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  • Ancient Moms Breastfed Their Kids Up to Age 6, Evidence Shows

    Breastfeeding for an extended period has been a way of life since ancient times.
    by Rachel Perez .
Ancient Moms Breastfed Their Kids Up to Age 6, Evidence Shows
PHOTO BY iStock
  • Ever wondered how ancient humans fed their babies during their time? Before formula and pumping became a thing, women practiced extended breastfeeding. The fact that they nursed wasn’t much of a surprise, but the length of time surprised the researchers.

    The study, published in the journal Nature, showed they breastfed exclusively for six to nine months before supplementing with solid food. Even with solid foods, however, ancient women continued to nurse until their children were five to six years old.

    Researchers from Australia’s Southern Cross University did a geochemical analysis of fossilized teeth that belong to humans’ distant ancestors, Australopithecus africanus, in Africa. They were believed to have lived between 2.6 to 2.1 million years old.

    The study claims to be the first to indicate how long ancient human ancestors breastfeed. It was part of an effort to trace the trend of breastfeeding periods.

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    Teeth, like trees, have growth rings caused by minerals, such as barium, an element that is absorbed and incorporated into growing teeth more readily with a diet of milk. 

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    According to the study, up until six to nine months, babies appeared to drink milk and were slowly weaned until around the age of 12 months. But the data also showed that the moms supplemented solid food with breast milk long after the babies were weaned mostly due to the limited or seasonal availability of food.

    “When it’s the offseason then the mother will supplement a lot of the calorie deficiency with breast milk,” study lead author Renaud Joannes-Boyau, from Australia’s Southern Cross University, told Cosmos. Initially, he and his colleagues thought the ancient humans weaned from the breast entirely by age 3 at the most.

    What do the study’s findings mean? Ancient humans had a completely different environment and life circumstances, anyway. Well, it shows that breastfeeding for an extended time is not a new practice or one that should be frowned upon. It’s also proof that nursing can save lives during emergencies.

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    What the study shows is that how to feed their babies is a mother’s choice. Today, moms have a lot of options to choose from, and it’s a good thing. Now whether they decide to nurse for six months, a year, or even five, they have their reasons, and everyone needs to learn to respect that.

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