Baby carrying – African-style
Whenever my daughter and I go out, I am often asked about the way I’m carrying her: namely, tied to my back with a beach towel. I learned the method from watching YouTube videos of African women carrying their babies, and I’ve decided to combine all of the videos and what I’ve learned into one place so everyone else can see how to do it.
I have carried my baby in a beach towel since she was about four months old and was able to hold her head up by herself. I don’t know how to adapt this method to babies who can’t support their own heads; if anybody knows, please fill me in!
This is the primary video I used to learn how to do this. It shows a woman from Ghana using a kanga to wear her baby.
The first thing you need is something to carry your baby with. I use a beach towel, because it is long enough to go around me and the baby, and it is thin enough to be a little cooler and to stay tucked. I think a bath towel would be too small and too thick to be comfortable, although it can be done, as you can see in this video from South Africa:
In the other videos you see women using kangas, which are large, thin pieces of cloth used as clothing, head covers, baby slings and general parcel carrier.
Next, you need to center your baby on your back. This is really easy with practice, especially once your baby learns the drill, but you might want a spotter when you’re learning. The best way is to lean over (way over at first) so your baby is lying on his stomach with his legs around your waist. You can reach one hand around and support the baby under his bottom.
Now is when you’ll probably need someone to keep a hand on the baby, because you’re going to need both of your hands to put the towel around him. You want to grab the top corners of your towel and bring the towel around the baby as if you were putting on a sweater. For a small baby, place the towel above his arms, just under his neck. For larger babies, you can put it below the baby’s arms so that he can move around a little more.
Here‘s a video of a small baby wrapped securely:
Which way you wrap the front is up to you; I usually bring the left side around the front of my body, just above the bust, then wrap the right side around on top. Here’s the part which seems improbable: instead of tying, you will now fold/roll the towel down to hold it. You can see this in the videos: the top end is merely tucked/folded down with the rest of the towel. I know, it seems loose, but it is secure if you do it right. Practice does make perfect with this, too, and you can practice this part without a baby at all. Just wrap the towel around yourself as if you have just stepped out of the shower, and instead of tying, place the two top edges of the towel parallel to each other, then roll them down.
This was the part that was hardest for me at first, but once you do it, you will feel how it is supposed to go. And if it does start to slip, you will feel it immediately. I’ve had my towel loosen a couple of times when I first started doing this, and I felt it before my baby could even begin to fall.
It seems counter-intuitive to wrap the top first, but it’s actually more secure this way. The baby should be resting on your hips, and the top of the towel is holding his upper body up. The lower end is just for a little more security. Truthfully, if your kid was big enough, you could dispense with the lower end completely and they can hang on with their legs.
Once the top is secure, you can stand up more straight and adjust the baby as you wrap the lower half. This is something else you will get a feel for with practice. Just grab the lower half of the towel and bring it up under the baby’s bottom, drawing the ends to the front as you do so. Bring one end of the towel up and wrap it around your body, just under the bust this time, then bring the other end around and tuck in it, just like the top. Depending on how big your baby is, you can bring his little legs either straight around your body, or let them dangle at the knees. You can see examples of both of these on this post at the Gypsy Momma blog.
Voila! Your baby should be wrapped securely to your back, and now you can go do dishes, or make the beds, or go hiking, or whatever else was impossible to do carrying a baby in your arms.
There are many, many baby carriers on the market, designed for front-carry, back-carry, side-carry, and everything in between, and they usually cost a pretty penny. I myself loved my Moby Wrap when my daughter was tiny, and carried her around on my front all the time. But when she got too big and heavy to carry on my chest, I switched to the beach towel and have never regretted it. From what I can tell, you can use this method to carry a child as long as you are strong enough to lift them and the towel will still fit. You don’t have to worry about buying the right size carrier to fit you or the baby; the towel gets adjusted every time you put it on. This kid is pretty big, and his mother can still get him on. You can also see how his legs dangle at the knees: