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

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.

What is High-End Babywearing?

Kelsey Sandeno with her own High-End stash featuring Kokoro Koneko in Mini Luna & Artemis (black) and Chibi Moon (pink). The handwoven is “Rainbow Joy” by Threadbare Designs. Kokoro wraps were purchased retail ($250 each, via stalking) but now hold a much higher value because they are HSA. The handwoven was $100/meter and is considered an artisanal product.

High-End Babywearing (HE) is pretty much what it sounds like: more expensive carriers. People normally spend fifty to a hundred to a few hundred dollars on carriers. In High-End Babywearing  people are spending, you know, five hundred up to a thousand– or thousands– of dollars on a single big-name item.
What kinds of carriers are involved in HE Babywearing?

Mostly wraps and when you get into the whole wrap-thing you get wrap conversions (WC). Obviously when you get a high-end wrap and have it made into a conversion, it makes the conversion even more high-end, because you’re spending money on the conversion too. Ring slings, less so, unless they are made from a high-end wrap. Pouches I have seen made from handwoven fabric– like leftover bits of handwoven wraps. But for the most part: wraps.

What makes the High-End Carriers different from other carriers? Is there a difference in the manufacturing process, materials, etc.?

It varies– some wraps are high end because they use high-end fiber, first thing that comes to mind are Kokoro Ren which are made with tsumugi silk, which is the silk that is used to make kimonos. Other fibers include Egyptian cotton, organic sea-island cotton, other silks, or ethically sourced merino wool, which more costly than other wools. So there are the fibers that make a carrier high-end. Then there are the weaves: if you consider Pavo wraps, which have very intricate weave patterns rather than just basic straight weave, or jacquard. The more intricate weave patterns requires them to have to have a good relationship with the mills, for one wrap they had to build a loom in the mill.

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Baby Toting vs. Babywearing: carrying infants in 20th Century North America

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 (

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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Europe: Medieval and Early Modern Infant Carriers

What kind of infant carriers were used in Europe in the Middle Ages and the Early Modern area? Europe has a variety of geographies and climates: from the sunny warmth of the Mediterranean to the deserts of Spain, the Alpine Glaciers, the ancient forests of Germany, the tundra in Finland, to the wetlands of eastern England. Different environments produce different carriers and Europe is no exception. In the Nordic countries, we find extremely complex carriers, called Komse, which are cradleboards that would not look out of place in many North American First Nations cultures. Elsewhere, there are extremely simple carriers: fabric tied at the shoulder to form a sling.  The most striking differences in how infants were carried in the Middle Ages versus today stems from the practice of swaddling. Continue reading

Big Babies

Humans, like all primates, are physiologically ridersRiders 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’re going to focus on why human babies are so large and helpless compared to other primates and when in our evolution the trend for large infants began.

Our evolutionary cousins, non-human primates in the Family Hominidae, have smaller, more precocious babies than humans. Adult gorillas, for example, are significantly larger than adult humans, yenewborn and adult weightst their newborns are about half the size of our newborns. Chimpanzees, which are our closest extant evolutionary relative and have a similar adult body weight to adult humans, have newborns that are around 3% of adult size, while humans have newborns that are around 6% of adult size (DeSilva).

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Beng Babies of the Côte d’Ivoire

In 2004, Alma Gottlieb published a unique ethnography on the babies of the Beng people in Côte d’Ivoireivory coast. The majority of ethnographies focus on the culture of adults or verbal children. Babies, if considered at all, are described in the context of their relationships to adults and older children. Gottlieb’s work focus on infants as the subject in The Afterlife is Where We Come From: The Culture of Infancy in West Africa. I hope that her work inspires more ethnographic research into the cultures of infancy around the world. For me at least, the subject is endlessly fascinating.  I recommend the book to everyone interested in anthropology, parenting, or infants.

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