Parental and Other Caretaker Roles

A quantitative study of infant caretaking (Schiefenhovel, 1991) demonstrated that, for the first year or so, the biological mother is by far the most important person in the life of babies. There is a very high degree of physical body contact during the day (around 60%) and even more during the night, when babies sleep besides their mothers. Measuring body movements with actimeters revealed that mothers synchronize their nocturnal and, to a lesser degree, their diurnal activities very closely with those of their infants; that is, the baby's restlessness, crying, or other signals are answered almost immediately, with very competent intuitive parenting. The average duration of infant cries is about 30 s; taking the child into body contact or, most often, breast-feeding successfully soothes the infants. Infants spend about 20% of the day at the breast, not just feeding but also suckling for psychological comfort. The Trobriand Islanders distinguish those two activities linguistically as -nunu- and -susu-. As in other traditional societies, mothers, fathers (who become important caretakers and bonding persons after the early months), and other allomothers react to babies according to their belief that these little human beings need love and affection and expect their signals to be answered with the full range of parenting behaviors. Prolonged separation of infant and mother or caretaker is very rare; babies are where their family is, no matter what time of day or night. In this way they receive the optimal tactile, olfactory, auditory, and visual stimulation necessary for the brain to develop well. Their psychomotor development is very good, relative to Western standards, as long as they are breast-fed, which used to be for about 2 years or more (see below for changes in this practice). Difficulties arise at weaning, which often creates a psychological trauma and marks the begin of stunting, probably because of the lack of immune protection through breast-milk but also because there are no special weaning or infant foods. In contrast with what Malinowski wrote in some of his work (in other parts he states that fathers have a loving relationship with their babies), biological fathers have a very close and affectionate relationship with both infants and older children. There is playful behavior, mouth-to-mouth feeding, verbal interaction, instruction, etc. The maternal uncle (kadala) plays very little role in the everyday life of infants and children. Malinowski saw him as the important male figure in the families and based much of his vision of Trobriand culture on a combination of tension-free sex among unmarried people, ignorantia paternitatis (see below), and matrilineality, and consequently grossly underestimated the role of the biological father.

New Mothers Guide to Breast Feeding

New Mothers Guide to Breast Feeding

For many years, scientists have been playing out the ingredients that make breast milk the perfect food for babies. They've discovered to day over 200 close compounds to fight infection, help the immune system mature, aid in digestion, and support brain growth - nature made properties that science simply cannot copy. The important long term benefits of breast feeding include reduced risk of asthma, allergies, obesity, and some forms of childhood cancer. The more that scientists continue to learn, the better breast milk looks.

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