Culture, carrying, and communication: Beliefs and behavior associated with babywearing

Infant Behav Dev. 2019 Nov;57:101320. doi: 10.1016/j.infbeh.2019.04.002. Epub 2019 May 16.


Ethnographic research suggests mother-infant physical contact predicts high levels of maternal responsiveness to infant cues, yet it is unclear whether this responsiveness is driven by the act of physical contact or by underlying beliefs about responsiveness. We examine beliefs and behavior associated with infant carrying (i.e., babywearing) among U.S. mothers and experimentally test the effect of mother-infant physical contact on maternal responsiveness. In Study 1 (N = 23 dyads), babywearing mothers were more likely to interact contingently in response to infant cues than non-babywearing mothers during an in-lab play session. In Study 2 (N = 492 mothers), babywearing predicted maternal beliefs emphasizing responsiveness to infant cues. In Study 3 (N = 20 dyads), we experimentally manipulated mother-infant physical contact in the lab using a within-subjects design and found that babywearing increased maternal tactile interaction, decreased maternal and infant object contact, and increased maternal responsiveness to infant vocalizations. Our results motivate further research examining how culturally-mediated infant carrying practices shape the infant's early social environment and subsequent development.

Keywords: Babywearing; Maternal responsiveness; Mother-infant interaction; Physical contact; Touch.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Communication*
  • Culture*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant Equipment*
  • Male
  • Maternal Behavior / ethnology
  • Maternal Behavior / psychology
  • Middle Aged
  • Mother-Child Relations / ethnology
  • Mother-Child Relations / psychology*
  • Mothers / psychology*
  • Social Environment
  • Touch / physiology*
  • Young Adult