The ancient tradition of backing babies is gradually receding. Mothers, especially the young and educated prefer ones of the more recent generations prefer to wear their babies other than back them. Old mothers however, are often criticizing such women as they believe the trend is just “fashion” and shouldn’t be encouraged.
A young mother, who didn’t want to disclose her identity, narrated her ordeal with an older woman who tongue lashed her for carrying her baby in a pram. “The baby was already asleep in the car seat, I needed to buy some diapers but I didn’t want to disturb him, he was looking so peaceful and yes, I couldn’t leave him in the car. So I dismantled the car seat and simply carried him into the store. The woman cornered me and gave me the verbal lashing of my life insisting that mothers of today were unfit. She scolded me while screaming that I should have backed my baby instead of swinging him in that seat like some groceries in a basket.”
The bewildered mother, when interacting with mum and child, said “I assume that is a better way of carrying a child, backing is old-fashioned and it predisposes me to back pain on the long run. Even my baby could be endangered, what if I seat on his legs or dislocate his bones while trying to balance him on my back?”
This young mother, as well as many others, may be confused as what is best practice for child carrying. According to a foreign expert recently warned that the ancient practice of backing may be bad for infant hips.
According to Alastair Sutcliffe, a paediatrician at the University College, London, in countries like Nigeria where women traditionally carry their babies with the legs splayed around their waist, there may be a “virtually unseen” rate of hip dislocation.
Though, many parents may argue that the technique is soothing and aids their child’s sleep, researchers underlined that links have been observed to osteoarthritis and hip replacement in middle age. Some mothers argue that backing is not only stressful for the mother, but the baby as well.
One mother painted the scenario of a mother trying to hustle into a commercial bus in the traditional busy setting of a city like Lagos thus:
“Imagine that I am backing my baby and trying to enter into a molue in Lagos. People will be thronging. My baby will be hit from both sides by other passengers trying to get on board. When I eventually make it to the door and try to gain entrance, there is 90 per cent probability that I may hit my baby’s head against the roof of the car. If I manage not to do that, on entering the bus and finding a seat, I may end up sitting on my baby’s leg or even another passenger may end up sitting on the baby’s leg. That puts the baby at so much risk, even possible deformation. As for me, I may get to contend with back pain in the future for maybe backing about four children.”
In a bid to unravel the conundrums surrounding baby backing in the 21st century and the health implications for mother and child, medical practitioner at Ibadan Central Hospital (ICH), Dr Babatunde Ajagbe, explained that there are health benefits a baby stands to gain from being carried on the back, which is a huge part of our tradition in Nigeria.
“Backing promotes child and maternal bonding, provides warmth especially for preterm babies. There is this Kangoroo phenomenon coined from the way the kangaroo carries its baby around in the pouch. This kind of system is employed medically to help the baby generate warm especially in preterm deliveries. It helps the baby bond with the mother and at the same time generates the much needed warmth for a healthy life.”
Ajagbe stated that in his years as a medical practitioner, he has not come across any study that argues that backing a baby predisposes such a child to hip dislocation and some other bone related diseases. However, he explained that hip damage may be possible not solely from the fact that a baby is backed, but how the mother goes about it. “Some mothers may mal-positions the baby and cause damage to the hip. This is as a result of the carelessness of the mother and from the processing of backing. If backing were medically that harmful, it would have discouraged a long time ago. People who choose not to back their babies do so out of fashion.”
Ajagbe assured mothers that backing a child has no long term health effect on the child, saying, “I was backed and so were many of these mothers. How many of us have been diagnosed of illnesses that medical experts have traced to the fact that we were backed as babies?”
Though the mother may face certain health risks, Ajagbe added that the risks were not so fatal and could be managed. “The mother may experience back pains but it may not be so severe. Besides, when a mother starts feeling excessive pain from carrying a baby, it is only logical to reduce the duration and frequency of backing so as to allow the back rest.”
He concluded that though backing a baby has no health risks, it would be preferable to use modern day carriers. “When a baby is carried to the front, warmth is generated, there is frequent eye to eye contact which enhances the mother and child bonding and the mother can be more aware of what is going on around the baby. Not when the baby is backed as the mother cannot see what is going on behind. Also, babies can be fed that way.”