Imagine what parenting must have been like during the dawn of civilization.

Women gave birth in their caves, surrounded by family members instead of nurses and doctors.

Their babies drank breast milk. There was no such thing as formula milk then. Nor were there milk bottles or pacifiers.

Mothers put their babies to sleep beside them. They didn’t have prettily decorated nurseries.

During the day, mothers strapped their babies to their chest likely with a piece of pelt and held them close as they went about milking the goats or cooking dinner.

They cared for their babies without parenting manuals to tell them what to do. They followed their instincts, tried their best to read their baby’s cues and respond to them accordingly.

Since Day 1, human beings have been programmed to care for their babies in this manner. That is until some time 100 years ago.

Something strange happened then, especially in the West.

Children who were breastfed for more than two years were deemed needy. Mothers who brought their babes into the family bed were chastised for spoiling them. Babies were expected to spend hours in baby cots and strollers instead of in their mother’s arms.

I believe that was a tragic time for human babies, when parents abandoned their instincts and succumbed instead to unreasonable societal expectations.

Until today, many parents try to program their babies to function in a certain way: drink milk once every four hours, sleep alone in a baby cot and self-soothe.

It is done because such a regimen is convenient for the parents. But each baby has its own rhythm and cycle.

Diann Bustamante, director of Parentlink, which conducts natural childbirth classes and provides other related services, observed: ‘Some parents are devastated when their babies do not fit into a prescribed cycle. They think there is something wrong with the baby.’

But for some years now, parents are discovering the wisdom of stone-age parenting.

Some call this trend natural parenting while others call it attachment parenting. But it is usually one and the same.

It basically recognizes that human beings are meant to rear their young in pretty much the same way as child-carrying animals such as kangaroos, koalas and most monkey species.

The young of these animals stay close to their mothers because they need continuous feeding and attention.

They cry to remind their mothers when they need to be fed, to be carried or to be cuddled to sleep. Even when they are bigger, they stay close to their mothers for some time before becoming truly independent.

I first learned about natural parenting when I was pregnant, and to me, it sounded just like the right thing to do.

When my baby was born, everything just fell into place. She was a high-needs baby and wanted to nurse all the time. So I kept her close to me in a sling during the day. At night, she slept beside me on my bed. When she cried, I held her close.

Some people find it strange that I sleep with my baby and carry her all the time. They say I am spoiling my baby.

But after you’ve had a baby inside you for nine months, it doesn’t seem right to put her anywhere else but in your arms.

Of course, there is a lot more to natural parenting than breastfeeding, co-sleeping and babywearing.

Some parents, recognizing that disposable nappies contain chemicals, choose the gentler option of cloth nappies for their children.

Others prefer their babies to go nappy-less. Instead, they read their babies’ cues and take them to the potty instead.

Some parents prefer to eat organic food only and spend as much time in the great outdoors as possible. Then there are those who go on to homeschool their children because they feel it is a natural progression.

But natural parenting is not a prescribed package, explained Rita Kusumadi, the owner of local cloth nappy boutique Bumwear.

‘While parents who use cloth nappies tend to be the ones who also practice extended breastfeeding and babywearing, you don’t have to do everything. You can pick and choose to suit your lifestyle and needs,’ she said.

Two weeks ago, I mentioned in a column here that I was teaching my six-month-old how to signal when she needs the potty. For the next week or so after it was published, I was inundated by e-mail messages from excited mothers who asked me about this method of toilet training.

I explained that this practice, called Elimination Communication, is not about toilet training the baby. It is about training us, the adults, to read the baby’s signals to use the potty and responding to them.

To me, that is how parenting should be, and not just when my baby needs the potty. It’s about meeting your baby’s needs and responding to them in the best way possible.

A baby, who knows that she is loved and her needs are met and responded to, will naturally be an easier child to handle.

Here in Singapore, I must admit that practicing natural parenting has its challenges.

I find there to be a lot of societal pressure to have the baby kept away from its parents, especially by the older generation.

When I carry my child often, I am told I am spoiling her. When I breastfeed her, I am told to wean her off soon or if not she will demand to be breastfed until age 12. When I co-sleep, I am told my baby will grow up needy and dependent. When I teach my baby sign language, I am told I will impede her speech development.

After a while, I got tired of explaining why I do things the way I do. Plus, I realized that explaining the concept of natural parenting often made me sound like a wannabe hippie.

So my answer to pragmatic Singaporeans is: I breastfeed because formula milk is expensive. I put my baby to sleep beside me because I am too lazy to walk out of bed at night to feed her. I put her on the potty from such a young age because my baby develops rashes when she wears disposable nappies. And I teach her sign language because it’s fun.

I wish I could tell them I simply parent by my instincts, the way animals care for their young and the way humans cared for their young when there were no parenting manuals, strollers or milk bottles.

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Source: Jakarta Globe –