Miao Baby Customs: Childbirth and Child-rearing


Written by John Murphy

Are you familiar with the culture of the Miao people? In the West, you may have heard of the Hmong people; the Hmong have the same roots as the Miao. Today I want to share with you the beliefs and customs the Miao people have toward regarding child-rearing and pregnancy. Long before a newborn baby leaves the mother’s womb, Miao parents consider many things about a newborn baby’s future. It is customary for Miao people not to widely discuss a pregnancy with others, fearing that if word gets out the baby is at risk to be harmed by evil spirits. So, it is common for an expecting Miao mother not to make any announcement until it is physically apparent that she is pregnant. During childbirth, mothers and mothers-in-law help out, while the father helps cut the umbilical cord and washes the newborn. Just like in the West, having a baby is a big event in a family’s life and requires participation from many members of the family.

Another belief prevalent among the Miao people, is that a child must be born on a “right” day in order to have an auspicious future. For the Miao, this means girls being born on even days (e.g. 2, 4), and boys being born on odd days (e.g. 1, 3). The Miao calendar follows a lunar cycle and begins with an odd day until 29 or 30 days, when it resets. The Miao people aren’t the only ones to follow the lunar calendar– in fact, all ethnic minorities in China celebrate their traditional holidays in accordance to the lunar calendar.


But after a child is born, what is his or her future growing up in Miao society? Well, traditionally, the Miao people follow gender roles, where the man is expected to provide the material and spiritual needs for his family, and the woman is expected to raise the kids and maintain the household. Parents often hope for a male child because a son is able to continue the family line and provide sacrifices to ancestors, as well as take care of his aging parents. For spiritual reasons, Miao custom dictates parents are not allowed to live with a grown-up daughter and son-in-law, and so parents fear they will lack a sanctuary to reside in at old age if they do not have a son. This is why if a Miao woman’s first child is a male, it is said she has brought her family good fortune. Of course, times are changing, and we do not know what the future will look like in Miao society. It may seem like some of these traditional beliefs are limiting, but it is important to acknowledge the role of tradition in fleshing out culture. And it is clear that the culture of the Miao people is very fascinating. If this interests you, you can check out more information about the Miao people on the Interact China website, or in other posts on this blog!



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How to wear Mei Tai Baby Carrier

For most people if they have never worn a mei tai or baby carrier it appears that the most tricky part is how to put on the carrier with the baby. For mothers of ethnic tribes living in China who use mei tai or baby carrier as their way of parenting, this task is considered as a natural motion and just another part of daily life. They do not seek and would certainly politely refuse any offer of assistance with this task.

The baby carrier is placed inside up either on the bed or any available safe surface. The baby is placed on the carrier, facing up. The mother tightly tucks the straps of the carrier into her right hand so that the baby is then securely wrapped in the carrier. Then she leans over dropping her left shoulder and with her right arm slings the baby and carrier over her left shoulder and onto her back. While still leaning over she very quickly secures the straps.


Step-by-step guide to wear a Chinese mei tai or baby carrier

Baby Carrier

1.Lay the carrier on a flat surface. Place the baby on the carrier so the top of the baby’s head is roughly even with the top of the carrier. Fold the soft bottom panel up over the baby’s feet.

Baby Carrier

2.Put the straps over your shoulders and cross them behind your back, so that each hand is holding the opposite strap.

Baby Carrier

3.Lean forward towards the baby, pulling on the straps and taking up the slack.

Baby Carrier

4.Pick up the baby and the carrier together and, while supporting the baby’s bottom, continue pulling the straps tight. (Don’t worry if the bottom panel becomes untucked at this stage.)

Baby Carrier

5.When the straps are comfortably snug around your shoulders, cross them in front of you, just under the baby’s bottom. Check to make sure the baby’s arms and hands are tucked inside the carrier and not twisted.

Baby Carrier

6.Keeping the tension on the straps to support the baby, wrap them around your waist and behind your back.

Baby Carrier

7.Tie the two straps together in a single knot behind your back…

Baby Carrier

8.and tie again to make a double knot. (The knot should be secure enough so it won’t come undone by itself, but not so tight that you can’t undo it!)

Baby Carrier

9.Reach in through the sides of the carrier and lift the baby up to make sure he or she is placed comfortably. Support the baby’s bottom with your hand and pull on the back of the carrier to settle the baby back into position. Check that the straps aren’t too tight, and adjust them so that they support the baby’s weight. (They should rest just under the baby’s bottom, so as not to place pressure on the baby’s back or knees.)

Baby Carrier

10.Check the position of the soft bottom panel. If it has come loose, tuck it back around baby’s feet to form a pocket between you and the baby. Check that the baby’s legs and feet are in a comfortable position.

Baby Carrier

11.Once the baby is settled, hook your thumbs through the shoulder straps and pull them down over your shoulder blades. This distributes the baby’s weight more evenly over your back.

Baby Carrier

12.Finished! The baby is held upright, with straight legs, but without taking any weight on his or her feet. The baby’s neck is supported as his or her head rests on the back of the carrier. (If you are walking fast, it helps to place one hand on the baby’s head so it doesn’t bounce with your footsteps.) The curved side panels sit snugly against your body, protecting the baby from the wind, and offering relative privacy if you need to feed the baby in public.

Baby Carrier

13.My son is now three months old, and he loves being able to peer over the edge of the carrier and watch what is going on. He feels very safe and secure there (though he can’t quite understand why we want to take all these photos of him, rather than taking him for a walk!)

Baby Carrier

14.The carrier also works well to rock the baby off to dreamland. This photograph was not purposely staged – by the time I had walked back into the house, he was sound asleep! If you untie the carrier carefully and support the baby against your chest as you pull the carrier away (don’t forget to untuck the bottom panel first) the baby will often stay sleeping peacefully long after you have stopped carrying him or her.

I hope you have found this guide useful, and that you get as much pleasure out of using your mei tai or baby carrier!

by Xiao Xiao @ InteractChina.com

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Hmong Miao Embroidered Mei Tai Baby Carrier – Art? Yes, but Love is More

Because of the elaborate design and incredible embroidery techniques, baby carriers of Hmong Miao ethnic people are now prized by primitive artists and tribal arts textile enthusiasts.

Hmong Miao women living in Southwest China are exquisite creators of textiles. From the age of 5 or 6, they begin to learn needlework, continuing through to their teens. At that time, they make their wedding dresses, baby carriers, and baby clothes. When they reach middle age, they continue to make clothes for their descendants, and they never stop sewing and embroidering.


Expression of Love through Baby Carrier

Embroidery was a symbol of femininity and feminine accomplishment in Hmong Miao ethnic tribes. Every stitch and thread of a mother’s embroidery work on children’s hats, bibs, shoes, clothes, and baby carriers is the deepest expression of a mother’s affectionate embrace to her child.

Baby Carrier Baby Carrier

A Miao/Hmong friend once told me that the most touching scene he had ever observed was that of his mother sewing and mending for her children under the pale glow of a lamp. This memory echoes a well-known poem by Meng Jiao, the great poet in Tang Dynasty (AD 751- AD 814).

Thread in the hands of a loving mother

Turns to clothes on the traveling son

Baby Carrier

With a unique emotional message, the baby carrier expresses the love of a mother for her child and her hopes for the future. It is a symbolic extension of the umbilical cord. A line from a poem states parents willingly work as hard as oxen for their children. Baby carrier is a testament to the dedication of the mother to the child.


Always Ready to Be a Good Mother


Hmong Miao women lavish particular attention on their baby carriers. But many carriers are not created after they get married or have a baby. Prior to getting married, a Miao/Hmong girl begins designing and making a baby carrier, baby clothes and wedding clothes. The entire process of raising silkworms, producing silk, embroidering, doing patchwork, dyeing, and designing are very refined.

It is said that, Women learn to make batik and embroidery from an early age, and they achieve their social status in this fashion. The girl who can weave and embroider special patterns is seen to be hardworking and extraordinary intelligent, and she will become the most sought after bride in the community. Therefore, in some villages, a girl may wear her baby carrier to market events, showing off her work to potential suitors. Her handiwork is an artistic representation of her individuality and creativity.

Hmong Miao Antique Mei Tai Baby Carrier
 Baby Carrier  Baby Carrier  Baby Carrier

by Xiao Xiao @ InteractChina.com

P.S. We need people with similar passion to join or partner with us in promoting ethnic handicrafts! Please contact us at interact@interactchina.com to make any suggestions that you may have in co-operating with us, or join as Affiliate.

Chinese Mei Tai Baby Carrier

Baby Carrier also known as Mei Tai or Baby Sling is a device which allows an infant to be carried on a person’s back or chest.

Traditionally, baby carrier is used so a mother can continue to do her house work or farming work without leaving the baby alone on bed or crawl around the house. Baby carriers are ideal for busy parents and for babies love to be close with their parents.


What is a mei tai or baby carrier

In its simplest form it is merely a wide strap or belt of fabric which wraps around both the wearer’s upper body and the baby’s body, thus supporting the baby against the wearer’s body with moderate pressure horizontally and from below.

Baby Carrier Baby Carrier

In rural areas of southern China, baby carriers typically consist of a panel of decorated fabric which is attached to two or more belts. The baby rests between the panel and the wearer’s body, with the belts wrapping around both of them, holding the baby in place.

The panel is generally the aesthetic and symbolic locus of the whole baby carrier. Baby carriers are customarily embellished with designs and decorations through the use of a broad range of embroidery techniques. Silk, often hand spun, is usually used for the fine embroidery. The foundation materials can be silk, cotton, hemp or flax. Besides embroidery, certain weaving styles and types of fabric dyeing are also used.


Varieties of mei tai or baby carrier


There are distinctive differences in style, technique and material which are identifiable to different regions and various ethnic tribes in China. Many baby carriers are T-shaped with the tops attached to a foundation material and to long ties which are typically crossed in front of the chest and then to the back where they secure the child under his or her bottom.

Some are one piece carrier and others have two pieces with one separate piece attached and used as the baby’s head covering. The baby carrier straps also vary from styles to styles.

 Baby Carrier Pictured here is a Hmong / Miao mother and her baby in a baby carrier with one pair of very long straps attached at the top. These straps are wound over the mothers’ shoulders, down and cross over the chest, then back around the baby’s bottom and back around to the front being tied at the mother’s waist. Many groups use this type strap arrangement. Other groups make carriers with a second set of straps at the bottom.

Generally speaking, in China the farther south one goes to the ethnic tribes, the smaller the baby carriers become. A baby is held firmer in a small carrier, and is therefore more secure against the mother’s body while she is climbing the steep mountains in the south.

Hmong Miao Tribe Mei Tai Baby Carrier
 Baby Carrier
Bai Tribe Mei Tai Baby Carrier
 Baby Carrier
Guangdong Canton Han People Mei Tai Baby Carrier
 Baby Carrier

by Xiao Xiao @ InteractChina.com

P.S. We need people with similar passion to join or partner with us in promoting ethnic handicrafts! Please contact us at interact@interactchina.com to make any suggestions that you may have in co-operating with us, or join as Affiliate.