Carrying human infants - An evolutionary heritage

Infant Behav Dev. 2020 Aug:60:101460. doi: 10.1016/j.infbeh.2020.101460. Epub 2020 Jun 20.


We propose that infant carrying is a biological norm for human caregiving, given that human infants have evolved a capacity to cling onto an upright caregiver whose body co-evolved to enable offspring carrying. The origins of this mutual adaptation may date back 4 million years, with the emergence of bipedalism, which precluded the infant horizontal and gravity-supported position on the back of a quadrupedal caregiver. We describe infant cooperative reflexes and behaviors, including the carrying-induced calming response and discuss hypotheses for the invention of infant carrier tools. Carrying involves several physiological and behavioral parent-infant co-adaptations that imply it is an evolutionarily conserved strategy. Epigenetic transmission of reproductive behavior through generations affects the development of the offspring, as well as the mental health of the parent. Carrying might have contributed to the evolution of Hominidae, potentially aiding dexterity, handedness, language acquisition, and social interactions. We review the evolutionary milestones and time points where the infant-caregiver interactions might have changed, exploring infant carrying as it intersects with biological and cultural evolution. We briefly summarize the effects of infant carrying on physiological, epigenetic, and socio-emotional outcomes.

Keywords: Attachment; Babywearing; Bonding; Epigenetics; Evolution; Homo; In-arms; Infant carrying; Transport response.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Emotions / physiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant Behavior / physiology*
  • Infant Behavior / psychology*
  • Lifting*
  • Mother-Child Relations / psychology*
  • Object Attachment*