PRIMAL PARENTING: GIVING BABIES
THE BEST START IN LIFE
by Pat Törngren
today would associate the way they were treated as babies, with
problems they may be experiencing in their adult lives. Yet people
undergoing Primal Therapy and the other Deep Feeling Regressive
Therapies on the other hand, often become only too aware of them. For a
long time I have been battling in therapy with the pain of my
overwhelming loneliness as a baby. I was not fed often enough and not
picked up nearly enough to meet my needs. I was also made to sleep
alone at night from birth on.
Recently my therapist gave me a book to read, because it confirmed so
clearly what I was reliving in my sessions with him. I’d like to share
it here. It is an archaeologically-based book called The Prehistory of Sex, and is written by Timothy Taylor and published by Bantam Books, 1997. The relevant section is on pages 189 – 191.
Taylor states that in hunter-gatherer societies, children continue to
breastfeed until the age of five or six. They get great comfort from
the unconditional love that breastfeeding provides. From this they
learn trust, reliance, and sharing. The author points out, that far
from becoming dependent individuals, they display a remarkable
autonomy, because they have a strong, inner sense of their own value.
He makes the point that in warrior societies, the opposite is
often the case. Colostrum is frequently withheld from the baby. Early
weaning usually follows this. As a result, the baby is left with
unresolved pain, anger, helplessness and rage, which it cannot
understand, and cannot express.
Later in life, this is likely emerge in the form of either
depression, or aggressive and violent tendencies, which may be
projected onto and acted-out against another person, or a group of
people. Thus, such a society becomes a war-like one. (Swiss
Psychoanalyst Alice Miller discusses a similar phenomenon in her book
“For Your Own Good: The Roots of Violence in Childrearing”).
There is a practice currently being taught by doctors and
child-care professionals, called ‘controlled crying’. Parents are urged
to use it to make their children more independent. Timothy Taylor has
deeper insight into what it is actually doing to the baby. *
He says that for early weaning to be forced onto the child, the child must be made
to sleep alone, and its crying ignored. In the approach called
‘controlled crying’, the child is allowed to cry a little more each
night before its needs for food and comfort are responded to. As a
result, the child eventually stops crying at all. At this point the
uninformed may be delighted, believing the child has been trained into
In contrast, what Timothy Taylor suggests has happened, is that a basic
animal instinct has come into play – one observed in the young of most
mammals and birds. The baby instinctively feels, “If you signal your
distress and no one comes, you have been abandoned. You will die unless
you conserve energy. Crying expends energy. Therefore in order to
survive, you must stop crying, and shut down”. Before it stops crying,
however, the baby must adopt the knowledge that it has been abandoned.
The outcome of this is very serious. Taylor links it to Martin
Seligman’s theory of ‘learned helplessness ‘. He argues that if a child
cries and its cries go unheeded and its needs unmet, it begins to
detach from reality. Instinctively it feels, “No matter how hard I try,
nothing changes, and no relief comes. So why try anymore? My efforts
are in vain anyway”. Such knowledge is overwhelming to a baby, and in
order to survive, it represses it into unconsciousness, and tries to
numb itself to sleep.
Experiencing such futility to affect its environment or summon a
care-giver becomes the basis of what is called ‘learned helplessness’.
The child has learned from the beginning that trying to get its needs
met, or asserting itself in any way, is futile. Tragically, learned
helplessness is often the forerunner of clinical depression. We need to
help parents become aware of the fact that their ‘good, well-trained’
babies, may be in danger of becoming depressed, and may continue to be
so in later life, unless they go through years of costly therapy. Since
prevention is better than cure, it has become essential that we get
this information through to new parents as early as possible.
In a paper read at an international conference on Kangaroo Mother Care in 1998, a Cape Town doctor, Dr Nils Bergman , cites the research of Lozoff et al (1977) who studied the way
hunter-gatherer peoples raise their children. He says, “Common to all
groups is the fact that newborns are carried constantly. They sleep
with their mothers, there is immediate response to crying, feeding
takes place every one to two hours, and breastfeeding continues for at
least two years”. He goes on to urge parents to give this kind of
nurturing to their children if the human race is to survive.
For most of us, tragically this information has come too late. What
makes me sad, is that although my mother was not a warm, cuddly person,
she was very conscientious and wanted to do it right. If the childcare
books of her time had told her to hold and comfort me after birth, to
pick me up and carry me around close to her body, let me sleep with
her, feed me when I was hungry, and not leave me to starve for 8 hours
every night, she would have followed their instructions and the story
of my life would probably have been very different.
Instead the doctor told her not to pick me up too often and not to feed
me under any circumstances from 10.00 pm till 6.00 am, because my
stomach ‘needed to rest’. (Some of my most agonized baby primals have
been about this terrible nightly ordeal of loneliness and starvation).
Because she was a conscientious mother, my mother followed the doctor’s
instructions to the letter.
My crying did concern her though, so she phoned the doctor and said, “I
can’t leave my baby to cry like this. Shouldn’t I feed her?” His
response was, “Whatever you do, don’t feed your baby before 6.00 am,
because it’s bad for the baby’s stomach”. So from about 4.00 am every
morning, she walked the floor with me for two hours while I cried, but
she never fed me. She told me later that it made her feel desperate.
It made me feel desperate too. I was telling her as plainly as I knew
how, that I was starving and in pain. Yet it seemed that nothing I did
could get her to understand what I needed. This has contributed to
problems throughout my life; such as the fear that I will never be
understood, no matter how clearly I try to express myself. It also left
me with great insecurities about food, and fear of there never being
enough. In addition I was left feeling that I was ‘bad’ and undeserving
of receiving anything (even food when I was starving), because I could
feel my mother’s irritability and resentment at being woken so early
So in my adult life I have had to battle my way through problems of low
self- esteem, feelings of being undeserving, lack of assertiveness,
learned helplessness and depression. All this has contributed to my
having to spend many years in Primal Therapy, recovering from my
childhood, which thankfully, I am doing now.
To help parents, there are several good sites on the internet. Two that I suggest are, The Natural Child Project and The Primal Parenting Page.
I recommend them to anyone who is having a baby or who is planning to
have one in the future. They give links to sites promoting 'attachment
parenting' – keeping the baby in close, loving contact with it's
mother's (or father's) body for the early months of life, feeding the
baby whenever it is hungry, and allowing it to sleep close to the warm
bodies of its parents at night, to meet its needs for touching and
closeness. Hopefully, this nurturing and loving style of caring for
children will become the parenting of the future, as it was in our
distant past. If it doesn't our future is bleak indeed.
Dr Nils Bergman closed his article on 'Kangaroo Mother Care' with these
words, ". . . it is a Public Health Imperative. It is the design of the
past, and our future depends on it."
The Continuum Concept by Jean Liedloff
Magical Child by Joseph Chilton Pearce
The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding by La Leche League
Nighttime Parenting by William Sears
The Family Bed by Tine Thevenin
The Biology of Love by Arthur Janov
Why Love Matters by Sue Gerhardt
*Update May 2005: Recent research confirms Taylor’s
hypothesis. Brain scans and studies measuring the vital signs and
stress hormone levels of babies show that they become measurably
traumatised if their needs for love and physical closeness are not
adequately met. Sue Gerhardt’s book “Why Love Matters: How Affection
Shapes a Baby’s Brain” (Brunner–Routledge, New York, 2004) lists some
of the most recent studies.
Check out Yahoo Group Kangaroo Mother Care
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