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Anthropologist Nikhil Chaudhary and his team recently studied how modern-day hunter-gatherer societies fare in childcare responsibilities and compared them with contemporary parenting in Western countries.
They focused on the practices of the Mbendjele BaYaka, a semi-nomadic tribe in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The team explained that the society had a communal parenting system, with more than 10 members of the tribe taking care of a child.
In modern societies, it is generally the child’s birth parents who take care of the little one’s needs.
The researchers noticed that the Mbendjele BaYaka approach benefited both parents and children: The youngsters would get nearly nine hours of close contact with various tribe members, giving some time for mothers to rest and work.
In comparison, infants in Canada and the Netherlands received less than 30 minutes of close contact with others per day.
The findings showed that an important portion of this interaction was skin-to-skin contact, a form of connection recognized by medical researchers for its various physical and emotional benefits. These include regulating a baby’s heart rate and breathing, along with promoting brain development.
Chaudhary noted that the study suggested that children may be “evolutionarily primed” to expect high levels of physical contact and care, while adding that through history parents have never faced the same challenges regarding a lack of support as they do today.
“Therefore, contemporary hunter-gatherer societies … can offer clues as to whether there are certain child-rearing systems to which infants, and their mothers, may be psychologically adapted,” he said.