Saturday, March 30, 2013

Greek Physician Told Everyone Not to Carry Around Their Baby Boys

The ancient Greek physician Soranus thought that babies, especially boys, should not be carried until four months of age.

Carrying posed the risk of severe testicular injury, Soranus thought.

Today we worry about raising children who aren’t well-adjusted; the Greeks worried about raising children who weren’t eunuchs.

This bias against carrying continued through medieval times.

Meanwhile, at the same time Soranus pronounced this, the many hunter-and-gatherer societies south of him in Africa were regularly carrying their infants. They had always carried their infants. Given their lifestyle, it was essential.

John Whiting
There is some logic here; the anthropologist John Whiting established that infants in cold climates are more likely to be swaddled and put down in a cradle, while those in hot climates are more likely to be carried in a sling.

But once we could control the temperature indoors, we had an infinite amount of choices and a variety of information from well-meaning pseudo-experts.

In the US, for the first half of the 20th century, the medical consensus was something like, “Carry your child? Why are you even touching your child?”

This was an era when experts were telling parents not to kiss their babies. Thankfully most people ignored this dubious advice.

The sudden popularity of slings, beginning in the 1970s, was a radical reversal. It swept away decades of child-rearing wisdom.

If you take the long view all this indecision dates back to a pivot point in human development.

Our hominid ancestors carried their infants without trying, that was the advantage of having a hairy body they could cling to and an opposable toe to assist the infant in gripping.

When they lost both, they squandered an extremely efficient method of child care. Suddenly, parents had to think about what to do with this helpless creature.

Some invented slings, mainly for convenience, to allow them to work and function in a hand-to-mouth environment.

In a sense, the search for infant daycare began with the moment, millions of years ago, that those hominid infants no longer stuck to their parents. In those societies the extended family (sisters, granny, aunts, etc) was readily available to perform this service.

It’s always tempting to see the present as the final point in a journey. It is convenient to believe that we have corrected the mistakes of the past.

We now understand that babies have basic socio-emotional needs; we let ourselves pick up our babies; we carry them when they want to be carried.

The real answer is that we have more time and energy to spend on a small number of children and are charged with guilt that they will become 'psychologically damaged' if we do not attend to their demands for attention.

Questions and Answers to child-rearing will see-saw wildly as our society changes. So watch this space for emerging theories and possible solutions to questions that have yet to be asked.

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