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Iulia Bădescu “Evolution of human infant feeding and lactation: Insights from primatology”

You are kindly welcome to the guest lecture by the anthropologist Iulia Bădescu on 14th December 3PM at Faculty of Social Sciences (UL) Lauva street 4, room 204. I. Bădescu is Associate Professor at the University of Montreal, and she will present the topic of “Evolution of human infant feeding and lactation: Insights from primatology”. The event will be in English, and available online!

Link : (Meeting ID: 957 2163 4714, Passcode: 312947)

About the lecture

Evolution of human infant feeding and lactation: Insights from primatology by Iulia Bădescu, Associate Professor, Département d'Anthropologie, Université de Montréal

Research on mother-infant interactions, milk and lactation in nonhuman primates informs our understanding of infant feeding in humans by providing insights into our evolved biological and social adaptations. A combination of behavioral data and novel methods in primatology have shown the crucial impacts of maternal milk for infants, and not just nutritionally. Primate milk evolved to cater to the specific needs of a particular infant, it mitigates the timing of developmental transitions, sends infants information about the socio-ecological environment they are situated in, modulates infant behavioural phenotypes, and has long term impacts on health and fitness in adulthood. My presentation is situated within a broad and influential body of work on infant feeding in the Primate order. Firstly, I show how novel methods in primatology are used to decipher the general patterning of lactation and infant feeding in primates, with a particular focus on my own work in wild chimpanzees at Ngogo, Uganda. I compare this research to the patterning of lactation in humans to posit about the likely models of lactation and infant feeding in our earliest common ancestor with great apes. Secondly, I describe factors leading to inter-individual and inter-population variation in infant feeding and lactation in primates, which overlie species-typical patterns. These variations often lead to different rates of growth and development, and to differences in the lengths of infant dependency on the mother. Such findings in primates help highlight the evolutionary sources of the immense variation seen in contemporary human infant feeding. Thirdly, I synthesize the research discussed to show that human infant feeding and lactation evolved within a multi-layered and comprehensive system that involves both social and nutritional relationships of infants with their mothers and with others. This “cooperative breeding” system of infant feeding and lactation is crucial to understanding the evolutionary success of Homo.


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