After becoming a parent, I was initiated to the wonderful world of babywearing. It was introduced to me as a practical tool to use within daily living that allowed for the continual emotional support of the child, which appealed to my developing philosophy around optimal child-rearing. I relied on it heavily with my son when it was needed, but smoothly transitioned into using other tools (like strollers) when the situation warranted it. It never became an obsession with me as I have increasingly noticed sometimes occurring in other social circles. Being the curious person that I am, I started exploring the social and economic politics around this and made some interesting observations.
It is difficult to explain the subculture around babywearing without touching upon the particular parenting community itself which began with the return to a more frugal and environmentally aware lifestyle including reverting to instinctive ways of parenting often referred to as ‘attachment parenting’, ‘gentle-parenting’, ‘conscious parenting’ or anything along those lines. This particular philosophy around child-rearing relies on behaving in a way that supports healthy developmental growth based on basic mammalian needs. Other associated parenting approaches are birthing naturally, breastfeeding, introducing child-led solid foods, cloth diapering and even EC’ing. Another hallmark of this community of course is the use of babywearing as a tool rather than more conventional products like strollers, swings, exersaucers, etc as it supports the development of healthy emotional attachment and supports the stable development of other milestones as well. As a result of this, babywearing has become somewhat of a public advertisement of following these particular parenting approaches which allow for like-minded individuals to connect and form friendships.
Groups that share the love of babywearing have exploded both online and within different communities; creating meet-and-greet playdates, workshops to learn techniques, even babywearing instructing classes for professionals like Doulas and Midwives or anyone interested really. Entrepreneurs are also designing their own carriers or converting woven wraps into soft-structured carriers among other services related to babywearing as well. An entire sub-culture was essentially created around this practice within the last few years which is amazing to witness in itself. Babywearing though is not a new concept; it has been implemented for centuries within varying cultures around the world as a parenting tool, however it has morphed from something lower classes engaged in out of necessity to what middle-upper class women indulge in currently for varying reasons, not all having to do with practicality.
Just like anything that comes in vogue, what has also evolved is a bourgeoisie attitude towards babywearing that involves a conspicuous display of wealth through the purchasing of various carriers, much like a collector would. Taking a glimpse in almost every online babywearing group, one can find images of these collections displayed with pride. It is the same attitude prevalent around luxury cars, houses, and art. It is then apparent within these particular circles that status is given to those with ample stashes, attracting the envy of others by the diversity in their stock. Women are then diverting resources in order to own particular models, brands, and designs; some paying upwards of 700$ or more to own particular rare versions. These elite carriers that go for hefty price-tags are no more functional than their average counterparts of the same material composition, they are simply in demand for the same reasons designer clothing or accessories are in the fashion world: exclusivity. Their practical use is then overshadowed by their fashionable appeal and women are then indulging in yet another form of consumerism. Delving deeply into economic politics is beyond this post however, but it suffices to say that it is a sign of privilege that is normally reserved for the elite to indulge in such frivolous spending, as the average family has not the financial wealth to do so.
Maegan over at Love Isn’t Enough who wrote about the Racial and Economic Politics of Babywearing states that: “From the continents of Asia, the Americas and Africa, indigenous women from ancient times wore their babies, mostly so that they could get back to the daily chores of life while taking care of their young. Babywearing was practical. So practical in fact, that on those continents, it is considered an act of the lower, poor classes. After all, wealthy women had people to do their chores for them, including carrying and taking care of their babies. And it’s that fact that makes the whole babywearing movement in the U.S. so interesting. The babywearing community is mostly white and upper middle class to upper class and they better be. Wearing your baby doesn’t come cheap. Simple pouches can run 70 dollars and up. “Asian” style carriers are in the 80 dollar range and wraps, long pieces of cloth , are 100 dollars plus.”
The topic of having to justify wrap purchases to partners also comes up regularly in online forums and some women even go as far as to hide their spending. The excitement some women express over their purchases is almost akin to addiction, though some would argue that it is simply a passion of theirs, an expensive hobby. A main argument is that if the money is available, why not? Like any other kind of item collection, it is up to the individual to determine where they prefer investing their money after all. One of the issues with this is that, once again, only a few can afford the luxury and a main complaint on many forums is the ‘hoarding’ of desirable wraps by those who obsess with them, making it nearly impossible for some to attain even just ONE nice wrap to use practically with their children. Waiting lists for new wraps for example are months long, if not more, and that is only if one stalks these websites and is able to put a down payment (you heard right) on a design before the spot it filled. It pushes the average woman then to the fringes, having to search and purchase a used item if they wish to even attempt babywearing, with a woven wrap particularly, in the first place. It is no wonder then than many turn to easily accessible carriers like Bjorns instead, though these are less optimal than other styles. It is frustrating for those who only wish to use babywearing for what it was originally designed for: practical baby care.
I have noticed in many parenting circles a hesitancy in even dappling in babywearing because of this bourgeoisie attitude that is sometimes noticed, which gives the impression that unless one is willing to spend an exorbitant amount of money, they are not essentially welcome into the babywearing fold. Of course, if you speak to most women who do babywear, they are more than a little excited at the concept of educating another parent in different styles of carriers and supportive wrapping techniques, regardless of what their budget may be. It is in fact a very useful parenting tool especially with multiple children. And yet many pass over this option simply because of how overwhelming it is to choose a particular carrier and learn to use it. Some of the woven wrapping techniques for example, are too elaborate for the layman and if one is not aware of which styles are considered ‘advanced’ it is easy to become discouraged right from the onset.
Certain wrapping techniques are more aesthetically pleasing than others and new ways of wrapping are being invented by mothers every day. It is an enjoyable pass-time for those who take interest in such things but can confuse and alarm those that are not wrapping connoisseurs and just want to wrap their child efficiently and quickly. I know that myself as a first-time mother I became overwhelmed when first trying to wrap my son because I was unknowingly attempting the more advanced wrapping techniques and it took weeks of researching online and speaking to other baby-wearing women before I found a very simple way to do so. Unless one is buying a wrap directly from the company, which is a difficult thing to do now because of how vogue it currently is, and possess a copy of their instruction manual on simple wrapping options, novices are left with figuring out for themselves how this whole babywearing thing works essentially.
Despite babywearing becoming an expensive hobby for some, it really is an excellent way to bond with your child and get some hands-free work done around the house once you figure out how to actually make use of it, so don’t be discouraged! It has been a life-saver for me personally and I am looking forward to the birth of our second child to be able to use it again. It isn’t necessary to know every interesting way to wrap or have the prettiest woven pattern on the market currently to take joy in this. If buying a new wrap proves difficult due to the high demand currently, purchasing a broken-in wrap is more than acceptable and sometimes even better since they tend to become softer and more pliant with use. There are ample groups on FB for example where one can find a wrap in their geographical area for a reasonable price.
Luckily in some areas, like in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, babywearing workshops are available for parents interested in learning both the basics and advanced carries and purchase their carriers from. Here are some resources:
For those who are having to rely on online instructions, here are some excellent sources as well:
Front Wrap Cross Carry (FWCC) with a woven wrap
Ruck Carry a back carry