Cultural Misconceptions of Western Baby Care

This rant is directed toward the American (ie Western) misconceptions and judgements about how a baby should be handled, when it should be fed, put to sleep, held, etc. My head began turning when a good friend of mine stated, “When a kid is old enough to ask for it, it’s time to stop nursing!” My daughter is almost 2, can say “Mo milties!!” (more milkies!) and is still nursing once or twice a day.

 Now I am not advocating nursing until your kid is 3 or 5 or 8. But a nursing toddler is nothing strange, unless you’ve been brought up in a society that thinks it’s strange.

I would like to point out that nursing a 2-year old is perfectly normal in many non-Westernized societies. People need to realize that different countries have different ideas of what is normal. For example (gotta love google) in Zimbabwe nursing is so accepted that no one bats an eyelash at woman nursing on line at the post office. In Pakistan a mixture of herbs is given to a baby for the first few days of life, while in Africa they are fed boiled water with butter. In East Africa practically all women breastfeed in public, until their children are 2 or 3 years old. In Japan in its believed that in order to produce enough milk, you need breast massage. (“Ewww, get your hands off my boob!!”) It all depends on what your society tells you is normal.

Even in American, things are slooowly progressing. Or should I say regressing? Did you know that in the 1950’s doctors used to advise pregnant women to smoke, so that they’d have smaller babies which would be easier to deliver? Most of our parents’ generation were bottle-fed right from the start, because 40 years ago, formula was considered superior to breast-milk. Only about 10 years ago did Americans as a whole start becoming aware of the benefits of breastfeeding, and more accepting of it. Even today, less than half the babies born in the US are breastfed for more than 3 months (even though doctors say it’s best to breastfeed exclusively the first 6 months).

There’s plenty of scientific evidence that nursing toddlers benefit nutritionally, are healthier, have fewer allergies, are socially well adjusted, and is also good for the mother: reduces chances of some cancers, osteoporosis, and other good benefits (like keeping you lean & mean).

It’s all about society and what you’re used to. If it was normal to see 2-yr old kids still nursing, you wouldn’t give it a second though. Now… don’t get me started on this American habit of letting babies cry by themselves, sleep training, and things of that sort!! (OK too late.) The Western mentality is totally self-centered, so parents are told to put their own needs first (IE: I need to sleep through the night, I need to have more freedom, I don’t feel like running to pick her up the moment she cries, I’m busy now…), often ignoring the needs of their children. Also, Americans place high value on “independence” and apply those ideals even to small babies (why does she need to be held all the time? Why can’t she amuse herself? Why can’t she sleep in her own crib? Why can I never leave her alone for a second?) Well, baby’s needs are quite different that what American society would like to mold them into being… I think that when a mother is really in tune with herself and her baby, she realizes that babies need lots and lots of attention, love, physical closeness to their mothers (yes, even at night when they’re sleeping), and their small tummies fed “on demand”, not on mom’s schedule of convenience. The concept of “mothering” is not given much respect, so that if a woman spends all day taking care of her baby, she herself tends to feel unproductive and unsatisfied. I still have plenty of those days, when it seems all I do is run after Esther, try to get her to eat, get dressed, take a nap, go to the park… It’s frightfully boring sometimes, and I’d rather be doing more “important” things (working, painting, shopping, tanning) but what could really be more important than a happy kid who gets lots of love and attention from her mother?

Ok I’m done ranting. Feel free to disagree, if you dare.

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