‘Continuum Concept’ by Jean Liedloff
In the 1970’s, Jean Liedloff caused a stir with her approach to child rearing. After observing the interaction of mothers and their babies among tribal communities in South America, Liedloff concluded that babies who wouldn’t sleep were a result of Western society’s approach to childcare. Her solution was for mothers to sleep with their babies at night and to carry them constantly during the day, as they go about everyday life.
Val Elderkin, 26, works for a management consultancy and live in South London. She is married to Steve and they have a daughter, Jodie, who is 4 months. Her parenting approach has been based on ideas in Jean Liedloff’s Continuum Concept.
What our mum thought…
“Based on her time spent observing South American Indian tribespeople, Liedloff’s book is full of examples of the ways that tribal babies differ from ‘western’ babies as a result of the way they are cared for: hardly any crying, no colic, relaxed and cuddly little bodies and ultimately, self-confidence and a contented state of mind.
Until she learns to crawl, you, or others, should carry your child constantly as you go about your daily business, according to the book. You also allow your baby into your bed with you at night. You trust your baby to know her own appetite, and she is allowed to breastfeed ‘on cue’. You respond to the baby’s signals immediately, without displeasure, yet also without making the baby the constant centre of attention.
Neither the pram nor the cot mattress I’d bought before reading the book have been used. I ‘wear’ Jodie in a cloth baby sling most of the time which she loves. I never worry about steps or doorways; I know my baby is not too hot or too cold; I don’t have to schedule my day because she can feed or sleep in the sling. I find it fantastic for shopping or in cafes and restaurants, and for lazy evenings watching films or chatting with friends – as long as a comfy sofa is involved.
Wearing my baby in a sling has helped me to get my figure back. I haven’t needed to make time for exercise! With practice, most household tasks can be achieved while wearing the baby, although everything is slower.
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Sometimes my back starts to ache if I spend too much time cooking or cleaning with her in the sling. But I’d rather eat easy meals and live in a slightly dusty house than miss out on this incredibly intimate time with my daughter. Once she can crawl, the race the independence will be truly underway and then it’s all about letting go. My husband has been amazing; accepting that doing my best as a mother means being a terrible housewife.
Jodie seems to love life. But there are times when she cries and I don’t get it right. We have the odd half hour of intense frustration for both of us, but I can honestly say that most days I feel that we have it sussed. My husband and I now talk of getting our space back. We think the answer is for Jodie to sleep on a mattress near ours and only come into the bed if she wakes and can’t be quickly settled.
I do sometimes get tired of feeling like the weirdo with my mum friends. I listen to their discussions about how hard it is to get their babies to sleep during the day so that they can get things done, and always want to say, ‘Couldn’t you perhaps do that with her in a sling?’ Their problems seem so easily solved by the continuum approach.
The physical, developmental benefits are not well documented. With my not yet 4 month old girl sitting up on her own, using her hands as stabilisers, it’s not hard to feel proud!
Babies don’t understand about culture or civilisation. Like all the great apes, they are born with certain animal needs that a mother can either meet with her own body and a length of cloth, or she can meet with hundred of pounds worth of brightly-coloured plastic items. I know which feel right for me.
I think as a society we make a lot of mistakes in the way we treat babies and kids, and this has a knock on effect on how the adults of each generation treat the other. Friends say that they miss their baby when she’s sleeping. I don’t have to miss my baby: I have her snuggled up, relaxed and moulded to me, and looking adorable. It’s an amazing feeling.”