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Updated: Aug 9, 2023

Cradleboards are traditional baby carriers that have been used by many indigenous communities of Native Americans and Native Canadians and others such as Otomi or Mayas in the Central and South America or the Sámi of the Scandinavian Peninsula and Finland.

Some indigenous communities still use cradleboards today.

Aside from the captivating aesthetic aspect including culture-specific materials, construction details, decorations, beading, ornaments and amulets, cradleboards amaze by their unmatched utility. They serve as a self-sufficient unit that provides protection for the baby against various elements like harsh weather, cold, heat, rain or wind, as well as potential bumps against the carrier. Beyond that, cradleboards' removable filling doubles as a diaper and antiseptic.

The cradleboards' versatility allows it to be carried on one's back, placed on the ground against a tree or stone and even hung on a branch or other post.

No modern carrier can offer such a wide range of functions and adaptability.

Construction details vary across different culrures. While some employ wooden slats, others opt for a woven wicker to build a firm protective frame. Various styles and materials are used to hand-craft a footrest and an arch protecting the baby’s head (called a “rainbow” by the Navajo). The arch is helping to shield the baby from the harsh weather and safeguard the baby from any possible jolts or impacts while inside the cradleboard.

Along the sides of the board the leather lace or a fabric rope is attached to be tightened to secure the baby’s entire body. The cradleboard may have a leather or fabric cradle-like sides too.

The inside of the board may be regularly padded with a lining of fibres of fresh plants, moss or shredded bark that serve as a disposable diaper and an antiseptic.

For an effective and safe use of the cradleboard, the baby needs to be swaddled first: wrapped tightly in cotton or linen cloth, fur, or animal skin, with legs and arms straight along the body and face exposed. Only then the baby is tightened to the cradleboard. Older babies may have had their arms left outside the wrap.

Due to the tight swaddling  of baby’s legs, cradleboards do not align with modern babywearing practice and are associated with an increased incidence of developmental dysplasia of the hips, dislocation of the femur and malformation of the acetabulum.

In any case, it is essential to view cradleboards in their historical context as they serve as evidence of the remarkable survival strategies employed by our ancestors and their daily practices of child rearing. By examining them, we gain insights into their culture-specific, unique craftsmanship and the love intricately woven and ornamented into each cradleboard.

Google to check out some beautiful historical photos of cradleboards and let us know if they leave you in awe as well ❤️



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