(Photos taken with permission)
For the first week in Ghana, I have already seen so many cultural norms that are different from those in China and in the United States. One of those is that mothers tend to carry their children on their backs (i.e. back carry), instead of holding in the front. Moreover, mothers use babywearing as opposed to carrying them by their hands or pushing them in a child stroller. Babywearing is a practice of wearing baby with a baby sling, specifically colorful clothes in Kumasi.
I work in Louie Marie school as my internship. The way that I was taught to carry a baby is using my hands and arms, and carry them in front to show affection. I was carried like this when I was a baby.
Louie Marie is a primary school located in Kumasi. Most primary schools here in Kumasi teach kids from toddlers to grade 6. Each grade as a specific classroom, and the number of kids ranges from 7 to around 30. This is one of the oldest toddlers in Louie Marie! He is adorable.
The child is the youngest child in Louie Marie. The photo is her mother wearing her at the back. I asked many people about the reason for this practice, men, children, teachers, and mothers. Many said that: “it’s an African culture”, “no reason, it has been like this. So we do this”, and “it’s our culture”. When people talk about the practice, they usually refer to “culture” with pride, and they follow the culture without question. However, there are some answers that I think is worth sharing.
She is the toddlers’ teacher and takes care of the toddlers. She and another male teacher in the school said that carrying babies on the back, mothers have their hands free to carry products and do labor. They can take care of themselves and their family with their babies on their back, and they can access nutrients when needed.
In Ghana, where many mothers go on streets as retailers, if they also have to take care of children in the house, it will be easier for them both do the work and to have an attachment with their baby. Research has shown that baby wearing can increase Oxycontin level for the mother and decrease anxiety level in postpartum period. The babies are calmer, the attachment is usually more secure, comparing to being pushed by a stroller (Reynolds-Miller, 2016). Besides the therapeutic benefits of babywearing, research indicates that the different style of baby carrying (i.e. babywearing and stroller) constitutes motherhood differently, which can affect identity formation
A common cultural phenomenon or practice that is accepted for granted can reflect the society’s economic status, the view on women, and the cultural values. From the babywearing practice and my personal experience in Kumasi, Kumasi is not as economic affluent, and many mothers have to work multiple jobs to be able to sustain the family. Carrying babies on their back gives them the flexibility to do other work while taking care of the baby. Moreover, women’s role of baby caring may be reinforced by this practice too. With the stroller, fathers can easily help the mothers; however, in Kumasi, I have yet seen a man with a baby on the back. Ghanaians live a very communal life where they stress the importance of family and connecting with people. With scarce resources, they pull from their people they connected with to get more. Babywearing is one of the ways that this communal ideology may be conveyed since the baby can have physical contacts and they can also be on the same eye level as the parents and interact with adults, as opposed to being in a lower position in a child stroller.
Hallenbeck, Sarah. 2018. “Mobility, Moms, and the Babywearing Phenomenon.” Women’s Studies in Communication 41 (4): 359–69. doi:10.1080/07491409.2018.1551681.
Reynolds-Miller, Robyn. 2016. “Potential Therapeutic Benefits of Babywearing.” Creative Nursing 22 (1): 17-23. doi:http://dx.doi.org.ezproxy.lib.davidson.edu/10.1891/1078-45220.127.116.11. http://ezproxy.lib.davidson.edu/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.lib.davidson.edu/docview/1764385056?accountid=10427.
‘In Africa we carry our children so they feel loved’ https://www.theguardian.com/theguardian/2004/jun/18/guardianweekly.guardianweekly12
Regulation of anxiety during the postpartum period https://web.archive.org/web/20110221171217/http://www.sciencedirect.com/science?_ob=ArticleURL&_udi=B6WFS-4NWCGS2-1&_user=10&_rdoc=1&_fmt=&_orig=search&_sort=d&view=c&_acct=C000050221&_version=1&_urlVersion=0&_userid=10&md5=b05e22829023412709ecbe9dee25d505 How To Carry A Child On Your Back – Ghana Style
https://kajsaha.com/2008/06/how-to-carry-a-child-on-your-back-ghana-style/ Babywearing: The Benefits and Beauty of this Ancient Tradition