Saturday, May 01, 2010

What is Biologically Normal?

Why does our culture try to cache what was meant to be carried? This article on the "species-normal experience" for babies discusses what is biologically normal for an infant. It is a bit lengthy, but I would highly recommend reading it if you have a baby or may have a baby one day. It discusses what human infants expect, biologically... and that's not to be left in a room alone for 12 hours a day and fed artificial baby milk! ;)

What do I mean by "cache" and "carry?" Well, looking at animals (humans being animals as well), there are "cache" animals, which hide their babies somewhere and go off for hours at a time to hunt or graze or whatnot. Deer would be an example. The milk of these mammals is high in fat and protein and is designed so that the babies will stay fuller longer and thus stay safely hidden while their mothers go out for extended periods. The "carry" species are those animals whose young are carried all the time - the mothers do not leave their babies at all, and their milk is of a lower fat and protein content. Human beings are among this group. Our babies cannot follow behind us as do fawns. They are helpless when it comes to being able to move about freely. Our milk is digested rapidly so that our babies will require frequent feedings.

I am not going to rehash the whole article, but just get the thoughts moving here... Many might say that, sure, biology dictates that human babies stay with their mothers, but now we have technology that allows us to change this: bottles, formula, breast pumps, sleep training books and cribs, baby monitors, pacifiers... in other words, mother substitutes, or tools for otherwise distancing mothers from their babies.

But can an increase in technology actually change basic biological norms? Do human infants understand that technology has made for these allowances? Can technology really change the expected biological experience, the norm, the standard, for a baby? Do human babies somehow know that, "Yes, if I was left alone from my mother for a half hour 5,000 years ago, then a wolf might eat me, but now that it is the year 2010 and we have technology, I am safe here in this crib in my own room... so I don't need to cry." Human babies were designed to be with their mothers because they are totally helpless and defenseless - they cannot run away from wolves! Just because the wolves are no longer a threat in our culture, does this mean that the hard-wiring in the infant's brain has changed? That he will feel less of an urgent need to be with his mother?

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