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Long Pregnancy + Long Suckling Period = Big Brained Humans

By ceridwen |

A new study conducted by evolutionary anthropologists gives us some insights into why humans are so clever: they found that brain growth in babies is linked to the amount of time and energy mothers “invest” in them. Researchers looked at 128 mammal species and found a correlation between brain growth and the duration of pregnancy and how long the babies suckle.

The Durham University study concludes that the longer the pregnancy and breastfeeding period in a particular species, the bigger the brain of the offspring. Humans have long pregnancies and our babies need to suckle for years.Unlike the, fallow deer, for example, whose gestation and suckling period lasts for less than a year, humans have a longer gestation and period of dependency that helps support more massive brain growth.

The authors of the study think their work adds to the pool of research showing benefits of breastfeeding to brain development. (Though this study didn’t seem to look at the differences between formula and breastfed babies but between different mammals and how long the baby is dependent on parents for food so I don’t know if that leap can be made? It seems sucking on silicone/formula is still part of the long human dependency/investment period, too, no?).

What I think is kind of cool about this study, however, is just a reminder that we go through a long (endless!) period of pregnancy and attentive nurturing of our babies not because we’re fools, but because we’re so darn smart.



Photo: Nina Mathews/Flickr

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About ceridwen



Ceridwen Morris is a writer, mother, and certified childbirth educator. She is the author of several books and screenplays, including (Three Rivers; 2007). She serves on the board of The Childbirth Education Association of Metropolitan New York and teaches at Tribeca Parenting in New York City. Read bio and latest posts → Read Ceridwen's latest posts →

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