Monday, September 07, 2009

Primate Parenting - A Stark Difference?

When I saw this product, the BéBé Bottle Sling, at first I thought, hey cute! Monkeys! Then I thought, hold up a sec — that is weird and maybe a little wrong.

The bottle sling hangs from the handle of an infant carrier or car seat and positions the bottle right on front of the babies face. Babies learn coordination and figure out on there own how to take the bottle into their mouth and drink when they want. After they're done, the bottle returns to a spot right in front of the baby's face. It permits hands-free bottle feeding.

Cool concept.

I thought I could make one of those, how hard could it be? But then I realized, perhaps wanting to save myself from yet another project or perhaps recalling all of my many childhood pet hamsters, that this is like sticking your kid in a cage and hanging a bottle inside so they can drink/eat. A flash of a baby in a wire cage with cedar chips, running wheel and a bottle full of milk mounted to the side of the cage briefly flashed in my mind.

While I think this product is potentially interesting, and useful, it also highlights a major difference between nonhuman primates and human ones, especially those in western, industrialized countries anyway.

Nonhuman primates (most often moms but there are plenty of exceptions) have their babies with them all of the time, even at night, often in full body contact. Not until the babies are old enough to crawl on their own are they away from mom and even then they stay within arms reach. Ape babies can be in full contact with their moms for 3-4 years on average, nursing on demand the entire time, even at night while mom sleeps.

But human babies, especially those in the US, get bundled up in infant carriers, motorized swinging chairs, strollers and cribs in separate rooms starting in their first days of life.

I wonder what effect all of this 'baby parking' has on human attachment — the affectionate social bonds shared between baby and parent, and later between romantic partners. After all, it has been shown that it's a warm, responsive caregiver to cling to that young primates need for normal social development.

When that soft, warm, responsive body is taken out of the equation and replaced with a cold, hard nipple hitting you in the face, how can you possibly develop normally?

When primatologists who study parenting point out the stark difference between nonhuman and (Western) human parenting, they rarely come right out and say what effect this lack of constant body contact has on us as a species. Does it make us more prone to be solitary jerks as adults? Is that why we needed to invent stuff like religion to remind us to be kind?

I don't know what the answer is, but it is reasonable to ask.

Now, really, an argument can be made that this product allows a more natural approach to feeding if you're using a bottle. When nonhuman primates feed, they can cling to mom by themselves, riding along and nursing while she forages. Her nipples hang down and baby can latch on and drink whenever. The only real significant difference between this and and the BéBé bottle sling is the nipple and the temperature of the milk.

As long as baby gets interaction at other times, as most babies would, this product could come in very handy. I just can't envision myself using it, but they ..almost.. got me with that darling monkey design.


Shana Lee said...

I can see this being incredibly useful for things like road trips where hours in the car don't permit feeding on demand (i.e. mom's the driver).

But you're certainly asking some legitimate questions about human contact and its impact on us and our development. And I certainly don't have any answers (I rarely do).

Sycamore Moon Studios said...

I would be concerned about choking if it were used in a car. Also, I think there might be a temptation to let the baby feed herself while one just goes to a chore, answer the door, feed the dogs "really quickly". Not safe, probably. There is always the aspiration factor.

They are only little for a limited amount of time. I guess the question is how hard and time consuming is it to stop and feed a chiild in one's arms when they are hungry? Bonding such as this only happens for a short time and then *poof*, they are in college. The mental stimulation and emotional needs being met are important and play a role in healthy brain formation.
They can practice hand to mouth coordination with things that can't so easily cause them to choke during playtime.
Hmm. Can you tell I have an opinion on this? LOL

Virginia Burnett said...

I'm with you - it's a cute product and a nifty idea but just smacks too much of putting a sweater on the wire monkey mama to me. Feeding time with baby - especially breastfeeding - is so important! Bonding is the big factor but so is the downtime for mom. Postpartum with my biological daughter would have been so much harder, both physically and emotionally, for me if I had not had those hours everyday when I simply couldn't just keep moving on with my normal tasks.

The postpartum months represent an important psychological transition time every time. So important that I wish I had been wise enough to regress our son to bottle feeding when we adopted him as a young toddler. We've bonded fairly well, but the transition to becoming mother to a toddler again took a lot of psychological energy and I think he & I both could have coped better if we had been required to cuddle for a while every day for bottle time.

Field Notes said...

I could too Shana, tho the makers do advise against using it in the car in case of a collision, the bottle could injure the baby.

Field Notes said...

That's a good point you make about enforced cuddle time. A product like this makes it so easy just to park babe to 'get things done.'

I definitely feel the pressure to do more things, but then again, I am somewhat an over-achiever and multi-tasker so I find ways to get some things done while nursing, just not those things I can't do while sitting!