With Tantie Marietou
With Tantie Marietou

Questions I’ve asked my Senegalese friends along the way and their answers. Of course, as is any culture, parenting differs form family to family. But these glimpses into parenting Senegalese style were interesting. And I’m learning a lot!

When can I start carrying my baby on my back?
Our 19-year-old Senegalese babysitter told me I could start carrying Pape on my back at three months of age. A mom of three told me that most people wait until the baby is one month old, but that she waited until almost two months for her kids. And a mom of four boys told me starting at one week old! I’m wondering if that had to do with her needing to keep up with all her older kiddos…

I put Ndeye on my back for the first time at five weeks old and it worked great. She fussed and cried a bit at first and Marietou told me not to leave her tied on too long if she didn’t like it, but within three minutes she was asleep! She napped really well the rest of the day and Marietou said it’s because being tied on my back relaxes the babies ‘like a massage’ but that since it’s a new experience for her, it also made her tired.

With Maman Ndeye

How do you cut their fingernails?
Give them a basket or something woven that’s a little rough to play with. That will file them down.

How often should I nurse my baby?
Anytime they want to eat! If she’s hungry, feed her. If you’re not sure if she’s hungry but she’s fussy, try feeding her.

What should moms eat to increase their milk supply?
One mother told me to she ate oatmeal or millet everyday. Another told me raw peanuts worked for her.

Several women have told me I should be eating more in general. “Eat for the baby, not for you. Once the baby is eating solids, then you can go back to eating normally.”

When do you start feeding babies solid foods?
Anytime. Whenever. Some moms now wait until six months because it’s what’s being taught in the cities, but in the village they start babies on mushy boiled rice or millet earlier. Starter solids also include butternut or pumpkin type squashes and mashed potatoes.

What do you do if breastfed babies are constipated?
Eat a couple oranges or drink oj. It will have a laxative effect on baby.

Or give the baby a spoonful of honey and milk. (This is where American jaws drop to the floor.)

With Tantie Oureye

How can you help babies sleep better?
Give them a warm bath and then massage them with karité shea butter. As you massage them, gently stretch their arms and legs and move them around. This builds muscle strength and control (and has the added benefit of making the baby tired) and also helps relax for better sleep.

(I didn’t have karité on hand, but my friend did about a ten-minute massage/gentle stretching for Ndeye and she fell asleep quickly afterwards.)

Do you put babies to sleep on their backs or stomachs?
Either one, whichever the baby seems to prefer. Putting them on their stomachs may cause stomach aches or discomfort, but some babies really sleep better that way.

How do you get babies to nap when there are other kids making noise around them?
Put the baby on your back until she falls asleep, then transfer her on to a bed. Have a young child sit in the room with the baby until she wakes up. This child can be sure no one else comes in the room, that the baby doesn’t roll off the bed and also bring the baby to you when she wakes up.

(I so cannot imagine my son helping to watch over a baby to help her stay asleep!)

How do you get toddlers to nap?
This one got me laughed at. “We don’t make them nap. If they’re tired, they’ll sleep.”

I’d say he needed this nap.

So my shopping list now includes karité for massages and raw peanuts!