Carry a Baby, Change the World

Sometimes the most globally-appropriate and cost-effective innovation requires looking at the simple tools of our past rather than creating a new solution for a problem that has already been solved. 

Sometimes the most globally-appropriate and cost-effective innovation requires looking at the simple tools of our past rather than creating a new solution for a problem that has already been solved. 

Low rates of lactation and high rates of postpartum depression contribute to perinatal mortality and morbidity globally and are exacerbated by underlying social and structural factors. Black, Indigenous and global majority communities face a disproportionate burden of these postpartum disparities. Yet most interventions to support lactation and postpartum mental health are based on models of care that are unrepresentative of the traditional and cultural practices of Black, Indigenous, and global majority communities. 

Earlier this fall, I went to a conference highlighting the newest technology-based innovations in women’s health, to talk about quite possibly the OLDEST technology developed for the period after birth: baby carriers. Keeping a baby strapped to a caregiver’s body with a textile device, known as “babywearing,” “backing,” or simply “infant carrying” has likely existed since the beginning of human history and is still practiced around the world. 

Despite how long this tool has shaped human childrearing and postpartum health, it has been completely neglected by mainstream postpartum care systems. One reason that traditional and cultural postpartum practices have been left out of the medical standard of care is that these practices are largely neglected in the scientific literature, leading to a dearth of clinical understanding of the potential benefits of such practices. Let’s not forget that the other primary reason that practices like infant carrying have been left out of mainstream medical models is the white supremacy culture that undermines and erases many traditional practices.

This lack of cultural understanding or humility creates tension between biomedical systems of care and traditional systems of care.

This lack of cultural understanding or humility creates tension between biomedical systems of care and traditional systems of care. As an infant carrying researcher, it feels like there is an urgent need to accurately document the risks and benefits of this practice. Thus far, our scientific examination of this practice has shown nothing but benefits for physical and mental health, parental responsiveness. Next step is to keep shedding a light on the evidence-based benefits and clinical applications of this practice and work to make it equitably accessible.

Which is exactly what our team has been working on this year. 

The randomized controlled intervention that we published this year showed a *significant decrease in symptoms of postpartum depression* with only just ~2 hours of carrying per day. This new research, published this summer in Journal of Affective Disorders, shows a PREVENTATIVE solution for the #1 complication of childbirth, and one of the biggest causes of preventable maternal mortality. 

It is also the basis for a project that earned us a place as a finalist in the NIH IMPROVE Initiative’s Connecting the Community for Maternal Health Challenge. This honor came with one year of coaching and support to build our organization’s research capacity. Even after 5 years in a rigorous PhD program at UCSD, I can honestly say this is the most comprehensive research mentorship I have received. Program Director Aver Yakubu and I meet weekly with the NICHD team to develop and launch the next phase of our carrying research in partnership with Global Communities and Healthy Birth Initiatives. 

But the purpose of Nurturely is not just to conduct research, it is to connect the research to the community and use it as a tool, alongside lived experience and cultural wisdom, to eliminate disparities in postpartum and infant health. 

In early 2024, we are launching our self-paced infant carrying course for birthworker, educators, healthcare providers, and anyone who wants to support parents. Using a human rights framework, the course will support any type of professional that works with parents in being able to share the evidence-based results of baby carrying with their networks. Sign up here to be the first to know. 

Nurturely Statement Against Genocide

Content warning: The following statement contains disturbing statistics, information, and imagery. While we encourage connection to our global community in an effort to motivate collective action to end genocide, secondary trauma has real, lasting effects especially during pregnancy, and therefore especially discourage pregnant people from reading any further. 

Women, birthing people, and infants disproportionately feel the impacts of violence, war, and atrocity crimes like genocide. The more we know from epigenetics, the more we know that this is not only the acute devastation of death, disease, and the direct trauma of living in a warzone, but that these effects – even of secondary trauma of simply witnessing this devastation – persist across the lifetime and across multiple future generations. Nurturely, as an organization committed to equity in perinatal wellness, recognizes that local perinatal equity will not be achieved without a global end to human rights abuses. 

The Nurturely team feels the devastation echoing around the world as the global community has witnessed the recent loss of life and severe human rights violations against civilians – many of whom are women and infants – of Palestine, The Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Haiti, Sudan, and Ukraine. These recent atrocities add to the long list of international human rights abuses during the past century including to Tutsis and moderate Hutus in Rwanda, the people of Cambodia, the Herero and Namaqua people of Namibia, the Rohingya of Burma/Myanmar, the Jewish population of Europe, the people of Armenia, and Bosniak Muslims of Srebrenica. These global human rights violations, genocidal attacks, and acts of atrocious violence are felt disproportionately by pregnant people and infants both locally and globally.  

Here in the US we still live, despite our collective failure to acknowledge it, with the consequences our history of genocide and enslavement. So much of the work Nurturely and our partners do everyday is in response to the lasting harms in perinatal health from these unaddressed massive crimes against humanity. Just last week the CDC announced that the neonatal mortality rate has increased, with the rate of mortality for Black and African Americans still significantly higher than all other groups and with the mortality rate increasing significantly (21%) for Indigenous Americans. 

These global human rights violations are felt disproportionately by pregnant people and infants both locally and globally.  

Death & Devastation

In Ethiopia, recent reports document that entire families have been killed and relatives have been forced to watch horrific crimes against their loved ones. Since November, this escalated violence in Ethiopia has included mass killings, rape, starvation. In Gaza, as one example, Ministry of Health Data reported by the World Health Organization confirms that the majority of deaths have been women and children, representing 67% of the casualties as of November 3rd.  Photos have circulated of newborn infants dying as they are removed from incubators that have lost power are just one particularly grim example of the many ways that living in a warzone affects reproduction and perinatal health. In Sudan, independent military group Rapid Support Forces has reached El Fasher, the only major city in the Darfur region still outside its control. Civilians in El Fasher fear for the worst as the RSF and allied Arab militias have deliberately executed civilians, raped women, looted and burned towns, and targeted hospitals. The Economist reports on the genocide in Sudan: “When they saw her 15-month-old son strapped to her, they shot him dead as he clung to her. The bullet burst through his tiny body and into hers, where it remains lodged.”


Almost 780,000 individuals and families fleeing war are being hosted by UNRWA, seeking protection and safety, although more than 60 of the 150 United Nations facilities have been impacted by attacks and 10 have been directly hit. Early assessments from UNRWA estimate 12,000 cases of diarrhea and 22,500 cases of acute respiratory infection among infants displaced as war victims. As both of these can be prevented with exclusive human milk feeding directly from the body, the importance of global, preventative, systemic support for lactation is one critically supportive mechanism in an overall dire situation. In Ethiopia, whole communities have been displaced or expelled from their homes and have been separated from resources due to the destruction of schools and medical facilities and arbitrary detention. Often displacement camps are the target of further attacks, which has been the case in Sudan where the killing and raping of many internally displaced people has been rampant. 

Transgenerational Trauma

Even before the current attacks,  infants, children, and families were at the center of ongoing attacks and human rights violations, with the majority of children experiencing both personal trauma, as well as experiencing secondary trauma by witnessing the trauma of others. In pregnancy, no matter how far away the direct trauma is being felt, the stressful experience of witnessing or imagining such trauma can have irreversible effects. Through epigenetic mechanisms of gene expression that are shaped by the environment, these effects of war are transgenerational, being felt for generations to come. 

The question is demanded of us: what could solidarity across borders and across the walls of violence thrown up by governments and armed forces look like? 

Global <> Local Connection

Pregnancy, birth, and postpartum are global, universal, and deeply cultural human experiences. Achieving perinatal health equity requires not only local activism and change, but a feeling of deep connectedness to places directly impacted by country-wide war and genocide.  Genocide is a reproductive justice issue and will not end without global demands for action. 

Healthcare & Birthworkers 

Living in a warzone with the effects of displacement, lack of clean water, blackouts, and lack of access to food and medicine, perinatal care is disrupted if not completely nonexistent. The estimated 50,000 pregnant people in Gaza are forced to deal with not only the psychological trauma of living in fear and rubble but also must deal with the physical complications of this lack of access. In Gaza, it is estimated that 180+ parents give birth every day, turning childbirth into a life or death scenario. The few hospitals that are open are operating in fear, as some hospitals have been directly targeted by attacks.  The toll of this warzone on birthworkers and all people providing services to infants, parents, and families cannot be overestimated. Birthworkers and healthcare providers have a long history of the heroic labor of providing direct support in situations where their own lives and livelihoods are directly compromised. 

As an organization committed to tackling global oppression as a root cause of perinatal health inequities, and providing training and support to birthworkers and healthcare providers locally, we stand in solidarity with the service providers working in warzones, and our heart goes out to the expectant and new mothers living through this nightmarish reality. 


Latinx Cultural Inclusion

At Nurturely, our commitment to inclusivity and cultural sensitivity drives us to constantly evolve and adapt our language and programs. In this spirit, we have embraced the term ‘Latinx’ as a more gender-inclusive alternative. However, the label ‘Latinx’ often inadvertently homogenizes a rich tapestry of identities, cultures, and languages. This realization sparked a deeper exploration into the true diversity of the communities we aim to serve.

Understanding the complexity of these communities extends beyond just language. While we offer programs and trainings in Spanish, catering to the Spanish-speaking community, we recognize that Spanish itself is a vestige of colonial history, not the native tongue of the original American communities. Prior to colonization, the Americas were a mosaic of linguistic diversity, boasting approximately 123 language families with numerous languages and dialects. Prominent indigenous languages like Nahuatl, Taíno, Mayan, Quechua, Aymara, Guarani, and Mapuche paint a picture of this rich linguistic heritage.

The term ‘Latin America’ itself is a product of colonial history, conceived from a Eurocentric perspective and designed to connect the American territories to their European colonizers. This term, however, glosses over the diverse realities of the indigenous, mestizo, and Afro-descendant populations. It was a concept born from a desire to create national states and reinforce white dominance, often at the cost of sidelining the indigenous and Afro communities.

By embracing this complexity, we hope to foster a deeper understanding and respect for the rich cultural diversity that exists within and beyond the ‘Latinx’ community. Our journey is ongoing, and we invite you to join us in this pursuit of inclusive and respectful representation.