About the Author:
Aradia Wyndham taught babywearing in her community from 2006-2016, drawing on her experience using infant carriers as a nanny since 1998. As an undergraduate, she studied ethnopediatrics, a focus within anthropology, with particular interest in infant carriers and swaddling techniques. While researching infant care cross-culturally and historically, Wyndham developed the hypothesis that the infant carrier, as a tool, predated the human species. As a graduate student, Wyndham studied book history with a focus on Medieval European manuscripts and Early Modern English medicine and domestic manuals– especially those concerning ideas about the female body, birth, and infant care.
About this Blog:
Evolution of Babywearing shares Wyndham’s research in support of pre-human infant carrier origins with others who are interested in anthropology and babywearing. The blog is broken down into three areas: evolution, history, and culture, as well as an addition section regarding the forms infant carriers take around the world.
The section on Evolution focuses on biological anthropology research demonstrating how breastfeeding and morphology influence the infant carrying strategies of the members of family Hominidae. Changes in morphology through natural selection necessitated adaptations of our ancestors’ infant carrying strategies: as infants became less capable of clinging to their caregivers, caregivers needed to develop new ways to safely carry infants. Finally, a comparison of the energetic costs of infant carrying: what styles of infant carrying required the least calorie expenditure of the caregiver and infant.
The section on History incorporates art history, archaeology, and literature to describe infant carrying strategies of humans in the past. Using an infant carrier was associated with poverty and transient lifestyles in medieval and early modern Europe. Cradleboards were used in many cultures to create micro-climates, protecting infants in harsh environments. Certain infant carriers left their marks on the skeletons of infants and children, with the potential for starting a trend for skull modification. Some of the cultures and practices will still be extant in the present day– however, the sources used in this section will be more than 50 years old.
Finally, the section on Culture describes the carrying techniques of current cultures, what those strategies say about the culture’s ideas on infants, and what the carrier as an object represents to members of a culture. In North America the focus is on ergonomics and airways; infants are often worn on the front, facing out to “see the world”. Whereas in Central America the preference to envelope the baby entirely, as though in a womb. And in Nigeria, infants are worn on the back only, facing the wearer, so that the infant is following, and is protected by, the wearer.
The importance of infant carriers to the human species cannot be overstated. The technology belongs to our evolutionary ancestors. Their invention allowed modern humans to thrive, spread across the world, learn from co-existing hominid cultures about infant carrying technologies, and to go on to develop the breathtaking array of babywearing cultures around the world.