A couple different times I have managed to run across this article that claims that “African babies don’t cry”. The author (an African doctor and mother) explains how whenever an African baby cries the mother puts it to the breast. Without exception. Through the day, all night long, hiring nannies to get other tasks done or leaving things undone all together. For many reasons this sounds entirely impractical to me and feels like just another one of those guilt inducers- if I were able to constantly breastfeed my children then they would never have felt the need to cry. You know, maybe it would have worked if I had tried it (which would probably mean paying someone else to raise my other kids until this experiment was over, which might in fact cause them to cry), but that would assume the goal of my parenting is that my child never cries. That is not my goal.
You know who else doesn’t cry? Orphanage babies. My first child didn’t cry much at all. This was not a good thing. He spent his first ten months in an orphanage where he needed to be fed/changed/napped on a schedule. His needs didn’t necessarily matter. How else do you manage 20 infants with just a few caregivers? They did what needed to be done to meet the needs of their children and they clearly loved those babies, but my child learned crying didn’t change his situation so he quit crying. When he started really crying after his placement with us it was for two things: food (he was 10 pounds at 10 months-old) and his mama. Those cries were some of the most beautiful sounds I’d ever heard. In my experience, crying is communication. It may mean hunger, sleepiness, a desire for mama, who knows sometimes! So I don’t strive to make sure my child never cries. I’m not judging my success as a parent by if my child is crying or not. (This is an incredibly beautiful post by Russell Moore on the topic of silent orphanage babies)
So I’m just confused by the assumption that crying is a negative. I thought we were past the age of “children should be seen and not heard” or “real men don’t cry.” Crying is the only method of communication available to a tiny child. I can’t imagine a way to make a new mother doubt her instincts more or question her fitness as a parent more than implying that any crying is a negative. If crying is only ever expressing a need for the breast, how would a baby communicate being too cold, too hot, a dirty diaper, or a scratchy tag on their onesie? I don’t even want to contemplate how this message would come across to the parent of a child with colic or reflux where there are periods of time when the crying just can’t seem to be soothed.
This idea that breastfed on-demand babies don’t need to cry becomes part of my issue with the breastfeeding/bottle-feeding debate. I have no doubt breastfeeding is beneficial, even “best” in most circumstances. I have no doubt that a baby might not cry if every need was met at every moment, but I’m not raising my children with the main priority that they won’t cry. Maybe African babies don’t cry, but I’m interested in other stuff. The stuff we can’t know until those babies grow up. Do they love God? Do they serve others? Do they have peace in their hearts? Do they care well for their families? Do they offer forgiveness to those who need it? I’m sure like all of us, some of them do and some of them don’t. I find it silly to generalize about the parenting habits and crying patterns of an entire content of people, but if this African doctor is saying African babies don’t cry, let’s look at an example that’s very close to my heart. Maybe the babies in Liberia didn’t cry, but they did manage to grow up and start a pretty nasty civil war that touched just about everybody in the country. Liberia is surely not the only country in Africa where such sad things have happened and I’m guessing the manner in which they were offered nutrition doesn’t have as much to do with it as the role-modeling they received and the love they were given and the social structures in their country. Violence, crime and war existed long before the invention of formula.
Shockingly enough, it is possible to love and nurture a bottle-fed child or a child who is fed on some kind of schedule. We can’t all control if breastfeeding was an option for us, but we have thousands of other ways to influence our children’s lives for good. Linking positive behavioral outcomes to a nutritional decision we can’t control can feel very defeatist. Here’s my revolutionary thought-
Breastfeeding doesn’t address the heart.
It is a beautiful way to start a parenting relationship. It requires a lot of self-sacrifice and perseverance. It is an amazing gift to give to your child. A perfect food and a simple way to bond. BUT it isn’t a guarantee your child will avoid disease or injury or have a heart that chooses good things. It doesn’t need to be an identity- theirs or yours.