Human Nature 12 (1):27-46 (2001)
AbstractWestern scholarly literature suggests that (1) weaning is initiated by mothers; (2) weaning takes place within a few days once mothers decide to stop nursing; (3) mothers employ specific techniques to terminate nursing; (4) semi-solid foods (gruels and mashed foods) are essential when weaning; (5) weaning is traumatic for children (it leads to temper tantrums, aggression, etc.); (6) developmental stages in relationships with mothers and others can be demarcated by weaning; and (7) weaning is a process that involves mothers and children exclusively, with weaned children moving from close relationships with their mothers to strengthened relationships with other children. In many respects, these presumptions are consistent with contemporary Euroamerican practices: nursing stops early (usually before six months) relative to other cultures and takes place over a few days or weeks with the help of bottles and baby foods. Because bottles are available, weaning seldom appears traumatic, but it is seen as an important step in the establishment of independence between mothers and infants. By contrast, weaning from the bottle is often perceived as traumatic. Despite considerable academic and popular interest, weaning has seldom been studied systematically, especially in small-scale cultures. Qualitative and quantitative data from a study of Bofi foragers in Central Africa are used here to evaluate the cross-cultural applicability of the assumptions summarized above
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