Wednesday, 29 September 2010

When are the Europeans going to get with the program on baby shoes?

Just when the Bambino was starting to walk, we noticed that his right foot seemed stuck at two o'clock, while the left one was at twelve.  We found this to be a little disconcerting, and the Frenchman even starting talking about putting the Bambino in foot braces, eventual surgery, etc.

"But you need to get him in some real shoes!," our French friends all told us when we showed them the Bambino's pose.  This advice seemed so obvious to them that they were surprised that the Bambino, at thirteen months, was still in Robeez style slippers.  I had to explain that we Anglo-Saxons tend to view barefoot as best.

The "babies need shoes to learn to walk" theory holds tight in many European circles, despite that fact that orthopedists worldwide (including European ones) recommend barefoot or close to it.  In France, I'm convinced that holding true to the "they must wear shoes" view is a way of propping up the children's shoe industry.   And we're not just talking about any shoe.   Your typical French, Spanish or Italian shoes salesperson will recommend a shoe with a thick, stiff sole and a high ankle for your toddler, so as to "support" the foot, as if mother nature hadn't equipped small children adequately for learning to walk.

Even standard baby websites in the French language give this dated advice.  For example, Infobébés has a whole page on shoes, in which it advises to choose a shoe that is "high enough to support the ankle", that is laced rather than in velcro, and that is "not too stiff" (well, at least they got that part right).

Netenviesdebebes suggests soft-soled shoes for infants who haven't learned to walk yet but fails to consider the possibility of no shoes at all.  It goes on to say that once baby has learned how to walk,
on préférera alors des chaussures qui maintiennent le pied et la cheville : bottes, boots, bottines par exemple.
 Translation: we prefer shoes that maintain the foot and the ankle: boots or booties, for example.

Well, it took Europe about twenty years to get on the no-smoking-in-restaurants bandwagon, so I expect about the same amount of lag time for progressive thinking on baby shoes.

The ray of light: we took the Bambino to visit the chief pediatric orthopedist at Necker hospital in Paris, to have his crooked gait checked out.  The doctor said that we should just wait another year and the Bambino's foot will likely adjust to the right position all by itself.  He didn't have an opinion on any kind of particular shoe for the Bambino but he did say that barefoot was definitely best.

Friday, 17 September 2010

Asking the right question about vaccines

I've just read an excellent post on vaccines, by Ayla over at Primal Home.  When someone asks her, "Why don't you vaccinate?", she responds, "Why do you vaccinate?"

A long time ago, when I asked someone once why she didn't vaccinate, I got another very similar response.  It went something like this:

- Name the disease.
- Explain how one gets the disease.
- What's the prevalence of the disease where you live?
- What are the consequences of having the disease and what are the chances of having the most severe possible effects of the disease, assuming that a child is not malnourished and is living in fairly hygenic conditions?

- Name the vaccine for the disease.
- What other vaccines are in the same shot?
- What are the ingredients in the vaccine?
- What does the manufacturer's insert say about the side effects of the vaccine?
- What are the chances of a severe adverse reaction from the vaccine?

It was really only when I was able to answer these questions that I was able to answer the question of whether to vaccinate or not.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

6 Things Every Globetrotter Parent Should Know

A couple of years back, PhD in Parenting posted on 10 Things All New Parents Should Know.  I thought her advice was really helpful and I even sent the link to a newly pregnant friend just last week.

As I pondered PhD in Parenting's post, I thought of my own globetrotter version.  People tend to rely on their relatives, friends and doctors for advice on coping with parenting questions.  Not all the information they get is accurate and some of it is harmful.  So here is my top 6 list ('cause 10 would be way too long!) of what all parents trying to raise their children in a global culture should know:

6 Things Every Globetrotter Parent Should Know:

1.  Baby care norms differ radically from one continent and even country to the next one.

Moreover, what's considered the norm where YOU live is not necessarily the objectively right way.

My favourite example:  In Canada and the States, the health industry tells us not to share a bed with our infant, because it can lead to smothering, SIDS, baby falling off the bed, etc.

Yet, here in Madagascar, most moms sleep with their baby.  They don't do cribs here.  And I don't ever hear or read about any babies dying of SIDS or getting smothered here.  Funny that.

The point is, never assume that information from doctors and well-meaning friends where you live right or even mostly right.  Indeed, there are a lot of things not right about modern conventional western parenting ideas.  Babies have not always drunk cow's milk (whether or not adapted into formula), and still don't in many places in the world.  Newborns are not wired to sleep in little cages far away from their moms, and don't in many (most) places in the world.  Most baby boys in the world do not get the tips of their penises cut off.  The list goes on...

2.  Contrary to what many "granola" mamas seems to think, Europeans are not necessarily more into "natural family living" than North Americans.  If you've ever been on the discussion forums of, you'll know what I mean.  "I wish I lived in Europe.  The breastfeeding rate is much higher there.  And everyone gives birth with a midwife.  And you get one year's maternity leave!"

Allow me to set the record straight about Europe:

Europe is not a monolith.  When you hear granola moms going on about how much more enlightened Europeans are, they're usually talking about Scandinavians.   The Dutch and the Germans are nearly as "crunchy" but only in certain respects.  Maternity leave is only about 12 to 16 weeks long in Germany, for example.

As for the French, well, don't be surprised to see a French maman smoking and drinking during pregnancy, formula feeding by choice (40 percent do) and sending her baby to daycare at the age of three months without so much as wincing because "baby needs to learn to become autonomous".

The Italians have a higher neonatal breastfeeding rate but 90 percent have weaned by the time baby is four months old.  Italians typically start baby on solids consisting of pasta and parmesan cheese at the age of four months.

As for the midwives, they are a highly medicalized profession in Europe.  In France, they even have to attend medical school for a year.  Most European midwives will not allow you to birth in anything but the gynecological position, i.e., lying flat on your back with your legs in stirrups so that they can perform  a routine episiotomy.  You might as well have an OB.

And forget about home birth (except in the Netherlands, and the home birth rate is dropping there).  The home birth rates in European countries hover at around one percent.

3. Your child will not become confused or speech-delayed because you speak to him in another language.  I've already written about this but let me reiterate: there is no evidence whatsoever that bilingual children have a higher rate of speech/language delay or any other speech or language disorder than monolingual children.

4.  Bilingualism is not an automatic fact resulting from a parent who speaks another language.  It takes work.  Yep.  The fact that you speak English or Spanish or French does not automatically mean that your little one will grow up speaking it.  In fact, your child will need about 24 hours per week of exposure to your language in order to speak it like a native.

5.  There are NO required vaccines for international travel - other than yellow fever in some countries in central Africa.  Polio is not a required vaccine for travel in any part of the world, neither is the vaccine against typhoid, tuberculosis, or any other disease.

6.  A global child starts with the parents who have a global mindset.   Children learn from the attitudes of their parents.  Open-minded parents who are interested in learning about other cultures, who are willing to try speaking the foreign language that they're a little rusty in, and who like meeting and talking to people from other parts of the world are more likely to have children with a similar mindset.

On the other hand, it's hard to expect a child to be interested in learning French or Spanish when the parent won't even consider watching a foreign film.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

English as a foreign language

The Bambina had her first day of school last week.  She's in grade one, or I should say cours préparatoire, as it is called in the French system - CP for short.

She attends one of the French primary schools here in Tananarive.  The school is pretty much like any public school in France, with a few bells and whistles added to make it adapted to Madagascar, including one to two hours of Malagasy lessons per week at school.  That's something that the expat parents don't like at all.  They're only here for a short time and what use will the Malagasy language be to their child once they have left Madagascar?  Why can't the kids learn another language instead, say the expat parents. English for example.  And they would like the kids to start the foreign language ASAP, in CP (grade one).

So after much pressure from the parents' assocation, this year, for the first time, all the kids in CP will be getting English twice a weeks, 45 minutes each time.  The parents are thrilled.

Except me.

My daughter is already bilingual.  At best, English lessons at school will be a Complete Waste Of Time for her.  At worst, she will learn English as a foreigner would learn it - bad accent, bad grammar, and outdated vocabulary.  I was happy with her learning some Malagasy.  

Which brings me to another point.  I am pretty much convinced that introducing English lessons twice a week will not put a dent in the kids' English speaking abilities later on in life.  If you want your kid to speak good English, try immersion.  Or at least put the cartoons on in English at home.  45 minute lessons on colours and numbers won't do much.  They'll learn colours and numbers anyway when the serious lessons begin in at around age 11.

Proof of this point of view:  just look at the Dutch or the Scandinavians.  Dutch and Scandinavian people my age had no English in school until age eleven or twelve - yet they are almost all bilingual.  The difference is that their parents watched TV in English and read books in English - something that the French are reluctant to do.