Childrearing

A Neanderthal Child Was Weaned After 6 Months So Clearly The Breastfeeding Debate Is Over

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A Neanderthal Child Was Weaned After 6 Months So Clearly The Breastfeeding Debate Is Over baby breastfeeding1 jpg

A Neanderthal Child Was Weaned After 6 Months So Clearly The Breastfeeding Debate Is Over baby breastfeeding1 jpgBreastfeeding politics are considerably loaded topics to discuss with strangers and relatives for good reason. A mother’s choices surrounding the boob are highly charged — with a never receding group of individuals who feel completely entitled to school you. And now that conversation includes Neanderthal moms — or rather one Neanderthal mom.

The New York Times reports that scientists have uncovered a “fossilized molar of a Neanderthal child.” And from the looks of those barium levels, the tot was taken off the breast around the year mark:

…researchers concluded that the child had been breast-fed exclusively for the first seven months, followed by seven months of mother’s milk supplemented by other food. Then the barium pattern in the tooth enamel “returned to baseline prenatal levels, indicating an abrupt cessation of breast-feeding at 1.2 years of age,” the scientists reported on Wednesday in the journal Nature.

This research has already drawn “strong skepticism from some scientists.” While the Times does note that this timeline squares rather neatly with what the American Academy of Pediatrics already recommends (six months of exclusive breastfeeding, but 12 months of supplemental breastfeeding), this is the first look at the “dietary transitions” of Neanderthal kids.

But various experts are already hesitating to say that this one Neanderthal mom’s choices reflect ALL Neanderthal mom choices. Metaphoric, isn’t it?

[Dr. Manish Arora] acknowledged that “it is, of course, not possible to generalize to all Neanderthals from a single sample, but our observation of the exclusive breast-feeding period” in one young Neanderthal “does extend existing concepts of Neanderthal behavior.”

Erik Trinkaus, a paleoanthropologist at Washington University in St. Louis, who is an authority on Neanderthals, said the onset of weaning in the test appeared to be too early. He also cautioned, “My impression is the physiology and chemistry of nursing is vastly more complicated, and the concentrations of barium are too low that it’s hard to get reliable data.”

Even the study’s author, Tanya Smith, is saying that she and her team would like to examine some more fossils. And so the grand breastfeeding conversations continues.

(photo: Gladskikh Tatiana / Shutterstock)

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