Baby Carriers: Culture Decides How Your Baby Rides

Here in the global west, we pride ourselves on our individualism. Cultures like ours in the US take great pride in raising children to be self-sufficient. The child who clings to a parent much beyond the toddler years is looked upon with suspicion. Whereas a little girl may get away simply with being labeled shy, male children risk more derisive nicknames like “momma’s boy.”

Indeed, in western cultures the child’s ability and desire to strike out alone and explore the world is synonymous with healthy growth and maturity. It is no surprise, then, that those who study culture refer to western culture as “Individualist.”

To find one interesting way in which westerners demonstrate the desire to raise children as little explorers, one need look no further than baby carriers. True, baby carriers are a global phenomenon, as popular in eastern as western cultures. But look a bit closer. You will notice that the average American parent tends to position their child facing out, away from them, when transporting children in baby carriers. The thinking is that the baby wants to or “should” start focusing on how the outside world works.

By contrast to western individualism, most eastern cultures, like Japan, China, and Korea, are considered “Collectivist.” The emphasis in child rearing centers around a closely knit family first.

Interestingly, westerners advertising the benefits of baby carriers frequently make claims such as “continuously carried infants initiate separation faster and become more self-reliant.” In many parts of Asia, however, this would be anything but a selling point, and would more likely be viewed with mild alarm.

A typical eastern baby who is nowhere happier that when sticking close to a parent is considered – and is – perfectly well adjusted. The baby carrier again provides one demonstration of this difference. To encourage this the average eastern parent tends to position the child facing inward, looking toward the parent, when placed in a baby carrier.

Despite the 180-degree difference in baby carrier philosophy between east and west, anthropologists agree widely (which is rare in itself!) that there is no “right” or “wrong” way to face a child in the baby carrier. Either way, the baby is close, and that’s a good thing.