9-month-old Henry is just
now 'full term' for a mammalHumans are fascinating creatures. With our advanced grey matter, our noggins get pretty big, pretty fast. Human babies have huge heads. In fact, we're helping out our mom when we are born because if we stayed in the uterus until our body was more developed, equal to that of other newborn animals, our brain and head would be too big to fit out of the birth canal!
The late Ashley Montagu, an anthropologist, scientist, and humanist wrote a lot about how human beings develop, but was especially known for his constant and outspoken advocacy for children. One of his ideas, that I find brilliant and totally logical is the idea that humans have an 18-month gestational period -- 9 inside the mother and 9 outside.
According to Montagu's extensive research and knowledge of anatomy, physiology and anthropology, he says the human newborn is around "half-done", delivered only out of physiological need to still be able to fit out of their mom.
Us human moms also don't have nearly as many natural instincts as other mammals -- we kiss our newborns which is similar in instinct to grooming, but much of the stimulation to the nerves that animal grooming provides is actually done with our labor process. So the skin-on-skin bonding time, and breastfeeding, and closeness between the human mommy and the newborn is our way of mimicking a lot of mammalian reactions.
We're hardwired to instantly want to comfort our babies and our breasts even tell us right away when a baby cries that WE need to go to them and feed them and comfort them. We're not designed to be separated from our babies, ladies! In fact, there are some cultures where babies are literally never allowed to touch the ground until they're 8 months old, which is around the time babies can crawl around independently, and also become aware that they are a unique entity and not an extension of you.
That time, 9 months old or so, is when Montagu says human babies are considered full-term by all physiological standards. By the end of the first year, the baby's brain has more than doubled in size and is approximately 60 percent of it's full adult size, and baby humans are finally about as capable as newborns of other species. About the only other animals that have such "premature" babies are kangaroos and other primates, who if you remember, carry their infants non-stop for long periods of time. Many monkeys continue to breastfeed, even without solids, into their second year, some into 4-5 years.
I think Montagu is brilliant and describing the first 9 months as part of the gestation period makes so much sense. Babies go from 24/7 food supply and physical contact into an open world where even eating 20 hours a day is still a huge drop in their norm. As Montagu says in his own book called Touching: The Human Significance of the Skin:
If we all gained deeper insight into the great physiological and environmental demands made upon the newborn, then perhaps we would eradicate the mistaken view of the newborn as being fully prepared to survive outside the womb. What is clear is that the newborn undergoes a period of transformation that does not occur instantly but gradually.
Let them separate and mature as they're ready, and accept that it can take a lot of time. They're born totally helpless, and independence is developed, not taught. They'll separate when they're biologically designed to.
Do you think his theory of babies having an 18 month gestation period is accurate?
Image via Jmum/CafeMom