Do Other Mammals Nurse?
Dia Michels and Cynthia Good Mojab, MS, IBCLC, RLC with Naomi Bromber Bar-Yam,
and nights we stayed up in the bracken pile, curled around one another,
while I gave suck and licked and settled squabbles. They fed and slept
and fed and squabbled, and I watched their small, sleek bodies plumping
up with milk. Their eyes were shut, their small heads pushed into my flank,
muzzles butting, jaws working hard in the rhythm of life, which is, at
first, no more than suck and swallow.
Bed and Bone by Henrietta Branford
are over 4200 species of mammals on our planet. Mammals are animals that
have a backbone, have hair or fur, are warm-blooded and whose females nurse
their babies with milk. Each of these milks contains water, proteins, fats,
carbohydrates, minerals, vitamins, cellular content and anti-infective
agents. But each species of mammal produces a milk that is qualitatively
different than the milk of other species, a milk that is perfectly suited
for the growth and development of the offspring of that particular species.
composition of the milk is related to the rate of growth of a species.
Human milk is low in both protein and fat. Mammals with high fat content
generally have young who need to form a thick coat of blubber to protect
them from the cold. Mammals with a high protein content generally have
young where growth is rapid and the young mature in a short time. Humans
are among the slowest growing of all mammals.
and Fat in Milk
important feature of all non-human mammals is that they suckle their young
until they are able to become independent. Breastfeeding is the crucial
bridge between infancy and maturity. Here’s how some different mammals
female duck-billed platypus breastfeeds without benefit of a breast or
a nipple. The mammary glands rest underneath the mother’s chest. The youngster
pushes against the chest wall with his soft, pliable bill, then licks the
oozing milk off his mother’s skin and hair.
need to preserve their sleek, hydrodynamically efficient shape. The mother’s
milk glands are below her thick blubber layer. This inside location also
protects the milk from cold. The baby nudges the area and milk-thick as
cream-spurts out. A baby Pacific gray whale can drink 80 pounds of breastmilk
are born underwater-and nurse underwater, too. The mother puts her head
under water and boosts the newborn to the surface to breathe. Then the
baby goes under again, finds a nipple and suckles, instinctively folding
down his ears and closing his nostrils. Every twenty to forty seconds,
he bobs to the surface to breathe and swallow.
and young lions live together in a pride. In one pride, all the lionesses
take care of all the cubs. Unlike almost all other mammals, any lioness
will wet-nurse any cub. A napping lioness who has been hunting all night
doesn’t pay much attention to who is suckling on her. And because they
are all so closely related, a lioness helps the family no matter whose
baby she nurses.
hooded seal lives about thirty years, but spends only four days nursing
and being a child, the shortest nursing period of any mammal. They
live at sea, but they must give birth and nurse out of the water. The only
surface available is floating ice. Pups are born when the ice is beginning
to melt and break up. A sudden storm might send pieces crashing together,
crushing moms and pups. Or an ice floe might split, and moms and pups could
be separated. A short childhood helps avoid these perils.
breastfeed, ride on their mother’s body and sleep in her nest for seven
years-among the longest nursing period of any mammal. The young stay with
their mothers at least until a new baby arrives; males begin to wander
off then, but females may stay around for a while observing how babies
are cared for. They are accomplished acrobats, often nursing upside down-hanging
by a hand and a foot from a branch.
animals are weaned when the mother is newly pregnant or preparing for another
pregnancy. In western culture, today, the most common reason cited for
human weaning is in preparation to return to a job outside the home.
with permission from Breastfeeding at a Glance, By Dia L. Michels and Cynthia
Good Mojab, MS with Naomi Bromberg Bar-Yam, PhD. Platypus Media, 2001,
from: If My Mom Were A Platypus: Animal Babies and their Mothers. By Dia
L. Michels, Illustrated by Andrew Barthelmes, Platypus Media, 2001, ISBN:
more information, visit www.PlatypusMedia.com or call 1-877-PLATYPS
Good Mojab, MS clinical psychology, IBCLC, RLC is a private researcher,
author, and educator focusing on issues related to culture, psychology
and the family – particularly the area of breastfeeding. She also works
as Research Associate in La Leche League International's Publications Department,
was a member of the LLLI Editorial Review Team for THE BREASTFEEDING ANSWER
BOOK (3rd ed.), and serves on Mothering magazine's Ask the Experts panel,
answering questions about breastfeeding. She has experience providing both
psychological and breastfeeding counseling. Ms. Good Mojab has taught and
guest lectured for undergraduate psychology and statistics courses, and
has spoken about breastfeeding, parenting, culture and psychology to groups,
organizations, and the media. She is an award-winning researcher whose
work was recognized in 1995 by the American Psychological Foundation. Her
website, Ammawell (http://home.comcast.net/~ammawell), offers breastfeeding
and parenting information and support.
Good Mojab, PO Box 5803, Aloha, OR 97006 USA; http://home.comcast.net/~ammawell