Human breastfeeding is not automatic: Why that's so and what it means for human evolution

Bibliographic Collection: 
MOCA Reference, APE
Publication Type: Journal Article
Authors: Volk, A. A.
Year of Publication: 2009
Journal: Journal of Social, Evolutionary, and Cultural Psychology
Volume: 3
Start Page: 305
Issue: 4
Pagination: 305-314
Publication Language: eng

Lactation was a critical and defining adaptation for mammals. For most mammals, nursing is a relatively straight-forward process that is largely automatic. Primates however generally require learning to be able to successfully nurse their offspring. Humans are no exception, and in fact, appear to require more learning than most mammals due to the novel sucking technique employed by human infants. Social support is also a crucial factor for breastfeeding success. Breastfeeding was crucial for survival in the evolutionary past, so this leads to an interesting question- why is the absolutely vital skill of breastfeeding so challenging for human mothers to learn? While there, as of yet, no firm answers, I propose three (not necessarily exclusive) possibilities: extremely altriticial infants, challenges due to relatively large breasts, and the (until now) continued presence of learning opportunities in the environment of evolutionary adaptation. Implications for human evolution and modern breastfeeding practices are discussed.

DOI: 10.1037/h0099314
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