MOMMIES! -A guide to chapters 5 and 6 of “Mother Nature”


The role of the mother has always been known as an important one. From putting us to sleep at night, to making our pb & j’s before school, all the way to sending us off to college, it is traditionally our mothers who are on the forefront of our dramatic (and our not so dramatic) life events. However, all the things that moms do aren’t necessarily caused by some god-sent message telling them to love their babies. Being both an infant and a mother are some of the most psychlogically intricate life stages that psychologists have yet to fully understand.

Thanks to John Bowlby’s research with Apes, we can understand more about babies of our own species.

Chapter 5

-Babies yearn for the security of their mother. As stated in class, the mother is the baby’s “niche” during the upbringing stage of his or her infancy. Their need to stay close to their mother is called the “Set Goal of Proximity to the Mother”.

-The Umklammerungs, or the “Embrace” Reflex: Dr. E. Moro from Germany discovered that babies, when startled, fling out their arms and then clutch them back in an attempt to keep themselves from falling. This is a vestigial trait from primate infants who much cling to their mother to survive.

-One social relationship that’s prolonged duration is common in every group (humans and primates) is the mother-infant relationship.

-“The Environment of Evolutionary Adaptedness (EEA): This represents the millions of years during which man’s “behavioral equipment” evolves.  In this case, the mom would be the child’s EEA.

-The Ideal Pleistocene Baby: This baby would be able to last long periods of time with no attention. It would be capable of digesting high-protein, high-fat milk so that the mother could feed it only twice a day. The baby would also know not to make any loud noises as to attract attention from predators while it’s mother is away working. Obviously, this is not the way a normal baby acts.

-Modern babies, in some ways, have to take on these “insensitive” characteristics because of our world’s way of working. Mothers have to go off to work while their babies are still infants, thus the infants are less attached.

-This brings up the idea of “Allo-Parents”. These are people who take the place of the actual mother and give the baby the nurturing it needs to survive. Allo-parents can be other family members, babysitters, and really anyone taking care of the baby.

-Going back to the idea of the Pleistocene baby: Why babies are not like the ideal Pleistocene baby is because parents adapted to their infants, utilizing allo-parents, which is a reason why babies are the way they are today.

-Epidural, which makes childbirth bearable for mothers, is also found in Earthworms! They release it when in pain.

-Melatonin puts us to sleep at night. This originates from when primates needed to sleep for protection from predators that could see better in the dark than them.

-Because of the same reason, mother’s milk has higher plasma prolactin levels at night. It was easier to feed their babies at night when they had to be nestled away.

Chapter 6


–          Lactation is the issue when it comes to care taking

  • Mother
  • Parent (allo-parent)

–          Sex does not determine the mothers prolonged relationship with the infant, lactation does.

What is Lactation about?

–          Viviparty- keeping infants safe inside some sealed chamber within the parents body until they are born, as opposed to protection inside of an egg.

–          This method offers a tiny chance of survival. Lactation evolved to boost growth because this method yielded dependent young.

Merits of Lactation

–          Remaining with a lactating mother provides a stable environment.

–          Mammalian mothers are “alchemists”- able to transform available fodder into nutrients.

–          Hibernation and delayed lactation allows the animals to store enough fat or nutrients to care for their young.

Storing fat

–          Timing is crucial

–          Fat is stored in places like the tails, buttocks, and humps on the body.

–          A girls body fat increases by 21.4% in preparation for reproduction

–          Some believe that breasts are used to store fat, rather than just advertisement

–          Their main purpose is for lactation

–          Fat on a women’s body shows her ability to carry a child full term.

Lactation and Lifestyles among Mammals

–          Lactation lasts different lengths of time among animals

  • Seller- is the mother
  • Consumer- is the baby

–          The condition of the mother determines how soon she weans the baby

–          Certain mothers produce fatter milk if the baby will be on their own sooner.

Prolactin and Caretaking

–          Prolactin is secreted by the pituitary gland

–          Prolactin can be noticed at elevated levels at night

–          Prolactin elevates more in experienced parents rather than inexperienced

–          Higher levels are present in aggressive responses

–          The higher the prolactin levels the more attentive the caregiver to infant needs

The ambassador of the caretaking

–          Hormones are ambassadors to make sure signals are passed on.

–          Hormones influence the rate at which a behavioral trait may be expressed

–          Some scientists think hormones control how much prolactin is made.

Origin of Lactation

–          Prolactin was first identified in birds.

–          The birds developed pads on their breast that they used for heating their eggs.

–          In 1935 Oscar Riddle identified the substance as prolactin.

–          In birds such as pigeons, doves, and penguins, prolactin is also associated with the production of “crop milk”

  • Crop milk is a mixture of digested food and mucus

–          Mammary glands developed in one sex, indicating that lactation evolved in an animal where eggs were tended by mothers

  • Monotremes- egg layers

–          It is hypothesized that lactation was used as an antibiotic first.

–          Hayssen points out that a protein specific to mothers milk evolved from lysosomes

  • Colostrum- thick yellowish fluid present in the breast before and after birth is the closest to ancient mothers milk

Cellular Equivalent of a Pharmacy

–          Colostrum has been used for  immunological protection

–          Fresh mothers’ milk kills one of the main dysentery causing amoebas- enta-moeba histolytic, along with a diarrhea causing parasite Giardia lamblia.

–          A glycoprotein in mothers milk has been shown to protect against rotavirus

–          Immunological protection ranks as one of the most important maternal effects

–          Like the cellular equivalent of a pharmacy the mothers’ mammary glands deliver secretory immunoglobulins.

Elixirs of Contentment

–          Breast feeding also led to the evolution of brand new chemical agents with the task of promoting intimacy  

–          It was said that the feeling of euphoria after birth was caused by the hormone oxytocin

–          Oxytocin is a newcomer to the endocrine scene unique to mammals

–          Oxytocin is manufactured in both the brain or the body (ovaries or testes)

–          Pulses of oxytocin set off contractions at birth

–          Oxytocin comes from a Greek word okus meaning swift and tokos for birth

–          Oxytocin levels go up whenever a person undergoes a massage, or love making

–          When breast feeding the pituitary is signaled to release more oxytocin, which causes muscles to contract and milk to release.

Lactation and Destiny

–          Three things about lactation were new

  1. Lactation was a caretaking adaption linked to a specific sex as never before
  2. The valuable formula for keeping infants alive would make the individuals who produced milk more valuable

–          Female ovarian function became more sensitive than ever to maternal condition and local circumstances

–          Lactation became one more factor that intensified competition between kin.

  1. The prolonged intimacy between mothers and infants and the availability of mother milk is permitted

–          This one would be the most significant of the three for the evolution of social relationships and new parts of the brain

The beginnings of Social Intelligence

–          Offspring inherit traits from their mother and father. Genetic imprinting silences or inactivates information carried on the gene originating from the other parent

–          Studies began with individuals born with only an X chromosome

–          Girls whose X chromosome derived from their mother were less sociable than those who received it from their father

–          The women are normally the ones who remain home with their kin. Men are the ones who depart to fight or breed.

The origins of compassion

–          Lactation turns out to be the key player in the evolution of animals who were both social and intelligent

–          Lactation requires a female to stay near her young

–          This prolonged association between mother and suckling provides the chance and necessity for social intelligence

  • Long lasting and intimate relationships between a lactating mother and her offspring

–          Mothers contributions are not just physiological she also passes on a social legacy

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