Nighttime Nurturing: An Evolutionary Perspective on Breastfeeding and Sleep

Helen L. Ball and Charlotte K. Russell

in Evolution, Early Experience and Human Development

Published in print November 2012 | ISBN: 9780199755059
Published online January 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780199979479 | DOI:
Nighttime Nurturing: An Evolutionary Perspective on Breastfeeding and Sleep

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Consideration of the phylogenetic depth and cross-cultural breadth of mother–infant biology and behavior illuminates contemporary infant care. Three key “ancestral environments” (AEs) have defined the care requirements of newborn humans (lactation, frequent suckling, and maternal close contact). These evolved requirements have been challenged by various “new cultural environments” (NCEs) propelling infant care in directions that are incongruent with evolved maternal and infant biology (e.g., postpartum separation of mothers and infants, widespread acceptance of nonhuman milk feeding). As a consequence, over the past century, infant feeding and sleeping have become decoupled from the mother's body—with far-reaching ramifications.

Keywords: breastfeeding; infant sleep; bed-sharing; lactation; evolutionary medicine

Chapter.  8879 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Developmental Psychology

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