The first book to explore to what extent the way we parent our infants is based on our biological needs and to what extent it is based on culture -- and the startling consequences ignoring nature's imperatives can have on the well-being of children.

From the book jacket of Our babies, Ourselves

The first book published for the layperson in the new field of ethnopediatrics -- the cross-cultural study of parents and infants to examine the ways different parenting styles and practices affect the health and well-being of infants.

I love this book and it has become one of my two favorite gifts for expectant parents. {The other being, The Baby Book by Dr. William Sears.) This is an excellent book to introduce the wary to parenting practices such as co-sleeping and natural weaning -- practices that are generally outside the mainstream in the West.

The reason this book is so powerful is that it is not a "How-to" manual on infant care. Rather, it is a more scholarly and objective overview of infant care in other cultures and the consequences of different practices.

Small begins with a fascinating discussion of the evolution of babies. By this she means that the characteristics of a human infant at birth, its general size, shape, instincts, stage of development, and capabilities, have evolved to be this particular way in response to biological pressures -- particularly the evolution of the large human brain. The upshot of this discussion is the interesting conclusion that human infants are born so helpless and "incomplete" developmentally (in relation to many other mammals) because it is the evolutionary compromise between the large size of the infant brain and the relatively narrow pelvic space in a bipedal female human.

So what are the repercussions of the birth of a relatively developmentally incomplete human infant? Small then examines the fundamentals of infant care (she has chapters on sleeping, crying, and food) and how it is practiced cross-culturally. The wonderful thing about the way she presents the information is that she simply presents her observations and allows the reader to reach her own conclusions. And, ultimately, the honest reader, is forced to acknowledge that many common parenting practices in the West do not seem to be well-suited to the actual evolutionary, biological and psychological needs of the human infant.

Proponents of such "alternative" practices as "wearing" a baby, co-sleeping, and natural weaning will certainly feel a measure of vindication. And advocates of such common parenting practices as scheduled feedings, cribs, and allowing infants to "Cry it out," will find their assumptions challenged and perhaps their horizons broadened.

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