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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

GROWING PAINS: New Moms Toss Kids To Make Them Calm

I popped round to see a friend this afternoon who has just had a baby, and as I walked in I thought I'd arrived in the nick of time to avert a post-natal depression crisis. Olga (mom) was holding her naked 3-week-old son by the heel and swinging him around her head as if she were about to throw him off the balcony. Little Slava, looking as surprised as a plucked chicken, was turning blue and pop-eyed and my first reaction was to run for help.

"Olga!" I exclaimed instead. "Why are you throwing your baby around like that?"

"It calms his nerves," she said with a gentle smile and gave him another twirl for luck. "He'll sleep better."

It seemed to my untrained eye that she was on the way to making sure he never woke up, but I was wrong. She was in fact carrying out a complex series of exercises as taught in the "Christmas" club for mothers of young babies - the point being to make them strong and hearty in mind and spirit.

Being put through this in the first few days after you're born would probably make the rest of your life seem like a breeze, yet I have to admit that Slava actually enjoyed it.

There was more to come. We progressed to the bath, which was filled to the top, and I held my breath while little Slava was released into the depths to complete his nerve-calming program with a spot of underwater swimming. When he finally surfaced, still looking remarkably happy about the whole thing, Olga scooped him out, took a large jug of freezing cold water and poured it all over him. This was the only time he cried and even then it was justfor a moment because she quickly wrapped him in a towel and put him to her breast.

I don't know about him but I felt like a stiff whiskey.

Russia as we all know is a land of contrasts and perhaps the Christmas club is a natural reaction to generations of traditional swaddling and coddling.

I know when Bobby was born I was expected to bind him up tightly in three layers of cloth, only unwrapping him to change his diapers and soak his skin in herbs to get rid of the sweat rash he inevitably had. Most of my mom friends were diligently bottle-feeding by the clock while I was berated by my mother-in-law for "thrusting your breast at them as soon as they squeak." I wasn't supposed to have visitors (too unhygienic) or give the baby a bath (too hygienic). I wasn't supposed to eat anything red because it would bring baby out in a rash through the breast milk, or feed him at night. And I had to steel myself for battle before going out with him in a sling because all the babushkas told me he would grow up bandy legged.

But when all's said and done, I think that if faced with a choice between swaddling or swinging I'd go for that boring old happy medium.