Friday, December 30, 2011


Observing babies can tell a lot about our own evolution, says Desmond Morris in his fascinating book, Babywatching. How babies behave also shed light on how we behave and communicate as adults. Morris does an excellent job of digging out behavioral research studies, roots of our common traditions, and links many of our instinctual acts to our former avtars-primates!

The book attempts to answer specific questions from how do babies enter the world, why do they cry at birth, what makes them smile, how well can a mother recognise her own baby, do men and women react to babies in the same way etc etc? I share some of most interesting answers. Some answers seem too incredible to directly attribute the effect to that cause, but he does make a rational argument!

Babies cry at birth because we have significantly altered the way they have historically entered the world. From being born at home surrounded by family, in a vertical position and cuddled immediately by the mother, babies now are delivered in a brightly lit, noisely hospital surrounded by strangers, in a horizontal position and taken away to be cleaned and checked. His point is that a lot can be done in the hospital itself to make the birth a comforting and loving process, like making baby rest on mother's stomach for a while, bonding with the father, reducing the clitter clatter noises and slowing down as far as possible the post birth procedures.

How strong are new born babies? Well, in first few weeks of birth, they can clasp your finger and carry their whole body weight this way. Monkey babies had to possess this skill if they did not want to fall off their mother's fur while she leapt and swung from tree to tree. Similar to this a baby reacts to a loss of balance by its legs and arms clasping empty air, again a instinct in monkeys when they would do so to catch a branch to stop their fall.

He quotes many studies for some of these questions. An interesting one was where after 48 hours from birth, 12 out of 23 mothers were able to identify their own baby's cries out of a selection of no fewer than 31 different babies! Or studies where there is no artifical separation between mother and her baby following delivery, after only 45 hours, the newborn can tell its own mother purely by her body fragrance!

Another study showed how men and women react differently to babies by observing if their pupils enlarged or shrunk on looking at babies (a positive emotional response vs a negative one respectively). Females whether or not they had own children, all reacted positively with enlarged pupils. Only those males, on the other hand, who had children of their own, reacted positively. Males without children had a strong negative response! This is not to say that they would make bad parents, but basically that women have an instinctive positive reaction for babies and for men that comes from external experience.

Why do women usually cradle babies in their left hand? Morris suggests that this is because the heart beats on left side, thuse comforting the baby with a familiar sound she heard when she was in the womb. Why do babies love rocking? This could also be linked to the heart. Studies found that ideal rocking sequence was 60-70 in a minute, resembling most the 72 beats per min of our heart!

When the first pram or peramburator was invented by Dr. Charles Burton in 1848 in New York, it was quite a nuisance on the road and people did not take it too well, wait...until Queen Victoria ordered one conferring on it a "status" symbol! The birthday cake tradition comes from the ancient ritual of worshipping the moon with candled (hence the cake is round, white with candles!). The blue and pink stereotypes for babies come also from ancient tradition where blue was chosen as the colour of protection, heaven, the sky for the "more" important gender and the pink colour was more of a derivative taken from the colour of the baby's skin just for differentiation!

I loved this one, "a spoilt schoolchild may well be one who has been disciplined too little but a spoilt baby is one who has been disciplined too much.":) Babies are not schemers who deliberately want to make their parents' lives difficult, they have needs and have limited ways of expressing them and all they need initially is as much love and cuddling and interaction with parents to transform them into secure and loving individuals in future:)