Historical Parenting, Today

My philosophy on parenting for my baby/ toddler, is to bring my child up as naturally as history will offer. By this, I ask myself questions about what would have happened in early history, in the best of circumstances, and usually act in accordance with that. Here are a few examples:

Should I breast or bottle feed my baby? Re-phrasing the question to ask ‘What way would a baby have been fed since the beginning of man?’, and being confident that under normal circumstances the answer would be breast milk, straight from the breast; that’s what I did.

Should I feed my baby to a timed schedule, or on demand? In the absence of accurate time keeping methods, and with time not having the same relevance as today for early man, I concluded that babies would have been fed on demand in early history and so I fed on demand myself.

Breastfeeding art outside Buckingham Palace (photo by George P Landow)

When do I stop breastfeeding my baby? One thing I quickly learnt is that once you and your little one have got the hang of breastfeeding, it makes life so much easier (food and drink on tap; miracle cure for any bumps, grazes or illnesses; no need to worry about nutrition; feed to sleep; etc…) that it’s harder to stop than you first think. The answer I believe is child specific, though I assume extended breastfeeding to have been the norm in early history because I imagine it was easier than not. I fed my daughter until she was a toddler and when she stopped asking for it.

How should I introduce solids to my baby? Do I need to buy a food processor, mash my babies food and spoon it into her mouth? This questioned puzzled me as I wondered how did early man introduce solids to their children? My husband mentioned something about a parent mashing the food in their own mouth, and then offering it to the child like a kiss (similar to what birds do with worms?) which is essentially the conventional way of pureeing food by machine or hand, but I was sure there was another way. Then I discovered Baby Led Weaning by Gill Rapley and Tracey Murkett which made more sense to me.

‘Recent research suggests that most babies naturally reach out for food around six months… at which time they are developmentally capable of feeding themselves proper food… You just hand them the food in a suitably sized piece and if they like it they eat it and if they don‚Äôt they won‚Äôt.’ – Quoted from BabyLedWeaning.com

We followed Baby Led Weaning, and mealtimes were a pleasure. Our baby loved the sensory experience, and that she had full control over everything she chose to eat. Each meal was like a new toy for her to practice her skills, whilst we were able to enjoy our own meals at the same time. If this isn’t the way babies were weaned in history, I can’t imagine a better way that was.

Where should my baby sleep? In early history would a baby have slept on their own or close to his/ her parents? I decided that in the risk of any attack from predators, a baby would most likely have slept close to it’s parents, and most likely next to it’s mother for easier night feeds; so we co-slept. I slept much better knowing she was near, and I believe my daughter did too.

Is a pram a vital piece of equipment for a baby? We bought a pram without stopping to think if we needed one. They’re actually a fairly recent invention, so in my opinion not a necessity at all. We used it in my babies first year almost exclusively for naps, but I much preferred to carry her in the BabyBjorn carrier because I found it liberating: we weren’t in everyone’s way wherever we went, and we could fit into tight spaces, and shops with thin aisles; unlike with a cumbersome pram. In history I assume man would have carried their children much more, just in their arms, or perhaps with cloth more similar to a MobyWrap.

Do I need nappies for my baby? This question threw me as I had no idea what early man did about this? I decided to stick with nappies, but opted for reusable cloth ones, though I did not stick to the reusable kind as often as I meant to. Ease of use (increased absorbency and less washing) made disposal nappies more convenient. It was well after my baby was born that I learned about Elimination Communication, or Baby-Led Potty Training; a method used habitually in some cultures where parents respond to the cues of their infant, so that the baby essentially potty trains themselves. As I missed the window on this one, I still don’t know much about it yet, but I imagine it’s the kind of thing I would have tried had I learnt about it earlier. Maybe it’s a good thing I didn’t…

Reusable Cloth Nappy (image links to Bumgenius.com)

How on earth am I going to potty/ toilet train this child???? Potty training relates to my question about nappies. I still have not sussed this one as my toddler is not potty trained yet, but I’m working on it. In early history there were no toilets, and if Elimination Communication or similar was the norm, potty or toilet training wouldn’t really be an issue. Sometimes as we become more ‘cultured’, we create more problems than we solve.

Do I need to buy all these expensive toys? There are many ‘all singing, all dancing’ toys on the market that claim to make a parents life easier, but as my own Mother taught me, ‘The more things a gadget can do, the easier it is for something to go wrong’ – simple is more reliable. Under this philosophy, doing the housework (providing I am careful about using natural products); shopping at the Bakers, Butchers and Greengrocer; singing and dancing; or taking a walk in the park, collecting flowers or sticks – real every day activities that actually reflect life – are much more entertaining to a small child who is learning about their world, than a singing dog that the child will become bored of in a short period of time. Having said that, we do have flashy toys, but they’re not what we rely on. Open ended toys like Lego/ Duplo, Wedgits or Train sets are the exceptions that I wouldn’t be without because they’re educational, make the child think, and are as much fun for the parents as they are for the children!

This list of questions is not exhaustive in any way of the questions I ask myself or my approach to parenting, and there will be many more questions to come as my toddler grows I’m certain, though my approach is generally the same. I research how people have done things in the past, learn from the mistakes, take the best of what history has to offer, and mix it with a modern twist. Having read a little around parenting styles, I discovered that I actually subscribe to Attachment Parenting, without even realising it, and probably for different reasons than many. Parenting is a long learning process and we can only do what we feel is right for ourselves and our child. This list is simply what I did.

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