Archive for March, 2017

by Robert LeVine and Sarah LeVine
Parents everywhere tend to think that the way they raise their children is the best way, and Americans are no exception. Contemporary American parents seek to optimize their children’s lives, treat them as equals, and reduce their risk of harm to zero; anything less may seem negligent. Yet many of the practices Americans hold as sacred are quite rare in other countries — and the burdens Americans place on themselves are often unwarranted.

One of the major challenges in the first year of parenting, any new mom or dad can tell you, is training a child to sleep. American middle-class parents routinely put their infants to sleep in a separate bed or a separate room, on the assumption that there might be serious risks to having the baby next to them. This is largely due to expert advice: The American Academy of Pediatrics advises against parent-child co-sleeping, or “bed-sharing,” citing safety concerns from accidental suffocation or falls. Doctors worry that tired — or intoxicated — parents will roll onto their infants in the middle of the night without realizing it. Putting babies in cribs or cots in a separate room is also customary in Britain, Germany and other parts of Western Europe.

In most of the rest of the world…parents think it’s downright cruel to put a baby in a separate room or even a separate bed. Who would be so heartless?
In most of the rest of the world, however, parent-child co-sleeping is well-established, as we have found in our studies in Africa (Nigeria, Kenya and Zambia), Asia (Nepal, India) and Latin America (Mexico, Colombia) and as other anthropologists have reported from other sites in those areas. Indeed, many parents think it’s downright cruel to have a baby sleep alone. Who would do such a heartless thing?

Of course non-Western countries tend to have higher infant mortality rates, but there’s no reason to think that has anything to do with co-sleeping. In Japan — a large, rich, modern country — parents universally sleep with their infants, yet their infant mortality rate is one of the lowest in the world — 2.8 deaths per 1,000 live births versus 6.2 in the United States — and their rate of sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS, is roughly half the U.S. rate.

There’s reason to believe that co-sleeping isn’t just safe, but also beneficial. The biological anthropologist James McKenna, who has investigated mother-child co-sleeping at his Mother-Baby Sleep Laboratory at the University of Notre Dame, has provided detailed evidence of the physiologi­cal synchronization between mother and infant when they sleep together, especially when the mother also breastfeeds responsively. He considers this arrangement optimal and calls it “breastsleeping.” 

When we asked mothers of the Gusii tribe in Kenya, where co-sleeping is common, whether their babies slept through the night, they didn’t know what we were talking about — why should babies wake up? When we compare Gusii and American mothers, it is the Americans who seem to make infant care more complicated and difficult by putting their infant to sleep in a separate room, setting the stage for sleep disruption due to infant crying.

American parents may also worry that sharing a bed increases a child’s dependence on his parents, yet Japanese children appear to be just as mature and independent as American children. 

Christine Gross-Loh writes in her 2013 book, “Parenting Without Borders”: “After years of living [in Japan] on and off, my husband and I (and even our kids) have noticed that most children — the same children who sleep with their par­ents every night — take care of themselves and their belongings, work out peer conflicts, and show mature social behavior and self-regulation at a young age. Japanese parents expect their kids to be independent by taking care of themselves and be­ing socially responsible. They expect them to help contribute to the household or school community by being capable and self-reliant.”

All things con­sidered, we have to agree with McKenna’s conclusion: the proven benefits of mother-infant co-sleeping far outweigh the largely imaginary risks. Putting a baby in a separate room at night encumbers parents and leads to their exhaustion without guaranteeing the safety or future char­acter development of their children.

American parents also add to their burdens in other ways that are rare elsewhere in the world: for example, by offering their toddlers choices (about what to eat, what to wear, even where to cross the street), by making chores and responsibilities optional, and by fostering the child’s early speech development without rules to restrain interrupting adult conversation.

The anthropologist Margaret Mead once proposed that human diversity in child rearing was like a grand experiment enabling American parents to “read the answers” to their questions — without having to try them out at home. We no longer believe that reading the answers is as simple as Mead implied in 1930, but if Americans looked to parents in other cultures, they would perhaps realize that the “best” way to raise a child is not necessarily the most difficult, and ease up a bit.



Birth to 3 months

1. Lifts and turns head

2. Stretches out arms and legs

3. Opens hands and swipes at things

4. Holds eye contact and studies faces


5. Makes first sounds
During the first year, motor development simply means that baby is learning to lift more of his body off the ground. When you place him on his stomach soon after birth, he gradually inches his head off the floor—from barely clearing the surface during the first month to raising it an inch or two the next. By 3 months of age, most babies can lift their heads higher than their bottoms.
His limbs soon learn new tricks. In the first month, a baby’s arms mostly lie curled up around his body, but by the end of the third month, he stretches out both his arms and legs and begins to move them around more freely.
Then baby’s hands start to explore. Newborns tend to keep their tiny fists tightly closed, but during their second month they begin to unfold them partially and swipe aimlessly. By the third month, the hands remain half-open most of the time. It’s at this stage that babies realize their hands are wonderful toys and—most important—a part of themselves. Your baby will play with his hands in front of his face, exploring one hand with the other and sucking on his fingers and fists.

His sight is improving as well. Early on, infants see best when objects are 8 to 15 inches away. For the first month, their eyes are crossed and can hold a fixed gaze only briefly. But sometime during the second month, your baby makes genuine eye contact and studies you, at least for a few seconds. Once he can see you clearly, you’ll soon be charmed by his smiles as he begins to hold your gaze. Around 2 or 3 months, coos, squeals and gurgles expand to include more drawn-out vowel sounds such as “aaah,” “eee” and “oooh.” Sounds become louder, and screeching and laughing start.
At the end of 3 months, you’ve survived the fitting-in period. Baby’s fussiness while adjusting to life outside the womb has subsided (somewhat!), and he knows to whom he belongs. Because his needs have been consistently responded to, he has developed trust—the most powerful stimulator of infant development and the foundation of your child’s self-esteem. Most parents now feel more comfortable with the two R’s of parenting: reading their baby’s cues and responding in a way that works.

4 to 6 months

1. Develops binocular vision

2. Accurately tracks moving objects and people

3. Reaches with both hands and can hold onto toys and people

4. Begins learning to sit

5. Cries less, babbles more

Each stage of learning has one important skill that, once mastered, sets the scene for the development of others. Binocular vision is the master skill of the fourth month. It means that baby can now use both eyes together, giving her better depth perception. After swiping at (and missing) various targets for the first three months, she now gets a visual fix on a toy and can grab it. It’s as if her hands and eyes are finally saying, “Let’s work together to improve our aim.”
Your baby is also improving her ability to track objects moving from side to side. If you want to see if she has mastered this skill, try the mutual gazing game: When your baby is quiet but alert, capture her attention. Slowly tilt your head, then watch her tilt hers. Rotate her body, and notice that she’ll turn her head to keep you in view.
Sitting up is the master skill of the sixth month for many infants, and how your baby learns to do this is one of the most fascinating parts of her early development. 

At 4 or 5 months, baby still slumps or topples sideways when trying to sit, but she eventually begins using her arms as props to keep herself up. Between 5 and 6 months—around the time her back muscles are strong enough to support her when sitting upright—baby may let go sometimes, but will still use her hands as props. Then at about 6 months, she learns to let go, first with one hand, then the other and begins to hold her back straight, leaning forward at a 45-degree angle. As back-muscle strength and balance improve, a baby can sit completely erect.

Infants’ first attempts at language are another highlight of this stage. They cry less, “talk” more and begin to combine sounds and body language to make their point. A major breakthrough in speech development occurs at around 6 months, when infants learn they can alter the sounds they make by changing the shape of the tongue and mouth. They begin to babble—creating long, repetitive strings of syllables containing a vowel and a consonant. Between 6 and 9 months, a baby learns to change “ba-ba,” a sound made with the lips, to “da-da,” a sound made with the tongue.
7 to 12 months

1. Picks up objects with thumb and forefinger

2. Uses gestures to communicate

3. Moves from crawling to cruising to walking

You now have a real explorer on your hands as baby’s motor development allows him to get up and get around. From 6 to 7 months, two important skills (crawling and learning to pick up objects with the thumb and forefinger) make it possible for him to move to the next stage of infant development.

Between 6 and 9 months, babies begin gesturing, an important predecessor to language, as gestures are later replaced by their equivalents in words. Instead of crying to be picked up, baby extends his arms and raises his eyes to you, or he gives you the sign to put him down: pointing his hands toward the floor and squirming in your arms until you lower him.

Between 12 and 13 months, most babies are getting ready to take those first tentative steps on their own, if they haven’t started already. But before he begins to walk, a baby has to move from crawling to standing to “cruising”—walking from place to place, using furniture or other objects for balance, which he begins to learn at 8 or 9 months.

Of all the first-year milestones, walking is perhaps the one parents worry most about. Many babies walk by their first birthday, but there is a wide range of what’s considered normal: anywhere from 9 to 16 months. Temperament seems to play a role in when a child takes on major developmental milestones. A baby with an easygoing disposition may approach walking more cautiously. But when the later walker does finally walk, he walks well. The early walker, on the other hand, may be an impulsive baby who raced through each motor milestone before his parents could get the camera ready.