Birth and the Big Bad Wolf: Biocultural Evolution and Human Childbirth, Part 2


In Part 2 of this two-part article, we further employ the lens of evolutionary medicine to explore similarities in premodern biocultural features of birth, arguing that these were an outgrowth of our common evolutionary heritage as bipedal primates. These practices grew out of the empiricism of millennia of trial and error and supported humans to give birth in closer alignment with our evolved biology. We argue that many common obstetric procedures today work against this evolved biology. In seeking to manage birth, we sometimes generate an obstetric paradox wherein we (over)intervene in human childbirth to try to keep it safe, yet thereby cause harm. We describe premodern birthing patterns in three sections: (a) eating and drinking at will and unrestrained movement in labor with upright pushing; (b) obligate midwifery and continuous labor support; and (c) the low-intervention birth/long-term breastfeeding/co-sleeping adaptive complex, and discuss how these are still relevant today. We conclude with a set of suggestions for improving the global technocratic treatment of birth and with a futuristic epilogue about a 7th, cyborgian pig that asks: What will become of birth as humans continue to coevolve with our technologies?

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Cheyney, M., & Davis-Floyd, R. (2020). Birth and the Big Bad Wolf: Biocultural Evolution and Human Childbirth, Part 2. International Journal of Childbirth.