreased incidence of crying, healthier immune systems through continuous exposure to their parents and higher oxygen saturation levels, more rapid weight gain, more rapid brain development, better chances of successful breastfeeding, longer periods of alertness, and easier self regulation of body temperature.

"As researchers studied brain wave patterns of infants in kangaroo care, they found two significant things. First, there was a doubling of alpha waves—the brain wave pattern associated with contentment and bliss. Second, they found that "delta brushes" were occurring. Delta brushes happen only when new synapses are being formed. So holding the infant skin-to-skin allows his or her brain to continue its work of developing neural synapses." - Midwifery Today
Benefits for Family
For parents, an increased feeling of early bonding, a feeling of competence and confidence that their baby is well cared for, and less stress on the family because of the decreased crying are just a few of the benefits of baby wearing. Additionally, parents feel able to get more accomplished in the day and report less frustration over early parenting and baby rearing.

Femme du Hartz Portant un Enfant

Additionally, a baby quickly learns their role in the family, rather than allowing for the baby to become the center of the family and communities universe. Likewise, the baby learns about their culture, society, and family rhythms.. equating to a more content and well adjusted child, and more content and well-adjusted family.

"The baby passively participates in the bearer’s running, walking, laughing, talking, working, and playing. The particular activities, the pace, the inflections of the language…. and the sounds of community life form a basis for the active participation that will begin at six or eight months of age with creeping, crawling, and then walking."- Jean Liedloff, The Importance of the In Arms Phase

Throughout Time and Throughout the World
Every culture in the world has known baby wearing in some form or capacity throughout time. Depending on the climate and the mother's role in the family, baby carriers range from small pieces of fabric at the hip, stomach, or back, to full cradle boards carrier on the back.

Many carriers have multi-uses. Native American cultures can remove their cradleboards to keep baby safe and off of the ground while they tend to more arduous tasks, while sling-like carriers have been known to be looped for a hammock-bed for babies. For earlier civilizations, it made sense to carry your baby; the world was full of sickness and predators and baby wearing kept your child from becoming a target of infection, wild animals, poisonous plants, climate exposure (snow, sleet, wind, rain), and other threats to their health.

Likewise, it made it easier for women, whom the family unit relied upon heavily for day-to-day functioning, to return to work much more quickly. They were able to carry about regular chores such as cooking, cleaning, harvesting, skinning, tanning, caring for other family members, and going to market, with their child, who was dependent upon them for food and comfort, in close proximity.

In 1733, William Kent invented a wheeled baby transportation device. In the 1830's, they were brought to America, but it wasn't until the mid 1800's that 'prams' truly became popular.
Queen Victoria popularized the use of the Perambulator and, as with medication for birth, formula for feeding, and hospital settings for birth, it was soon seen as 'the thing' to provide for any newborn from an upstanding and affluent member of society. As such, baby wearing, breastfeeding, home birth, and natural birth was considered something of the past - something for the lower income classes.

Much to the dismay of many newborns, the die was cast and the majority of babies were no longer carried in Western cultures.

In recent years, though, baby carrying, which never went 'out of fad' in other cultures, has been making a come-back in Western culture. Ann Moore created a new carrier in 1969 after having seen African women carrying their babies. In 1981, Rayner Gardner created the ring sling for his wife and their baby.

But, it wasn't until 1985, when William and Martha Sears began baby wearing their youngest, that baby wearing began to truly gain recognition in the United States. Coincidentally, the Sears' also coined the term “babywearing”.

Unfortunately, it has been hard to break the stigmata of baby wearing being a thing for the poor. Thankfully though, with research on our side, many in the childbirth and baby community have been able to present baby wearing to the general public as a beneficial practice to provide for babies.

References (unless otherwise linked above):
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