Born To Be Worn
How babywearing takes us back to our roots.
Every morning, my baby boy and I take a walk in nature. We have shared this experience together throughout my pregnancy, all the long months he was inside me. Day in, day out we ventured into the wilderness, in all seasons and in all the weathers the Saskatchewan skies could throw at us.
Now he is Earth side our daily walks continue, I wear him in a structured baby carrier, close to my chest. He faces me with his legs wrapped wide around my belly, I watch his blue eyes grow big at the sight of this new world into which he has arrived. I feel his little chest rise and fall as he breathes it all in.
The seasons roll on, my belly shrinks, my legs strengthen, temperatures drop to freezing yet again and he snuggles close, under my jacket I feel his warmth. I feel primal, I feel at peace, I feel confident in my role as a Mother, I feel connected to my boy, the natural world and everything in it. We fit perfectly into our landscape, effortlessly into our roles, the two of us, Mother and son…
So would I still get the same sense of wonderful calm and connection from a walk around the block with my baby in a stroller, buggy or pram? I am convinced that I would not - and it seems I am not alone. A study published in 2012 found that Mother/infant skin to skin really does benefit mothers by reducing their depressive symptoms and physiological stress in the postpartum period.(1)
So why does wearing our little ones feel so inherently natural for both Mom and bay? Well, there is a great big clue big clue in our anatomy…
Just like a baby gorilla, the spine of a newborn is a ‘C’ curve (as opposed to an adults ’S’ curve) as such this encourages a ‘legs forward and hips flexed’ position. Being carried either on the chest or the hip supports this anatomy much better than placing baby flat on their back. It is also the natural reflex of a baby to adopt a ‘legs forward, hips flexed’ position when picked up by a caregiver and when worn or carried to respond to sudden movements by gripping more firmly with the legs. These factors have led biologists to classify human infants as belonging to the “carried type of young” (i.e. infants that are typically carried on the bodies of their mothers), in contrast to the offspring of other mammals that are generally left in a hidden place.(2)
So even though human babies may have lost the sharp little toe claws and human mothers no longer have bellies covered with thick, graspable hair, the anatomy and the instinct to carry and be carried (or worn) are still there today. Baby wearing goes right back to our ancestral roots, our most primal memories of motherhood.
On our walk last week we came across a dear elderly lady who commented on my baby in his carrier and said “Oh my!! What a nifty idea that is! I wish someone had invented those when I had my babies!” I had to smile at this because if you think about it in practical terms then the baby sling was probably one of mankind’s’ (or more likely womankinds’) first inventions.
As evolutionary archaeologist Timothy Taylor explains in his book The Artificial Ape: How Technology Changed the Course of Human Evolution, “If (baby) slings had not existed, it would have been necessary to invent them. So we did.”
As a species our young are born far earlier in their developmental stage than most mammals and remain completely dependant on the mother for longer. But once you have a carrying device, the infant, helpless at birth, can remain helpless for longer with no great energy loss for the Mother. The loop of hide that makes the simple sling can not only scare away a predator with a stone, it can be used to carry. And the most critical load for a little, savannah-dwelling biped would have been its own infant progeny.
In fact, far from being a western trend in modern ‘Hippie’ moms, baby wearing was the norm in traditional cultures from around the world, for generations, and still is for many cultures today - Although our ancestors probably used a woven scarf and not a fancy Baby Bjorn! By wearing our babies we are remembering the ways of our great, great, great, great grandmothers and their grandmothers before them, we are walking in the footsteps of all the mothers who came before us.
In an age where the traditional roles and rituals of motherhood are becoming increasingly rare, babywearing allows us to feel rooted, instinctive and connected in a way both Mom and babe can understand. Touch, afterall is the first language we learn to speak.
(1) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22537390 Effect of mother/infant skin-to-skin contact on postpartum depressive symptoms and maternal physiological stress.
Evolutionary Psychology www.epjournal.net – 2007. 5(1): 102-183 ¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯ Original Article Natural Parenting ― Back to Basics in Infant Care Regine A. Schön, Department of Psychology, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org (Corresponding author) Maarit Silvén, Department of Psychology, University of Tampere, Tampere, Finland.