Baby Care Journals Editors Choice

This award is bestowed to web sites that embody excellence in the topics of infant care

Nurturing Across Cultures (formerly The Rebozo Way Project) closed its doors at the end of 2011. The projects listed here are no longer active or updated. This site remains online as a resource for the global community, in the hopes that the work and information exhibited here will be an inspiration and resource to others.

You may copy and distribute most articles on our site for non-profit educational purposes related to our mission so long as you include a link back to our site. Please see specific terms and conditions at the end of each article. If an article is not licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license, you must contact the author for permission to reproduce the work in any form.


In-Arms Parenting: A History and Cultural Education


My interest in in-arms parenting started long before I had ever heard the phrase. One day while still in college, I walked into a phone booth where someone had left a brochure about front pack carriers-this was my first introduction to the idea of babywearing. The concept of it rang so true to me that I tucked that brochure in amongst my important papers, even though it would be years before I actually had children.

After studying history in college, I sought career training in childbirth education, midwifery and massage therapy. When I entered massage school, an acquaintance lent me a copy of The Continuum Concept by Jean Liedloff. I read the book many times before giving it back to my friend and didn't find another copy for the next nine years (it was out of print). Yet, my memory of her story influenced my life in a profound and lasting way.

When I graduated from massage school I headed south. I'd been dreaming about living away from American civilization, in a place where nurturing parenting was the established cultural norm; a place where people were more connected to their community and their roots. I wanted to know from my own personal experience the context in which traditional babywearing was practiced, and to see continuum parenting first hand.

At that time in my life, I was also ready to escape from the daily grind, the constant scramble to keep the money flowing which seemed to be so much a part of the American lifestyle. I went to Tulum, Quintana Roo, Mexico, a quiet beach on the Caribbean, and threw myself into hard physical labor walking long distances for drinking water and food, washing clothes by hand, opening coconuts, clearing jungles with a machete, and gathering wood and cooking with fire. I balanced this lifestyle by beading and selling jewelry in a culture that valued items made by hand.

For a couple of years I stayed out of touch with most of the world as I'd always known it. I did attend some births of gringas living in Mexico for awhile; however, I did not find a midwife or herbalist to apprentice with. It was a big change after my years of working in and networking through the National Office of Informed Homebirth/Informed Birth and Parenting. I was no longer simply hearing women's latest birth stories and the latest teaching techniques. I was opening my eyes and heart to the instruction of the culture I was living in.

Every time I got on a bus to go anywhere, women with babies tied on surrounded me. They wore them in a wrap called a rebozo. They climbed on, sat down or remained standing, stuffed bags into overhead racks, talked to their neighbors or older children and climbed off. The babies nursed, slept, looked around, and moved with their mothers. Babies were everywhere, always present. People also greeted them like they were real people Once in a while, one fussed. The babies were wrapped in all kinds of fabrics, with varying colors and wrapping styles. I drank in the rebozo culture.

After meeting up with an old friend who'd lived in Mexico half of his life, we traveled to Guatemala. The rebozo colors were brighter there, and the fabrics were thicker. In the cold early mornings, babies' heads were covered with the handkerchiefs so they could breathe warm air. The Guatemalan women waved their arms in excitement as they spoke, and their babies were always along for the ride. Women lugged heavy bundles on and off buses. They walked in plastic shoes with slight heels, or none at all, but always laughing. Their babies were always there, hanging on their mother's breasts, or on their side or back. Some had runny noses beneath their big brown eyes. While women walked or shopped or sold goods as the market, the babies went right along. They wore hats in the hot sun, or where tucked deep inside their carrying shawls while they slept. Once in a while one fussed.

When I eventually moved on to San Cristobal de las Casas, in the highlands of Chiapas, Mexico, I was seven months pregnant. I watched the women more intently to learn of the different ways of wrapping a baby in a rebozo, so that I might do so with my own. Every morning, as I chose from the little mountains of fresh, colorful vegetables on clean white cloths in the market, the mothers and babies were there, moving as one; tired babies slept through the cries of vendors, hungry babies nursed behind the soft, strong shawls. I looked forward to joining the ranks of the rebozo women.

My sons are Van, born in San Cristobal in 1985, and Gabriel, born in 1987 in the high desert plateau of central Mexico, in San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato. I carried them both in rebozos over long periods of time, nursing discreetly, and enjoying hands free constant contact. In 1988 I began taking photographs of rebozo mothers and their babies, and at the same time, I developed a brochure showing how to put on babies in rebozos. I presented both works at an annual midwifery convention in the U.S.

In 1989, I came back to the states for a six month stay. That year, Mothering magazine published articles on babywearing by Dr. William Sears and also by Jean Liedloff, and The Continuum Concept came back into the bookstores. I also noticed an emergence of advertising for sling-type baby carriers, as opposed to the upright front pack carriers. This coincided with my work on an instructional rebozo brochure.

People were starting to buy, try, and make baby carriers of all sorts, and were talking about taking babies with them to restaurants, movies, and even to work! While I was experiencing in-arms parenting in a traditional culture in a traditional way, there had been a shift in my own culture to allow for a similar experience in the place that I still considered home. How exciting! Just like the scientific discoveries that happen simultaneously in different parts of the world, now in-arms parenting was enjoying its own serendipity. Aren't we the lucky ones, and especially lucky are our little ones, who get to experience from birth this age-old tradition! This nurturing way of parenting is the way many cultures have been successfully parenting for years, and its comeback in the western world shows that the concept is needed, relevant, and here to stay. So, let's use it, talk about it, and teach it! And in this way we can all be part of a better tomorrow for ourselves as well as our children.

Barbara is founder and President of the Rebozo Way Project, which offers videos, brochures, and books on the concept of in-arms parenting and rebozo wearing, as well as natural fiber rebozos. At the time this article was first published, she was still living in San Miguel de Allende, continuing to work on her photography project. In 1999, Barbara and her family returned to the US, where, among other things, she studies documentary filmmaking.

Creative Commons LicenseArticle licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.