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Our Babies, Ourselves: How Biology and Culture Shape the Way We Parent

4.18  ·  Rating Details ·  1,493 Ratings  ·  199 Reviews
New parents are faced with innumerable decisions to make regarding the best way to care for their baby, and, naturally, they often turn for guidance to friends and family members who have already raised children. But as scientists are discovering, much of the trusted advice that has been passed down through generations needs to be carefully reexamined.

A thought-provoking c
Paperback, 320 pages
Published May 4th 1999 by Anchor (first published April 13th 1998)
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Jun 29, 2013 Meg added it
Shelves: parenting, health
I'm not sure how many stars to give this book, because I had very mixed reactions. The earlier parts of this book are full of interesting biological and anthropological descriptions of (1) evolutionary and biological information about babies, and (2) how parents in various cultures care for babies. Totally fascinating, well-described, and exuding open-mindedness and curiosity about the wonder of human biology and the rich variety of human behavior.

Then, suddenly, the book changes, and the second
Feb 26, 2009 Laura rated it it was amazing
This is the book I like to give every pregnant friend. When you have a child, you inevitably receive a lot of well-intentioned advice. Writing from a biological anthropologist's point of view, Small helps you pick apart which bits of wisdom are cultural (which is not to say that they should be discarded!) and which are more naturally aligned with babies' basic biological design.

This crucial knowledge, which most parents and even pediatricians do not possess, will help make some aspects of babie
Jun 24, 2012 Becky rated it liked it
This was a really thought-provoking read that overall I enjoyed quite a lot. But I feel like she frequently repeated herself; by the end I was pretty tired of hearing about the !Kung San, and wished I had skimmed rather than read the whole thing. Also, despite her overall commitment to a scientific approach, she did use fairly biased/loaded language in her treatment of Western practices. I often agreed with her, but it seemed a bit heavy handed.
Jan 19, 2009 Kelly rated it it was amazing
This was a fascinating read. The author relates the parenting practices of different cultures around the world and talks about how certain parenting styles are due to the biology of human babies. As a simple example, babies were designed to be breastfed, biologically speaking. But in Western cultures, we've decided to diverge from those biologically-based practices to gain more convenience and independence from the traditionally more intimate parent-infant relationship. I like how the author say ...more
Jan 08, 2011 Shannon rated it it was amazing
Written by an anthropologist, this is an intriguing account of how humans care for infants, from a cross-cultural and evolutionary perspective. It begins by providing a fascinating summary of infant care in several diverse cultures including three hunter-gatherer societies and the modern industrial societies of Japan and the U.S. The variety of practices described, not only of caring for the young, but also related to social structure, mating, pregnancy, and birth made for some interesting readi ...more
Oct 31, 2009 Jen rated it liked it
Well, nothing to make you feel insecure about your own parenting than reading about cultures where the kids get held for 3x the amount of US kids, and only cry for a few seconds at a time. Gives you something to think about, but I don't think I'll be very successful at this until I have a whole village to pass my kid along to, or at least a back strong enough to wear a sling for more than half an hour.

So far, long on introduction - as in, I read the intro and am now 60 or so pages in and still
Jun 09, 2011 Karawan rated it it was ok
Shelves: parenting
If I could rate this 2.5 stars I would....

What I liked: the examples of how a variety of world cultures approach major parenting choices such as breastfeeding, babywearing, and bedtime/sleep issues. Really fascinating to read, and a variety of different approaches can still lead to healthy, happy, well-adjusted children! I wish she'd focused more on this aspect and left the other stuff out.

What was interesting but I'm on the fence about it: the evolutionary biology stuff. It was interesting to r
Jun 18, 2010 Adrienne rated it it was amazing
I wish I had read this book before I had babies, but I'm definitely glad I'm reading it when they're still little. It is about the field of ethnopediatrics, the comparative study of parenting across cultures, with the ultimate goal of determining where mismatches between biology and culture exist so that we can better meet our babies' needs.

A major tenet of Small's argument is that the biology of babies has evolved at a pace much slower than our culture's technology and lifestyle. As a result,
Dec 02, 2012 Christine rated it liked it
There is so much that I agree with in this book. I loved reading about the anthropological support for the idea that attachment parenting is what is best for babies, and I really enjoyed reading about how babies are cared for in some non-Western cultures today (though I would have enjoyed reading about more of them and also about Western countries other than the U.S.)

That being said, I did find some significant flaws with this book. For one thing, Meredith Small asserts at times that all parenti
Jul 08, 2008 Regina rated it really liked it
Recommended to Regina by: parents
This book is better than the usual pop psychology book on parenting. It is essentially a review of the relatively new field of ethnopediatrics by an anthropologist. It tackles the nature/nurture question head on and makes some truly subtle points in places. At times the author lapses into vague generalizations about our Pleistocene past determining our current biological drives. And rather suprisingly, given that the author is a female anthropologist, some of the discussions about co-sleeping et ...more
Mar 24, 2009 Carlie rated it really liked it
This book was really good but, a bit hard to get into. Its also a little academic. That said, I think it really challenged me, was full of very stimulating meaty research and kind of changed my perspective as a parent. I've always leaned towards attachment parenting and felt a little disjointed from much of common American parenting philosophy, but this book pushed me even further into that camp. I felt like reading the careful research on cultures around the world and how they raise children re ...more
Allison Rockwell
Mar 11, 2013 Allison Rockwell rated it it was amazing
An ethnopediatric argument for reevaluating the ways we in the West have been taught to care for babies, combining evidence from anthropology, evolutionary biology, and pediatrics. The author makes a strong argument for immediate contact with the infant after birth, co-sleeping, continuous feeding (or as close as possible to it), and responding quickly to cries, and uses case studies from !Kung San people in Africa, Japanese parents, and American parents to demonstrate how extremely different pa ...more
Nov 13, 2010 Katie rated it really liked it
Shelves: parenting
"Culture should not be a dictator but a facilitator," according to the author of this really interesting book. Small looks at many different cultures and the lessons they bring to raising babies, along with why each culture may have different approaches (e.g. longer term societal goals not just short-term goals for not crying). She encourages parents to question their own cultures, to seek what is best for the child and to examine what our parental goals may be. While I may not adopt all of her ...more
Feb 23, 2016 Ivana rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: childrens, parenting
Velmi zaujimave pisanie o etnopediatrii a jej roznych pohladoch na deti - nosenie, dojcenie, spanie, vyvin cloveka a vyvin dietata, preco sa rodime v podstate nedovyvinuti a pod. Porovnavanie roznych kultur, ako to v nich chodi, popis roznych studii. Samozrejme z celej knizky vyznieva priklon k prirodnejsej vychove, ale nezaznievaju tam ziadne nasilne sudy a odmietanie spravanie tej ktorej kultury - pre mna velmi dobre zmierlivo pisana kniha, ktora ma hlavu a patu.
May 23, 2016 Marissa rated it really liked it
I read this book when my son was around 5 months old - so that was over a year and a half ago. In the sea of parenting books that are constantly shoved in our faces as new mothers, this one was like a life preserver for me! Learning a little about how people of all different cultures all over the world raise their children helped me to let go of some of the ideas our society has put into my head over the years about how I was "supposed to" parent my son. As a first time and kind of high strung m ...more
David Schwan
Oct 19, 2013 David Schwan rated it really liked it
This book broadly covers the ideas of ethnopediatrics, the study of how child rearing practices differ around the world. There were two areas where it is obvious the Americans (and some related groups) fundamentally differ from the rest of the world in child rearing practices, feeding (including breast feeding) and sleep practices. The American notions on child sleep and eating practices seem to stem from puritanical beliefs and are not grounded in biology. American doctors recommend child reari ...more
Jan 08, 2013 Mary rated it liked it
Shelves: read-2013
I appreciated the break from the normal pregnancy books with this one... But I was hoping for something a little more enlightening. But I felt like the most interesting points about other cultures were discussed in the preface. It did give me some things to think about related to breastfeeding and co-sleeping. I can't believe America is the only culture where co-sleeping doesn't really happen. And the idea that babies need co-sleeping so they can learn to breathe since they aren't completely dev ...more
Mar 20, 2013 Patricia rated it it was amazing
Excellent! A review of the way humans around the world parent, including hunter/gatherer tribes and Western, industrialized countries. It is shocking how backwards many American traditions are. Why are we more concerned about facilitating a child's independence over their emotional security and well-being? That is the path that we are on when we stop breastfeeding a few months after birth, leave infants to sleep alone in separate rooms, and spend just twenty percent of the time in physical conta ...more
Dec 19, 2012 Kelli rated it it was ok
I felt like this book tried to be both academic and parent-friendly and missed the mark on both. Much of it was repetitive with minimal breakthrough concepts. It focused a great deal on parenting in developing nations - but was done in a manner that really was offensive to Western culture. With the breadth of material on this subject I wouldn't recommend reading this book.
Jul 15, 2014 AJ rated it liked it
Shelves: social, parenting
Read this aloud to Jun.

I liked the fact that the author looked at various parenting practices around the world, and how and why people parent the way they do - from sleeping to interacting with babies, etc. Though it did seem it was a big long book to say that the way Americans tend to parent, while valid culturally, is probably not healthy and is very far removed from the ancestral environment in which babies and parents evolved in certain ways to interact with one another. It definitely pooh-p
Jan 26, 2014 Kaph rated it it was amazing
So I’m having my first baby in 10 weeks time (assuming punctuality on the part of my unborn daughter). As the oldest of 5 with an extensive track record of babysitting my own and other similarly Catholic (i.e. large) families I’d like to think I’ve got an advantage when it comes down to some of the nuts and bolts of basic baby maintenance. I can bottle feed, burp, bathe, and change a mean diaper. I have experienced the existential horror that is a baby that won’t stop crying.

I have never actuall
Jun 16, 2014 Robin rated it it was ok
I really struggled with a rating for this book. Parts of it are very interesting. All of it references research, though it's not always clear to me that the research is being presented fairly/neutrally.

The book itself is absolutely ideological. In some sections, she does a very good job of pointing out how we shouldn't judge other cultures for some parenting choices, but she's very judgmental of what she sees as common Western parenting choices (some of which are dated and I think pretty uncomm
Jan 01, 2016 Borum rated it really liked it

미국에 사는 친구에게 출산선물을 보내려고 했을 때 안그래도 쇼핑싫어하는 나는 고민에 빠졌다.

안그래도 미국에서 애엄마들이 다들 너나나나 직구하고 구매대행하고 비싼 수입관세 신경안쓰고 사들이는 판에

내가 미국에 뭘 보내리..하다가 요즘 attachment parenting이 유행한다고 해서 얼씨구나 하고 포대기를 보냈다.

근데 과연 내가 attachment parenting에 대해 얼마나 알고 있을까

물론 나는 전형적인 동양 엄마처럼 (물론 요즘은 좀 서양 육아방식을 많이 따라하려는 추세도 있지만)

co-sleeping에 포대기 처네 아기띠 등으로 수시로 업고 다녔다..

하지만 정말 그게 좋은지 아님 그냥 동양적인 것을 따라하려는 유행인지 확신이 안 섰다.

이 두 책을 보고 그 의심은 다소 잠재웠지만 여전히 다른 문제들로 찜찜한 기분이 남아있다.

Continuum concept는 남미의 인디언들과 지내며 그들의 육아 및 전체적 삶의 방식이

우리 인류가 생긴 환경과 이에 따라 빚어진 본능과 얼마나 co
Aug 31, 2015 Ngaire rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating look at the field of ethnopediatrics (somehow, I don't think that term has caught on) which is the study of child rearing in different cultures. This took a while to get going, because the first couple of chapters are devoted to a rather dry look at evolution and how it affects fetal development, childbirth, and infant raising. Once Small delves into specific cultural practices surrounding childbirth and baby care, I was hooked. She examines traditional hunter gatherer cultures such ...more
Carey Robin
Jan 08, 2015 Carey Robin rated it it was amazing
I loved this book. It validated a lot of what I felt as a brand new mother. But then I am not a fan of Western practices. The sad thing is that no matter how much you agree with tribal practices, which are more biologically aligned, it is impossible to do them all. A few friends does not equal a tribe. And most American women return to work far too soon. Our culture needs to change, maternity leave needs to change, and access to childcare needs to change. Still glad I read this book. It just mad ...more
Feb 28, 2014 Barrie rated it really liked it
Whenever I say NO MORE BABY BOOKS someone tells me how I just have to read THIS ONE. Then I cave and regret it. But this was different--I have no idea how I happened upon it, like a fairy bringing over this magic bean or something, this is a gem. It's all about the anthropology of how different cultures parent their babies and it was SO DANG INTERESTING. Basically, everyone thinks us Americans are nuts. Go figure. But yeah, we do things different. We don't sleep with our babies. We get worried w ...more
Andrea Paterson
Jan 24, 2012 Andrea Paterson rated it really liked it
An excellent look at how babies and their caregivers have evolved through time and across cultures. This book was highly comforting in that it proves there is no "right" way to parent your child, but it is also deeply informative, describing clearly the biological imperatives that make babies the way they are and outlining the parenting practises that best support those biological needs. While many methods of care can be appropriate there are some that are a better biological match than others. ...more
Katherine Parker
Sep 19, 2008 Katherine Parker rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: people with babies/small children
Recommended to Katherine Parker by: Tilden
Shelves: breeder-books
This was a quick read. It provides some interesting insights about how we parent, how unconscious a lot of our parenting strategies are, and how we unconsciously transmit our culture's values through our interactions with children. In particular, I had never thought about whether or not other cultures talk to their children a lot and value language acquisition as much as Americans value it. She also laid bare for me the understanding that, as many aspects of American culture as I reject (materia ...more
Jan 14, 2008 Jenn rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: people interested in attachment parenting
I read this book long ago for a class on child development. It was incredible, and I remember loaning it to my sister-in-law when she was pregnant. It was the first book I picked up to read when I got pregnant, and I tried to get my husband to read it also.

What I'm obviously trying to say here is that I think this book is great for parents to read.

It's not your "typical" parenting book - there are no top ten lists, no cutesy anecdotes. What it is is this - scientific & well-studied reasons
May 03, 2009 Amy rated it really liked it
This book explores how human biology and culture influence and define
the way we choose to parent. The author surmises that human babies
are biologically evolved to send signals (crying, smiling, rooting)
based upon hundreds of years of evolution within a hunting &
gathering culture. She illustrates that the way some cultures parent
today sometimes clashes with how babies have evolved thus far.

Various cultures' parenting styles (American, Kung! San of Africa,
and Japanese among them) are used to d
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Meredith F. Small is a science journalist, anthropologist, and professor at Cornell University. Although well known from her award winning magazine writing, she is also the author os several trade books that take a anthropological look at parenting, sexuality, and mental illness. Her book Our Babies, Ourselves as been called a "cult classic" for parents, health professionals, and anyone interested ...more
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“I have four pelvises on my desk. One is from a human woman who died not long ago.” 0 likes
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