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  • Writer's pictureMegan Dunn

The Carry Mammal Connection: Insights into Infant Care Needs

Updated: Mar 15

There are cache mammals (deer, rabbits), follow mammals (calves, giraffe), nest mammals ( cats, dogs), and carry mammals (apes, kangaroos). Humans are carry mammals! Like all carry mammals, our young are born immature and are completely dependent after birth.


Cache mammals are born mature and their parent leaves them in a safe place and returns only twice a day to feed.  These babies stay very quiet and thrive on very fatty and high protein milk.

Follow mammals are those knobby kneed fowls and calves we see quickly standing after birth and following their mother around to suckle as needed. Their milk is lower in fat and protein than the cache mammals however it still needs to be fairly high to support not only the growth of the baby but also their higher energy needs which come from walking around and the occasional bolt to run from predators.

Nesting animals start out as cache and then later become follow mammals.  They are often born in litters and the young keep each other warm while the mother is away. Their milk is somewhere between cache and follow mammals.

Human babies are carry animals.  Human babies are born among the most immature and high needs. Human babies need to stay in constant contact with their caregiver for warmth and very frequent feeding. Because they are fed often and have constant access to milk, the milk of carry animals is among the lowest in fat and protein. 


So what does this tell us about the needs of human babies?

·         We thrive when in constant contact with our caregivers

·         We need to be fed often for the milk and also for the soothing suckling brings

·         Sleep is likely to be in short spurts and also around the clock


“In 1962, Brazelton reported a seminal analysis of infants’ cry durations over the first 12 weeks of life” This study found a predictable pattern of a peak at 6 weeks and then a decline until 12 weeks.  Other research since then has replicated with similar findings with peaks from 6-8 weeks.  I think it’s also important to look at what else was occurring in parenting practices at that time and what has continued today.

By the 1940s and 1950s, physicians and consumers regarded the use of formula as a well known, popular, and safe substitute for breastmilk”  By the 1960s, breastfeeding for any length of time was increasingly rare – fewer than 25% of babies had any history of nursing- in the US, UK, and there was steadily decline of breastfeeding in other “Westernized” countries.


The 1960s was also marked by new and upcoming “baby experts” who gave advice in women’s magazines and used pseudonyms which gave the impression of medical competence.  Recommendations included very strict scheduling of feeds often only 6 times per 24 hours even for newborns and expectations that infants should sleep alone, in a crib in their own room, and that infant crying was something to be expected and often ignored.


When we try to change the way babies are meant to be cared for – how we evolved in bonding with our caregivers – there are consequences.

Having a more realistic understanding of the needs of our infants can help us plan for our babies. 


Because human babies are so immature and need constant care, we have evolved in social groups meant to help us care for our babies and ourselves as we recover from pregnancy and birth.  Increasingly, states are offering paid family leave time so both parents can be there for the early months of caring for their child. In my many years of supporting families, the families that do the best are those with very robust support systems of grandparents, siblings, friends, and neighbors all chipping in to take care of household tasks, cooking, cleaning, and errands – a lasagna isn’t enough!


Other families save up or use insurance benefits for professional postpartum care with a doula.  While this may not be an option for many of us, there are many ways you can prepare during pregnancy to care for yourself and your brand new carry mammal newborn.


We know that individual prenatal education reduces nipple and nursing pain, increases parent confidence, and increases exclusivity and duration of nursing. 

Every parent deserves individual care to help prepare for their baby.

References: LLLI,often%20and%20carried%20a%20lot Feldman, R. (2016). The neurobiology of mammalian parenting and the biosocial context of human caregiving. Hormones and behavior, 77, 3-17.

Fewtrell, M. S., Mohd Shukri, N. H., & Wells, J. C. (2020). ‘Optimising’breastfeeding: what can we learn from evolutionary, comparative and anthropological aspects of lactation?. BMC medicine, 18, 1-10.

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