Babywearing in History
Baby-carrying tradition in Europe?
The pram was invented at the end of the nineteenth century and was made presentable by Queen Victoria. The entrance of this rolling vehicle into the baby-care was a logical consequence of the common child-rearing practice of the better-off classes of society at the time. It was quite usual in wealthy families to have their children raised by nurses and nannies, partly completely outside of the family circle.
Not having to look after your own children as parents was a sign of a household with sufficient staff that would take over the child-rearing chores. And thus, nannies with prams were crowding the streets and the parks of the towns, where the construction of roads and streets was quicker than in the country-side. The pram is also a sign for the in those days practiced distance between mother and child in the upper classes.
But how did the not so well-off families handle child-rearing? Surely, before the “era” of the pram children had to be transported somehow, too?
Only few historical evidence
Recorded history and, too, history of art and culture often neglected the lives of poorer or average families, so that our view of the past cultural eras is mirroring only the life-style of the upper classes of society.
But now and again you can find on old pictures motives reflecting the rural life or – at least as a part-aspect – of poorer families. Rembrandt drew e.g. a woman with a child strapped to her back (pic on the bottom left). Women in rural traditional wear were portrayed, who were glancing full of love at their baby lying in the sling. As well, a Swedish mother in a Sunday dress can be found, who is carrying her child in an almost modern-looking sling (pic left).
A painting of the late middle-ages in an Italian chapel, that is showing the holy family during their flight from Egypt, is in accordance to some aspects of the circumstances during the time of it’s origin; and thus it seems to have been quite usual during the middle-ages that mothers, like Mary in the picture, took their babies with them in a sling.
Gradually, quite a lot can actually be found that proves that carrying babies was quite usual in Europe, too. (Chamberlain 1997, Manns, Schrader 1995, Zglinicki 1979).
The rural population uses wraps
It is a sad fact to have to refer to such pictures to bring this home to us. It seems that the – at least until the beginning twentieth century – tradition, to always take your child with you during its first year, is mainly forgotten. Often all of the women of the family took part in this, beside the mother and aunts also older sisters.
You can only find few reports or tales about this, mainly stemming from the rural parts of the country. The memories end in the 1940s. – By the way, it was also common, not to leave the little ones sleeping alone. They didn’t have their bed necessarily with their parents but with other grown-ups. (Chamberlain 1997)
Because it is practically
This, too, was completely forgotten or got a bad reputation. – But sometimes stunning proofs for a carrying-tradition in Germany emerge.
Especially rural clothing has one or the other surprise to offer. Not only slings were in use, but some coats are showing specialties for the child-carrying or can be transformed easily in a way that the carrying is made easier.
To carry children and have close body-contact especially seems to have been common in rural areas. But often this was connected with poverty and being part of the uneducated class of society. However, the accurate clothing on some pictures seems to contradict this image, even though the carrying of babies was mainly important for travellers, who were not at all part of the wealthy population.
The distance between parents and their children, the idea to have to start education early, not to spoil them and to prepare them early enough for the hard way of life were a widespread phenomenon in upper classes of the last century.
A tradition thousands of years old
Carrying babies has been a tradition for thousands of years and it has been practised in all cultures and civilisations.
Presentations, images and descriptions can be found in galleries and museums. Here is a small selection of what we found. Please let us know what you found and where. Maybe you can send us an image as well.