Why African women carry their babies on their backs

In many parts of the world, women are seen carrying babies in their arms or a baby stroller. However Africa is the one continent where women carry babies on their backs.

I have lived in Nigeria almost my whole life and have seen women and even girls carrying babies on their backs. Despite the westernisation in Africa, this is one of the things that set them apart from the rest of the world. Though baby strollers are available in many countries, the women refuse to purchase preferring the traditional method of carrying babies.

The woman does this by lifting the baby on the back and letting the feet fall on the sides. Then she bends to balance the baby and at the same time use a cloth to cover the baby completely, tucking the bottom edge over the baby’s bottom. The edges of the cloth are pulled and tied around the chest. The hands of little babies are tucked in to the cloth while hands of older babies are released. Sometimes even the men pitch in to help the women but that is occasional.

There are many reasons why African women still prefer this method. An average woman has to wake up early in the morning to clean the house and cook food for the family. Also cooking food is not easy for them as they have to manually make food from scratch by grinding and pounding.

As a baby has to be constantly under vigilance, African women came up with carrying babies on their backs. They also believe that this is a convenient way of bonding between the mother and child. Whenever the baby gets hungry, the woman can easily remove the cloth and feed the child.

It is considered a woman’s pride and joy. That’s why even girls are seen to be carrying a relative’s baby. It’s easier to do not only housework but also jobs while at the same time taking care of the baby. Being wrapped in a cloth to the mother’s body keeps the baby warm. This is a part of their rich heritage which they aim to keep alive.

I have also seen babies enjoying the close contact with the mother. If a baby is uncomfortable or cries, the mother will just shake her body and sing to calm the child and it works. Sometimes the baby even falls asleep showing how effective it is.

Though the concept of baby carriages or pram was introduced in places such as Nairobi, it has greatly flopped. Another reason is because in Africa, the roads are not good enough and can cause problems. It is also believed by the Africans that such devices can damage the relationship between the mother and the child.

“The pram is the ultimate in pushing the baby away from you,” said Frank Njenga, a child psychiatrist in Nairobi. “The baby on the back is actually following the mother in warmth and comfort. The baby feels safer, and safer people are happier people.”    

It comes to the conclusion that matter how much modernised we become, there are some things that are worth preserving. Though Africa may not be as advanced as America or the United Kingdom but it has a unique heritage which can’t be experienced in any other place.

Garima Nabh is the founder of New Age Magazine.

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