Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Peace Corps Alum Who Changed American Parenting

Here's another addition to the list of former Peace Corps volunteers who've gone on to do great things: Colorado nurse Ann Moore, an inventor who did a lot to improve American parents' bonding with their young children.

Moore, who grew up in Amish country in Ohio, and her husband Mike worked as Peace Corps volunteers in the African nation of Togo in the early 1960s. Moore saw local women taking their babies with them everywhere -- with infants wrapped in shawls around the mothers' bodies so the women could carry them hands-free. Not only did the arrangement enable the mothers to get around, but both the women and their children seemed calm and content. "I was more intrigued at the result of the emotional well-being of those babies," she explains in a CBS News report.

After the Moores returned to the U.S. and had their first child, Mandy, in 1964, Ann Moore tried to replicate what she had seen women in Togo doing. To the doctors' and nurses' shock, she left the hospital with her baby on her back, wrapped in a shawl she had brought back from Africa.

But Moore had trouble getting used to using the shawl as a baby carrier. "It always seemed to slip down my back," she tells the Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation in an interview. She and her mother decided to try improving upon the concept. The result was the first hand-sewn versions of what became the Snugli, which debuted commercially in 1969 and has become standard equipment for American parents.

Initially, however, other Americans who saw Moore wearing her baby on her back as she rode her bicycle, cooked and ran errands were sometimes dismayed. "Some people warned us that we would spoil our baby," she recalls in the Lemelson interview. "But I thought that the more you satisfy a baby's needs in the first year of life, the more the baby will grow up to feel secure and loved."

It was a contrarian approach to the one forced upon previous generations of mothers. ("There is such a thing as too much contact and familiarity between mothers and children, and this is often observable even in infants," an 1893 women's magazine article admonished.)

But Moore's intuition dovetailed with the new concept of attachment parenting championed by pediatrician William Sears, who advised parents to have plenty of contact with their young children and promoted the psychological and developmental benefits of emotional bonding.

After marketing the Snugli, Moore went on create other valuble innovations, such as a backpack for carrying portable oxygen tanks and an ergonomically updated version of her original child-carrier, the Weego.