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.
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.