Evolutionary parenting means embracing technology not rejecting it

Asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs

If our ancient foremothers could see Tracy Cassells, PhD, of Evolutionary Parenting (and other parenting “experts” like her) they wouldn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

We as humans have evolved in a particular manner, and the parent-child relationship is no different. Children, especially babies, expect certain behaviours from their caregivers and research is starting to understand both how deviations from these expectations affect child development and the bidirectional nature of the child-parent relationship. Of course, not all people can or want to parent our children based on their biology. In this realm, Evolutionary Parenting focuses on the idea that anytime we deviate from a known biological norm, we should have good reason and try to mimic biological processes as much as possible in order to minimize disruptions to later outcomes and child well-being.

The infant mortality rate in nature was astronomical, possibly as high as 1 in 3; babies died during childbirth, they died of dehydration before breastmilk came in, they died of infectious diseases, they died when minor injuries became infected, they died when they were attacked by predators, they died and their siblings died and if women didn’t give birth to the natural biological allotment of 8 infants of more, there was a chance they wouldn’t ever have an adult child.

[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Evolution never goes back to the past; that’s the surest way to extinction.[/pullquote]

Many mothers lived permanently bereft and forever in fear of the death of those their surviving children. This is what Cassells and her fellow natural mothering “experts” want to return to.

Why? Because they are remarkably ignorant about evolution and natural selection. Evolution always involves ADAPTATION, not the return to the past that Cassells recommends. Evolution is always about survival and WHATEVER maximizes survival is “evolutionary.”

The paradigmatic example of evolution in action was described by Charles Darwin. He noted the amazing variety of finches in the Galápagos Islands:

A few million years ago, one species of finch migrated to the rocky Galapagos from the mainland of Central or South America. From this one migrant species would come many — at least 13 species of finch evolving from the single ancestor.

… The ecological niches exert the selection pressures that push the populations in various directions. On various islands, finch species have become adapted for different diets: seeds, insects, flowers, the blood of seabirds, and leaves.

The ancestral finch was a ground-dwelling, seed-eating finch. After the burst of speciation in the Galapagos, a total of 14 species would exist: three species of ground-dwelling seed-eaters; three others living on cactuses and eating seeds; one living in trees and eating seeds; and 7 species of tree-dwelling insect-eaters.

Different species of finches evolved to exploit the environments of different islands. It was the CHANGES that ensured their survival, not the insistence on stubborning clinging to behavior that evolved thousands of years before.

Finches can teach us critical lessons about evolution.

1. Fitness is not static.

As conditions changes, fitness changes. And conditions always change, whether it is climate, pressure from other species, local events like volcanic eruptions, etc. There is no such thing as an animal that is “perfectly fit” because there is no such thing as a static environment.

2. Fitness is tied to the environment.

How successful do you think the seed eating finches were on islands that had very few seeds of the type they had been evolved to eat? Not very. That’s why they evolved characteristics like changes in beaks to allow them to eat different seeds and, in some cases, switched from seeds to insects.

3. The most successful animals are those who adapt, not those who remain unchanged.

If we anthropomorphize the finches, we can see just what is wrong with the philosophy of natural parenting, the philosophy of Cassells and her colleagues.

Imagine the finches who arrived in the Galapagos had surveyed the situation on each island and announced:

“We were evolved to live on the ground and eat seeds. Therefore, we will continue living on the ground and eating seeds and pretend we are still on the mainland.”

“Nature has rendered us perfectly evolved and all we have to do is live like we have always lived.”

The result would have been extinction from the islands. The finches destined to be most successful were those who abandoned the way they had evolved and sought out new food sources and new places to live.

It’s not hard to see the parallels with natural parenting.

Lactivists are equivalent to finches who insisted on eating seeds because they always ate seeds. In nature, many babies died due to insufficient breastmilk; those babies can now survive on formula. They are FITTEST for the current environment.

Parents who advocate co-sleeping are equivalent to finches who insisted on living on the ground even though there were new predators on the ground. The parents who will be evolutionarily MOST successful are those who let their offspring sleep in a separate bed, on a firm surface, with no bedding or soft toys because those children are most likely to survive and evolution is ALWAYS about maximizing survival.

Natural parenting advocates are evolutionary dinosaurs. Dinosaurs had been successful for millions of years. Yet when a massive asteroid impacted earth and the environment changed dramatically, they couldn’t adapt fast enough and died out.

Technology is the equivalent of a massive asteroid impact; it has changed everything. Those who can adapt to use it are evolutionarily successful while those who try to return to the past are less fit and their children are less likely to survive. Real evolutionary parenting means embracing the technology of the times, not rejecting.

Evolution NEVER goes back to the past; that’s the surest way to extinction.

  • Platos_Redhaired_Stepchild

    The lactivists must be losing their collective sh*t over stone age baby bottles.

    https://pictorial.jezebel.com/stone-age-parents-used-sippy-cups-too-1838528226?utm_medium=sharefromsite&utm_source=_twitter

  • Mel

    We’ve figured this out in my family.

    We’re a new evolutionary development where all of our babies do best in a NICU for a few weeks to a few months after birth. Sure, we get a throwback every now and again – like my younger brother – who wants to transition from utero to parent-care right away – but the future of our family is clearly a premature birth.

    Added bonus: you receive a “get out of jail free” card to get away from most NCB ideas.

  • Megan

    I agree with the premise of this post and praise Darwin for recent medical advances that can keep babies alive who would otherwise have died. But I want to play devil’s advocate on the cosleeping issue, bc to me it’s very nuanced and complex. People MUST practice safe cosleeping if they choose to cosleep, which means floor bed, no extra pillows or duvets, form flat surface, no intoxication, and breastfeeding mom who’s not over exhausted. The distinction between safe and unsafe cosleeping is critical. When you look at SIDS rates internationally, we know Japan has one of the lowest rates in the world, yet virtually everyone there cosleeps. This is because they’re usually on firm flat mattresses on the floor. Definitely not an ideal sleeping situation for most Americans, but as many new moms will tell you, their baby awakens and cries the moment they attempt to “transfer” them to a bassinet. This is just a reality of new parenthood, and I often wonder which would be safer- parents who get 1 hour of sleep a night because they’re on a couch and done want to fall asleep with their baby in their lap, or parents who are well informed on safe cosleepjng and rearrange their environment so that they can get sleep alongside baby. Not trying to start a war over here, I just think a lot about these things as I had a high needs baby and cosleeping saved my life

    • rational thinker

      Most sids deaths are accidents. We call them accidents for a reason. The only way to prevent a co-sleeping accident is not to co-sleep.

      • Lurker

        Unfortunately, for some new parents, the only way not to cosleep is not to sleep.

        • Anna

          I know a lot of people for whom this is true, but I would really love to see what happened if they gave their baby a bottle of formula. Not saying it would always work but I really do think a lot more babies, especially newborns would sleep better if full. Certainly was the case for mine. I do agree that if you’re at the point you’re going to slam your car into a tree or drop your baby on the floor then bed sharing following the guidelines may be necessary – though knowing what i know now, I would recommend to a friend or family member try a bottle first.

          • AnnaPDE

            Sometimes it’s just a hungry baby, yes.
            But I also know first-hand a bunch of babies who could go into total food coma and still manage to wake as soon as they aren’t snuggled up to mum. It’s a horrible double-bind.
            “No co-sleeping, and let’s not even talk about the details that make it more or less risky” is like abstinence-only sex education. In practice it fails those who need help the most.

          • nata

            people would just fall asleep sitting in a chair or a sofa with baby in arms and this would be way more dangerous and some parents reach level of exhaustion when no amount of mental effort would keep you awake

          • AnnaPDE

            Yes exactly. After drifting off a few times with baby in arms despite best efforts, it was completely clear that the occasional planned risk-minimised co-sleeping decision was a lot better than if it happened unplanned and despite best intentions not to do it.

          • Anna

            Yes Ive been there, so exhausted there was no other option. We didnt realise we were starving our baby though and once we started feeding her properly she started sleeping fine. Red Nose Australia has started bed sharing education in their advocacy and I think its appropriate. It just bugs me that the lactavists suggest bed sharing as first option and safer than a cot. I’m in a baby loss group and sadly Ive seen a few members join after a SIDS type loss and often they share photos of their little one covered in loose blankets, bed sharing with very large Dad up against his body or on his chest, bed sharing with siblings and pets.

          • Lurker

            Personally, my oldest was being supplemented with a couple of bottles a day, including one at bedtime that he didn’t necessarily finish, when he first refused to sleep more than 5-10 minutes at a clip if we put him on his back on a separate sleep surface. How much he’d eaten never had anything to do with it. After a week, as we started falling asleep with him in increasingly dangerous situations, we pulled all the pillows and blankets off the bed and started cosleeping because we needed SOME sleep.

            (In fact, in our case, the formula probably made things worse, but his dairy intolerance wasn’t diagnosed for almost a year, so we had no way of knowing that at the time. Although my current pediatrician says symptoms of intolerances don’t usually show up for a couple weeks, and he was like this since the day he came home from the hospital, so it may just be who he is. He’s still not a great sleeper, 5 years later.)

    • Anna

      Hopefully someone will know what I’m talking about and have a link but I believe Japan records and codes deaths different to the USA and other countries which is the main reason SIDS rates are so much lower, despite the prevalence of bed sharing. I had my eldest in Japan and lived there 10years. They definitely don’t practice “safe bed-sharing”. I don’t recall reading anything or being told anything about safe sleeping during my first pregnancy. That may have changed in the last 10 years, I know BFHI is starting to creep in there but its the norm to have several fluffy, loose quilts and blankets. Traditional Japanese layettes include loose clothing with ties and the bedding sets come with pillows. My Mother in law was always very concerned with how little bedding we put on our kids. Its also quite common still for Fathers that smoke heavily and or have been drinking to sleep with their children. Despite this their rates are still low which points to the explanation that the way they record deaths is different. Incidentally – at least when I had my eldest it was common to give pre-lacteal feeds of formula in the hospital and most women I was friends with combi fed for the first month or so and many combi fed ongoing. It was also common to give babies under 4months diluted juice and barley tea. What would the lactavists think!???

      • rational thinker

        It probably is because of how they record those deaths. Also I think I had heard that not many Japanese people are even having babies so the infant population is much lower than past decades and it is becoming a problem over there. Most Japanese citizens seem to want a good career now instead of a family.

      • Megan

        That is so interesting – thank you for sharing, I had no idea! But I still can’t help but wonder, for all of the moms whose babies wake right up when they try to put them in a bassinet/crib…which would be safer? My sister has a newborn and sleeps about 1 hour a night, because her husband is a hard “no” on cosleeping. She sits awake on her couch holding her baby all night – putting her at serious risk of falling asleep and her baby being in danger – because as soon as she puts her down she wakes up and starts crying. This is exactly how my son was. What’s a mom to do in this situation? Pediatricians offer no helpful solutions, more of a shrug and a “that’s life!”. I found Jim McKenna’s work at UND to be life saving for those early months before my son could successfully transfer. I think each family should weigh the pros/cons for themselves and their individual baby – the issue is so nuanced and I know millions of families around the world bedshare successfully, and that many babies still die in cribs

        • AnnaPDE

          OMG. That’s torture for your sister.
          What kind of a husband is that?! If he’s so opposed to the sub-optimal sleep solution that works, then it’s him who has to come up with a less sub-optimal alternative, or if he can’t, to sit with the baby half the night.

        • mabelcruet

          Coming at this from the angle of a paediatric pathologist who does the autopsies on these babies, I have to say that she needs to stop the sitting awake on the couch asap-that MASSIVELY increases the risk of death, its 50 fold increased risk. You can reduce the risks of co-sleeping by some simple measures-the biggest risk factor is parents who smoke. If they don’t smoke, their risk goes down a lot. Keep the room cool (the comfortable temperature for babies is about 16-18 degrees Celsius), don’t use bulky duvets or pillows, make sure that there are no gaps at the side of the bed that the baby could roll into, and don’t prop them into position with cushions or pillows. Don’t co-sleep if a parent is overtired or has taken sedative medication or alcohol. The majority of my cases are babies who were brought into the parental bed spontaneously and not as a planned co-sleeping event. Maybe the parent has been out for the evening, comes home, swoops the baby up for a cuddle and falls asleep unexpectedly. Or a baby normally slept in a cot but wouldn’t settle and was brought into bed. So carefully planning before co-sleeping reduces your risk. How about a along-side sleeping platform/cot? They are called ‘co-sleeping cots’ because the side next to the side of the bed is open, meaning mum can easily reach baby, but she can’t potentially overlay.

      • mabelcruet

        The classification and coding of causes of infant deaths vary according to country and era, and according to the type of pathologist who undertakes the post mortem examination. In the UK, paediatric pathologists are responsible for these cases, and we use the term SUDI (sudden unexpected death in infancy)-we don’t use SIDS anymore. SIDS is still in common usage in the USA I think. In the UK, forensic pathologists used to do these cases in the 1970s, and there was a fad for certifying the deaths as ‘interstitial pneumonitis’ to avoid recording the death as causes unknown. Interstitial pneumonitis is what you get with a viral infections-its common, frequent, and unlikely to actually cause death in most cases. Some countries have general pathologists doing the autopsies, and they vary considerably in coding. With infant deaths, the diagnostic criteria for SIDS are very tight-an infant of a certain age, where no natural cause has been found, where a full death scene investigation has been carried out, where the baby has been found dead in their own bed and so on. This means that for any variation such as co-sleeping, marks on the baby which could potentially implicate overlaying, any positive toxicology findings etc all mean SIDS diagnosis can’t be used. So all of this means it is very difficult to actually find the true infant death rate in each country and make it hard to compare with other countries. It’s a well recognised problem in epidemiology and statistics for SUDI/SIDS researchers.

  • mabelcruet

    I reckon some people won’t be happy until we are back to the high infant and maternal mortality from a few generations ago, because only then will we be truly in touch with our real nature and our real purpose. These people are idiots.

    Look at parenting practices from years ago-in every culture and every age, it was known that pregnancy and birth were dangerous. Even in the last century or so, it was common for women to write farewell letters to their children prior to their next labour. The whole evil stepmother trope in fairy stories exists because there were so many step mothers around, with men often having several wives that one after another died in childbirth. In some cultures, babies weren’t given a name until they’d survived a certain length of time. In Christian culture, babies were baptised almost immediately, because otherwise they may have gone to Purgatory if they died, and they died in their droves. Women in less developed areas of the world drag themselves miles to get access to even basic care, and yet to Tracey Cassells, PhD, a fungating, ulcerating recto-vaginal fistula from an obstructed labour is the biological norm-how dare they try and change their destiny.

    • nata

      for this reason in 17th century Britain midwives were entitled to baptise newborns – to avoid delay if the baby has little time to live