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To have and to hold – The human mammal

Before we get into different types of slings and carriers, benefits of babywearing and so on, a bit of biology to start with.

Babies like to be carried and to be close to their caregivers. Put a baby in a cot and while she might be happy for a while, she will soon start fussing. Pick her up- happy again. Ever wondered why that happens? It’s really quite simple.

Humans are mammals, right? We like to think about ourselves as unique and somewhat separated from animal kingdom, but truth is we are not so much different. Each mammalian species has a specific way of taking care of its young, so let’s look at some broad categories and see where we fit. The following distinction is by Nils Bergman:


Cache mammals

These include the deer and the rabbit. Cache mammals are mature at birth. Their mothers hide their young in a safe place and return to them every twelve hours. Consistent with this behavior, the milk of cache animals is high in protein and fat. It sustains the young animals for a long time, because the babies are fed infrequently.



Follow mammals

The giraffe and cow are follow mammals and like others of this group, are also mature at birth and can follow their mothers wherever they go. Since the baby can be near the mother throughout the day and feed often, the milk of the follow mammal is lower in protein and fat than that of a cache mammal.




Nest mammals

These include the dog and the cat. Nest mammals are less mature than cache or follow mammals at birth. They need the nest for warmth and remain with other young from the litter. The mother returns to feed her young several times a day. The milk of nest mammals has less protein and fat than cache mammals. But it has more than follow mammals, who feed more frequently.



Carry mammals

This group includes the apes and marsupials, such as the kangaroo. The carry animals are the most immature at birth, need the warmth of the mother’s body, and are carried constantly. Their milk has low levels of fat and protein, and they are fed often around the clock.



So where do humans belong? Humans are the most immature of all mammals at birth so that would put us in either nest mammals or carry mammals category. But, since human milk is very low in fat and protein and high in carbohydrates, it becomes clear that we are carry mammals.
What does it mean? It means that babies EXPECT to be carried, to be close to parents and to be touched often. It’s hardwired and cannot be changed. If they are not carried or are separated from mother, they express their dissatisfaction by fussing or crying. Carrying your baby is the biological norm. As Meredith Small says in her book Our Babies Ourselves: During 99% of human history the pattern of infant eating, sleeping and contact was that human infants were carried all the time, probably slept with their mothers and fed frequently throughout the day.

What we currently see as the “normal”- baby sleeping separately from parents, placed in a pram and expected to eat every 2-3 hours, is really our very strange attempt to fool Mother Nature. Is it successful? I guess it depends how we define success.


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