History of Babywearing in Europe


Maestro di Campli – Episodes of the infancy of Christ (1378, Italy)

Babywearing has existed since time immemorial and the fact is that humans are naturally a carrying specie. Our most natural instinct is to always keep our little ones close to us for protection, feeding and easy transport.
Many thousands of years ago, the first humans lived in tribes and hordes and they had to be in constant motion. Their active and hunting way of living was full of danger, insecurity and constant movement and fear (fear from bad weather, from various animal attacks, other tribes attacks and many other dangers). The most natural and logical way to handle babies and smaller children was to carry them, most often on the side or on the shoulders.
When human race developed in farming, a sedentary lifestyle developed as well, but babywearing was still very current because parents had nowhere to go with their children, women and men worked mostly in fields and they most often carried their children on their backs while doing farm work.

Such a tradition of babywearing in Europe continued through the early and middle ages, but only in the lower social layers. The upper classes did not babywear, the upper classes had wet nurses and nannies who cared for the children from birth all the way through the toddler age (and beyond), and they were the ones babwearing and nursing.

In 1733, William Kent invented the first baby stroller. The stroller was initially reserved only for the highest social strata, but was slowly beginning to enter wider use, and precisely because of its use in the upper social strata, the baby stroller started growing in popularity.
Unlike Europe, the situation in many other parts of the World, where there was no feudal division and such a social hierarchy as in Europe, where for example a tribal way of life was maintained (e.g. Africa, Maori, smaller Pacific tribes, etc.), the custom of babywearing has remained to this day and baby stroller never came into wide use.

In modern history, in the 20th century, we have industrialization and two World Wars, but we also (finally!!!) have the amazing movement of women emancipation. Women started becoming much more mobile, working more, having a range of responsibilities, participating in wars, doing jobs that were typically men’s jobs, spending less time at home, they were no longer limited to cooking, washing and giving birth, they started doing office work and running successfully in all working fields, running large companies, being successful scientists and becoming outstanding in all social areas. Thus, at the beginning of the 20th century, the stroller came into wide and mass use, and was widespread among the lower classes. Babywearing falls into the background and remains in use among the lowest rural strata of European society.
Unlike Europe, on the African and Asian continents and tribal parts of the World, babywearing is still as popular and traditional as ever. Along the way, in 20th century, as the European continent became more urbanized and people were leaving rural parts, babywearing became something more alternative.

Baby carriers begin to make a comeback (in the United States, and the trend spread to Europe as well) during the 1970s, thanks to a nurse Ann Moore and her SSC Snugli (she was inspired for it’s design by watching babywearing in West African tribes) after which some US and European producers started producing few slings.

So, in most recent history we have a phenomenon of great babywearing return to the mainstream especially in Europe, and USA as well. This great comeback of babywearing on the European continent can be largely attributed to the popularity of attachment parenting.
In 1982, William and Martha Sears have came to the term “attachment parenting” as a parenting movement that sometimes is represented as using the principles of attachment as ”rules” that should be followed. Attachment parenting is based on 7B’s of attachment, and one of them is babywearing as an ideal way to bond , acknowledge baby’s needs and respond to them, meet baby’s needs for physical contact, affection, security, stimulation and movement, and also an ideal way to boost our own confidence. It’s no wonder that babywearing re-entered European mainstream door, more recently also thanks to the internet, media in general and especially social media with many informative and supporting groups.

European society (modern western society all together) has become more supportive towards working moms and moms in general, breastfeeding and breastfeeding in public are promoted, skin to skin contact is promoted, the importance of parent-baby bonding (especially mothers) is promoted and babywearing is promoted as amazing tool to do all of that. We live in a wonderful time when a prime-minister is a mother that breastfeeds on national television. All this new and positive support has allowed babywearing to shine in the European mainstream, making extremely popular a whole range and types of carriers/slings/wraps, where a new generation of European women knows that they can be involved and be great in all areas and segments of their lives – they can be successful women (or not, if they don’t want to), but above all, they can be happy and satisfied mothers that bond with their babies and recognize their needs! Because, happy mom = happy baby. 🙂

Written by: Edita Umihanic, Certified Babywearing Consultant and Professor of History & Literature
(January, 2020)

Adolph Tidemand – Figurstudie (1852, Norway) Dear Agossie
Ellis Island Museum – vintage photo of Slovakian immigrant mother babywearing (1906),

Original post on Facebook you can find here

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