Thursday, October 14, 2010

Artificial Parenting VS Monkey Mothering.

pic courtesy of
It never ceases to amaze me how humans in the 'civilised' world are so eager to distance themselves from most aspects of natural parenting. It’s as though we are trying to rise above our primate cousins and remove all traces of the ape in our children. I recently watched a nature show which told the story of an orphaned monkey. Its human foster parents took it to bed with them, fed it on demand, cuddled it and wore it in a sling constantly. They said they were just trying to provide it with as natural a monkey experience as possible. The first thing I thought was that I am instinctively being a monkey mother to my daughter. This led me to compare the parenting styles of other primates to our own.

Monkey babies are usually born at night and are immediately cradled by their mothers and brought to the breast. When the placenta detaches naturally and is expelled, the monkey mother eats it and the cord, so the baby is attached to it’s original source of oxygen for the first few crucial minutes of life.  In their first few days of life they are not held by any other monkey. The matriarch will generally come for an inspection but even she is not allowed to hold the baby. Monkey mothers sleep with their babies and feed them all the time. They carry them wherever they go. Monkeys in the wild rarely or never abandon their babies. On the other hand, monkeys in captivity regularly abandon their babies – which shows how easily human intervention – sometimes just human observation – can disrupt the delicate balance between good and bad monkey parenting.

Photo ©2010 Patti Ramos Photography. Used with permission.
In most of the western world the human baby, instead of being welcomed into warm, loving arms and a softly lit environment, is usually born into the sterile, bright, loud and very unnatural environment of a hospital. If the baby has been lucky enough to have been born vaginally, she or he is still likely to have their head yanked on as they emerge, their cord prematurely cut, forcing the brand new creature to gasp for air, and for the first face it sees to be one of a stranger with a mask and cap on. When the baby is born by c – section, it is given an even ruder awakening, and none of the chemical and physiological advantages of a natural birth. Whatever the method of birth, baby is then usually removed from its mother, scrubbed, weighed, given painful eye drops, injected with vitamin K and wrapped before it is finally allowed to be held by its mother. It can take as long as four hours before mother and baby are reunited. The tiny thing is often groggy from the painkillers given to the mother during labour, or stressed from unnaturally intense contractions caused by Pitocin. Although some hospitals are allowing mothers to stay with their babies, it is still unusual for babies to be laid skin to skin with their mothers. And almost none will allow mother and baby to forego the weighing and other ‘checks’ that happen at birth.

Breastfeeding – if it happens at all – is considered non essential. Mothers are still encouraged to send their tiny new babies to the nursery where they may or may not be given formula or glucose water by the nurses, thereby potentially destroying the breastfeeding relationship. If the baby is allowed to room in with the mother, co sleeping is usually frowned upon and plastic bassinets are placed at the mothers bedsides. Mothers are often told that they need to train their new babies, that they can be put on a schedule and fed four hourly from birth. Mothers who ignore this advice and feed on demand are often told they are ‘spoiling their new babies. Babies are given pacifiers, dummy breasts that they are encouraged to suck on between feedings to ‘satiate their suckling urge’, further undermining breastfeeding by potentially causing nipple confusion.

Human babies are also artificially immunised and given routine blood checks, these can be painful and traumatic and are arguably totally unnecessary. In some parts of the world mothers of boys are asked if they want to have their newborn’s perfectly healthy foreskins removed – this is usually done without sufficient anaesthetic or even with no anaesthetic at all as doctors are often told in medical school that newborns don’t feel pain.

When the parents finally go home the baby is usually placed in a separate room from its parents, in a crib or cot. Some parents will force their babies from birth to feed according to a schedule and ignore the cries between scheduled feedings. Even the parents who don’t grit their teeth and let their little one cry will usually feed the baby and then leave it to sleep alone, without the comforting smell and voice of its mother nearby.

What would a monkey say if it could talk? Imagine a chimp mother who had the ability to comment on human parenting. Would she applaud the fact that we have managed to train our babies to eat only when we are willing to allow them to, and to sleep far enough away that we aren’t bothered by their night time noises? Would she marvel at the technology that has allowed us to forego natural childbirth? Would she congratulate us on inventing a substitute for breast milk so that we can leave our babies with other humans and go back to work?  Somehow I think not. I think she would tell us that as a species, we aren’t very good at mothering.


  1. Great 1st post! I am now an official follower. I can't wait for more posts.

  2. I'm not sure why we seem to think that ignoring what's natural is a good idea. I have always felt a draw to nature and feel that deviating from that plan is bad, and potentially dangerous. Now that I'm getting into researching it, WOW, low and behold, SCIENCE actually shows us that it produces bad results. Let's get back to being jungle mommies.

  3. In larger primates, both placentophagy and lotus birth are witnessed... otherwise, great post and I even stuck it in next week's Surf
    Welcome to the blogosphere darling :)

  4. I just love this post!
    I often use the Bonobos as an example as they are our closest relatives and I use them as an example on many more things in life, not just parenting, but f.i. also nutrition.
    It has been a great way for us all in the family. Pity I cannot create a tribe around me yet, still working on that.

  5. I love this post babies are meant to be held and cuddled :)

  6. Photo of Mother on delivery table -
    Courtesy of Patti Ramos Photography
    ©2009 Patti Ramos

  7. Agree with almost everything... except vaccinations. We *know* for a scientific fact that vaccines help protect the most vulnerable among us, including babies, the elderly, cancer patients, etc., from deadly diseases that have almost died out due to vaccination combined with improved hygiene. I think the mother ape, could she discuss parenting with us, would be impressed that species immunity could be attained with such ease.

    I would add that ultrasound is another potentially dangerous routine procedure we should avoid unless medically essential. And that diapers are an odd western invention that many humans (and all monkeys) are able to do without. Search for "elimination control" or "infant potty training" for more info.

  8. I agree with much of this, but it makes me sad that it was said with so many absolutes, as if my (4 c-section-born) children were not cared for. It wasn't until my 3rd c-section that I learned I had any choices at all, about drugs, anesthetic, sedative, breastfeeding, etc. I just didn't know better. I know you're speaking out about societal norms, but please remember that even if we can't do the best, we do the best we can.

  9. Great post! It is truly bizarre that we are mammals, yet so many refuse to breastfeed, which is a primary characteristic of mammals! In this mixed up world though, I really shouldn't be surprised.

    I am an advocate for un-interfered with homebirth, delayed cord clamping, skin to skin contact with no separation of mom and baby, exclusive breastfeeding, feeding on demand, comforting baby and not leaving to cry alone, co-sleeping, genital integrity (NO circumcision), NO vaccines, etc, and yes, I like to practice elimination communication as well (letting baby use the potty).

    I think pregnant and laboring/birthing moms should be left alone. Our modern maternal care causes problems, not solves them. While occasionally useful, most tests and interferences are dangerous and best avoided. I feel very bad for the way so many babies are treated, but all I can do is try to do my best with my own children, and hopefully plant seeds and encourage others.

  10. Wow, Very one sided! First, let me say this... If I didnt get potocin, both me and my children would have died. Next, dont you know that people have rolled over and killed there babies? All my kids slept in beds next to me in fear that my husband would roll on our little ones. Next, if they did not do the blood tests, my middle son would be dead due to illness. I cant believe anyone would sit here and say lets be cavemen and go back to babies and mothers suffering awful deaths during childbirth?? on top of that, my newest baby didnt gain weight while on my milk. If I didnt have formula to give her, she would have died as well. I am so glad that here is formula so close to beast mild out there available to these tiny babies! It just kills me to see someone out here preaching about how bad all these things are that have saved both my children and myself! BTW.. never met anyone whom was traumatized from being blood tested at birth and even Jesus have his skin removed at 8 days old...

    -Loving mother of 4

  11. Wow, this is some blatant anti-feminist and anti-woman propaganda. I can't understand how encouraging women to feel guilty about their decisions in mothering is a costructive means of improving the way children are birthed and raised. I would suggest it is most important to foster a discourse surrounding child rearing that is primarily supportive and informative minus the harsh judgment which is apparent in this piece.

    Tiffany broached some of the (many) factual errors in the above piece and there are a number of others which also damage the credibility of any conclusions arrived at.

  12. well said. Trusting our bodies is something we have to regain as women.

  13. It's nice that monkeys have it easy. But the thing is, we're NOT monkeys. We evolved to think and walk upright, and big brains and walking upright is a very bad combination when it comes to giving birth. Some lucky women are still able to do it naturally (and I'm one of them). Others, I'm afraid, are not. And who knows, next time I might not be so lucky. So, while I'd love to agree with most of this in principle, I can see that in practice, what works for monkeys won't always work for us.

    Before the modern medical techniques that you discuss, it was commonplace to lose several of your children as babies, and then several more later on - that (as well as lack of contraception) was why people had such large families. Walk around any graveyard with graves from the last few centuries, count the baby graves and ask yourself whether you would really rather that your children were lying under them, than that they had been born by caesarean/vaccinated/given formula.

    Even I, having given birth naturally and determined to breastfeed, with the support of a score of midwives and breastfeeding network supporters, couldn't manage to feed my baby at first - by the end of the first week, she had lost 20% of her body weight. Without formula at that point, I wouldn't have had the chance to still be breastfeeding her now almost a year later, because she'd have died.

    I'm not sure where you are writing from; the mention of nurseries for newborns makes me guess at the US. As far as I know, here in the UK many of these issues are already addressed and most hospitals insist on skin-to-skin contact immediately after birth and allow new mothers an astonishing amount of choice concerning their birth experience.

  14. I think that you are on the right track with nurturing and caring for our babies needs. However, some of your statements are misleading and very inaccurate. In fact those poor little c-section babies are a lot less likely to have learning disabilities than babies born vaginally. The natural approach is not an option for all moms and babies. I think all moms should stop judging each other and just be happy that they have a healthy baby. See the articles below in regards to c-sections...

  15. Hi all, thanks for the feedback. This being the 1st post I wanted to write something that reflects how i would ideally like to mother. I dont always get it right, but this is MY mothering philosophy. You dont have to agree, I love discourse around these issues, and I learn from other mothers all the time.

    To those who had a c section, I HAD ONE TOO. My daughter was an 'emergency' section after attempted homebirth. I absolutely adore my baby but I absolutely abhorred her birth. You may have had a good experience and that's fine. But c sect is becoming the norm. I live in South Africa and our private hospital c sect rate is currently over 70%. Shocking stats. I am advocating to change this.

    I will be writing a post in the next week or so on natural birth, so will try to make my point without offending those who were railroaded into c sections. For those who chose them, I will try to tell you why I think c sections are destroying our maternity models. I did lol at being told I was anti feminist...

  16. Oh, Patti Ramos, thanks and i'm so sorry I didnt credit you properly, virgin blogger. I am going to try and edit the blog when I work out how to do it...
    Incredible pic, I was going to use one of my own birth photos but that one just said it all. Thanks for being so gracious!

  17. Great post and great juxtaposition. We as a society have taken these lifesaving inventions and turned them into lifeharming interventions. I wish more women had this information so they could make truly informed decisions about their bodies and their children's bodies.

  18. The intact penis is naturally clean and maintains a level of hygiene that is optimal when compared to a penis that has been altered by circumcision. In fact, a myriad of rigorously controlled studies performed by objective researchers among racially and socioeconomically homogeneous study groups in developed urban settings have shown that circumcision is often associated with either an increased risk of bacterial infections, viral infections, and major STD’s, or no significant difference.(60-71).

    For detail info read my research at for foreskin stem cell regeneration!
    Great and succinct article!!:,0

    Just watch a circumcision!!!! This should tell you all you need to know.

    The developmental trauma and psychological impact has been well-documented. This article will address this.

    Contact me at for advice, detailed research and the rest of my references.

    (1)Williams, N; L. Kapila (October 1993). "Complications of circumcision". British Journal of Surgery 80 (10): 1231-1236.
    (4) Bollinger, Dan; Boy's Health Advisory (2010-04-26). "Lost Boys: An Estimate of U.S. Circumcision-Related Infant Deaths". Thymos: Journal of Boyhood Studies 4 (1): 78–90
    (5) Gellis, SS. Circumcision. Am J Dis Child 1978;132:1168.
    (44)Taylor JR, Lockwood AP, Taylor AJ. The prepuce: specialized musocsa of the penis and its loss to circumcision. Br J Urol 1996 Feb;77(2): 291-5
    (51)Morris L. Sorrells, James L. Snyder. Fine-touch pressure thresholds in the adult penis . BJU 2006 Oct:22, pp. 864-869
    (57) Ahmed AA, Nordlind K, Schultzberd M, Liden S. Immunohisto chemical localization of IL-1 alpha-, IL-1 beta-, IL-6- and TNF-alpha-like immunoreactivities in human apocrine glands Arch
    (63) Van Howe R. Does Circumcision Influence Sexually Transmitted diseases?: a literature review. BJU Int 1999 Jan;83 Suppl 1:52-62.T