African mothers are still big on carrying their babies on their backs, here’s why

Ama Nunoo Ama Nunoo | Editor October 29, 2019

African mothers with their babies. Pic credit: BBC

Babies can be a handful, especially when the mother needs both hands to perform other duties.

Today, there are different mechanisms and devices that can help a mother, particularly when commuting with their child.

In developed countries like the UK and the U.S., mothers are accustomed to using prams or strollers when they have to be on the move with their kids.

Africans and some other cultures in South America and Asia have different ways of straddling their babies; they are carried on their backs.

Masai Mother, Photo: Pinterest

This phenomenon is, however, very common in Africa. It is not uncommon to see a mother plucking vegetables in a field with their child straddled at their back or a mother commuting to church with their child in a similar position.

Though the continent has been westernized and adapted to “newer” ways of doing many things, people hold dearly the custom of carrying their babies which sets them apart from mothers the world over.

It is very normal for a relative or neighbour to opt to carry a child that is not theirs. The process of straddling the baby, however, takes some skill; here’s how to do so.

First, a woman lifts the baby unto her back and slants the body slightly to position the baby close to her buttocks.

She then has to bend over slightly to balance the child, all the while using the cloth to cover the baby. For older babies, she leaves their feet to fall at her sides but tucks in the feet of younger ones.

Photo: Pinterest

The ends of the cloth are now tucked under the baby’s bottom and the remainder of the cloth hanging from the top is positioned and tied at the chest of the woman.

Babies under five months have their hands tucked into the cloth while older babies have their hands hanging like the feet.

The process described is peculiar to West African countries like Ghana and Nigeria. Other African countries have their own way of “backing their babies” but the concept is very similar to the one described here.

There are so many other reasons why mothers love to carry their babies at their backs in Africa. Some theories have it that women are to be the first to wake up to get the house ready for the rest of the family.

Photo: Pulse Ng

By so doing, their babies cannot be left unattended to, so they came up with the technique of carrying their babies at their backs to give them room to work.

The added benefit of carrying their babies around was the insatiable bond that is created between the mother and child.

Truthfully, children, still at the breastfeeding stage, need to stay close to their mothers and having one’s baby at their backs makes it convenient to feed the baby whenever they get hungry by just untying the cloth.

The best pacifier for African babies is their mother’s back. The close contact with the mother gives them the added benefit of being protected at all times.

Women opt to carry their babies on their backs not just to make their hands available for other activities or for easily supervised mobility, but to also comfort the baby and to make them feel loved.

It is very comfortable for the baby as they are not only wrapped up in cloth but they are cradled when they start to cry.

The mother will just shake her body a little and often sing or hum a soothing lullaby; this is also one of the fastest ways to get the baby to sleep.

Some experts have also said that the bond created between the mother and child makes the child feel safer whiles growing and safer people grow up to be happier adults.

One of the major reasons carrying babies at the back is still thriving in Africa and prams or strollers are not in use is the bad road network in Africa.

Unlike the UK or the U.S. where there are designated pedestrian walkways and the roads are tarred, the designated walkways in Africa are used for petty trading and the road networks are terrible in most places.

Photo: Wallpaper flare

Some parts of the cities and gated communities have safer options for mothers to use prams but mothers are still not very big on it. They would rather have their babies on their backs.

Even Africans in the diaspora who can use buggies and prams with no hustle have been spotted a few times, both indoors and outdoors, carrying babies at their backs.

Babies carried on the mother’s back is a big part of the African heritage and people seek to keep the practice flourishing from generation to generation.