Traditional Carriers: The Native American Cradle Board

The cradle board is a Native American styled baby carrier typically made from cut flat pieces of wood or woven from flexible twigs such as willow. Moss, shredded bark, and animal fur was used for cushioning. The cradle board allowed mothers to continue working, whilst providing their babies with safety and security. The cradleboards were attached to the mother’s back straps from the shoulder or the head. For travel, cradleboards could be hung from the horse. It was quite customary for babies to be carried in this method right up to when the baby could walk.

From: Edward S Curtis’ The North American Indian

“My grandmas told me that you don’t decide when the child is going to give up the cradleboard, it’s the child that’s going to decide. They say the sooner that a child leaves or pushes away the cradleboard and doesn’t want to use it—that means they’re going to mature a lot faster.” —Maynard WhiteOwl Lavadour

I learned to make these cradleboards by watching Mom, by helping her or helping my grandmother. Altogether I’ve made three sizes—infant, medium, and large. In my family, all the relatives that I know of kept their babies in boards. They like their boards. They want to stay in them and sleep in them.” —Agnes Goudy Lopez

“When you know of a child being born, then you prepare. You start making their clothes. We get the baby boards ready, and we have to keep to tradition. When a baby board is made, it has to be made in a day. You begin at the break of day and it has to be done before evening so the child will grow up to be a good person.” —Sophie George

(Excerpts taken from Native American Birthing Traditions, The Oregon Historical Society)

Traditional Carriers: African Kanga

The traditional African Kanga is a beauty behold. These sarongs (as a kanga has a multidude of uses) originated from the slave trade of the late 1800s where black dyed kaniki were worn to identify the lowly status of the wearer. When freed, the former slaves rejoiced in their freedom by wearing colourful sarongs made from cotton – a fiber that was generally only worn by the rich.

From here the Kanga evolved had has become a significant culture piece. It can be used as a communication piece, conveying messages to family and community. Traditionally, a first time mother is presented with a kanga from her husband to celebrate her fertility and her baby is wrapped in a soft cotton kanga.

The Kanga is very versitile and is used for a multitude of purposes including as a baby carrier utilising a torso back carry (the baby is never carried on front). The baby is supported by the upper body of the wearer rather than the shoulders, the weight being distributed across the middle of the back and onto the hips.

Simply a rectangular piece of fabric, when used as a carrier the Kanga is a quick carry to adopt with practice, but can be a little tricky to start with…so practice, practice, practice (on either a soft surface and/or with a support person).

This video was shot in Tobre (Benin) before an immunization session.



Traditional Carriers: Amauti

The large-hooded Amauti garment, worn by Inuit women, is unique. The parka’s traditional design is functional, allowing the child to be carried in the same garment as the parent offering protection and safety from the harsh Arctic climate, as well as beauty – and beautiful these traditional carriers are!

The design and look of an Amauti was passed on from generation to generation, with particular looks dependant on the area one was from. Various materials were used dependant on availability and included seal skin and caribou. Measurements were by hand and custom fitted to the mother. Like the Ergobaby carrier back position, the baby Inuit was carried with their stomach to mother’s back and their knees were bent. The Amauti was secured around the mother’s waist to prevent the child from slipping down. The weight of the child was carried across the shoulders of the garment although the weight was typically re-distributed by two more ties which form a “v” from the collar bone, with the base secured by the tie at the waist. The shoulders of the carrier were roomy enough for the mother to easily move her child forward to breastfeed when needed. This particular form of carry allowed the mother to be in constant contact with her infant, even enabling her to determine when the child needed to toilet! (although an emergency nappy of moss was kept at the bottom of the Amauti in case of emergencies!).

Library of Congress Prints and Photographs, Photograph by Lomen Bros., 1906

Many of the traditional methods of Amauti production were beginning to fade into history until recently. The first national consultation with Inuit women in Canada on the issues of protecting their cultural property, traditional knowledge and intellectual property rights was held in 2001. It was also the culmination of several years of research and development. Please find attached the final report here with some glorious images of the produced results.

Eastern Arctic Inuit: Nunavimiut (1890-1897) Made from Seal fur, dog fur, sinew. Kept at McCord Museum

Traditional Carriers: flax Pikau

Traditionally, Maori women were avid babywearers, carrying their bubs in a cloth inside their cloaks or in a flax Pikau. In W. B. Otorohanga’s “Where the White Man Treads : Across the Pathway of the Maori” it appears that girls lived the lives of young tomboys until the age of 8 or 10 when “they grew strong enough to wahu, or pikau (carry) the baby” and their induction into womanhood began.

Of course, like all carriers and slings, Babywearing provided the Maori women with the opportunity to free their arms and go about their general business whilst ensuring that their infant was protected, warm and able to feed on demand.

New Zealand has archived an enormous amount of Maori Babywearing imagery. We have collected together a sample for your viewing pleasure


Ani Doherty carrying her son Bob Doherty on her back, photographed by Arthur James Iles, circa 1899

Unidentified Maori woman, with moko, carrying an infant on her back, 1892. Photographer unknown.

Haehaeora Te Rangitakatu carring her mokopuna (grandchild) on her back (Pikau) in a blanket (1948)
credit “Whites Aviation Collection, Alexander Turnbull Library”

Further images available here website of Nga Maia, a national organisation representing and fostering Maori midwifery.

Traditional Carriers: The Welsh Shawl

Wales has a rich babywearing history deeply embedded in their shawl traditions. Much like the tartans of Scotland, the pure woollen flannel shawls, or siôl magu, with their twisted fringes and varied patterns were available in a variety of patterns depending on your location. 1

Babywearing was often referred to as “cwtch” (pronounced “kootch”) in Wales, which in simple terms (although there is no completely literal translation), can be translated to mean to cuddle your baby close. To do so, a large shawl was procured. This was quite large, but very practical as it kept both mother and baby warm through the harsh British winter.

The traditional carry did not appear to keep bothhands free. Worn over the shoulder, it allowed the full use of the opposite arm and partial use of the second arm and hand. Like all safe babywearing practices, the baby was held high, chin up and visible to the mother at all times.

Evelyn Hobbs of Tonmawr, Neath, nursing a baby ‘Welsh fashion’, c.1920s 2

Sketch of Swansea market by E. Hull, 1871 (watercolour) 3

The following video documennts the wool/flannel industry in Wales. It has a lovely account of the Welsh Shawl and some examples. Enjoy!

References / Acknowledgements



Traditional Carriers: The Mei Tei


Image courtesy of Serenely Made Podaegi

The Asian Mei Tai baby carrier is a square or oblong piece of cloth with long horizontal straps that create a waist band and long shoulder straps, which are then wrapped across and under the body of the child and tied off in a secure knot. The length of the straps allow for greater adjustability between different wearers and will comfortably carry children into toddlerhood in a front or back carry. The weight of the child is evenly distributed across the shoulders, and like modern soft structured carriers, the majority of the weight is borne through the hips thanks to the waist band.

Variations to the basic design occur within different countries. For example, in Korea parents would use a Podaegi which was a rectangle with just shoulder straps. Similarly styled is the Hmong carrier of the Northern Vietnamese Tribes which are intricately embroided in designs which offer symbolic protection to the child from evil spirits. In Japan, babywearing was truly a fashion accessory as mothers wore their infants in the Obi or kimono sash.


Photo submitted by: Amy McCauley (NZ) “Here is my husband wearing our son in our ‘Oyako’ mei tai carrier. I use it at least once or twice every day and love love LOVE it. I’d be lost without it!!!”

Traditional Carriers: The Rebozo of South America

mother and child (image by Adam Collins)

The traditional Rebozo baby carrier is a long, square to rectangular piece of hand-woven fabric originating from South America.

Rebozo translates to ‘shawl’ in Spanish. It is an appropriate description of such a versatile piece of cloth – it can be used as a scarf or a wrap to keep warm or a shield from the sun and even converts to a rucksack to carry heavy loads other than children!

Traditionally, each handmade Rebozo wrap would reveal the status of the wearer by its quality of fabric, whether it be woven with silk, wool or cotton and its intricate designs would be finished off with braiding.

The simple design allows for versatile carrying positions for babies and toddlers including hip, front and back carries. Each position is usually tied off with a Rebozo knot to secure the precious load.

Have you used a Rebozo? We would live to hear about your experience

Finishing off a rebozo at a textile workshop at the Museum de Arte Popular, Mexico City