Babywearing in Hogarth’s “March of the Guards to Finchley” (1750)

hogarth mach of the guards 1750
The original painting hung at the Foundling Museum in London.

In honor of William Hogarth’s birthday, November 10th, I would like to analyze the babywearing featured in his March of the Guards to Finchley, painted in 1750. During the summer of 2017, I was fortunate to visit the Foundling Museum in London and see it in person.

It is important to note that babywearing is a very recent term associated with concepts, like attachment parenting, that was unheard of in the 18th century– I use the term here as a verb to describe “use of an infant carrier”.

Hogarth is one of my favorite artists. The level of detail, the characterization, and subject matter of his paintings and etchings keep me coming back again and again to find something new. Hogarth revolutionized the public’s consumption of art with mass-produced etchings of his painting sold on subscription. He is well known for his moralistic series of The Rake’s Progress and The Harlot’s Progress (the latter of which was made into a miniseries). His style combines realism and the satirical, the serious with the bawdy. Continue reading

Transport Response 1/2

It’s like magic. A healthy newborn, inconsolable despite every effort, suddenly stops crying the moment we step outside for a walk. Is it the sky? Fresh air? Or is it the way I’m moving? Could the sensation of being held by a walking human trigger relaxation in a baby?

For altricial mammals, those who are helpless at birth, being picked up and carried by their mother elicits sudden relaxation making them easier to move. For example, when a newborn puppy is picked up by its mother, observers can see that the puppy’s rear legs and tail curl up, while their body becomes passive. Internally, the puppy’s heart rate drops and respiration slows similar to that of a puppy at rest. This relaxation behavior while being carried is called the Transport Response and it helps ensure the survival of the mother and her offspring by making infants easier to move.

“[Kittens, puppies, mouse pups] assume a passive and compact posture with the hind legs drawn up while being carried. This postural regulation has been studied experimentally in laboratory rates as ‘transport response.’” (Esposito)

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Baby Feet

Humans, like all primates, are physiologically riders. Riders carry their young because their breast milk composition is not suited to parking infants for long periods (Ross). Nonhuman primates can carry their babies without the aid of a tool because their infants are small and able to cling to their mothers from birth. Humans find carrying infants more difficult for three reasons: the relative size of our infants,  non-grasping feet, and lack of adult body hair. In this post, we will focus on how the differences between primate and hominin feet, how feet affect carrying, and when bipedalism emerged.

“Birthing larger infants… also introduces the energetic and biomechanical challenge of transporting a relatively large, helpless newborn. This is particularly the case for pretechnological, upright walking hominids, some of which had reduced pedal grasping abilities.” (DeSilva)

Humans are altricial, our infants are relatively helpless. Nonhuman primates are precocious, meaning that they have accelerated physical development. Both human and ape newborns instinctively grasp with hands and feet. When a chimpanzee is born, they are able to grasp their mother’s fur with their hands and feet and cling on effectively. Whereas a human newborn is not as strong or directed in their efforts though they can strongly grasp with their hands (palmar grasp reflex), they can only flex their toes (plantar reflex) due to the morphology, or shape, of their feet which lack an opposable hallux (a big toe that looks more like a thumb). In humans, this grasping instinct is considered part of the primitive reflexes, which fade as humans develop.

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Meet the Family: Hominidae

Humans did not evolve from monkeys.

Humans did share a common ancestor with chimpanzees some six million years ago.

We are in fact all related, using the analogy of a family tree (see also: phylogenetic tree, cladograms, or the interactive tree of life) can help us understand how we all fit together. In fact, our nearest living evolutionary relatives are the Great Apes, in the Family Hominidae. Family refers to the taxonomic unit, which is larger than genus, which is larger than species. Monkeys are primates (order), like apes, but they form a different family than us, Family Cebidae. So while we share some traits with monkeys, like riding (Ross), our common ancestor is considerably further back in time, perhaps twenty-five million years ago (Stephens).

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Online Communities: High End Babywearing

Online communities can bridge nationalities and culture. They have their own lexicons, taboos, and beliefs. There are many online communities focused on babywearing, High End Babywearing is one that values carriers for their utility, as objects (even art), and their value. Carriers as investment pieces. Carriers as status symbols within their closed community. This interview was originally posted in Iowa City Babywearer’s blog, August 20th, 2015. Republished with permission of Kelsey Sandeno. 

Today I interviewed Kelsey Sandeno about the world of High-End Babywearing. We discussed the distinctions between High End (HE), Highly Sought After (HSA), and Hard-To-Find (HTF) carriers, as well as some of the jargon found in High-End Babywearing communities. Continue reading

From Baby Toting to Babywearing

Dr. William Sears claims credit for coining the term babywearing when his children were small. Dr. Sears recounts how his wife would put on the carrier in the morning and not take it off until she undressed at night.

“I remember one day when Martha fabricated a sling out of material from an old bed sheet and said, ‘I really enjoy wearing Mathew. The sling is like a piece of clothing. I put it on in the morning and take it off in the evening.’ Hence the term ‘babywearing’ was born in the Sears household.”- Dr. William Sears (askdrsears.com)

Though Rayner Garner invented the ringsling in 1981, branding it as The Baby Sling, Dr. Sears developed his own versions (albeit with enough padding to resemble a duvet and prevent the user from adjusting the pouch effectively) and has sold it as the Over the Shoulder Baby Holder and The Original NoJo Babysling. 

The use of infant carriers wasn’t a novel concept in North America in the 1980’s but previously it had a stigma of poverty or transience attached since the European Middle Ages, to those who by choice or necessity carried their infants on their bodies. The Baby Boom seems to be the impetus for changing this attitude over the next half century. Patents for infant carrying devices were filed in quick succession after WWII ended– though traditional infant carriers were known of and in use, North American parents wanted innovated new forms made of new materials for their modern lifestyles. Yet even then, many people were suspicious of their use and its implications for the relationships between parent and child. 

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