Friday, May 20, 2011

Baby Behavior around the World: Key Caregivers of Babies Part 1

We're happy to share a new series with you called Baby Behavior around the World! This series will be a bit different from those we have done in the past because it will consist of several posts interspersed with our regular postings over the coming months. With each Around the World post, we will be exploring caregiving practices around the globe and comparing how they are similar or different to those in the United States. Without further ado, let’s talk about key caregivers of babies in different areas of the world.

The need for a strong, healthy attachment between caregivers and infants is biological and an important part of caring for babies in every part of the world. Such attachments can positively influence babies’ social behavior and development. Understanding normal Baby Behavior is important for all caregivers of infants, especially since many different people, in many different settings, care for infants and contribute to infants’ growth and development. Many developing countries raise children in groups, receiving support from multiple generations of family, friends and neighbors. This “village” of caregivers may be more likely than families who are more isolated to pass on some of the messages we have found so important such as how babies sleep and how they communicate with caregivers to get their needs met.

Community as Caregiver
In many cultures, care of children is often shared by the greater community and it is expected that children will not be exclusively raised by their parents. Adults in a child’s surroundings (not just the biological parents) are trusted to provide care for the child. For example, children raised in rural, semi-nomadic households in the Sahara are raised by groups of mothers and sisters in the community. These female networks support each other in providing food and childcare. Meanwhile, in some villages on the Ivory Coast of West Africa, every member of the village is expected to visit each newborn as soon as possible after birth to encourage relationships between the child and members of the community. In Bali, mothers carry their babies in slings and are able to hand them over to nearby villagers whenever help is needed. In this society and others, elder women in the community play influential roles in caregiving of children.

“Grandmother” as Caregiver
With the recent recession, the number of children being raised by grandparents has risen in the United States. According to the U.S. Census Bureau (2008), 1 in 10 children in the U.S. now live with a grandparent, an 8% increase since 2000, with the majority of that increase after the beginning of the recession in 2007. In many countries, however, older women have always played a large role in caring for children in the family. Not surprisingly, one Finnish study found that there were many advantages of having other supportive caregivers, such as grandparents, available to care for children (yes, they studied that!). This study of the “Grandmother Hypothesis” indicated that mothers live longer and age slower when they receive support from their own mothers. Caregiver support provided by grandmothers or other female relatives often consists of child rearing advice, physical and emotional help, and an opportunity for children to develop a healthy connection with many potential role models. For example, African households follow a “hierarchical transmission of knowledge” from elder to younger female members of the family (such as mother-in-law to daughter-in-law) in caring for sick children. Also, in Chinese culture, a central role of older women is to care for children in the family and facilitate the passing on of child rearing traditions from generation to generation.

In our next installment in this series, we'll share what we've learned about recent trends in parents' roles in caring for babies and young children.

Your Turn: Who are the key caregivers in your baby’s life? How have these roles changed as your baby has grown?

References and Resources:
1. Rasmussen, S. Children Dynamics: Anthropological Insights. Culture and Psychology. 2009;15(4): 433-449.
2. Morello, Carol (2010, Sept. 9). Grandparents increasingly fill the need as caregivers. Retrieved from, 19 May 2011.
3. Hawkes, K. Human longevity: the grandmother effect. Nature. 2004;428:128–129.
4. USAID for the American People. Grandmothers: A learning Institution. Prepared by Judi Aubel, PhD., MPH, The Grandmother Project. August 2005.
5. Engle, P. Fathers’ Involvement with Children: Perspectives from Developing Countries, Social Policy Report. Society for Research in Child Development.1998;Volume XII, Number 1.
6. Golden, AG. Fathers’ Frames for Childrearing: Evidence Toward a “Masculine Concept of Caregiving”. Journal of Family Communication. 2007;7(4):265-285.
7. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2011, April 18). Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey: Earnings by demographics. Retrieved from
8. Nakahara S, et al. Availability of Childcare Support and Nutritional Status of Children of Non-working and Working Mothers in Urban Nepal. Am J Hum Biol. 2006;18(2):169-81.


  1. We're lucky enough to live with my parents since the birth of my daughter, so I have had the benefit of a small "village" of caregivers to whom my daughter easily goes. It's been bliss for me!!

  2. My husband quit his job and has been a stay-at-home dad since our first son was born. I would love to see something about dads as primary caregivers. I work outside the home full time, but still co-sleep and breastfeed (we have a formula-free home). It works well for us, and I always love to read about other families that this works for.

  3. I can't say I took for granted the help and support we got when we stayed with my parents, because I really appreciated it, but I really miss it now. The extra sets of hands and eyes were awesome, and the bond that developed between my daughter and parents was so special and see it to this day.

  4. Apart from me (and my husband), my mother cares for my son one day a week and we employ a sitter one afternoon a week. I am really happy that my mother is able to spend so much time with my son and has been doing so since he was born.