OUR BABIES, OURSELVES by Meredith F. Small

OUR BABIES, OURSELVES

How Biology and Culture Shape the Way We Parent

KIRKUS REVIEW

A look at the not-so-new idea that how babies eat, sleep, and cry is determined by the culture into which they are born—including a subtext that the ever-evolving parenting mode in the US may still not be all that baby-friendly. Small (Anthropology/Cornell; What’s Love Got to Do With It?, 1995) is an expert on primate behavior and a convert to the infant science of ethnopediatrics, which brings together medical, developmental, and social science researchers to study babies not as unformed adults but as beings in their own right. To start off, Small reviews the evolutionary data, exploring why human infants have such a long period of dependency and how the intimate bond is created that primes adults to nurture their offspring over such a long period. The child-rearing practices of the African !Kung San and Gusii and the South American Ache groups, modern Japanese, and contemporary Americans are compared. The range is wide—the San mothers, for instance, are inseparable from their babies, carrying and nursing them “on demand” until they are four or five years old. Americans separate from their babies immediately, installing them in a separate bed or room, even before mother and child leave the hospital. These varied styles reflect the varied goals of the adult culture, the San emphasizing cooperation, the US individuality. Chapters are also devoted to crying, breast feeding, and sleep—including speculation that babies who sleep with a parent may be less at risk for SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome). Small clearly approves frequent, if not continuous, bodily contact between child and parent, but emphasizes that successful parenting is a series of trade-offs. What works in one culture may fail in another. No breakthrough research here, but neatly packaged information that elicits new respect for babies and their ability to survive and thrive, whether in the Kalahari or in Chicago.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-385-48257-4
Page count: 292pp
Publisher: Anchor
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 1998




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