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Semin Cell Dev Biol. 2010 Jun;21(4):453-61. doi: 10.1016/j.semcdb.2009.11.003. Epub 2009 Nov 13.

Weaning behaviour in human evolution.

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Department of Paleontology, The Natural History Museum, Cromwell Road, London SW7 5BD, United Kingdom.


Human life history incorporates early weaning, a prolonged period of post-weaning dependency and slow somatic growth, late onset of female reproduction, reduced birth spacing and a significant post-reproductive female lifespan, combined with rapid early brain growth. Weaned human offspring lack the cognitive skills and physical capacity required to locate, procure and prepare foods that are appropriate for their immature state and sufficient for their high energy requirements. During the weaning process and throughout childhood human offspring are supported by the provision of energy dense and easily digestible foods. Changes in weaning behaviour during human evolution imply a shift in the balance between maternal costs of lactation and the risk of poor offspring outcome, and may have been driven by an increase in infant nutritional and metabolic requirements, a reduction reproductive lifespan resulting in selection for reduced birth spacing or a change in other factors affecting offspring survival and fitness.

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