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Cloth Baby Carrier Systems Around the World

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Length of Cloth Baby Carrier Systems

In most of the world, the way to carry a baby is with a simple piece of cloth attaching it to a caregiver. The fabric is usually just a standard four or five foot textile that is wrapped around the child and adult in a number of different ways. I have observed this method of carrying children from Asia to South America, it is truly a global standard. In point, I know from experience that carrying a child is hard work — if you have a kid in your arms there is often little else you can carry. In most of the world, a child does not prevent its caregivers from working, so a simpler way of holding them needed to arise: enter the cloth.

There are numerous ways of tying a child onto an adult’s body, below are just a few styles.

Baby being carried with a piece of cloth

Piece of cloth strapping in a baby

The above two photos are of a Spanish woman and her baby. She demonstrated for me how to strap the kid in with the cloth. First, the cloth is wrapped around the mid-sections of both the child and the mother, then it is wrapped around the mother’s back and then back around her body and up under the child’s legs, and then the cloth is crossed over the child’s shoulders and tied behind the mother’s neck.

I was told that wrapping up a baby in this way can be done with the child either facing in towards the mother’s body as well as out, as is demonstrated by the above photo.

To remove the baby, its father showed me how this is done: you just grab it and pull it out of the cloth. It is my impression that this exit strategy is truly superior to the modern carriers that you need to unwrap, unfold, and unbuckle in order to release the kid.

This is a unique twist to a traditional method of carrying a baby with a cloth that I have not observed before, and I suspect that the Spaniard may have invented this style herself. But it seemed to work fine, the child was securely belted in, the mother seemed comfortable. This way of tying the cloth also distributes the weight of the child onto both the neck/ shoulder area as well as the hips, therefore potentially making this style more preferable to the wearer than other cloth child carrying systems.

Baby in indigenous Guatemalan cloth

Traditional way of carrying a baby in Guatemala

The above two photos are examples from Guatemala of a cloth being used to carry a child on the caregiver’s side or front. This is essentially done by bringing the child up to the chest and then wrapping it in the cloth, which is then tied behind the neck, making a sling. The advantage of having a child attached to a mother’s front is that it can breast feed and this is the place where a baby seems to feel most secure.

Indigenous Maya cloth baby carrier

Cloth used to carry baby in Guatemala

The above two photos are also from Guatemala, and show babies being carried in a cloth on the caregiver’s back. This is probably the most comfortable place for a mother to carry a child, as it leaves their fronts and sides completely free to carry other objects or do other tasks.

Again, this way of using a cloth to carry a baby is done by placing the child on the back and then wrapping it up with the cloth and forming it into a sling.

This is probably the simplest way of using a length of cloth to carry a baby, and this method is used all over the world — from Latin America to Tibet to Africa. It is my impression that the length of cloth baby carrying system is just as secure as the more complicated first world, Western methods, and is vastly cheaper.

The one major disadvantage that the length of cloth baby carrying system is that they are vastly less ergonomical than some of the modern backpacker style systems.

We use an Ergo baby carrier as we travel with our daughter, and it has served us well. In some places that we have traveled with it, mothers have found it an abomination — some even stripping our daughter from us and showing us how to carry her the proper way in a length of cloth — in other places, mothers have found it ingenious and have even tried to buy it from us.

Ergo baby carrier

In point, it is my impression that the various ways of carrying a baby is left up to a parent’s cultural comfort. In the USA, I am sure that many mothers would find the length of cloth method barbaric and unsafe, while in Guatemala the women would gasp at our Ergo and tell us that it was bad for our child’s legs and hips, that a baby should be carried tucked up next to the mother’s body in a length of cloth.

Video on how to use a length of cloth to carry a baby

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Filed under: Central America, Culture and Society, Family, Guatemala, Mexico, North America, Travel Gear, Travel With Family

About the Author:

Wade Shepard is the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. He has been traveling the world since 1999, through 76 countries. He is the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China, and contributes to Forbes, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3054 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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