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The Original Rebozo Way How-to

Articles

THE ORIGINAL REBOZO WAY HOW-TO

The Rebozo Way
the ancient proud tradition of Latin mothers
Mom and baby moving as one
Mother hauling, working, shopping,
baby peering, nuzzling, being
in the sphere of social activity
yet bound to mother, all protecting...

 

The Rebozo Way
which I embraced with both my sons
has taught me grace and harmony
has freed my hands to hold and move
and freed my legs -- I swing him on and go
and freed my mind from ideas of how babies must be

The Rebozo Way
calms my fussy baby down
lulls him to sleep securely by me
demands I share my life and time
with my little guy close as can be

And so, I now share my discovery with you
A tool, a tradition, a bonding
The Rebozo Way


In the seventh month of my first pregnancy, we moved from the Mexican Caribe, where it is too hot to use the rebozo, to San Cristobal de las Casas, in the highlands of Chiapas. There I spent many of my remaining days-in-waiting in the vegetable market, watching the countless examples of mothering with rebozo. Within the first week of Van's birth, I found, in a local shop, a rebozo that was practical for me to use, lightweight yet strong, not cumbersome, hard to dirty (being mostly black) but easy to wash and dry. It is this same style, the Traditional (Guare Hilaza), that I wear to this day with my second son, Gaby, now a year and a half. I have found it adaptable to carrying a baby ten or more different ways as the child grows, and I consider it the ideal baby carrier, inobtrusive, soft, and completely adjustable.

My rebozo is made of breathe-through cotton, accented with thin blue and white rayon strands. The material is important when the baby is small and still unable to lift his head. The child is cradled inside the rebozo next to the mother's breast, and then the cloth is tied around her back. This is the most secure and comfortable position for both mom and baby, and I do not know of any other carrier that allows the infant to lay against the mother's breast in this way.

The baby can breath easily through this type of cloth, and any cool air quickly becomes warm as it passes through the rebozo next to the child's face. The material is so porous that one can see out of it when placed right next to the cloth, yet the dark color, which cannot be seen through from even a few inches away, protects the babe from the stares or attention of strangers. In this way, the newborn need for peace and quiet can be preserved.

In this part of the world, the traditional forty days of seclusion and rest for mother and newborn are observed, so the child is not immediately thrust into society. At the time the mother begins again to have social contact, the child continues to feel her constant warmth and protection, worn in the rebozo next to her heart. I first took mine out when they were between two and three weeks old, wearing them discreetly to the market, a friend's, a quiet coffeehouse.

Also, once the baby is attached, she often falls asleep, and need not be shifted and shuffled in order for mom to perform simple tasks, be it opening a door, counting out money, or signing a check. I found certain times of day the rebozo would be particularly helpful, usually late morning and late afternoon, when the baby would be quietly alert in my rebozo (or in my arms) but a bit fidgity if left to lay about on her own, even within eye contact. A baby in rebozo acquires the air of one from a more primitive setting, alternately nuzzling at the breast and dozing, at times just content to breathe, smelling her mom close by. The rebozo allows us to be totally with our small baby while simultaneously being present wherever we are, and with whomever, too. When my second baby was tiny and wrapped tightly to me, I still had two hands to button my two year old's jacket, tie his shoe, or pour him a cup of juice.

The traditional rebozo mother is a busy one. Often she lives where she must fetch her water and firewood as well as hand wash all her family's clothing and utensils. Her baby stays tied to her to avoid contact with the dirty or rocky grounds near her home, to be safe from small animals and insects, as well as to bond with her kin. In colder or mountainous climates, the complete covering and body contact provided by the rebozo maintain the newborn's body temperature at a constant, and so protects the infant from the elements, and possibly from serious illness.

I warn the new rebozo mother against trying to do too much with the baby attached. I myself misunderstood certain books on childrearing and was determined to keep my child next to only me as many hours as possible. This is not only unnecessary, but the mother healing from recent childbirth needs her own rest and relaxation. The rebozo can be a wonderful tool -- I most enjoy using it walking, doing errands and shopping, and find it most comfortable when I am moving or nursing. I need not imitate the physical labors of the tribal mother to benefit from cradling my baby as she does hers. She has a tribe to help her care for baby; unfortunately I do not.

The newborn wrap gives the mother free use of both hands, although when not needed, I often found one or both of my hands drifting to embrace my child. Although with my second child I discovered I could tie the baby on myself, I suggest, especially in the beginning, to take advantage of the father or another second person who can help the baby onto the mom. This will insure the most secure and comfortable fit. Mom can cradle the baby with hands on outside of rebozo, while the helper checks for slack on the sides and then ties the knot in back. Doing it oneself is a bit awkward but certainly possible, especially if one has practiced with a partner and so knows the feel of a good wrap beforehand. If you do practice alone, please do so on a soft place like a bed, a rug, or a grassy lawn.

Of course, in traditional societies, there is always someone else who is available to help. Even with my sixteen month old toddler, as I swing him on my back in a public setting, I on occasion cause alarm to an elderly woman, usually with a face vibrant with wrinkles and her own rebozo wrapped tightly about her head and shoulders. She runs to me, crying, "Your baby will fall!", gentle hands open to ward off any harm to the infant. I am always happy to have their help, these women from another culture who care so much for the babies, and look at me strangely yet proudly as they tuck in my stray ends and cradle the little one's hand in their own for a moment.

One advantage of the newborn wrap is that the baby can be breastfed in public yet totally out of view, and need not be moved to comfortably reach the nipple. Indeed, unlike modern babies, many of those in rebozos nurse frequently (or continuously some days) in these early months. I found letting my babies nurse on one side for even a couple of hours, and later giving them the other breast, worked fine for us, and milk continued to flow as needed on both sides. I do cradle the child's head while he is nursing, partly to avoid sudden yanks on the nipple if I shift in walking, and also to protect the child, as passersby may not even realize that I carry a baby inside my little bundle. Some days my child would nuzzle most of the time I wore him and that felt fine to us; other days I felt better if I stopped and relaxed while nursing, not needing to remove the baby from the rebozo as he suckled. Then, as he fell asleep and let go of the nipple, I could rise without disturbing him and go on my way.

FIRST WRAP (NEWBORN)

I sit crosslegged and drape the rebozo across my lap (fig. NA)

I then lay the baby on top of it, between my knees, looking up at me. I place her in the most center point of the rebozo, and bring the wide ends of the shawl up above the baby's body on both sides, drawing my hands out towards the long fringed ends. The baby is now down in the rebozo face up, or cocked slightly towards the breast, with the rebozo tilted so her head lays higher than her feet. (fig. NB)

The long fringed ends of the rebozo will be tied in back, first throwing the end beyond the baby's head over that shoulder, and the one beyond the child's feet around my waist. (fig. NC)


I then cradle the infant with my knees and chest, leaning forward as I reach back with my hands and secure the two ends together.

It is important to check first for any slack in the material, especially the underside, just below the shoulder and near baby's feet, before tying the knot. (fig. ND)


Practice as shown in these photos, and be sure also to give equal time to practicing with baby's head laying below your right shoulder, otherwise following directions exactly.

You may also work with another person, the mother holding the baby inside the rebozo in center front position, and the helper pulling in the extra material and adjusting the knot to the best fit. This is best done with mother already standing up as straight as she will be after the knot has been tied. (fig. NE)

Be careful not to overdress or underdress the child covered so completely and warmed by body contact with her mother. Booties, pants, and a sweater might make the baby sweat when so tucked in, but without a blanket nearby, you might hesitate to pull out your baby on impulse if it's a windy day. Each of us needs to test our own environment to see what is right at different times of day and year.

SECOND WRAP (THREE MONTHS)
(NOT SHOWN)

As the baby gains control of his head, he no longer lets himself be laid against the breast, but wants to be held in a more upright position. So, somewhere around three months, I began carrying my babies in a side-sitting front wrap. The baby is still next to the mother's heart, but does not usually nurse within the confines of the rebozo, as his head is too high to do so comfortably.

To put on a baby in this position, I begin again draping the rebozo on my lap while sitting crosslegged, but I set the baby sitting sideways with legs extended, in the same spot where he recently lay from head to toe. As before, the end that holds the feet is left slightly lower, and the fringed end that is thrown over the shoulder is pulled up from the child's buttocks and behind his head. The shawl makes a triangle in front from head to foot to buttocks, and the edge from foot to baby's head should be taut when tying the knot in back. Letting the outer arm dangle free loosens the triangle a bit and allows the child some view of the world. Again, mother should still alternate on which shoulder the rebozo is tied over, as this will be the shoulder that will feel more of the baby's weight. Practice with a partner so the shawl is taut but the child's legs are not buckled, and the outer side of the rebozo protects but does not cover baby.

THIRD WRAP (THREE MONTHS - THREE YEARS IN COLD CLIMATES)

By the time the child can hold up her head by herself, you may already begin putting her on as one does an older child, starting with the baby on your back, but then swinging her to be held in front. With an infant not even able to sit on her own, you may, at first, want a helper to be present while you are draping and adjusting the rebozo. I have gotten used to putting my young baby on myself, although at first I always found a soft surface on which to crouch, such as a bed, a rug, or a grassy lawn. Although I have never dropped a baby while adjusting the rebozo, my confidence and peace of mind were increased knowing that if she did fall, it would be onto a place where she would not be injured.

As my babies grew, I found that I had more freedom of movement when I wore them on my back rather than twisting them around to the front, but I did not feel comfortable with my babies behind me outside of the house, especially in a crowded street or market, until they were about nine months old. So I would put them on in back only to secure the shawl and quickly move them to a safe front position. This wrap with the baby's feet tucked in is also nice for colder climates, whether in front or back, as it keeps almost the child's whole body wrapped and in body contact with the mother.

To begin, the baby is placed in a piggy back position with mom leaning forward with her back almost parallel with the ground. I feel with my hands that the little one is neither too high nor too low, which usually means that her head is almost but not quite level with my own. (fig. BA)

Working behind myself, I open the rebozo fully, keeping my hands about two feet apart on the top edge of the material, with the bottom edge near or touching the ground. I then draw the shawl up over the baby to the top of her shoulder blades but leaving her arms and head free. (fig. BB)

Tucking the bottom of the rebozo in under the baby's feet, and pulling it so that about 4 inches of the fabric covers the front part of the feet, I then pull one fringed end over one of my shoulders and the other end around my waist. I pull both ends tight, sometimes twisting the ends from where they are held to near the baby's feet, making a fit that cannot slip (a technique I learned in Panajachel, Guatemala). (fig. BC)

I tie the rebozo securely right in the middle of my chest, about two inches below my clavicle. I check to make sure the feet are both tucked in well, that the arm nearest the higher rebozo end is not caught in the cloth, and that the rebozo is smooth and taut from baby to knot on both sides. (fig. BD)

I then twist the child-and-shawl unit under the arm that has a shoulder free, to the front, while the knot of the rebozo is forced to travel over the other shoulder and rest just above my shoulder blade on my back. Thus I am once again cradling my baby next to my heart with my arms free when I need them. The rebozo often comes to a point where the feet are tucked in. (fig. BE)

FOURTH WRAP (TODDLER)

In hotter climates or as baby grows and feet will no longer fit snugly inside, I use a wrap and twist almost identical with the just mentioned one, except that I secure the rebozo under the child's buttocks instead of including the legs and feet.

As before, we start piggy back style. I open and draw up the rebozo from behind, but I then catch it on the child's buttocks, pulling it tight as I bring the fringed ends to tie on my chest. I secure the rebozo in front, and before I straighten up, I check to make sure the rebozo bottom is tucked in well and not caught on the child's waist, foot, or elsewhere, and that there is equal tension alI along the rebozo to the knot on both sides. A for-sure test is to tie on baby, stand, and jump up and down a few times, and then recheck the knot for position and tension. I can then straighten up and continue to carry the baby on my back or swing him around to a front position with feet dangling.

Each wrap comes out just a little different, and if I twist the baby to my front, he may be turned in towards me or facing slightly outward. At times he seems to be balanced on my hip, except that the rebozo takes the strain off my arms and side. To this day, I twist my toddler around if he falls asleep, so that I may cradle his head on my shoulder. I do feel his weight more on one side than if I leave him behind, and almost always use an arm in combination with the rebozo to carry his twenty-plus pounds when wrapped on front. Some days, like today buying rebozos with Gabe in tow in Mexico City, it is most comfortable to put him in the rebozo in front while I had a heavier day pack on my back. Generally, though, and for long walks or going uphill, I prefer a big baby to be carried from behind.

Figures TA and TB show the fourth wrap from both right and left side views. The baby is secure and in close contact with mom.

The Rebozo Way

An international project in support of in-arms parenting

1988, revised 1999 BarbaraWishingrad

(May be copied freely if shared to promote the mission of The Rebozo Way Project, please include our contact information http://www.nurturingacrosscultures.org)



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