African Babies Don’t Cry

Why African Babies Don’t Cry

I recently read Gabrielle Palmer’s book The Politics of Breastfeeding and reviewed it on the blog. One of the many passages that struck me was when Palmer was discussing the breastfeeding culture in Africa. She said that in the United States and other developed nations, we tell moms to feed “on cue,” which should be about 8 to 12 times a day. But that to ask a mother in Africa how many times a day she breastfeeds is like asking a person covered in mosquito bites how many times a day they scratch. It’s not quantifiable because it’s done with such frequency. Most mothers carry their babies in a sling, with access to the breast 24/7. When the baby stirs, he is quickly latched on and mom goes about her business. None of this silliness about spoiling a baby or overfeeding. Just a baby’s needs being met by his mother, as it should be.


So when Maya from Musings of a Marfan Mom sent me the link to a guest post entitled Why African Babies Don’t Cry, I had a feeling I knew the reason. The author, Dr. Claire Niala, says:

In the UK it was understood that babies cry – in Kenya it was quite the opposite. The understanding is that babies don’t cry. If they do – something is horribly wrong and must be done to rectify it immediately. My English sister-in-law summarized it well. “People here,” she said, “really don’t like babies crying, do they?”

It all made much more sense when I finally delivered and my grandmother came from the village to visit. As it happened – my baby did cry a fair amount, and exasperated and tired, I forgot everything I had ever read and sometimes joined in the crying too. Yet for my grandmother it was simple – nyonyo (breastfeed her!). It was her answer to every single peep.

I loved this post not only for the glimpse at what breastfeeding is like in Africa, but also because breastfeeding was a life changing experience for Dr. Niala, the same way it was for me. While her friends’ babies were eating rice cereal and sleeping through the night, Niala was waking every two hours to nurse a baby who had never tasted anything but breast milk. Breastfeeding begins to permeate her entire life, including the way she counsels her patients.

I loved the gentle wisdom she received from her grandmother. At a time when so many of us are advised to become hardened, to ignore our instincts and our babies cries, Niala’s grandmother tells her to follow her baby’s cues and to breastfeed, breastfeed, breastfeed.

No wonder babies in Africa don’t cry.

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