On a recent episode of the Dear Hank and John podcast (in which two brothers give “dubious advice”, I recommend it!) a listener sent in a question about why human infants were so useless. And even though both of them have children of their own, they didn’t really know what the answer was so they gave it their best shot: (paraphrasing here) because of bipedalism, women’s hips are too narrow and the baby needs to come out prematurely otherwise they won’t fit.
If you’ve read the earlier parts in this series debunking the Obstetrical Dilemma, you can imagine my epic head shaking and eye-rolling. I had already had this post waiting in the wings but I decided to rework the intro and title when I realized that lay people who have never heard the phrase “obstetrical dilemma” will forward it without even being aware of it. So, why are newborn humans useless?
Well, I was enjoying the lovely fall colors, the warm days and crisp nights– and then that jerk Winter crept up and put an ice cube down my shirt. So, while I huddle here, fingers frozen, I thought it would be interesting to take a look at how traditional artic cultures deal with infant carrying in the freezing temperatures. There seem to be two main approaches: a soft carrier that shares body heat between child and caregiver which we’ll cover in this post; and a hard carrier that creates a micro-climate for the baby that I will cover in a future post. Continue reading
Apes, including humans, are physiologically riders, meaning that they carry their babies with them as opposed to leaving them in nests or dens because their breast milk composition is not suited to leaving their infants alone for long periods of time (Ross, 2001). But unlike humans, apes don’t need a tool to carry their infants in part because they have body hair for their infants to cling to but it’s more complicated than simply having body hair and a baby that can grasp it. Hair strength, density, infant weight, carrying position, adult posture, and even humidity play a part in successful infant carrying without tool use. Continue reading
The phrase “childbearing hips”, besides being extremely cringey in any context, is a misnomer. It’s a byproduct of the kind of thinking that went into the Obstetrical Dilemma: in order to give birth women traded in bipedal efficiency for wider hips. It’s a hypothesis that was and is widely assumed to be true. But you know what they say about making assumptions? … As it turns out, pelvic width has nothing to do with bipedal efficiency, nor is it a constraint for fetal head growth or childbirth. Continue reading
In western culture, there is a long tradition of women suffering through labor… something about an apple? Throughout the history of obstetrics, theories have been tossed about to explain humanity’s apparently unique difficulties in childbirth. One of the more recent is the Obstetrical Dilemma which posits that the female pelvis is too narrow to give birth to human babies (without a lot of professional, technical intervention, and even then… ) but too wide (wider, on average, than a male pelvis) to be efficient.
In other words: As a hominin, you can either be good a bipedalism (a man) or good at giving birth (a non-human ape). Fortunately for the human ladies, male doctors are available to deliver your baby and once you have a baby, you’ll only need to sit around the house holding it so it doesn’t matter how inefficient your walking is. (If you think this is sarcasm, you haven’t read Washburn’s 1960 Scientific American Article yet. But we’re getting to it, don’t you worry your pretty little head.) Continue reading
In 1986, a study was published showing that three hours of “supplemental” carrying reduced crying in newborns. The results were impressive: infants in the supplemental carrying group cried 43% less overall and 51% less during the evening hours than infants who were not given supplemental carrying. Contemporary babywearers often share these statistics as part of the benefits of babywearing to encourage people to try using infant carriers. But is that really accurate? Can the use of an infant carrier really reduce crying, or is there more to it? Continue reading