Parenting styles from around the world
You may think taking babies out to dinner at midnight is odd, but other mums think buggies are plain crazy...
No bathing after birth
For 30 days after her baby Audie was born, Taipei-based new mum Serina Huang didn’t leave her house, or receive visitors. She bathed only with a sponge dipped in ginger water and didn’t wash her hair. She was taking part in the ritual of zuo yuezi, a confinement that takes place in many Asian countries and sees mum resting completely – either at home waited on by relatives or, today in modern Asia, at specialist luxury confinement centres – for a month after birth.
‘I’m convinced it helps,’ Serina says. ‘I didn’t do it with my first child, Austin, and I was exhausted, emotionally fragile, and on medication for months to increase my milk supply. But after zuo yuezi I felt energetic and positive. I had a freezer full of breast milk and the baby blues I experienced before never appeared.’
Take-home tip: Traditional Chinese medicine practitioner Emma Cannon tells us, ‘The Chinese believe that after childbirth a woman’s body is vulnerable so confinement is all about rejuvenation, rehabilitation and recovery. Some elements are extreme – I don’t think not washing your hair or bathing is necessary – but the basic idea of resting, eating nourishing food and not seeing too many people is sound advice. If you can’t totally follow this, at least keep life simple for a month.’ See more of Serina’s life in Taiwan at taiwanxifu.com
Who needs a buggy?
Show a woman in countries such as Uganda, Kenya or Bolivia a buggy and they can’t for the life of them work out why you’d want to use it – not only is it time-consuming to get your baby in and out of, they feel it doesn’t allow you to develop the same bond as they get by carrying them each day.
‘I worked with women in Uganda who were shocked at how often the American babies they saw in videos cried,’ says Rebecca Chicot of The Essential Parent Company. ‘They felt it was because the mums couldn’t read the baby’s movements in their buggies so the babies had to tell them what they needed.’
Take-home tip: Slings for baby wearing are now readily available in the UK – but choose carefully as a badly designed sling can put your baby at risk of suffocation. Avoid any kind of deep pouched ‘bag-style’ sling which may put your baby in a C-shaped curve, or any sling that covers their face. Instead, go for shallow, pouch-style slings, ring slings or wraps that hold your baby in a snug upright position close to your body. For help see schoolofbabywearing.com
Visit China and you’ll see a lot of a bare baby bottoms. The babies are wearing kaidangku – split-bottom trousers that make it easy for mums to spot when their child needs a wee or poo – and hold them over somewhere suitable. Western habits may be taking over in urban areas, but many Chinese children don’t wear nappies and are often toilet-trained by 12 months.
‘Not toilet-training until two or three years is a lot of nappies to change – and I liked the idea of limiting the time my child sat in her own waste,’ says Beijing-based Ember Swift. ‘She’s now 17 months old and has just started pointing to her crotch when she needs to go to the bathroom.’
Take-home tip: Nappy-free babying (also known as elimination communication) is catching on in the UK. Amber Hatch runs groups in Oxford and told us, ‘It works by reading signals from your baby – you soon recognise signs such as wriggling in a certain way. Then you just hold them over their potty.’ You don’t need to watch intently all day – as Amber says, ‘If you don’t miss some signals you’re probably putting too much effort into it!’ For more information see nappyfreebaby.co.uk
A cardboard crib
There’s a day of great excitement in every new Finnish mum’s life – the day her government-issued Maternity Package arrives. Containing clothing, bedding and washable nappies, it’s designed to provide everything a new baby needs for the first year of its life, including a cardboard box that can be used as a crib if necessary. ‘I hadn’t had much experience of babies before I had my first son, Samuel, and there were things in it I hadn’t thought about buying, such as small scissors and a baby hairbrush,’ says Helsinki based Eeva Landowski (helsinkimom.wordpress.com). ‘With what was in it and some secondhand clothes given to me by friends, I didn’t need to buy anything else.’
Take-home tip: Chill out and stop shopping. Yes of course it’s fun, but kitting out your baby needn’t cost a fortune – or turn into competitive sport – especially as they grow so fast anyway. ‘Clothingwise you probably only need some short-sleeved vests, a few baby grows, a warm jacket or cardigan depending on the weather and socks or booties,’ says childcare expert Rachel Waddilove (rachelsbabies.com).
Ditch the sleep schedule
Having her baby in Argentina gave American author Mei-Ling Hopgood the idea for her book How Eskimos Keep Their Babies Warm: Parenting Wisdom From Around The World (Macmillan, £12.99). She was fascinated that parents took their children out with them at all hours, and hang the sleep schedules.
‘But then when I had my daughter I realised that most restaurants in Argentina don’t even start serving food until 8pm. If I wanted to have any kind of social life with my husband and daughter I would have to get away from the idea of a strict sleep routine and just take her with us.’
Take-home tip:The problem with embracing the Argentinian approach is our days start earlier. ‘But if your child sleeps normally most of the time there’s no harm in keeping them up late for special occasions,’ says Rachel Waddilove.
Routine is more important for poor sleepers. But even then, Mei-Ling cites the advice of her Argentinian doctor. ‘When I told him Sofi a wasn’t sleeping well and I worried that her late nights might be part of that, he said, “You just got one that doesn’t sleep well. Don’t worry, it’ll pass.” It took the pressure off – I think we need to relax more when it comes to our children.’
Mary Poppins nurses
Did you get home with your baby and think, ‘Now what?’ This doesn’t happen in Holland. There, shortly after you get home your kraamverzorgster appears. A mix between nurse and housekeeper, she’s all yours a few hours a day for the next eight days. She’ ll check your baby and you, answer any questions, teach you the basics like how to bath your baby. And she’ll clean the bathroom, cook you lunch and shoo away visitors if you’re tired.
‘I think I was alone with my baby for about 45 minutes, then for the next week for about six hours a day I was cared for completely,’ says Janelle Ward (blondebutbright.blogspot.co.uk).
Take-home tip: Get advice on the basics before you go home with your new baby. ‘Because we no longer grow up in large extended families many mums have never seen another woman breastfeed or changed a nappy until they get their baby home – and they have no one to ask either,’ says Rebecca Chicot. If you can’t get hands-on experience with someone else’s baby during your pregnancy, the Essential Parent Company DVDs, made in association with Professor Robert Winston, can be your digital kraamverzorgster. For more, go to essentialparent.com
Whatever the weather, Swedish mums regularly put their babies outside for an afternoon nap. They feel it helps reduce the risks of babies catching colds and fl u, and also helps them to sleep better.
‘My husband was horrifi ed when I did this in the winter with our twins,’ says Suzanne Peters, blogger at kidstylejunkie.com. ‘But I’m half Swedish and my mum drummed it into me that it was good for them – and I do think they slept more deeply outside.’ In fact, trials in Finland did fi nd Nordic napping, as it’s known, extended sleep times from one or two hours to as much as three.
Take-home tip: Rachel Waddilove is all for outside napping – in a safe garden and with appropriate clothing. ‘Something happens to babies when they are out in fresh air – they just relax more,’ she says. ‘Even simply putting them in a room with open windows can help.’
No cord cutting
It may not be something every US mum is doing yet, but about five per cent of Texas midwife Mary Ceallaigh’s clients opt for what’s called a lotus birth: instead of cutting the umbilical cord soon after birth, it’s left to fall off naturally, three to ten days later. The theory, Ceallaigh says, is that leaving the placenta attached for longer maximises stem cell transfusion to your baby, reduces risk of infection at the cord cutting site and makes it more likely you’ll rest and recover post birth – as let’s face it, who wants to take a placenta to the shops?
Zoe Mantarakis tried it with her second son. ‘I felt it would help make birth less stressful for my baby – plus it felt more loving not take a knife or scissors to him. We wrapped the placenta in a thin cloth nappy and snuggled it in next to his belly. When I picked him up it came too, no mess, no problem.’
Take-home tip: It’s now becoming more common medical practice for obstetricians to delay cord clamping for a few minutes post-delivery, with the World Health Organisation suggesting there should also be one hour of undisturbed bonding between mother and child, so do aim for this if you can.
There is some debate after that point, however. The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists says there’s not enough research into lotus birthing to say it’s totally safe. Also, ‘If left for a period of time after the birth there is a risk of infection in the placenta which can consequently spread to the baby,’ says spokesperson Patrick O’Brien. They strongly recommend close monitoring by a health professional if you do it.