gap with animal mothers

In Search of the Missing Link: What Is It That Makes Us Human?

“To imagine new events you need an open-ended system capable of combining old information into new scenarios. If mental time travel evolved for this purpose, then the price of this flexibility is that we may at times reconstruct past events creatively rather than faithfully—which explains some of the typical errors of episodic memory.”

Professor Thomas Suddendorf

Bridging the Gap With Animal Mothers

Thomas Suddendorf, the author of “The Gap: The Science of What Separates Us from Other Animals” grew up in Germany. He completed his postgraduate studies in New Zealand. Traveling the world in pursuit of scientific truths, he has earned awards from the Australian Psychological Society as well as the American Psychological Association. His book received critical acclaim and is already being translated into several languages.

A review of the book points to several phrases that help define its purpose, which is to determine exactly what it is that differentiate humans from the rest of the animal kingdom. One of the focuses of his research is comparing the mental capacities of human children with those of animals to answer the elusive question of what lies between the gap with animal mothers as compared to human ones.

Among those differences are a “drive to connect with other minds” and “nested scenario building”, which is described as a form of mental time travel. According to Suddendorf, one aspect of the human gap with the animal mother is the ability to imagine what others may be thinking. While a sentence such as

“I think she thinks that I think that she likes me”

may be a little confusing, we are able to determine its meaning. For animals, such a sentence with a similar meaning would be literally unthinkable. Unlike our cousins, the apes, we are able to imagine scenarios without ever having experienced them, including dangerous scenarios, which we can rehearse from the safety of our armchairs.

Former Theories of Possible Differences

Professor Suddendorf isn’t the first to ask and attempt to answer the question of the gap with animal mothers. Mark Twain pointed out that the difference between animals and humans was the ability to blush, and added that humans were the only species that had reason to do so.

One answer to the question of the gap with animal mothers was the human ability to use tools, but researchers have discovered cases in which animals too have not only used, but invented, tools.

Others have suggested that it was cooking food, but Bonobos have been observed to be able to build a fire as well as cook. Of course, he did use matches invented by humans to do it.

The human ability to formulate language was once believed to be the difference between humans and other species. However, several other species have demonstrated the ability to learn both the sounds and meanings of many words in human language, as well as communicate through sign language.

Anthropologist and author Ernest Becker, in his brilliant Pulitzer Prize winning book “The Denial of Death” postulated that the answer to the gap with animal mothers is that humans are the only species with awareness of their own mortality. While researchers like Professor Suddendorf have conducted experiments which demonstrate that members of the ape family closest to humans are able to recognize their own images in a mirror, awareness of mortality would be much more difficult to determine.

According to Suddendorf, the major differences lie in the human desire to know what is in the hearts and minds of others and the ability to imagine things we haven’t actually experienced. These two traits resulted in humans being able to develop language and use memory to mentally visualize the future, a form of abstract reasoning necessary to survive within complex social networks. He also believes that being able to imagine what others may be thinking or feeling, or empathy, contributed to the development of morality. However, he concludes that we may never fully understand the gap with animal mothers because our closest living genetic relatives are quickly becoming extinct. If that happens, any future research that may hold the key to our genetic past, and perhaps our future, will be lost.

If you’ve ever wondered about the gap with animal mothers, or what made humans able to invent the wheel or control fire, you might enjoy Professor Suddendorf’s TED talk . It is as educational as it is entertaining.

gap with animal mothers
Human physiognomies next to animal physiognomies. Etching, c. 1820, after C. Le Brun. CC BY 4.0 Wikimedia Commons
instinctive survival

The Evolution of Childhood: Earlier Puberty and Instinctive Survival

“Empowering women is the next step in human evolution, and as the uniquely endowed creatures we are, we can choose to help bring it about.”

–Melvin Konner

Dr. Melvin Konner, author and professor at Emory University combines anthropology, neuroscience and behavioral psychology to formulate some theories about the evolution of human instinctive survival skills. His book, “The Evolution of Childhood: Relationships, Emotion, Mind” received rave reviews. If you’ve ever wondered why humans take so long to reach maturity compared to other mammals, he presents some interesting answers.

According to Konner, in order for women’s bodies to accommodate the evolutionary increase in the size of the human brain during childbirth, women began giving birth three months sooner than the ideal twelve month gestation period. This premature birth accounts for the complete helplessness of the human infant compared to other mammal infants. That larger brain continues to mature for the 7 to 10 years of childhood until puberty. During that time, one instinctive survival technique for most cultures is to begin entrusting children with increasingly complex tasks, which in Western culture is usually schoolwork.

While it may be mature enough in childhood for short term tasks, the brain continues developing for several more years. The frontal lobe of the brain responsible for suppressing impulses and controlling behavior isn’t fully developed until approximately age 20. The combination of a fully developed body, a still developing brain, and the addition of hormones can make adolescence an instinctive survival challenge for parents. However, Konner suggests that the expectation of Western culture that children move out on their own at the age of 18 may be a contributing factor to the difficulty of adolescence.

In many other cultures, children continue to live with their parents or extended family until they are married, sometimes as late as their thirties. Gaining independence and all the responsibilities associated with it is easier with a fully developed brain and without surging hormones. Konner believes that adolescents often rebel as a way of rejecting parents who they feel are rejecting them through their expectations that they leave home and achieve independence in the near future.

Recent Evolutionary Biological Changes for Instinctive Survival

Human evolution is the result of adaptation to both the physical and social environments. One recent evolutionary change, that of puberty being younger than the previous generation, has been in response to social customs. One of the possible reasons is improved nutrition. However, while puberty has accelerated, the development of the human brain hasn’t, which is one reason that the hormones associated with puberty cause more aggressive behavior There is also some evidence to suggest that earlier puberty can be triggered by a consistency negative, abusive or neglectful home environment. Stress hormones can trigger physical changes helpful for survival, including early puberty.

One reason humans achieved supremacy over other mammals was because of a longer life span after menopause, which resulted in more people to care for children. In an interview with Salon magazine, he suggested that homosexuality may serve a similar instinctive survival purpose. Many homosexual couples do not reproduce themselves, but often care for children of siblings and friends, as well as adopt children. Konner points to the fact that other species accept homosexuality for much the same reason.

Political Power for Women—A Modern Evolutionary Instinctive Survival Tool

Konner champions the empowerment of women, and points to scientific biological evidence that women may be better suited to serve in politically powerful positions than men. For example, in an article in the Wall Street Journal, he referred to a study of 120 mayors of cities over 30,000 which included 65 men and 55 women. The study concluded that women are more likely to seek and encourage broad participation and reallocate funds for necessary programs than men. They are also less likely to solve problems using violence and aggression.

In response to those who point to women in power who have waged war, such as Margaret Thatcher, Indira Gandhi and Golda Meir, he says that

“…these women were perched atop all-male hierarchies confronting other hyper-masculine political pyramids, and they were masculinized as they fought their way to the top.”

Much aggressive behavior is caused by testosterone. During gestation in males, testosterone creates the potential for future aggression by affecting the development of the hypothalamus and the amygdala. Women’s brains are less affected by testosterone, which makes them more likely to deal with conflict by using diplomacy rather than violence.

Now that technology has reduced the importance of physical size and strength as instinctive survival tools, it makes good evolutionary sense that women assume more equal positions of power.

Evolution of man

rhesus animal mother

The Importance of Extended Family and What We Can Learn From Our Distant Cousins

“In our study of psychopathology, we began as sadists trying to produce abnormality. Today, we are psychiatrists trying to achieve normality and equanimity.”

–Harry Harlow

The Rhesus Animal Mother and Her Contributions to Science and Motherhood

The rhesus animal mother has contributed more to our knowledge of human development than most people realize, and at a great cost. Harry Harlow, a contemporary of Abraham Maslow, conducted research using rhesus monkeys that demonstrated the importance of caregiving and companionship in social and cognitive development. In 1932, he began a breeding colony of Rhesus macaques in order to study their natural behavior. He then performed scientific experiments and noted how their behavior changed under certain conditions.

In nature, the rhesus animal mother is diurnal, and raises her young both in trees and on land. They are mostly herbivorous, feeding mainly on fruit, seeds, roots and bark. Females can outnumber males by as much as 4:1, and they have a separate hierarchy from that of the males. For breeding purposes, they exhibit philopatry, which is returning to the same breeding ground repeatedly. Females have very strong matrilineal hierarchies. Her rank depends upon the rank of her mother. A single group of females may have a number of matrilineal lines within the hierarchy. Unlike other species of monkeys, part of the ranking is based on fitness and fertility, which results in younger females often ranking higher than their older sisters.

Males provide resources and protection from predators, so the potential rhesus animal mother attempts to mate with larger males that are most likely to ensure the survival of their young. During the breeding period of up to eleven days, females mate with up to four males. The rhesus animal mother reaches sexual maturity at four years of age, and remains fertile until menopause at age twenty-five. Males, aside from their role as protectors and providers, do not participate in raising their offspring, but maintain peaceful relationships with them.

A rhesus animal mother with an infant and one or more older daughters that have not yet reached child-bearing age often delegate infant care to those daughters. These high-ranking females often reject their infants and mate earlier in the breeding season than usual after having given birth. Some even abuse their infants, investing little time in their development. These behaviors are associated with the increased stress of caring for multiple offspring.

In his study, Harry Harlow reared rhesus monkeys in a nursery setting, rather than with their mothers. This controversial study involved a high degree of maternal deprivation. The rhesus animal mother raised in isolation without its own mother has difficulty accepting contact with infants or exhibiting normal maternal behavior. During these experiments, monkeys were isolated for periods of time ranging from 3 months to up to 15 years, then placed in various settings where their behavior was observed. Abnormal behaviors that resulted from the isolation included blank staring, repetitive motion and circling, and even self-mutilation. Consequently, there was a loud public outcry against the cruelty of these experiments.

One of the reasons for the public outcry is that rhesus monkeys are so close to humans, sharing 93% of our DNA. They also have similar cognitive abilities, including the ability to understand rules, make judgments, and be aware of their own mental states. In 2014, it was reported in India that an unconscious rhesus monkey was revived by another giving it a crude kind of CPR. The results of these studies, although they were obtained in such a cruel manner, provide some important information.

For monkeys that were isolated for six months, it was found that they could achieve complete social recovery by being exposed to younger monkeys that provided peer therapy. It was also found that the experience of touch is extremely important. Monkeys that were touch deprived, in addition to abnormal behaviors, also displayed weakened immune systems. The studies showed an indisputable link between the amount of physical contact such as grooming an infant received in the first six months and its ability to produce antibodies by one year of age. Valuable research is still being conducted with rhesus monkeys, but using far more humane methodology.

One of the most important results of Harlow’s experiments was reducing the influence of childcare “experts” that advocated not spoiling children with too much affection. The human mother owes a debt of gratitude to her distant cousin, the rhesus animal mother, for her sacrifices in demonstrating the true power of a mother’s loving touch.

rhesus animal mother
Rhesus monkey, by Aiwok
bonobo animal mother

Sisterhood Is Powerful: The Bonobo Animal Mother

Human mothers could learn a few things from a bonobo animal mother. One of the most important parenting skills of the bonobo animal mother is mastering group dynamics. In addition to being smaller than their cousins, the chimpanzee, one of the distinguishing features of the bonobo is their matriarchal society. Despite being smaller than the males, through the power of sisterhood, female bonobos enjoy superior social status. Bonding together, they present a united front in support of the alpha female.

One of the bonding mechanisms of peaceful bonobo society is sexuality, which is utilized for many purposes other than reproduction. In fact, sexual activity between females is common, and serves a variety of purposes in addition to creating strong bonds. Bonobos are non-monogamous, and rather sexuality being a form of exclusive commitment, it is instead a form of social diplomacy. It may be one of the reasons that rank is less important in bonobo society than in those of other primates.

Sex among bonobos serves many of the same purposes that it does for humans. Sexual behavior is engaged in to de-escalate aggression, express excitement, or even as a form of greeting. Whatever the reason, the result is usually an increase in sharing and compassion. These beneficial effects of sexuality have been described by sex therapist Dr. Susan Block in her book “The Bonobo Way: The Evolution of Peace Through Pleasure”.

Similarities and Differences Between the Human Mother and the Bonobo Animal Mother

Motherhood has its privileges, and as the sole guardians of future generations, one of those privileges is control over the food supply. Even though bonobo society is a relatively peaceful and harmonious one, bonobo animal mother is a fierce defender. Banding together, the females will attack any male bonobo that poses a threat to the resources necessary to care for their young. They have even been known to bite off fingers and toes.

Males are afforded social status only through the acceptance and consent of the alpha female. The rank of the male is dependent upon the rank of his mother, the sons of alpha mothers enjoying the highest rank among the males. Child-bearing age for the bonobo animal mother begins between 13 and 14 years of age. Unlike human mothers, they only give birth every five to six years. During those five years, the bonobo animal mother carries and nurses her offspring.

Our Genetic Link to the Development of Empathy

Genetically, humans have more in common with the bonobo than most people realize. In fact, humans share 98.7% of their DNA with bonobos. Human lineage diverged from that of chimpanzees and bonobos over five million years ago. Chimpanzees and bonobos diverged only two million years ago, so they still share 99.6% of the same genomes. Unfortunately, the Bonobo, which live along the Congo River, have become an endangered species. In order to preserve them, and everything we can still learn about ourselves through them, an animal sanctuary was created in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
There, researchers Zanna Clay and Frans de Waal of Emory University were able to further study study their social behavior. Their focus was on the emotional development of bonobos as expressed by consolatory behavior after experiencing distress during a negative social interaction. The results of their study demonstrated many developmental similarities between bonobos and human children. One of those similarities was the importance of the relationship between mothering and the development of empathy for others.
It was found that orphaned bonobos cared for by the animal sanctuary displayed less empathy and conciliatory behavior than those cared for by their mothers. As with humans, conciliatory behavior includes affectionate touching upon meeting after having distanced as the result of an accidental injury during horseplay or a dispute. Those cared for by their mothers were able to regulate their emotions more effectively, displaying conciliatory behavior sooner than the orphaned bonobos. In human terms, they were less likely to hold a grudge after having been offended or injured.
Empathy and conciliatory behavior is even more important for humans, which experience sibling rivalry as well as social competition for resources. Humans have also developed dangerously sophisticated weaponry with which to resolve their disputes. All parents would do well to foster, and expand, the capacity for empathy found in bonobo society, or we too may one day become an endangered species.
bonobo animal mother
blended family life

How Creating a Blended Family Life Is A Work of Art in Progress

“One of the great enemies of a blended family is the fact that we live in the age of instant everything. It’s natural for Mom and Dad to assume that they’ll have “instant success” with their new marriage and the new family it creates. Sometimes they naively assume that because they love each other so much and because they’ve found the “right” mate “this time,” marriage is going to be so much more wonderful the second time around, and the kids will gladly come along for the ride. The truth is, however, that the term blended family is a misnomer. It’s much more accurate to say that a step family is blending.”

— Dr Kevin Leman

The Modern Prevalence of Blended Family Life

Statistics show that the number of blended families continues to rise. In fact, currently, 40% of all U.S. families are blended families, and that percentage is only counting those who are legally married. There are also many “unofficial” blended families. While divorce statistics have risen steadily over the last decade, the majority of divorced parents marry again. For women under 45, 63% of their remarriages result in a blended family.

Blended families are also commonly created by previously unmarried parents as well as those who have lost a spouse. It is estimated that step-families are created in approximately one third of all U.S. marriages. While the circumstances that lead to a blended family life may differ, the one constant is that an adult makes a commitment to assume a supportive or parental role to the children of their romantic partner.

Challenges of Blended Family Life

With the right tools, many of the unique challenges that blended families face can become opportunities for both personal growth and building strong mutually supportive relationships. Blended families often experience conflict during the process of learning about one another and forming emotional attachments and working relationships. Among common conflicts are children having difficulty sharing. Whether they are adapting to sharing a parent’s time and attention, their personal space, or their toys, learning to share what was previously theirs alone can take time. To help make the transition to blended family life a smooth one, it’s important to have some conflict resolution strategies in place.

Another common source of conflict lies in the process of the step-parent assuming parental authority. Experts suggest that while authority must be given by biological parents as soon as possible, they further suggest that it be exercised only as an extension of the biological parent’s authority until a mutually respectful relationship has been developed. Consistent enforcement of rules that have already been agreed upon and put into place is a good way to build a child’s trust.

To avoid the common occurrence of children of divorced parents attempting to divide them in order to gain more freedom or privileges, parental unity is important. Rules, and the consequences for breaking them, should be negotiated by parents and step-parents in private, then communicated to the children by the parent with the step-parent present in a supportive role. This helps avoid power struggles that end with a child refusing to follow a rule on the grounds that “you’re not my father”.

Another challenge of blending two families is the continued presence of a former spouse in the children’s lives. Agreeing upon and maintaining consistency with rules and consequences is difficult even for two parents, and can be even more so with three or more. This is especially true if one of the causes of the divorce was irreconcilable differences—in parenting. Studies have proven that maintaining relationships with non-custodial parents is important to children’s well-being. Luckily, there are online resources as well as in-person support groups to help smooth the transition, or even provide ongoing emotional support.

Some Benefits of Blended Family Life

Financial and Emotional Support
Of course, far fewer people would accept the challenges of blended family life if it didn’t also offer beneficial and richly rewarding experiences. One of those benefits is economic. Sometimes it means adding an additional income to the family, which can make the difference between a child receiving music lessons or receiving free school lunches. Good day care for working parents is expensive, and when one parent can remain home to care for young children, both the children and the family finances benefit.

Many of the benefits of blended family life for children are of the mental and emotional variety. Personality traits that result from having more adults in their lives, such as increased flexibility, will serve them well throughout their adult lives. They are also more likely to develop superior negotiation skills, partly as a result of having observed that skill being modeled. With more adults in their lives, they are exposed to more interests, talents, skills and abilities, which can have the effect of making them more creative, interesting and popular adults. Finally, they have the opportunity to learn a greater variety of communication styles.

Parents in families expanded by commitment also experience those benefits—plus smiles and hugs from children.

blended family life

scientific baby care

How Scientific Baby Care Can Increase Your Child’s Emotional Intelligence

“Each time you help your child think and feel about what he is experiencing, and each time you find the right words for his intense feelings, you are probably helping the development of more sophisticated communication networks in your child’s corpus callosum.”

Margot Sunderland

The Latest Developments in Scientific Baby Care

UNICEF,  United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund, an organization devoted to the well-being of children, regularly holds conferences for the purposes of presenting the newest scientific discoveries related to parenting. At a 2012 UNICEF conference, psychologist, author and director of the Centre for Child Mental Health in London Margot Sunderland gave a presentation of her latest scientific findings. That information may just prove to make the world a better place, one family at a time. According to one review, that information, contained in her book, “The Science of Parenting” may just prove to make the world a happier place, one family at a time.

It’s fairly well-known that the global use of anti-depressants has skyrocketed since 2000 and continues to increase each year. While depression can be the result of social and economic conditions such as war and poverty, it can also be the result of the body’s inability to produce sufficient amounts of the naturally occurring substances that prevent it.

The body’s ability to produce oxytocin, prolactin, and benzodiazepines, all of which contribute to reducing anxiety and aggression and increasing social bonding, can be affected by changes in the brain. Secure attachment and positive relationships between parents and children activate production of these naturally occurring hormones.

The Relationship Between Interactions, Hormones, and Brain Development

Brain connections develop and multiply rapidly between birth and the age of three, during which they double more than 20 times. The results of several studies have demonstrated that parental interaction is the single most important factor in stimulating intellectual and emotional growth. For example, one study showed a greater increase in vocabulary in children whose parents verbally transmitted information while interacting than those who were exposed to the same information through a video.

As much as our amazing technology may separate us from the rest of the animal kingdom, our limbic systems still have the same innate responses to stimuli as those of other mammals. Part of scientific baby care is increasing parental knowledge of the biological responses associated with familial interactions. For example, when a baby cries, blood pressure and stress hormones are elevated, and its heart rate, temperature and breathing fluctuate. If the baby’s cry is not responded to, several physical responses occur. Those responses include a lower heart rate and temperature and the release of a growth-inhibiting hormone called somatostatin. These physical responses are part of going into survival mode, an evolutionary adaptation of all higher mammals to avoid attracting predators through continued distress signals such as crying. Since no parent is capable of responding immediately and appropriately every time their child cries, it is estimated that up to 30% of parenting is a matter of repairing the damage that the demands of modern daily life have on the parent-child relationship.

Scientific Baby Care Results in Action

In today’s modern fast-paced world, the time required for sustained meaningful interaction is at a premium, especially for working parents. Luckily, the results of some scientific studies are not only finding new reasons for parents to feel guilty, but providing the basis for new inventions that allow even busy parents to benefit from them. Some of them are even inspiring new scientific baby care inventions capable of increasing the quality and frequency of parent-child interaction.

For example, according to one study, one of the ways that parents can provide more of the crucial face-to-face contact necessary for secure attachment, brain development, and the production of life-sustaining hormones is by using a parent-facing baby carriage. The study involved 2,722 parents and found that parents interacted with their babies twice as much using a face-to-face carriage. Babies also initiated interaction with their parent more often. Children who faced forward had difficulty attracting their parent’s attention and parents were unable to observe their babies facial expressions to determine their level of distress.

The first reversible stroller in which the child could face either the parent or outwards was invented in 1889 by William Richardson. However, due to the invention of cars and more frequent travel, the outward facing umbrella stroller invented in 1965 by aeronautical engineer Owen Maclaren quickly became popular.

The findings of scientific baby care experts has resulted in the re-emergence of reversible strollers. This reversal proves that sometimes progress in scientific baby care consists of adapting technology to our humanity, rather than adapting our humanity to technology.

outsourcing baby care
Child and Doll by Lillybridge, Charles S., 1849-1935 – Denver Public Library Photoswest. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commo
Instinctive Parenting

Instinctive Parenting: The Attempt To Re-Unite Nature And Nurture

“Marxists base all their efforts on the assumption that there is no such thing as human nature, in the sense of innate dispositions, and that man is shaped by his social environment alone. Now there is no doubt that the social environment shapes man to a significant extent – it is in man’s malleability that our hope lies – but innate dispositions are equally demonstrable. If only these can be taken into consideration then society might be spared a number of fruitless experiments.”

Irenäus Eibl-Eibesfeldt

A colleague of Nobel prize winner Konrad Lorenz, Irenaus Eibl-Eibesfeldt, one of the things he concerned himself with was refuting the “blank slate” theory. He also addressed the issue of human aggression and mankind’s frequent desire to transcend the limitations of their own humanity in order to reduce its influence on society. That desire has resulted in both many astounding achievements and some unfortunate consequences. Instinctive parenting, he argued, is a combination of nature and nurture. His insistence that we are indeed a part of the animal kingdom is evident in the title of his highly regarded yet relatively unknown book, Human Ethology.

Breastfeeding is one of the best examples of how nature is designed to elicit nurture. Through the body’s milk production, a win-win situation is created in that nursing relieves the pressure of overfull breasts while simultaneously relieving the pain of the baby’s empty stomach. Much of what is referred to as instinctive parenting is rooted in human physiology, so it’s appropriate that a baby searching for a nipple is referred to as “rooting”.

However, while instinctive parenting behaviors may be hard-wired, they are also dependent upon stimuli from the environment, such as the sound of a hungry baby’s cry, to be triggered. Modern mothers were discouraged from breastfeeding, and given the impression bottle feeding represented the next stage in human evolution in which they would no longer be controlled by biology. However, this view has too often resulted in parents being controlled not by nature, but by corporations selling manufactured baby formula instead.

Animal behaviors that are referred to as “instinctual” are not just the result of innate genetic programming, but are in fact a combination of physical imperatives combined with complex interactions with the environment. Among those interactions are observations of the parenting behavior of other animals within a species. Contrary to popular belief, animal mothers that do not have the opportunity to observe parenting behavior often have difficulty carrying out their maternal duties. Despite the powerful imperative of instinct, the same is true for humans.

Unfortunately, many social constructs, such as the division of labor and the nuclear family, reduce opportunities for active observation and physical emulation of parenting skills. This reduces the number of environmental stimuli that trigger instinctual parenting responses. Compared to “primitive” pre-industrial societies, today’s parents experience a much higher degree of social isolation.

The importance of physical hands-on experience is has been demonstrated through numerous studies. One long-term study based on John Bowlby’s attachment theories demonstrated that babies receiving physical contact with their parents within the first hour after birth displayed long-lasting positive effects. Hospitals have since made changes that recognize the results of these findings, such as postponing routine tests and treatments until after the parents and child have had some bonding time.

Baby talk is another example of instinctual parenting. Babies are able to distinguish high-pitched sounds more easily. Consequently, without any conscious reasoning, both mothers and fathers naturally speak to babies in a higher octave than their normal conversational voices. The shift in tone also helps the baby identify when they are hearing sounds meant specifically for them, which gives them a pleasurable sense of being included. In the 1930’s and 40’s baby talk was discouraged on the theory that it impeded children’s language learning ability. In fact, even innate language-learning ability is dependent on environmental stimuli, which includes emotional bonding that results in a desire to communicate more intimately. That’s one reason that even adults who are dating indulge in baby-talk.

Other environmental stimuli that trigger instinctive parenting responses are smiling, crying, and touching. Parents worldwide experience the same joyful bonding response to the first time their baby grasps their finger with its tiny ones. Pheromones also play a role in stimulating social responses. Largely due to overcrowding in cities as well as corporate advertising, it has become common to mask our natural odors with manufactured products. The sweet-smelling scent of her baby is one of the environmental triggers for releasing a mother’s breast milk.

Oxytocin and prolactin, both found in high concentrations in new mothers, have been shown to trigger instinctive parenting behaviors. These powerful hormones have a calming effect, which prepares the mother for lactation, breastfeeding and cuddling with her baby. Negative environmental stimuli that causes emotional disturbance can disrupt the production of these hormones. This could be one reason why children of mothers living in poverty exhibit more behaviors indicative of attachment disorders.

Instinctive parenting may be considered “primitive” but what is referred to as instinctive parenting needs to be very closely tied to the early hours, days and weeks of a newborn with the adult or parent.

Instinctive Parenting

Dedicated Animal Mother

The Awe-Inspiring Parenting Skills And Dedication of Animal Mother : Penguins

Mutual Cooperation and the Importance of Timing

In the realm of the animal kingdom, few animal mothers are as dedicated as penguins, so matter what species of penguin she happens to be. Male penguins are equally dedicated to the preservation and safety of their young. For penguins, the survival of their young is not possible without mutual cooperation and concerted effort.

Penguin parents often have to travel more than 30 miles away from their offspring in order to find food. Neither eggs nor newly hatched chicks can be left alone that long, so penguin parents take turns staying at the clutch to care for them for periods of 10 days or longer. A penguin parent will not leave its egg unless it becomes dangerously close to starvation itself, which is why the timing of their return to the clutch to relieve the other parent must be impeccable.

For tropical African penguins, nick-named jackass penguins because they make a loud noise resembling a donkey, the trek for food is a little easier than for Arctic penguins. If the parents are successful in protecting their young from predators such as girdle lizards and kelp gulls, these penguins can enjoy a life span of over 30 years. Interestingly, their patterns and spots are as individual as human fingerprints which is yet another way these animal mothers can easily distinguish the fathers of their broods.

Jealousy and Family Preservation

Due to changing weather conditions, some Arctic penguins now have to walk close to 70 miles from their laying grounds to feed. Despite the willingness of these amazing animal mothers and fathers to do whatever is necessary to renew the cycle of life, many of them die without being able to return. Unlike humans, the mourning period for the loss of a mate is relatively brief.

Almost immediately, the search is begun for a new mate, However, there have also been cases in which the original mate reappeared after a new mate had already been found. The result was that the new mate, and her eggs, were promptly forced out of his nest by the first mate. The evicted animal mother then had to search for another unattached male. In cases in which the male returned later than anticipated and found a different female than his mate in his nest, the response has been to evict both her and the eggs before leaving to build a whole new nest.

The Importance of Community

Emperor penguins have a longer incubation period than their tropical counterparts. The male penguins care for the eggs during for the entire 60 days while she is away. During those 60 days, she focuses on feeding on and storing food that she will regurgitate to provide nutrients for her young upon her return. Throughout those long months, male penguins huddle together in solidarity and warmth to keep themselves and their eggs from freezing during the harsh Arctic winter. Human father would do well to emulate this behavior and form, as mothers have, parenting support groups for one another. Just as with human parents, it would be almost impossible for these animal mothers and fathers to succeed in raising their young to adulthood completely alone. Without one another, as well as the assistance of the larger penguin community, very few would survive.

Purely by instinct, these animal mothers return from their journeys to find their mates and newly hatched chicks at the appropriate time. However, those age-instincts have been disrupted by changing topography. Sadly, changing weather conditions and shifting land masses due to global warming have resulted in the loss of 50% of Arctic penguins.

In addition to the importance of cooperation, timing, and community for the preservation of family, perhaps an equally important lesson that human parents can learn from penguins is the vital necessity of preserving the planet upon which all life, including ours, is dependent.

Dedicated Animal Mother


How A Male Animal Mother Reacts—Parenting Lessons From Animal Kingdom

A Male Animal Mother?

There is only one known species in the animal kingdom in which it is the male, rather than the female that experiences pregnancy and childbirth. That distinguishing feature belongs to the fish family Syngnathidae, whose members include pipefish, sea dragons, and seahorses.

The female seahorse deposits her eggs within the male’s pouch, where they remain incubating for 45 days until the contractions begin and he gives birth to them. Presumably, during the pregnancy, the female is out shopping for snacks. Through studying seahorses, researchers hope to discover the causes of this evolutionary change.

Once the female has deposited her unfertilized eggs into the male brood pouch, the male fertilizes them and then produces a protective tissue that grows around the eggs. In addition to producing protective tissue, he also controls the salt concentration levels in the pouch. Like human mothers, he also provides oxygen and nutrients through a structure resembling a placenta until the embryos have developed sufficiently to be born.

The sex roles of seahorses are also reversed during the mating ritual. Females compete for males with available pouch space. This role reversal results in the evolution of secondary sex traits like bright colors for purposes of attracting a mate. Seahorses are monogamous during each breeding season, reducing competition and ensuring that each of them has a mate. Since males have childbearing responsibility, they tend to be choosy about which female eggs they accept.

Using molecular markers to analyze maternity, researchers discovered that while male pipefish only receive eggs from a single female, female pipefish often mate with multiple males. That particular mating system is called “classic polyandry”.

Something’s Fishy—Acting Male Animal Mothers

During their spawning period, the male lumpsucker fish’s red coloring on his fins and belly becomes brighter. The females arrive at the spawning site first and lay up to 200,000 eggs in shallow water. When the males arrive, they fertilize the eggs and then attach themselves to an object near the eggs and guard them against predators as they develop. He continues to guard them after they hatch, and when they are strong enough, he guides them to deeper water.

In some species of frogs, the males carry tadpoles in their mouths until they are able to survive independently. They even deny themselves food during the process! Other types of frogs actually embed their young inside their own skin to protect them. The male pouched frog, was named for the pouch in which he carries his babies while they continue to develop and gain strength after hatching.

As Free As a Bird

The phenomenon of the male animal mother isn’t limited to fish and amphibians, either. It is also found in certain species of birds. For example, the jacana, which is a seabird, takes responsibility for building the nest. He also incubates the eggs and cares for the chicks. During this process, the females, much like the pipefish, mate with as many other males as possible before beginning their migration. The males often remain with the nest even after the females have migrated

Many people are familiar with the heroic role the male Emperor penguin plays as a devoted male animal mother. He must act as a mother because the arduous process of laying the egg leaves the mother so depleted that it takes her two months to recover. During that time, she can do little but feed. She must travel to a distant food source, leaving her egg behind with the male to care for it. He assumes the responsibility of keeping the egg warm throughout the winter, which means that he must balance it on the tops of his feet, away from the freezing ice, for two full months.

Another acting male animal mother from the bird family is the male rhea. Although he may mate with up to twelve females, it doesn’t stop him from earning the father of the year award. Not only does he built the nest, he incubates up to 50 eggs at a time for up to six weeks. Once the eggs hatch, he raises the chicks for their first six months with no help whatsoever from any of the mothers.

Male Parenting in Mammals

While wolves have a reputation for being loners, male wolves actually play a big part in the care and feeding of their offspring. They stand guard over their pups when predators are near, and also perform double duty when hunting for food that they generously share with their young until they are able to hunt for themselves.

Male marmosets have been known to act as midwives during the birth of their babies. They also take over the care and nurturing of the infants after the first few weeks. Their male animal mother duties include grooming, feeding and carrying them when necessary.

The most important lesson that we can learn from the animal kingdom is that it’s completely natural for fathers to assume equal, and sometimes even more, responsibility for their children, as mothers.

Here you you will find more about a wonderful mother in the animal kingdom, the wolf.


Female hormones

The Chemistry Of Emotion: Female Hormones and What About Hormone Replacement Therapy – part 3/3

“Women don’t know what to believe anymore,”

says Shelley R. Salpeter, MD, director of medicine consultation services at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center in San Jose, Calif.

The Basics of Hormone Replacement Therapy

Female Hormones

Hormone Replacement Therapy is used to replace two female hormones, estrogen and progesterone. Once a woman reaches menopause, her body’s levels of these hormones drastically drop, and this can cause very unpleasant side effects, such as hot flashes, vaginal dryness, severe mood swings, sleeplessness, and physical ailments like osteoporosis. The symptoms will eventually disappear over time, although the risk of osteoporosis won’t necessarily lessen. Unfortunately for most of us, we will be faced with these symptoms once menopause hits. Hormone Replacement Therapy is an option that works for many women, but there are pro’s and con’s to the therapy.

“If a woman in early menopause has low bone density, high cholesterol, mood changes, and sleep problems, she could just take one medicine — estrogen — instead of four,”

says Lynne T. Shuster, MD, director of the Women’s Health Clinic at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.


As we have seen in part 2/3, estrogen has a unique role namely reproduction. No other hormone can be held responsable. But estrogen, one of the female hormones, plays other roles in the body besides reproduction. It increases good cholesterol levels and helps the body use calcium more efficiently, thereby strengthening the bones. This is why doctors prescribe often the lowest dose of estrogen possible that will relieve menopausal symptoms, especially in women who have had a hysterectomy.


Progesterone should be used in conjunction with estrogen in HRT in women who have a uterus. This is because the risk of uterine cancer is increased, particularly cancer of the endometrium that lines the uterus.

Once menopause has begun, the endometrial cells are not sloughed off each month, and the build-up of cells increases the risk of cancer. By adding progesterone, the risk is lowered, because progesterone thins the endometrium. This type of Hormone Replacement Therapy is called Estrogen/Progesterone/Progestin Hormone Replacement Therapy. Progestin is the synthetic form of progesterone.

Hormone Replacement Therapy Benefits and Risks

Hormone Replacement Therapy has benefits and risks. It is important to talk to a doctor and weigh the risks for each individual, because some people are more at risk than others when replacing female hormones.

Information that is taken into account includes age, symptoms experienced, how long since menopause began, if it began early, and if it occurred as a result of surgery.

Other factors taken into account are family history of cardiovascular disease, thrombosis, and cancer, and an individual history of cardiovascular disease, and breast cancer.


Benefits of Hormone Replacement Therapy can be summed up as the benefits of female hormones such as estrogen and progestrone in particular. But the benefits are relief from menopausal symptoms and protection from osteoporosis and the risk of broken bones. Starting Hormone Replacement Therapy in the early stages of menopause carries benefits such as a lower risk of stroke, dementia and cardiovascular disease.


A risk associated with female hormone replacement therapy is breast cancer, because estrogen encourages formation of breast tissue.

Other risks include cardiovascular disease, stroke, deep vein thrombosis (blood clots form in veins deep in the body), and pulmonary embolism (artery blockage in the lungs).

I believe it is good to know that a more recent study of 2014 , but on post-menopausal ladies, published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal provided evidence of a risk for acute pancreatitis caused by Hormone Replacement Therapy. The results showed that women who are currently using Hormone Replacement Therapy and those who had used it in the past had a higher incidence of this disease. The study has evidence that using Hormone Replacement Therapy systemically and/or for more than ten years is a factor that increases this risk.

The riscs cited above (besides the latter one on acute pancreatitis) are the riscs that women commonly know.

But what kind of risk are we actually talking about

It all started with the Journal American Medical Association that came with the first results of research.  This first research was done by Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) some 15 years ago. The WHI researched pro’s and cons of hormone replacement therapy with healthy American women. One group took daily HRT (0.625mg oestrogens – Premarin – with 2.5 mg medroxyprogesterone acetate – Premplus -) and the other group took no HRT.  Over a period of five years. They concluded the above risks. But I think it is most interesting to read these statemenst in absolute figures. So here they are: the results showed that for 10.000 women per year there is per year:

  • an increase with
    • 7 heart attacks
    • 8 cerebral hemorrhages,
    • 18 thromboses,
    • 8 thromboses with pulmonary embolism and
    • 8 breast carcinomas
  • a decrease with
    • 6 colon cancers
    • 5 hip fractures

I am not defending Hormone Replacement Therapy but I think it is can never hurt to know the facts. So everyone can decide for themselves, without the dogma’s.

Bioidentical Female Hormones in Hormone Replacement Therapy

Female HormonesPro’s

Proponents of bioidentical female hormones say they are derived from sources that occur naturally, such as soy and yams, and that they are exactly the same structures as the female hormones being replaced. The body can use them in every way it could use the original, which leads to fewer side effects. They are also designed specifically for the individual’s needs. Synthetic hormones are purposely made to be the same to make it possible for them to be patented.


Opponents of bioidentical hormones say that they aren’t given the same rigorous quality assurance standards that commercially available hormones must meet. They also argue that they have little scientific support or advantage over synthetic female hormones.

They point out that, although the source of bioidentical hormones is natural, they are still commercially processed.

Another argument is that synthetic hormones do not exclude them from originating from a natural source. Estrace, Climara and Vivelle-Dot, and Prometrium, a natural progesterone, come from plants.

FDA Approved Bioidentical and Synthetic Hormones

In 2009, the FDA published an article called “FDA Approved Bioidentical Hormones.” They have approved more than 20 bioidentical hormones. They also put in some of the synthetic female hormones that have been approved. They specifically say that bioidentical hormones are able to be metabolized completely and do not have the dangerous side effects, such as a higher risk of cancer, that synthetic and non-bioidentical hormones do.

Views on Hormone Replacement Therapy definitely vary, as we can see. Seeing your doctor and discussing the risks and benefits to you as an individual is therefor recommended. But get the facts, not the opinions.