The Human Being is a Parent-Clinger – Mother Nature knows best and shows what is naturally good for each individual. In our western culture, human beings have for a long time been incorrectly classified as altricial, hence the corresponding care given to babies who were set aside in ‘nests’ following the example of cats and mice. However, the young human is neither altricial nor nidifugous (those whose young are as mobile from birth as the adults and follow their mothers or herd wherever they go, eg. buffalo, horses, etc.). From birth one can observe primitive reflexes proving that the human infant is designed to be carried. These reflexes have significant functional and adaptive values: their absence is a marker of immaturity, whilst their development and then disappearance are markers of good maturation. Amongst the principle reflexes, we should note the startle (or Moro) reflex, the rooting reflex (seeking and turning towards the breast), followed by sucking and swallowing reflexes, and the Palmar grasp reflex (a closing of the fingers and gripping motion when the palm is stroked).(1) The limbs are naturally curled at birth, progressively extending towards 3-5 months. The baby’s back, rounded at birth, will progressively straighten during its first year. For this reason it can be beneficial to place the child in positions naturally adopted by infants, such as legs raised and apart.
The human being is therefore a “parent-clinger”, a term suggested in 1970 by the German biologist Bernhard Hassenstein to describe a type of young animal that is neither altricial nor nidifugous. Humans are passive parent-clingers, this is in contrast to our ape cousins who are active parent-clingers, capable of gripping onto their parents. Under-developed of sensory organs and unstable thermal regulation are typical characteristics of the parent-clinger category to which the young human belongs.
Body Contact Encouraged by the World Health Organisation – Here is a list of extracts of measures published by the WHO in 1997 that aim to ensure the newborn’s thermal protection: “The room where the birth occurs must be warm (at least 25°C/77°F) and free from drafts. At birth, the newborn should be immediately dried and covered, before the cord is cut. While it is being dried, it should be on a warm surface such as the mother’s chest or abdomen (skin-to-skin contact). Skin-to-skin contact with the mother is the best way of keeping the baby warm. [...] Breast-feeding should start within one hour of delivery. This will provide the baby with calories to produce body heat. In the days following birth, hypothermia can be prevented by keeping the baby and mother together (rooming-in), by breast-feeding as long and as often as the baby wants, and by dressing the baby appropriately for the environmental temperature."(2) In March 2004, UNICEF and the WHO stated that breastfeeding was a determinant factor in infant survival. “There is no better way than breastfeeding to make sure that a child gets the best start in life,” said UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy. “Breastfeeding alone provides the ideal nourishment for infants for the first six months of life as it provides all the nutrients, antibodies, hormones, immune factors and antioxidants an infant needs to thrive. It protects babies from diarrhoea and acute respiratory infections and stimulates their immune systems. Virtually all mothers can breastfeed provided they have accurate information, and support within their families and communities and from the health care system,” said LEE Jong-wook, Director-General of the WHO. “Governments should move swiftly and effectively to implement this important strategy.”(3)
Whilst baby carrying has continued to be used in a traditional manner in numerous cultures all over the world, it only reemerged in Western societies since the 1980s. In 1978 at the Instituto Matemo lnfantil in Bogotá, Columbia, medical care of premature infants faced serious problems due to a lack of technical resources, notably a shortage of incubators, which meant that many premature babies had to be placed in the same incubator. This resulted in the emergence of nosocomial infections. At this point a paediatrician was inspired by the example of kangaroos, where the mother herself plays an incubator role, carrying her immature newborn for many months in her pouch until it reaches autonomy. In the same way, Columbian mothers were invited to carry their premature babies skin-to-skin 24 hours a day, warming them with their own body heat and letting them feed on demand until they had gained sufficient weight. Réjean Tessier and Line Nadeau of the School of Psychology, along with six Columbian researchers, illustrate in an article which appeared in the scientific review Infant Behavior & Development the measurable beneficial effects on physical and intellectual development of the infant thanks to the Kangaroo method: a spectacular drop in infant mortality, noticeable lowering of lasting after-effects and sometimes the disappearance of lesions that were thought to be irreversible.
The WHO confirms these findings: “Kangaroo mother care (KMC) is an effective way to care for a small baby weighing between 1,000 and 2,000 grams who has no major illness. KMC enables warmth, breast-feeding, protection from infection, stimulation, and love. The baby is undressed except for cap, nappy, and socks and is placed upright between the mother’s breasts, with head turned to one side. The baby is then tied to the mother’s chest with a cloth and covered with the mother’s clothes. If the mother is not available, the father or any adult can provide skin-to-skin care. [...] Research has shown that for preterm babies, KMC is at least as effective as incubator care. Small babies receiving KMC experience a shorter average stay in hospital compared to conventional care, have fewer infections, and gain weight more quickly, saving the hospital money and time and saving the family additional suffering.”(4)
(1) Duverger P., Malka J. "Développement psychomoteur du nourrisson et de l’enfant et ses troubles, Module 3" Maturation et vulnérabilité - Objectif 32. 1 Nov. 2008 .
(2) World Health Organization. "Thermal protection of the newborn: a practical guide." Maternal and Newborn Health / Safe Motherhood Unit Division of Reproductive Health (Technical Support). 1997. Geneva. 1 Nov. 2008 .
(3) Saadeh, R., Mr Porter, D., Trowbridge, E., and Donovan, K. "Global Strategy: Breastfeeding critical for child survival" Joint press release WHO/UNICEF. 23 March 2004. Media Centre. 1 Nov. 2008 .
(4) The Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health. "Opportunities for Africa’s Newborns." 2006. WHO on behalf of The Partnership for Maternal Newborn and Child Health. 1 Nov. 2008 .
Bibliography at the end of the article.