Zambians traditionally use a 2 meter piece of beautiful, colorful, cotton fabric called a chitenge. Chitenge cloths are not just for wrapping babies, they are wrapped around their wastes as a skirt, they are used as blankets to cover sleeping babies, as a bag tied up to carry things, or amusingly enough to cover girls that have forgotten to wear skirts long enough.
I assume that the ladies of Zambia choose to wear their babies for lots of reasons. First, it keeps them close. While wrapped, they can swing them to the front of their bodies to easily nurse or attend to them. It leaves their hands free to attend to their other children, do chores, or work. Children as young as 5 or 6 will learn to wrap and wear their younger siblings to be able to help mom out. It's a tradition passed down from generation to generation. As I spent more time with my Zambian sister-in-law and her 7 month old baby, it occurred to me that there was nowhere else to put them... literally. In the US, most moms register for a million things hoping that they will be gifted at their baby shower. Zambian ladies don't have baby showers. They don't really need them. Most babies never have a crib, or a bouncer, or a swing, or a bottle, or toys, or anything really. I'm reasonably sure that most Zambian moms would find it pretty funny that Americans just stick their babies in things to keep them busy. I mean the only reason I got any sleep when my son was first born was the swing that he was in love with. It could even buy me enough time to take a shower as he happily swung back and forth. Both of my children had countless contraptions that sang, danced, vibrated, and moved to capture their attention. They each had a crib, and an entire nursery that they rarely ever spent any time in. All of this seemed perfectly logical to me. I needed these things right? My sister in law was amazed and confused when I explained about baby equipment in the US. "so you just put the baby in a chair that bounces? and then what, walk away?"
It probably seems just as odd to an American that Zambian women wrap their babies onto their backs. They are so tiny and fragile, how could they just put them on their backs? How do they know if they are ok back there? Do they really hold them all day, every day? Don't they get heavy? How will they even learn to be independent if they are always wrapped onto their mother? These are all valid questions coming from someone who had never worn their baby. If millions and millions of Africans have worn their babies generation after generation, perhaps there is something to it?
While we were on safari in Livingstone, we got out of the safari vehicle to walk by foot to find Rhinos. I had brought a carrier with me just in case, so I hoisted Maddie up on my back and off we went. When I'm at home, I mostly either get odd stares, or stopped to ask how I got my child on my back. "is she in a backpack?" or "how does that thing work?". In Zambia people don't even seem to notice that she's up there. Our safari guide commented on the fact that I was wearing my child. He said, "you see, Zambian women carry their babies on their backs. They are safe back there. You foreigners do it differently. You put your babies in a rolling contraption and push them out ahead of you to test out the situation first." I found that amusing and somewhat accurate. As a mom who has literally owned just about every stroller on the market, I found it especially funny.
My kids have traveled by stroller, wrapped on my back, being pushed in a stroller at a very fast pace while i'm rollerblading, on scooters, and just about any other way you can think of. What ever works best for your family I think is the right answer. I have recently found that there is somewhat of a babywearing movement here in the States. More and more moms are learning that it's a great way to carry and bond with their child. I recently found a baby wearing group on a social media site. It's a group of moms who enjoy wearing their children in wraps, or slings, or carriers. They get together during the week to be social, and to learn new ways to wrap their babies. They are a pretty fantastic group of ladies. They seem to love, support, and teach each other about everything in life, not just babywearing. I have never seen them get snarky or get into the silly momma wars that other groups seem to fall into. I wish I had known about the group when my kiddos were younger, would have been an awesome support system. If this is the first time you have ever heard about wearing a baby, check out some of the pictures, google "babywearing", or look for a local group close to you. It's pretty amazing!