While in the hallway with a noisy baby during church last Sunday, I watched a very traumatized, inconsolable toddler be handed back to his mother by a nursery worker. The worker apologized for not being able to console him and having to get Mom out of the service. Ten minutes later while his mom carried him on her hip, the toddler was still crying, but not as hard. That is unless his mom tried to set him down. Then his screaming would begin. I pointed to the carrier I wore my baby in and said to her, "These things work great!" In a huffy voice, she snapped back, "He's always just too loud and I HAVE to be in the service."
Let me get this straight--you HAVE to leave emotional scars on your little one in order to spiritually "grow?" You HAVE to cause thousands of stress hormones to be permanently generated in your child's brain in order for you to learn how to spread the love of Jesus?
Okay, maybe I'm being a bit harsh. But I was there at one point. I thought I had to do that too. Why? Because I'm an American! (Now, I know not all church nursery situations fit into this scenario. I have seen wonderful churches that are more like family, and leaving a little one in a classroom is more like leaving them for playtime with someone who is like an Auntie or a Grandma.) I'm using this particular scenario to pose the question--Why do we get stuck in such a narrow way of life when we have so many years of history and so many cultures to learn from?
The Bible book of Proverbs says time and time again that the wise accept instruction and become wiser, but the fool rejects wisdom and instruction. I want to learn from those who have gained wisdom in areas and share that wisdom with others. We've got thousands of years worth of history, thousands of cultures, and trillions of facts and research available at our fingertips that we can learn from and grow wiser from.
Today, we have the benefit of many technological and scientific advances that primitive societies still do not have the simple privilege of knowing. For instance, there are simple animal husbandry techniques that even non-farmers in America know but which are unbeknownst to farmers in some indigenous tribes. A missionary we used to work with is a veterinarian that visits poor nations in Africa and teaches them basic animal hygiene and practices for better herd health and human health in turn.
We also have the benefits of increased medical care. (But if you've followed my Facebook health page for any length of time, you may have learned that it also comes with a price.) However, these advances have given us basic practices, such as hand washing and sterilizing medical equipment, that other civilizations did not have and experienced great loss as a result.
Lately, we've been covering pregnancy, labor, and infant health over on my Facebook health page. All of the studies, facts, and research I've shared boils down to one simple principle: Heeding wisdom from the successes of our fellow beings, both past and present. If we believe in the Bible, then we must believe that there has been 6,000 years of civilization to learn from. What are some things we can learn from them? Well . . .
- How about eating foods that come from soil and not more than we need, especially during pregnancy?
Obesity is the leading cause of maternal morbidity and complications in American pregnancies. As it rises, so do the rates of preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, preterm births, and c-sections, late fetal deaths, neural tube defects, and birth trauma. Dr. Jennifer L. Howse, President of the March of Dimes, says, "Obesity among women of childbearing age is at a crisis level." Children born to obese mothers are also twice as likely to be obese and to develop Type 2 diabetes later in life, which also explains the increasing rates of Type 2 diabetes in America.
- How about going about our day with our baby close, where they're meant to be, instead of letting them cry all the time?
(Probably won't hear anyone saying, "But I've got too much to do to carry my baby around all day" after seeing these pictures!) I once saw a picture of a native African woman wearing her baby on her back while wading on the shore with a large spear, getting ready to catch her family's dinner. She had biceps like Angela Bassett-- and too many muscles everywhere else too to be complaining about being sore from carrying her baby around!
In America, babywearing offers a much safer alternative to placing infants in things like strollers and shopping carts. In 2006, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) published a statement urging parents to consider alternatives to carrying around children in shopping carts. Their statement was based on the 24,000 emergency room visits in 2005 alone as a result of preventable shopping cart falls in children, most of which were under the age of one year. (See my article with Pediatrics for Parents on this topic: http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0816/is_3_24/ai_n25407027/?tag=content;col1. )
Babywearing also decreases the risk of positional plagiocephaly (‘flat-head syndrome”). This common side effect of extended time in carseats and sleeping on the back has also got the attention of the AAP. Because it can result in severe cranial distortion, the AAP has recommended that infants “should spent minimal time in car seats (when not a passenger in a vehicle) or other seating that maintains supine positioning.”
Babywearing offers more than physical benefits. Pediatrics reported that slinging a baby reduces crying and fussiness by almost 50 percent. It also increases the mother’s progesterone levels, leading to a more intimate maternal bond. The increased release of this hormone also reduces the incidence of postpartum depression. Babies who are worn by their mothers also learn social interaction better by becoming familiar with facial expression, language, and body language.
Recently, babywearing received a lot of negative connotations as a result of infant deaths associated with a particular carrier’s malfunction. Babywearing is a learned skill that must be practiced. In indigenous cultures, mothers are taught proper techniques of babywearing by the older women of their village.
- How about feeding our babies the way God intended, instead of giving them mass-produced "food" that has synthetic "nutrients" added to it?
Before the 20th century, breastfeeding was the main way of feeding babies. If for any reason the natural mother was unable to breastfeed, a wet nurse was used. Attempts were made in 15th century Europe to use cow or goat milk, but these attempts were not successful. In the 18th century, flour or cereal mixed with broth were introduced as substitutes for breastfeeding, but this did not have a favorable outcome, either.
The World Health Organization recommends babies be fed their mother's milk until two years of age. They go on to say,
Extended breastfeeding was encouraged in Ancient Greek, Hebrew, and Muslim cultures. The Koran, the Talmud, and the writings of Aristotle all recommend breastfeeding for 2 to 3 years. While breastfeeding beyond 1 year of age is considered extended breastfeeding in the United States, experts say that the average age of weaning worldwide is 4 years. In Guinea-Bissau, West Africa, the average length of breastfeeding is 22.6 months  and in India, mothers commonly breastfeed their children until 3 to 4 years of age.
So what's the problem in America? Elizabeth Baldwin says in Extended Breastfeeding and the Law, that “Because our culture tends to view the breast as sexual, it can be hard for people to realize that breastfeeding is the natural way to nurture children.” In Western countries such as The United States of America, Canada, and Great Britain, extended breastfeeding is a very taboo act. It is difficult to obtain accurate information and statistics about extended breastfeeding in these countries because of the mother's embarrassment.
This is so unfortunate.
- And how about keeping our babies close while we sleep too?
Other cultures continue to maintain almost constant contact with their infants throughout both the daytime and the nighttime. Similar to a Kenyan tribe examined by researchers, tribes across the world adhere to ancient and instinctual practices without media intervention to confuse them. Their babies are found to go through much less emotional stress than American babies where psychological diseases and physical illnesses related to stress occur in more frequent numbers every year.
A British study found that when breastfeeding mothers follow their instincts, however, they will naturally protect their baby, even in their sleep.
“The mother spontaneously adopted a distinctive lateral position facing the infant, with her knees drawn up under the infant's feet and her upper arm positioned above the infant's head. This position facilitates the baby's easy access to mother's breasts, and babies orient themselves towards their mother's breasts for most of the night.”
The mother’s legs curled up under the infant prevented him from lowering down underneath the covers. Furthermore, the position of her arms and legs makes it almost impossible for her to roll over onto the infant. The study went on to say, “By promoting nonprone positions, bedsharing may protect some infants from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), since prone sleeping is a known risk factor for SIDS.”
In addition to keeping the baby in a safe position, bed-sharing also helps promote safer breathing patterns in the infant. Research from Notre Dame anthropology professor and leading sleep research James McKenna shows that babies who sleep with parents spend less time in Level III sleep, a state of sleep in which the risk of apneas are increased.
Aside from the benefits seen in infancy, research is discovering more long-term advantages, such as that of independence. Forcing a baby to fall asleep independently their first day home from the hospital may actually have the opposite goal of what many parents are trying to achieve. McKenna states that when compared to their counterparts, children who slept with their parents as babies do better in school, have higher self-esteem, and are healthier overall. They tend to display more independence and self-reliance.
Even back in 1998, psychiatrists were discovering the link between stressed-out babies and personality disorders in adulthood. Dr. Michael Commons of the Harvard Medical School says that babies who are made to sleep alone or are not picked up and comforted enough may grow up susceptible to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and personality problems. He theorizes that leaving infants in stressful situations may cause them to develop excess cortical (cortisol), an adrenal stress hormone released in the brain as a response to this stress.
A British study found that “parents' reports of children's aggression and family discord within 2 hr of saliva collection were associated with elevated cortisol levels in children.” This same study showed that children who had coslept in their parent(s) room had lower cortisol levels. Studies also show the level of this hormone to be greatly increased in prison inmates.
I think we would be wise to heed the traditional methods of cultures who have not been tainted by the message to "teach babies to be independent" and not to "spoil" them. As new generations become adults, we see an increasing number of co-dependent adults. I say we can have a needy baby or a needy adult.
And then, we've got some great things that other societies do not have. Such as:
Advances in Sanitation
Government Assistance for the Poor/Homeless
So, what am I saying?
Am I saying every American woman ought to breastfeed her baby for three years, co-sleep and baby-wear? Yes. No, I'm just kidding--I'm not. If I can convey one message, it is simply this:
LET US GET OUT OF SEEING THINGS FROM OUR 20TH CENTURY AMERICAN PERSPECTIVE AND SEE THEM FROM A HISTORICAL WORLDWIDE VIEW.
We have so much access to information about history, traditional patterns (that have worked for thousands of years), current medical studies, and more. WE HAVE THE ABILITY TO HAVE THE BEST OF BOTH WORLDS! If a traditional way of doing something doesn't produce positive long-term results, why not re-analyze in the larger scope of things?
I think not only does our scope of vision need to change, but so does our level of humility. When our missionary friend brings her veterinarian wisdom to Africa, those people gladly accept her advice. I wonder how we would act if a native woman came here and suggested that we hold our babies more often, breastfeed them for longer, or let them sleep with us.
With the information, resources, finances, and such within our grasp, Americans have the capabilities to enjoy the best of both worlds. We can enjoy the sanitation and hygiene advances, adequate food, and access to health care. We can raise our children to know they are loved unconditionally and give them the best jump start in life--emotionally, physically, and most importantly--spiritually.