Google+ Authentic Parenting: How To: African Babywearing

Saturday, May 21, 2011

How To: African Babywearing

To practice African-style babywearing, one only needs a piece of (non-stretch) cloth of an average 1m70 long and 90cm wide (a little smaller works too, especially if you are particulary thin), about the size of a large beach towel (which actually works just as good). Any type of non stretch fabric will do, I have worn my daughter in a beach towel on many occasion if nothing else was at hand.
Ask someone to stand aside for a first couple of trials until you feel secure. They can help you put your baby and on your back check if the cloth is well positioned.
I'm not sure it works for men, my husband once try but didn't succeed. I have seen young children carrying their siblings like that, though. It is done from two weeks old and onward, and I've even seen four year olds being carried. I have only started doing it when the little one was 10 months old, so you'll have to await a second baby for a small baby tutorial :)
It might seem a little scary the first time around, but it is really rather safe and millions of babies are worn that way from dusk til down without accidents. Once you get the hang of it, you might come to love it, as I do, as there is no strain on your shoulders or arms like other ways of carrying might involve.

Wrap the piece of fabric around your waist
Tuck the end under the fabric wrapped around your hips
Put your baby on your hip
Slide baby from hip to back
Lift your arm over your baby's head and lean forward. If you practice this often, your baby will learn to 'assume position', which will help you along.

Detach the fabric and lift over your baby's bum either under their arms or up to their neck (smaller babies are better worn with the fabric up to the neck, a bigger child can also like this if he/she wants to sleep)
Tuck one end of the fabric (left) under the other side, pull it closely to your body.

Pull the loose (right) side of the fabric over to your left armpit, pull tightly

Tuck the upper part of the right side under the lowest piece of fabric

This is what it looks like: the upper part is lodged under the lower part of the piece of cloth. It might seem scary, but it is actually rather secure. The weight of the baby and the tissue of your breast keep everything nicely in its place.
While it is already very secure by attaching just the upper part, the bottom part can be attached by pulling the ends across and under at the other side

This is what the bottom looks like. I have covered her legs entirely, but it is equally possible to leave the legs dangling from the knee.

This is the end result. 

I hope you liked the tutorial. If you have any remaining questions, feel free to leave them in the comment  box below.



  1. Woah! That is cool! Might have to give that a try..

  2. Cool!! I work witha family from West Affica. I have seen her put her child on her back just like that and wrap her up! Great!

  3. My sister volunteered in South Africa and saw this everywhere, everyday. I'll have to try it sometime.

  4. Isn't the pressure across your breasts uncomfortable???

  5. @Anonymous... It might look so, but it really isn't. You just need to tie the cloth at the right height, t.i. above where the major breast tissue starts

  6. That is amazingly simple isn't it! Wow and thank you!

  7. Thanks so much for the tutorial! I don't have a scrap of fabric, but do have a beach towel... I'll have to give this a shot with my 1½yo!

    If you happen to have one, I'd love to see the bottom pic, but from the front. There isn't really a distance shot of the front, just the extreme close-up.

  8. Awesome. I was really excited to figure out that I could carry my daughter on my back in our ring sling. It's a quick lift and shift, but it makes my life 100% easier when I'm doing something that requires an out of the way toddler but she still wants to be held.

  9. I'm a little confused. Are the ends on top, just tucked into each other and rolled (like you would a towel after showering?) or are they actually tied together?

  10. @Monica: yes they are indeed just tucked under one another, like you would a towel, but a little tighter

  11. Very cool!! Thanks for posting this! I will be sharing it with my babywearing friends!

  12. A great tutorial. I never knew this is how it works! Thanks!:D

  13. I would love a video tutorial! I am very visual and have a hard time with just single shots but I'm thinking I would LOVE this if I can get it right.

  14. Oooh, I might have to try that. Thanks


  15. Come to think of it I do have a question: You write that the breast tissue with hold everything in place, I am worried that this carry will damage my breasts especially since I am breastfeeding. Am I right to worry or not?


  16. well, woman all over Africa do this and breastfeed fine until well into early childhood, so I don't think this should be an issue. You decide how the fabric is comfortable. I do think one should not compress the breast and the fabric actually holds just above the breast, that's where the 'pressure' is. The actual breast tissue (milk ducts etc) is under the fabric but not really compressed or uncomfortable.
    I've done this for over a year with my daughter and we're still comfortably nursing at 3y and during pregnancy

  17. How funny is this. We all grew up ( my siblings and I and actually also my aunts, mom and dad etc.) But instead of this style, they put the fabric across one shoulder to give it more of a hold. But it is the same idea.

    My mom does it now with my little niece and she loves it. I think that she loves the idea of being held during household chores.

  18. Any advice for a squirmy baby? My little one is a big 9 monther and I couldn't get her on my back without wiggling off before I got the clothe up? Especially if I am doing it on my own with a cranky baby!

  19. Any advice for a squirmy 9 month old? I can't seem to get her steady long enough to get the cloth up...thanks!

    1. Hi Robin,
      the trick is to make them get used to it and do it quick... so it all comes down to practice, really. Maybe you can pick a moment when your child is quiet or sleepy for the first couple tries. You can hold them with one hand while you're adjusting the fabric.
      hope this helps!

  20. I have a chitenje from a summer in Malawi when I was younger - and I had forgotten about using it for baby wearing! THanks for the tutorial. I'm not sure I follow all the steps from a quick read, but I'll come back to this when I have my cloth and give it a try.

  21. I do have a question...starting at this step:
    "While it is already very secure by attaching just the upper part, the bottom part can be attached by pulling the ends across and under at the other side"
    I'm not sure which way you are pulling the bottom ends. Are you doubling up the fabric by folding at this point? If not, it seems like it would be hanging loose and long out from baby's back.

  22. It's true, it is hard to see in th epicture, I should really do a video one day.
    What you do is you take the two bottom corners and tug it a little so it's neatly under the child's bum, then you cross your hands - still holding the corners, and tuck the top one under the lower one

  23. Thanks for sharing the tutorial. I was taught to do this as well. And you are right. Generation after generation of African mother's can't be wrong. Why reinvent the wheel! Love it!


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