9 Things I Learned from Baby Meets World

Throughout my first year as a mom, whenever I had some pressing question about baby development or some surprising revelation, my sister – a mother of four – would reference the only baby development book she had ever read, Baby Meets World by Nicholas Day.  Since she seemed so happy with the book, I thought I had better educate myself as a parent and check it out.  Despite the fact that Bugaboo was over a year old by the time I picked up the book, I learned a lot about parenting and had some of my most burning questions answered.

Although Nicholas Day is not a pediatrician or developmental psychologist, his book is well-researched, and his extensive bibliography allows you to double check his work if you want.  He also writes in a lighthearted, fun style with either comes and goes or you just get used to, I can’t tell.  The introduction catches your attention, and you want to read more!  He takes you through the four stages of babyhood that he has extensively researched: sucking, smiling, touching, and toddling.  However, he admits he could have chosen other categories – such as eating and sleeping.  I wish he had!  The center of his book – Smile and Touch – didn’t help answer any of my questions, either on a practical or curious level.  With that said, I still learned a lot from reading the book.  Here are the nine things I learned.

Photo courtesy of Modern Hello Photography in Wichita, KS

Suck

It’s Hard for Everyone

Getting Bugaboo to breastfeed was difficultvery difficult!  I remember asking over and over again, “What did moms do if a baby didn’t latch back before there was formula?”  Another variation was, “What did settlers do when they didn’t have another experienced mother to help them learn how to breastfeed?”  When you’re having trouble breastfeeding, it is easy to see the world through this myopic lens of, “It’s supposed to be natural.  If it wasn’t, none of us would exist.”

However, study of history and other primates shows us that breastfeeding doesn’t necessarily come easily to either mother or baby.  Even gorillas in captivity must be shown how to nurse their young.

I learned that breastfeeding your baby has not always been the norm in western culture throughout history.  The use of wet nurses was always common, even among the poor.  In addition, humans have always found creative ways to try to feed babies without nursing them at all.  Primitive societies had to figure out how to get the food into the baby’s mouth (dump it in through a modified teapot) and what to feed the baby before pumps and formula were invented.  Given that historical conditions were so unsanitary and that breastmilk provides antibodies and other benefits, it’s a wonder anyone in the human race survived.

Baby Meets World did an excellent job answering my questions about why breastfeeding is so difficult.  If anything, perhaps we were too creative in finding ways to feed our babies.  Perhaps that’s why so many babies today seem content to let us do all the hard work and worrying about trying to get them to eat.  If you’re having trouble getting your baby to nurse, you are not alone!

Nobody Really Likes Pacifiers

(But that doesn’t make them wrong)

After the book describes how our “Breast is Best” mentality evolved, it goes through a lengthy discussion on the history of thumb sucking and pacifiers.  The cliffs notes version is this: although there were ups and downs in the roller coaster, Western culture has tended to be adamantly against sucking.  I know I never thought I would use a pacifier on Bugaboo.  For one thing, I wanted her to nurse on demand.  For another, I didn’t want to have to break her of the habit later on – because that’s what parents do, we break kids of their habits of sucking.  As I write this, Bugaboo is taking her morning nap, sucking on her 6-18 Months Orthodontic Nuk Pacifier.

I relented to Bugaboo’s pacifier use on the day she came home from the hospital.  She was clearly distressed, and we knew that sucking would soothe her.  She couldn’t nurse all day and night long, so we added the pacifier to her growing list of infant supplies.  In our modern world, we still tiptoe around pacifier use.  We don’t want to introduce them before nursing is established, and we want to break the habit before it affects our child’s teeth.  Other than that, pacifiers are an accepted part of our culture.  I learned in Baby Meets World that my hesitance is natural given the anti-sucking stance of our forebears, but there’s no indication that using a pacifier is harmful or a sign of bad parenting.

Smile – At Mommy

The second section of Baby Meets World started to lose me, I’m sorry to say.  I had enjoyed learning about the wacko theories that our ancestors had about how to raise and feed babies.  But I had really never given smiling a lot of thought.  It’s not to say that this section wasn’t interesting, it just wasn’t filling some need I had.

What I did learn from the book was how social smiles are – how they are reciprocal even from the beginning.  People (and babies are people) don’t smile when they’re alone – even when they’re happy.  They smile when they are sharing joy with others!  So when your baby smiles for the first time, it may not mean that she’s just really happy and content.  She is likely smiling at you!  And that’s pretty cool to know.

Touch – More Is Good

I had heard about the benefits of skin-to-skin contact – our hospital encouraged us to hold our babies skin-to-skin within the first hour of birth.  However, in Baby Meets World the practice is well researched, and we have not only a list of the benefits, but the story of how “kangaroo care” came about.  (In a crowded hospital in South America, where incubators for preemies were hard to come by, the doctor suggested mothers hold the babies against their skin for warmth, and suddenly survival rates skyrocketed).

When germ theory appeared at the end of the 19th century, people suddenly didn’t want to touch their babies.  This is a reasonable fear in a society filled with illness.  Newborns have the least protection against infectious diseases of almost any group in our society.  However, the lack of touch hurt babies’ abilities to survive almost as much as being exposed to germs did.  When we touch our babies, we are providing them love, nurturing, bonding, and health.

Something that seems like a no brainer today (hold your baby, love your baby, touch your baby) required a lot of research to prove out.  We had to re-learn how to hold our babies.  Now we have baby carriers galore, and even Baby Wearers International to help us hold our babies.  I know with my next baby I hope to baby wear and even do more skin-to-skin than I did with Bugaboo.

Toddle

Walking Is an Incredible Miracle

If you’re stuck in the phase between crawling and walking, you might be getting antsy.  I have to say I was.  First of all, when Bugaboo started crawling at 10 months, she was still in the, “I’m going to put everything in my mouth and find the most dangerous thing in the room to play with” stage.  So I had to be incredibly aware of what she was doing at all times.  Also, I just felt life would be easier for me when she walked – she would follow me around when I did the chores, she could stand up at the playground, and we could start doing fun toddler activities.  So I was impatient.

Since I wasn’t a kinesiology major in college, I never realized how incredibly difficult walking was.  Baby Meets World describes in detail just what it takes to walk – from both a physical and mental perspective.  For instance, I didn’t realize how hard it was for other primates to balance and stand up.  Perhaps I had seen too many old Disney movies featuring pet Chimpanzees.  When you realize what your baby is trying to accomplish, it makes the wait for walking a little easier!

You Can Teach Your Baby to Walk Sooner

And yes, if you are impatient, you can teach your baby to walk sooner.  But you may have to get started when she is a newborn.  In my personal opinion, this was the most fun section of the book.  We learn about how other cultures raise babies, and more importantly what the results are.  Some non-Western cultures focus on sitting their babies upright from birth with the result that their babies walk, on average, much sooner than western babies.  In addition – something I already knew or suspected – Western babies are walking at an older age now because of the “back to sleep” movement.  Without spending hours on their tummies all day, they are just not developing the muscles to walk at super young ages.

What does this mean for modern moms?  My takeaway is that if you consider the milestone you are most interested in you can, with research and a change in parenting style, help your baby achieve it at an early age.  However, there is always a tradeoff.  You will give up other milestones along the way.

Not All Babies Crawl

Ok, this one is really for my mother-in-law.  Sorry.  Her belief in the necessity of crawling has been a bit of a pet peeve of mine since before Bugaboo was born.  Her side of the story, “If you don’t crawl before you walk, you’ll never learn to read.”  Well, I didn’t crawl, and I can read pretty well.  I read this book, didn’t I?  So…since Bugaboo was born, and especially when she showed signs of being a “late” crawler, I started interviewing pediatricians and physical therapists on this “urban legend.”  The results were mixed.  Pediatricians don’t care if the baby crawls.  Apparently physical therapists do.

But according to Baby Meets World not all babies crawl.  In fact, over the course of human history, crawling babies are actually in the minority.  The number one reason babies haven’t crawled – dirty floors.  This makes a lot of sense from a practical perspective, but it also gives me a big “win.”  If so many babies don’t crawl, then it obviously isn’t affecting our intellectual development!

At the end of the day, it didn’t matter.  Unlike her mother, Bugaboo did learn to crawl, and she was very good at it for several months!

Relax

All this information about helping babies to meet milestones at different times points to one important lesson – relax!  We can measure and monitor babies and try to come up with the average age each milestone is attained.  But to do this properly we would have to incorporate babies from cultures all over the world, and the standard deviation would be enormous.  In other words, the range for a true developmental delay is pretty wide.  If you are concerned, speak with your pediatrician.  But don’t let yourself drift into toxic thought world, worrying about if you are a bad parent or if your child is delayed unless you know for sure.  Don’t compare little Johnny and little Emily at the playground.  All babies learn to walk eventually.  Slow down and enjoy these pre-walking moments.

The Mommy Wars Are Ridiculous

Baby Meets World is written by a stay at home dad, so he wouldn’t likely be involved in the, “Mommy Wars.”  The author’s long running invective against the mommy wars actually starts in the middle of the book – in the “Touch” section.  He complains how modern “science” can sometimes twist results toward the biases of the scientists themselves.  For instance, in learning that touch was so important, scientists were comparing human babies to babies of other species – like sheep – comparisons that probably don’t mean a hill of beans!

Still, Mr. Day doesn’t have to actually rail against the mommy wars to get his point across.  Baby Meets World is essentially a 313 page essay against them.  The point is this: if babies have survived and even thrived for millennia, through various cultures and various standards of care, through parenting advice that appears like child abuse, across hundreds of cultural norms even in 2018, then how can we even begin to assert the “right” way to parent?  It’s true that science is telling us more and more every day.  But even science can run in trends.  A few years ago, formula was all the rage.  Now we tout the benefits to breastfeeding.  These scientific discoveries are fleeting, and yet they inspire holier-than-thou judgment amongst mothers.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T

Whether it’s breast vs. formula, attachment parenting or not, or where your baby lands on the developmental scale, it’s time to throw the mommy wars out.  We need to respect other methods of parenting in the same way we would respect other languages, cultures, and religion.  Just because we don’t practice these parenting styles doesn’t make them wrong – just wrong for us and our families.  And maybe, just maybe, they are even right – if we were willing to give them a try, we might find out.

These are the good old days with your baby – there’s no need to waste them worrying about what other parents are doing.  What parenting style from history or another culture do you wish we saw more of today?

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