Baby Wearing - Fad or Instinct?

 Like myself, many of today's parents would not have been exposed to baby wearing when they were growing up. They may have glimpsed an image watching a documentary, or reading their parents national geographic magazine, but may never have considered it anything other than an ancient or a specific cultural practice. So seeing celebrities babywearing has certainly helped to introduce many people (in the industrialised world) to the possibilities of babywearing. However, I believe that it is really an instinctual drive to keep our babies close, that is driving this popularity, and that it is not just the latest fad. Looking at the animal kingdom, it is clear that the our babies were designed to be carried. Baby animals can be classified as nidicolous (stay at their nest or birthplace for a long time after birth (1)) or nidifugous (leave the nest very quickly(1)). Nidicolous animals are born with their eyes and ears closed. They are programmed by nature to be left alone for many hours, supported by the high fat content of their mothers milk (5). When left alone they do not cry, as doing so could attract a predator. Nidifugous animals, by contrast, are much more mature at birth, are born with their eyes open and are capable of moving independently. Human babies by contrast, are neither nidicolous or nidifugous. As soon as a baby feels alone, they will cry in order to call their parent back, (as they know they cannot survive for long without their parents). They require frequent feeding. They are most satisfied when they experience body contact and movement. This has been referred to as the contact crying reflex.


A newborn human baby is not able to conceive that something that disappears from their view, i.e. their parents can still be in existence. From around 5 months of age object permanence start to develop, from around 9 months of age they will actively look for something that has disappeared from view (6). In 1970, Biologist B.Hassestein introduced a new baby type of the “carried baby” (5). “Carried babies are young mammals who are carried by one of their parents because they cannot move alone or can only move restrictively. Their general state of development is approximate to that of a 'fly out of nest'...however their palms and soles of the feet face each other…so that their fingers and toes can grip…” (7). Developmental features that carried babies exhibit include:

  • the squat-spread reaction
  • palmer and plantar grasp
  • moro and contact crying reflexes
  • inward facing “bow legs”, curved spine and more laterally and anteriorly orientated hip joints (5)

When you pickup a baby, their hips and knees will automatically flex and abduct (squat position). This positioning allows the baby to “lock-in” with the person that has picked them up, and is most advantageous for being carried, and for healthy hip development. The palmar grasp enables babies to hold on, or be actively involved in being carried, (and support their own body weight for at least 10 seconds (8)). A moro response is thought to facilitate an embracing or a clinging onto their parents (8). 

The drive to carry our babies is instinctual. Using a baby wearing product, such as a stretchy wrap, a woven wrap, ring sling or carrier, allows us to carry our babies for longer with greater ease, allowing for a more even distribution of weight, conservation of energy (10), the practical benefit of having our hands free, and numerous other benefits. It is a practice that I imagine will continue to grow in popularity, as more and more people discover the benefits.

Written by Dr Vanessa Barry, Chiropractor, a certified Babywearing Consultant, and Mumma to a gorgeous girl.


  1. September 2014
  2. Blois, M, MD. (2005). Babywearing: The Benefits and Beauty of This Ancient Tradition. Pharmasoft Publishing.
  3. National Geographic Magazine, Volume 31 (1917) p553
  4. Photothèque du Musée de l'Homme via French National Library
  5. Die Trageschule Carrying Consultancy Handbook Stand:01.01.2008
  6. Kirkilionis E. (1999) Babies want to be carried, everything about suitable carrying aids and the advantages of carrying. Munich p18
  7. Hassenstein B. The Human Nursing Baby - Stay at home or parent clinger. Science and Progress 42/192. p24-28 cit. A. Manns/A.C. Schrader 1995 p19
  8. Futagi Y, Toribe Y & Suzuki Y. The Grasp Reflex and Moro Reflex in Infants: Hierarchy of Primitive Reflex Responses. International Journal of Pediatrics. 2012 Article ID 191562,
  9. Salter RB. Etiology, Pathogenesis and Possible Prevention of Congenital Dislocation of the Hip. CMAJ, 98:20 pp933-945, May 18, 1968
  10. Wall-Scheffler C, Geiger K, Steudel-Numbers K. Infant carrying: The role of increased locomotory costs in early tool development. Am. J. Phys. Anthropol. 2007; 133: 841–846. doi: 10.1002/ajpa.20603