How anthropological study informs attachment parenting

James McKenna, PhD, began his career in anthropology studying apes and monkeys. Find out how he then become one of the leading educators in co-sleeping and attachment parenting.
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How anthropological study informs attachment parenting

If you'd ever told me that I'd be known for SIDS research or breast feeding research or something called co-sleeping, I would have definitely told you that it was a case of mistaken identity. I was a primatologist, studying monkeys and apes in the beginning of my career, publishing many papers on mother-infant relationships, amongst this particular beautiful monkey of North India. But when my lovely wife and I became pregnant, we, like most parents, ran to the bookstores, Barnes and Noble and every other place we could to read about how to become the most perfect parents one could. And after reading all of these works, my wife who is also an anthropologist, were led to one of two conclusions: either everything we had leaned about human development, the evolution of human behavior, parenting and infancy was fallacious coming out of anthropology, or all of the recommendations made by Western pediatricians as to how best to care for infants had really nothing to do with babies at all, and were really based on more recent cultural Western ideologies about who we want babies to become - that is to say independent, separate - the all-American babies rather than who they actually are. And I was really quite appalled by some of the recommendations that somehow without any evidence, empirical, or otherwise, that we all accepted the fact that somehow the humans infant, the most vulnerable baby of all, with neurologically the least maturity and last development of any primate could somehow benefit sleeping down the hall from the parent, because we all know, and the data was showing and I was studying this, that contact of a primate with the mother is much more than a nice social idea; it's fundamental physiology. Contact, changes, the clinical direction of a baby's development in terms of heart rate, body temperature, all kinds of things.

James McKenna, PhD, began his career in anthropology studying apes and monkeys. Find out how he then become one of the leading educators in co-sleeping and attachment parenting.


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James McKenna, PhD

Anthropologist & Author

Professor James J. McKenna is recognized as the world’s leading authority on mother-infant co-sleeping, in relationship to breastfeeding and SIDS. In recognition of his work in 2009 he was admitted as a Fellow into the select body of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the world's most prestigious scientific society. That same year and in recognition of his extensive work with television, radio, and print media he received from the American Anthropological Association the “2008 Anthropology In The Media Award” one of the top three awards presented to anthropologists by the association in recognition of his distinguished work in educating the public to the importance of anthropological concepts. He received his undergraduate degree in anthropology from the University of California, Berkeley in 1970, his Master's Degree from San Diego State University in 1972, and his PhD in biological anthropology from the University of Oregon, Eugene, in 1975. Professor McKenna has published over 139 refereed scientific articles in diverse medical and anthropological journals on co-sleeping, breastfeeding, evolutionary medicine and SIDS, and both here and abroad he gives over 20 lectures especially to pediatric groups and parents. Here in the United States he remains one of the primary spokesperson to the media on issues pertaining to sleeping arrangements, nighttime breast-feeding and SIDS prevention. He has also published two monographs on SIDS and infant sleep, and co-edited two books:  Evolutionary Medicine and Evolutionary Medicine And Health: New Perspectives. His first trade book for parents was published in 2008 entitled: Sleeping With Your Baby: A Parents Guide To Co-Sleeping, and was recently translated and available in Spanish and Dutch.

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