What babies need—warmth & protection—The traditional South Sea Islander way!

girl 2I was recently in Fiji where I spoke to a woman from one of the islands west of Viti Levu, the main island of Fiji, in the South Pacific. I asked her about the care of babies in her own village. On her island they still do not have electricity, except where a family member, like her, who works for money elsewhere, brings back small solar panels which provide a little light and a recharge socket for mobile/cell phones for communication.

She described how traditionally in her village from the day the baby is born, the child is kept in the house or the room for several months. Certainly on the day the child is born, friends come to celebrate the birth with kava, and on the eighth day, the community celebrates with the family in a bigger way and the child is given their name, but the baby remains within the house. She said if babies are taken out at all in those early months it is only for a walk early in the day when the air is fresh and pure, and they are kept well covered.

What surprised me most was her emphasis on the importance of the baby being kept warm and well covered at all times.

This is in hot tropical Fiji, where one might imagine new babies would be left naked! While these birth traditions have more recently been disrupted by the requirement for the mother to go to the main island for the birth, they still have their own island midwives who use massage to get the baby into the right position for birth.

The lessons for us

There are lessons to be learnt here from their traditional wisdom. Babies need both warmth and protection, especially in those early months, as their bodies adjust to the world outside the womb, with all its variation and intensity of stimuli. Yet, in our own society, head coverings for young babies seem to have gone out of fashion and we often take them out into the world soon after birth. Our lives, of course, are very different—older children need to be taken to school, shopping needs to be done and so on, but it may be we could protect them far more and for much longer than we do.

We need mindfulness in this, to watch our babies carefully and respond to their need for quiet, for sleep, for protection against over-stimulation, against jarring, against rapid change, so that they can move more gently, more dreamily and more assuredly into this stimulating world of ours, which, as ‘well hardened’ adults, we take in our stride. Our babies need their world to be nourishing for them, rather than over-stimulating, and it is up to us, as their protectors to make sure it is so.

In doing all this, it should be said, we also take better care of the post-partum mother, supporting the establishment of breast feeding, good bonding and recovery after the birth, all of which also reduce the risk of post-natal depression. We can all facilitate this, as family, friends and neighbours. When a new baby comes, we can do the shopping, bring nourishing food, take care of older children, desist from initiating social invitations to new parents and do our helpful tasks but get out of the way promptly to leave them in peace. This needs our mindfulness too.

Other articles of interest