Nature views babies as expendable. Who wants to emulate that?

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The central conceit of contemporary natural mothering is that mothering in nature (including childbirth and breastfeeding) was perfectly designed and therefore we should emulate it. The “proof” is that we are still here.

But there’s a big difference between the survival of the species and survival of individuals within the species. The reality is that nature views babies as expendable and only women who are insulated from nature by their privilege could wish to copy that.

In Nature 27% of babies died in their first year and 47.5% did not survive to puberty.

One of the main characteristics of reproduction in the animal kingdom (and the plant kingdom) is massive wastage. The chance of any individual organism surviving to adulthood is very small; therefore, massive amounts of offspring must be produced because most of them are naturally going to die.

Think about how many seeds are produced by an individual plant. Think about how many larvae are produced by one insect. Think about how many eggs are produced by an individual fish. Then think about how many of those survive to become the adult form: only a vanishingly small proportion. There’s a big difference between survival of the species and survival of individuals within the species.

The classic example is the thousands of baby turtles who all hatch on a single night and immediately begin clambering across the beach to safety in the sea. Along the way they must travel a gauntlet of predators and most will not survive. There’s a big difference between survival of the species and survival of individuals within the species.

How about those animals that invest time in brooding or gestating their young? For them, parental energy expenditure is much greater and the the proportion of offspring that are lost before adulthood is consequently much lower, but it is still high.

How high?

According to the paper Infant and child death in the human environment of evolutionary adaptation:

We examine a large number of both hunter–gatherer (N=20) and historical (N=43) infant and child mortality rates to generate a reliable quantitative estimate of their levels … Using data drawn from a wide range of geographic locations, cultures, and times, we estimate that approximately 27% of infants failed to survive their first year of life, while approximately 47.5% of children failed to survive to puberty … a cross-species comparison found that human child mortality rates are roughly equivalent to Old World monkeys, higher than orangutan or bonobo rates and potentially higher than those of chimpanzees and gorillas.

This chart demonstrates the horrific infant and child mortality rates in indigenous cultures:

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There’s a big difference between survival of humans as a species and survival of individual humans within the species.

How does this compare with our closest animal relatives?

[A] cross-species comparison found that human child mortality rates are roughly equivalent to Old World monkeys, higher than orangutan or bonobo rates and potentially higher than those of chimpanzees and gorillas.

In other words, astronomical rates of infant and child mortality are not merely natural, they’re quite common among primates.

Childbirth and breastfeeding aren’t “perfectly designed.” They’re relatively poorly designed. In contrast, the interventions of modern obstetrics ARE designed to save close to 100% of babies. That’s why modern infant mortality is only a small fraction of natural infant mortality.

Similarly, infant formula IS designed to save as close to 100% of babies as possible and vaccinations ARE designed to save as close to 100% of children as possible.

That’s why contemporary US child mortality is only a tiny fraction more than infant mortality.

This graph represents the dramatic increase in population that has resulted from technology:

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Natural mothering advocates want to return to Nature in the Paleolithic (Stone Age) because —supposedly — childbirth and breastfeeding are “perfectly designed” and “we are still here.”

Nature views babies as expendable, subject to the exact same natural forces that kill babies of other species. The difference between humans and all other animals — the reason we have thrived and expanded to take over the planet — is NOT that humans are perfectly designed for nearly 100% survival in birth or that breastfeeding is perfectly designed to support 100% of infants. The difference is that we use technology to ensure that babies who would otherwise die will live instead.

Natural childbirth advocates who prattle that women are perfectly designed to give birth and lactivists who prate that women are perfectly designed to breastfeed successfully live in a fantasy world where “trusting” birth and breastfeeding seems to them to be an actual strategy when it is nothing more than immature, wishful thinking. The irony is that their fantasy world is made possible by the liberal use of the technologies that they deplore.

In Nature 27% of babies died in their first year and 47.5% did not survive to puberty. Those numbers are consistent with other primates. Nature views babies (and children) as expendable. Only a privileged fool would want to emulate that.

  • Daleth

    Here’s a study showing how expendable perfectly healthy full-term babies are in nature. It looked at all “non-anomalous” (no congenital anomalies)
    full-term babies born in California between 1997-2006 (almost 4
    million births). It found that starting at week 38, every additional
    week you wait causes more babies to die:

    Week 39: if you induce delivery, the death rate is 8.8/10,000, but if you wait another week, it’s almost 50% higher at 12.9 deaths per 10,000 babies.

    Week 40: induce and only 9.5/10,000 babies die. Wait another week, and 14.9/10,000 babies die.

    Week 41: induce and only 10.8/10,000 babies die. Wait another week, and 17.6/10,000 babies die.

    That’s from “Risk of Stillbirth and Infant Death Stratified by Gestational Age”:
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3719843/

  • EmbraceYourInnerCrone

    https://www.theroot.com/a-black-mother-gives-birth-to-baby-in-a-bathtub-after-b-1838230321 Off topic But reason number a million why Black mothers have morbidity and mortality rates at such higher rates than white mothers. She gave birth in the tub but certainly not because she wanted to. Thankfully nothing bad happened but that was just luck.

    • mabelcruet

      It’s exactly the same in the UK. Theoretically, in the NHS, every woman regardless of ethnicity has free access to the same standard of maternity care, so there isn’t supposed to be an issue of being unable to afford the necessary care, but the maternal mortality rate of POC, particularly Black mums is much higher than white mums and no one is quite sure why. Black mums have a higher risk of pre-eclampsia, but it’s probably a mix of physical medical issues tied up with interpersonal reasons-mums complain of lack of support, failure of staff to listen, not being taken seriously and having their worries dismissed, staff seeming to be rushed and not prepared to spend time with them. And it could be women of colour are more reluctant to put themselves forward and demand attention in case they are labelled as troublemakers. Maybe they are more deferential to healthcare staff and don’t feel they can question their midwife or doctor, even if they don’t feel right. It’s a huge health inequality in a health care system that is supposed to be open and fair to all.

    • rational thinker

      “Two doctors eventually told her to go home and return to the hospital when she was 5 centimeters dilated” How the hell is she supposed to know when she is 5cm. Is she supposed to give herself a vaginal exam to find out or is her husband supposed to do it? I think maybe racism from the hospital staff even if it was on a subconscious level may have something to do with this. I remember a few years ago a hispanic woman went to the hospital stating she was in labor. They told her she was not and told her to go home. She got as far as outside the doors of the hospital and baby came out on the hospital lawn maybe a couple yards from the doors.

  • StephanieJR

    Rabbits (European) are famous for their breeding. They reach sexual maturity at three months old, have only month long pregnancies, can get pregnant again straight after giving birth, and have induced ovulation, meaning that they don’t rely on a single breeding season, only when conditions are good enough.

    One breeding pair can have nearly 4 million young in four years. The reason why, aside from places like Australia, we aren’t completely over run by them, is that 90% of rabbit young don’t survive until maturity. Disease, predation and starvation will take them out long before they reach adulthood.

    And as the ones that do – up to 60% of females will develop ovarian and/or uterine cancer before they are four years old (most wild rabbits only live two or three anyway). A creature, perfectly ‘designed’ to breed and make babies, is still limited by nature. It’s only because of human intervention – neutering – that my own rabbit has reached six years old. And her health and companionship is worth far more to me than her ‘natural state’.

    Nature is cruel and indifferent. Evolution is not a perfect, intelligent progress, just a lot of adaptations for an environment supported over time. Celebrate the human adaptations we’ve been intelligent enough to create and use. We’ve conquered nature, we ensure the survival of millions through our inventions and interventions, we can prevent most women and babies dying in childbirth, we can prevent death from starvation in babies with formula, we have so many medical marvels to be grateful for, and you want to shit all over it? What’s wrong with you? Why do you want women and babies to die? Why do want nature to take its course, when nature doesn’t care about you?

    • The Bofa on the Sofa

      So when I read this comment, in the context of this post, I think of the Bugs Bunny cartoon where he gets sent to the moon. He asks, “Why do you send a rabbit to do this job, anyway?” And the response over the loudspeaker is an emphatic

      “BECAUSE RABBITS. ARE. EXPENDABLE!!!!!!”

      Sorry for the derail, but that’s what comes to my mind when I read a comment about rabbits on a post about babies being expendable

      • StephanieJR

        Ah, but old Bugs Bunny always gets the best of ‘em, doesn’t he? Get the best of the crunchy crowd and enjoy technology.

    • MaineJen

      “One breeding pair can have nearly 4 million young in four years.”

      Oh. My. God. “Like rabbits” takes on new meaning…

      • StephanieJR

        Yep. Spray and neuter your pets, kids.

      • The Bofa on the Sofa

        https://scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/7356/how-many-tribbles-were-there

        In the Star Trek episode “The Trouble with Tribbles,” when Kirk opens the door and all the tribbles fall on him, Spock says that there are 1,771,561 tribbles in the wheat compartment, basing that calculation on one tribble entering 3 days ago, producing an average litter of 10 every 12 hours (and also factors in space and amount of wheat).

        NOTE: There was no correction made for factoring in space and amount of wheat; the calculation assumes that the amount of space and wheat are not limiting factors

        NOTE2: That is the correct answer; it’s on the linked website, but I did the calculation when I was in high school

        • MaineJen

          Not only that, but later on in Trials and Tribblations, we learn that one unlucky Tribble contains a bomb! #trekkies

  • critter8875

    It seems to me the “crunchy cohort” (upper middle class white women who are anti-vax and NCB) are several generations off the farm. I grew up on and around small farms, and I know depending upon animal and plant growth/production for a livelihood is a precarious thing.
    Egg bound hens
    Cows(and other mammals) that go simply don’t produce enough milk
    Animals dying in birth

    • demodocus

      ah, hell, they’re apparently removed from a lot of stuff. I’m a few generations away from the farm but I’ve seen dead baby birds and kittens. My own mother carried her first 3 pregnancies to the 3rd trimester, but 3 of the 5 were stillborn.

  • no longer drinking the koolaid

    All one has to do is look at birth and death records to see the lie that birth and breastfeeding are safe, and designed to ensure the survival of the species.
    Any amateur genealogist can tell you how horrendous the death rates for mothers, babies, and children were.

  • Alia

    There’s a really good book by Nathan H. Lents, called “Human Errors: A Panorama of Our Glitches, from Pointless Bones to Broken Genes”, which is exactly what it says on the tin. It shows on many examples that the process of evolution is really accidental and not perfect. Just good enough to reproduce.

  • FormerPhysicist

    This.
    Also the tongue-in-cheek writers who point out that maybe “Nature” is designed to perpetuate the viruses or bacteria, not the humans.

    Formula is designed. Humans aren’t. We just aren’t designed. We exist, we are the product of good-enough and accidental evolution, but we aren’t designed.

    Oh, and forces don’t have an equal and opposite reaction in any anthropomorphic and thinking sense. The box doesn’t decide to push back against the person pushing on it (or not to). Forces simply exist between objects and act on both objects. Same sort of nonsense understanding, though somewhat different.

  • JDM

    People readily conflate “nature produces amazing outcomes” with “nature produces perfect outcomes”. And they ignore that a lot of the amazing stuff is also horrific.

  • The Bofa on the Sofa

    In Nature 27% of babies died in their first year and 47.5% did not survive to puberty.

    This is mind-bogglingly scary. As a parent, it makes me very sad.

    • Montserrat Blanco

      I am alive and should not be alive if Nature had taken its course. My son would have died within hours of being born if it depended on Nature. I do not trust Nature. I do not trust pregnancy or birth or breastfeeding. I do trust interventions, formula and modern medicine. The good part is that you are very lucky and you live in a world with modern medicine. Do trust that.

      • MaineJen

        Doing the “what if we had lived 100 years ago” game is scary. Myself and my son would probably still be alive…my husband would not have survived his ruptured colon, and my daughter was hospitalized for IV antibiotics at age 4 due to a serious infection, so I’m not sure what would have happened there…

        YAY MODERN MEDICINE

  • EmbraceYourInnerCrone

    Thank you. And these “nature is perfect” people don’t even pay attention to the fact that the loss rate for infants and children has only started really going down in the last 100 years or less (and only in countries that can afford maintaining clean water, sanitation and vaccinations)

    My grandmother was born in 1909, she lost her mother and only sibling when she as not yet 2. She married while in her teens and had 8 children. 7 survived to adulthood, she was considered lucky amongst her neighbors. My other grandmother had 3 children and lost one of them in infancy, again amongst her friends (all recent immigrants) this was not considered at all unusual.

    Side note, please get your damn flu shot. One of my friends at work lost her 34 year old daughter to flu/pneumonia last week. She had been feeling bad for a while but did not want to go to the E/R or deal with the expense and time off required for an office visit.

    • MaineJen

      Jeez. That’s bad. It seems to be shaping up into an early, and particularly bad, flu season.