Our Babies, Ourselves by Meredith Small

An exploration of how parenting styles around the world bring into question our definition of normal infant behavior.

I was familiar already with a lot of the content of Our Babies, Ourselves, because Meredith Small’s findings crop up in a lot of literature on attachment parenting. However, it was still well worth reading because she delves so deeply into issues of evolution, natural selection, biology, and human development to demonstrate why parenting styles vary across cultural lines. She looks at tribes like the !Kung and the Ache, as well as urban cultures like the US and the Netherlands and shows the differing ways in which infants are cared for.

Small then builds a very compelling case that American parenting practices conflict with babies’ biological and evolutionary hardwiring in order to foster culturally important traits like independence. She sees a trade off, in that American babies reared in mainstream ways adapt and achieve desired independence, but tend to cry more than babies in other cultures that are more in tune with the natural rhythm of babies.

For a long time, I believed that all babies ate every four hours and needed to cry to fall asleep. This was because I spent years babysitting for formula-fed, sleep trained babies. It wasn’t until about 7 years ago that I began sitting for families whose babies were breastfed, and who coslept with their kids that I learned that there was another way to parent. Now I’m a mother who breastfeeds on demand with Superfast Baby in bed with me for most of the night. It’s so easy that way, and it was interesting to learn some biological and evolutionary reasons why it works so well.

6 thoughts on “Our Babies, Ourselves by Meredith Small”

  1. The sleeping infant is no doubt no immobile, the first signs of mobility is always mental…thus the giggle and crying (for breastmilk).

    Motherhood begins when we wrap the child in our arms.

  2. Ah yes, feeding on demand. As long as the demands are reasonable, it works. But my first-born insisted on only one breast at a time, every two hours. Night and day. It was becoming hazardous to my health, so I made him drink water for two hours instead of milk once. He howled for the whole two hours. But then he was hungry enough to have a meal instead of a snack and we settled into a rhythm that took some account of my needs too.

    There’s always a happy medium to these things.

    It took me five kids to realize that if babies wake so frequently because of an immature nervous system, then perhaps feeding is not the appropriate first response. So that baby got a soother first and was sleeping through the night at six weeks, because I had not provided an incentive to her to continue waking up on a regular schedule. Would that I had tried that trick with her older brothers! A water bottle probably would have done the trick also.

  3. Probably you know this already, but just in case! A great magazine that really supports the attachment parenting style is Mothering.

    I see you have a Ruth Rendell book in your library. I got a pile of her books at a library book sale, and I’m pretty excited to try them all. I read one book of hers, called something like The Crocodile Bird, years ago, and really liked it.

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