Anthropologist Desmond Morris has cast his eye over many subjects, man, cats, dogs and the human body. In Babywatching he takes a look at what he describes as ‘the most remarkable life form ever to draw breath on this planet’.
This is not a how-to manual for looking after a baby but a scientific and cultural look at why babies behave as they do, and why parents behave as they do. From why babies are so appealing, to why mothers tend to cradle their child on the right hand side, there are explanations for some of man’s most ingrained behaviours.
As is the pattern for all his ‘watching’ books, the format is of a number of short chapters beginning with the question to be answered. Some are whimsical (Why is the stork said to bring babies?) some provocative (Why are babies baptised and circumcised?)
There are the answers to many questions which fascinate parents, such as how well can babies see, hear, smell and taste, whether they are left or right handed from birth. How long do babies sleep and do they dream?
Morris compares the way babies are brought up in tradition cultures and a few decades ago in the west with how they are brought up nowadays. Modern childrearing does not come off to well in Morris’ opinion. There are strong anthropological precedents for prolonged breastfeeding, for babies being born surrounded by close family and friends and then cared for primarily by their mothers. He also believes that co-sleeping is the more natural way for babies to be brought up, indeed he is quite an advocate for the concept of ‘Attachment Parenting’ (but then men often are I notice.)
The book is fascinating, a lovely book to dip into with its short chapters and intriguing questions. Have you ever wondered why, for example, we put our hand over our mouths when we yawn? In fact it is because it was thought that part of the baby’s soul could escape each time it yawned, and so its mouth should be covered to prevent this. And you always though it was because no-one wanted to see your fillings!
Babywatching would make a lovely present for soon-to-be parents or anyone who loves babies, exploring the cultural dimension to so many of our childrearing practises.
About the Author: Jacqui O'Brien is the Editor of eParenting.