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This Is Why African Babies Do Not Cry – An African Perspective

By Claire Niala

I was born and raised in Kenya and Côte d’Ivoire. Then, at the age of fifteen, I lived in the United Kingdom. However, I always knew that I wanted to raise my children (when I have them) at home in Kenya. And yes, I assumed I was going to have some. I am a modern African woman, with 2 university degrees and the fourth of my generation working – but when it comes to children, I become a typical African woman. The hypothesis remains that you are not whole without them; Children are a blessing and it would be crazy to do without it. In fact the question does not even arise.

I got pregnant in the UK. The need to bring my child into the country was so strong that I sold my office, started a new business and moved 5 months after discovering my pregnancy. I did what most women do in the UK, I devoured books: “our babies, Ourselves”: “love our children unconditionally,” all that was written by Sears, etc … (Later my grandmother pointed out to me that babies do not read books – and that all I had to do was “read” my baby). Everything I read said African babies were crying less than European babies. What stirred my curiosity …

When I got home, I watched. I looked for moms and their babies and they were everywhere (that said, not the youngest – African children under 6 weeks stayed mainly at home). The first thing I noticed is that despite their ubiquity, it is actually quite difficult to really “see” a Kenyan baby. They are often incredibly well wrapped before being worn by or on their mother (sometimes their father).
Even the older babies are already wrapped by the scarf on the back, protected from the elements by an extra blanket. You’d be lucky to spot a member, not to mention an eye or a nose. It’s like a replica of the mother’s womb created by wrapping in tissue. Babies are literally like a cocoon, Isolated from the tensions of the outside world into which they will penetrate.

My second observation is rather cultural. In the United Kingdom, we understand that babies cry – in Kenya, it’s almost the opposite. The norm is that babies do not cry. If they cry, it’s because something awful happens that needs to be remedied immediately. My English sister-in-law summed it up very well, she said that “people here do not like to hear babies crying, though?”.

Everything made sense when I gave birth and my grandmother came to visit me from the village. As it happens, my baby often cried, and as I was exasperated and tired, I forgot all my readings and joined him in tears. However, it was simple for my grandmother – nyonyo (breast-feeding!). It was his answer to every little chuckling.

At times, she cried because she had to change the diapers or because I put her on the floor, or she had to do her rot, but most of the time she just wanted to be in the breast – it mattered little to her Eat or for a moment of comfort. I wore it most of the time and practiced the co-dodo, so it was a natural sequel to what we were already doing.

So I suddenly learned the simple secret of happy silences African babies. It was only a symbiosis between needs and meeting those needs that required total suspension of ideas like “what should happen ? “And accept the present moment. The result was that my baby was very fond of – much more than I had found in my readings and at least 5 times more than the strictest feeding plannings I had ever heard of.

When she had 4 months, when many urban mothers began to introduce solids according to the old recommendations, my daughter was returning to newborn needs and was breastfeeding every hour. She needed to drink every hour and it was a real shock. During the previous 4 months, the time between feeds had gently increased. I had even started treating my patients without breaking my breasts or my daughter’s nanny interrupting me to tell me that my daughter had to suckle.

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Most mothers in my mother / child group had begun to introduce rice / infant cereals (to spare feedings) and all the professionals involved in the lives of our children – even pediatricians The doulas, said it was OK. Mothers also had the right to rest, we did a tremendous job to get 4 months of exclusive breastfeeding, and they said our babies would be fine. But this did not sound right and although I tried (reluctantly) to mix a little papaya (the traditional weaning meal in Kenya) with my milk, pulled before, offer it to my daughter – she Has not eaten.

So I called my grandmother. She laughed and asked if I had started reading books again. She explained to me that breastfeeding was anything but linear. “She will tell you when she’s ready for solid food – and her body too.” “What should I do next?” I was anxious to know.“You do what you did before, nyonyo regularly.” And so my life slowed down again until a status quo again. While many of my sisters marveled at the lengthening of the nights now that they had introduced the infant cereals, and even ventured into other kinds of solid food, I woke up every hour or two hours With my daughter and told my patients that the return to work was not working as well as I had anticipated.

It quickly became apparent that I had become in spite of myself an informal adviser for other urban moms. My phone number went around and several times while I was nursing my baby, I was told “Yes, continue to breastfeed”. “Yes, even if you have just done it” “Yes, do not even hope to take off your pajamas today” “Yes you must always drink well and eat well” “No, if you can afford it, May not be the best time to go back to work. “ “It will become easier”. I just had to cling to this last sentence since it was not even easier for me.

About a week before my daughter was 5 months old, we returned to the UK for a wedding and for our daughter to meet family and friends.Since I had very few other requests, I continued to follow her feeding schedule easily. Despite the disconcerted looks of some strangers when I was feeding my daughter in public places (most designated nursing places were in the toilet, where I refused to go), we continued.

At the wedding, the people who shared our table remarked, “She is so easy to live – although she eats a lot”. I was silent, then another lady commented, “It seems to me to have read somewhere that African babies do not cry much.” I could not help laughing.

The benevolent wisdom of my grandmother:
– Offer the breast as soon as your baby is upset – even if you have just fed it.
– Practice co-dodo. Many times if you are breastfeeding while your baby is not fully awake, he or she can go back to sleep more easily and you too
– Always take a bottle of hot water to bed with you at night to stay hydrated and allow milk to sink
– Make breastfeeding your priority (especially during peak growth periods) and let your loved ones around you handle everything else.There are very few things that can not wait
– Read your baby, and not books. Breastfeeding is not a linear phenomenon, there are ups and downs (and circles too). You are the expert of your baby’s needs.

J. Claire K. Niala’s mama, osteopath and writer in Nairobi, Kenya Original article

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Written by How Africa

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