Human Evolution & Childbirth Risks

Live Science shared an interesting story this week that discusses how human evolution shapes many of the big (and small) medical issues that we all face. One of the details touched upon was childbirth. The story explains how the relative dangerousness of human childbirth and the subsequent injuries can in some ways be traced back to evolution and the manner in which the human body is designed for the process.

Evolution: Good, but not Perfect
Our species reigns supreme on the planet thanks to many of our most unique evolutionary adaptations. Most notable of those is our relatively large, complex brains which we can thank for our sophisticated analytical ability and perhaps our consciousness. Combined with bipedalism, our species has spread to virtually every corner of the globe and continues to thrive.

However, those with an understanding of evolution also understand that the process is inherently incomplete. We continue to evolve year over year–but the process is so slow that it is virtually impossible to distinguish even when looking over the entire course of human history. The incomplete nature of evolution also means that we continue to possess certain traits or attributes that are not necessarily perfectly adapted–or even necessary at all. Many of those “extra” or ill-designed parts of our body come with vulnerabilites
Everything is also a “trade-off” with one change coming with benefits and downsides. For example, our ancestors walked on all fours. When our species adapted to walk on two feet, it freed the hands to use on other things while moving–a very useful change. However, this also caused more strain on the spine, likely leading to the back pain that is common for humans.

What about childbirth?

Evolutionary biologists explain that the same principles also apply to childbirth. In particular, our evolutionary design via natural selection is one reasons why births are always risks–for both mother and child. One anthropologist interviewed for the story explained: “If you want to look for examples of how we’re not the result of intelligent design, you don’t have to go far – just look at the complicated, uncomfortable way we have babies.”

One of main problems is actually the size of the human brain. Our brain growth is obviously critical to our success. However, this also requires the human head to be larger during development and upon birth. A larger head is far harder for the mother to birth, making childbirth much riskier. It is no wonder that in times gone by, death while giving birth was incredibly common.

Of course, we are fortunate in modern times to have the benefit of a range of medical professionals, midwives, sophisticated prenatal care, complex medical technology, emergency response protocols and more. All of this is necessary to counteract some of the inherent risks of birth caused by the give and take of evolution. However, as far too many families discover in tragedy, when that care does not exist or is below accepted modern standards of care, then a serious birth injury or even death can result.

If you or someone you know may have been harmed as a result of inadequate medical care during childbirth, please reach out to our office to see how we can help.

See Other Blog Posts:

Manner v. Cause on a Death Certificate

ICU Deaths and Misdiagnosis

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